Monday, 26 October 2020

Sermon 1st November 2020 – All Saints Day Text Revelation 7:9-17 – Worship in eternity

 Sermon 1st November 2020 – All Saints Day

Text Revelation 7:9-17 – Worship in eternity

 Today we commemorate All Saints Day. A day when we acknowledge to God our thanks for the life that he gives and for the life that he gathers into his presence.  It’s hard to know what term to use.

Some people don’t like the term death or dying because it’s so harsh. Others don’t like the term “passing away” because it softens death too much and doesn’t recognise the reality. Others have used terms such as “passing over” seeing death as a doorway from this life into eternity. I used the term “gathered into God’s presence” to signify what death actually is; And the reason I used that term is because Jesus also uses that term to describe what happens. In John 14 he says to the disciples in preparing them for his impending death and their subsequent death: “Do not let your heart be troubled. You have put your trust in God, put your trust in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; I am going there to prepare a place for you.? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

 So here Jesus describes our death as him coming to take us to be with him where he is. And what a place that will be as we hear in our reading from the Book of Revelation where St John was given a glimpse of the heavenly worship that is happening now as we speak. John was shown a vision of the presence of God and the heavenly worship that surrounds him. And this is so comforting for us in our grief knowing that the ones that we love are with us because of their and our participation in worship. In our creed we confess that we believe in the communion of saints. In our Holy Communion liturgy we proclaim that we gather with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And so whether we have gathered in our churches – or gathered before our TV or computer screens to participate in worship – this has been no trivial thing we have been doing.

 It has been a participation in the heavenly worship which John saw in his vision. And they were not limited to 10 or 20 or 50. They were not restricted to 1 per 4 square metres. Here was a great multitude that no one could count, And there were no border restrictions. No, here were worshippers from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. This is the house of worship that Jesus has prepared for us – the house that has many rooms and no restrictions – no household bubbles because we are all one family as John reminded us in our 2nd reading: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

 The death of a loved one is heartbreaking. But Jesus, in John 14 wants us to trust him: And so he says: “Do not let your heart be troubled. You have put your trust in God, put your trust in Me. And the trust Jesus wants us to have is in when he says: I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

As we look at our Gospel reading it is God’s intention to use heaven as our comfort from the difficulties we go through in this life. This life has not ended up what God truly wants for us because of sin. Sin opened the door in this life to evil as our eyes have been opened to good and evil in a world that God had originally created as very good. And so that opening of our eyes has seen a variety of sad experiences which culminate into death into which God brings comfort:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

There is no sugar coating death. It is raw – it is devastating – and to say anything that downplays the hurt would be offensive. Even Jesus wept at the death of his dear friend Lazarus. Jesus cried out in distress at his own impending death – take this cup from me. So in no way do we downplay the seriousness of the death of a loved on. But death is the passing from this life into eternal life in heaven. It is Jesus fulfilling his promise to take us to be with him where he is because THAT is what God wants for us which John saw in Revelation 21: Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 The final thing we need to remember is that even if Adam and Eve had not sinned, our life here on earth cannot be compared to what God has prepared for us in Heaven. When God completed his work of creation he saw all that he had created and declared it to be very good. Eternal life is not going to be very good – it’s is going to be perfect. No words can describe the experience that awaits us as Paul discovered in 2 Corinthians when he says he was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

 As difficult as it is to grieve the loss of a loved one – as difficult as it is to live each and every moment without them in our life – God has promised – blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted and that every   tear will be wiped away from our eyes by God himself. And the comforting assurance that there will be no more death in the home that Jesus has prepared for us. I know that my words of assurance to you who are grieving are just words. But God’s words to us are not just words. They are promises. And they are promises from God who is trusted as Jesus says – trust God – trust in Jesus.

 Until we are in heaven we will sadly see death from an earthly perspective but John reminds us that the reality is hidden He says: Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.

And as Paul says to the Colossians: your life is now hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Friends, let me finish this All Saints Day with Jesus promise again to us – words that he spoke to his disciples to prepare them for his own death: Don’t let your hearts be trouble – trust in God – trust also in me, Jesus Christ your Lord and Saviour.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Sermon 25th October 2020 – Reformation Sunday Text: John 8:31-36 – Freedom

 Sermon 25th October 2020 – Reformation Sunday

Text: John 8:31-36 – Freedom

 

I’m sure many of us were glued to our TV screens last Sunday and scouring the news to see the list of freedoms that we were granted as we slowly began our relief from stage 4 lockdown. For many it was the freedom they were looking for – but for others it still seems as if they are locked down and have to wait a little bit longer. Freedom.

 

That has been the focus in all this time of pandemic. When do we get our freedoms back? Freedom is important and it was for freedom that Luther fought extremely hard to bring about the Reformation because he had seen that we had lost our freedom as children of God and sadly it was his own church that was responsible. Luther brought about a reformation in his church because he believed that the church had failed in the message that Christ had sent them to proclaim.

 

If we think back to Easter when Jesus came to the frightened disciples locked away in fear of their lives – he proclaimed firstly their freedom – peace be with you. They had been in lockdown – in fear. Once freed from their lockdown in fear,  Jesus sent them to proclaim freedom to everyone – if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them. Or as Jesus said on other occasions – whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.

 

Freedom – that’s the Reformation message today and it comes through loud and clear in our bible readings today: Jesus, similar to Luther, had found that the religious leaders of his time had also strayed from the pure teaching of the Gospel. He says to them: If you hold to MY teaching you are really my disciples – you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Freedom is at the heart of the Gospel. Freedom is what we lose when we stray from the Gospel. And when we stray we begin to find ourselves trapped in our sin and guilt. St Paul says we are slaves to sin. And that’s what Jesus came to set us free from as he reminds us in John 3:17 – For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. To free the world through him. And likewise St Paul in our 2nd reading today focuses us on freedom from sin. He says that we are justified freely by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. And what Paul highlights is that we keep slipping away from our freedom because sin has a unique way of recapturing us. And it does this by convincing us that the way out of imprisonment to sin is by doing good works. It sounds logical. We do something bad so to offset it we do something good. But that’s the spiral that Luther sunk into.

 

Luther struggled with sin and guilt. So he did more and more to try and undo the mess he was in. But the more good he tried to do – the more he became aware of just how bad he was. And instead of finding freedom from his sin and guilt by doing good – he just found more and more sin and guilt to the point where he even stated that he hated God because God was a tyrant – a dictator. A tyrant who wanted more and more from him and drove him to breaking point where Luther finally discovered that it wasn’t about trying to please God but receiving his grace and mercy through forgiveness. And that’s why Jesus when he sent his disciples into the world instructed them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins – not obedience to the law. Repentance and forgiveness free us while obedience keeps us trapped and locked away in fear.

That’s why Luther, when he was driven to breaking point at his guilt and sin that was weighing him down cried out “I AM BAPTISED”.

 

Many times Jesus points out that God is not a tyrant: In Matthew 7 he says: Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Or the woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn’t bring her comfort by saying she had done nothing wrong but proclaimed her forgiven.

And that’s why King David when writing Psalm 32 says: Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them. He doesn’t say blessed are they who do no wrong. He doesn’t say blessed are they who keep God’s law. No. Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven.

 

God’s relationship with us is about freedom – freedom from guilt and sin. And it is the truth of the Gospel that does that – and the truth sets you free. Jesus says – come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest for your souls.

 

But it’s not just sin and guilt that enslave us for which the Gospel brings freedom. The Gospel can also bring comfort from our earthly anxieties as we discover a God who loves and cares for us. There is so much anxiousness in our world created by Covid19 especially amongst those who don’t know God in their life. Even though we take great precautions with sanitising, cleaning, wearing masks, social distancing – there is still a level of anxiety that this pandemic has caused.

A lot of that anxiety can come because of our fear for the future.

 

Worrying about the future is not new – in fact it goes right back to the beginning of time. Adam and Eve had everything they needed.  They had not a care in the world as God provided for their every need. But the devil got into their ear and caused them to worry about the future. He tempted them to eat the forbidden fruit after which their eyes would be open and they would be like God. They would be in control. And isn’t that what causes us to be anxious – when we are not in control of our future. Jesus knew all too well that worrying about the future was part of the human condition because we like to be in control of our destiny. In Matthew chapter 6, verse 34 he says: do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Martin Luther was worried about his future. But not his earthly future but his eternal future. He was worried about what would happen to him after he died and whether he would go to heaven. And it made him very afraid – which is what not knowing the future does to us – whether it’s our future on earth or in the afterlife. Luther wanted to be sure about his eternal future so he worked harder and harder to please God. He deprived himself of any luxuries. He did so much just so he could be sure about his future. And then he discovered that he didn’t need to worry about his future because God has taken care of that through Jesus.

 

God’s love for us is shown through Jesus’ death for us and his death assures us of our eternal future in heaven and that’s what Luther was not hearing from his church. No one knows what our earthly future holds. And it doesn’t matter how successful you are – how much money you have – how popular you are. Our lives can change in an instant. No one knew that this year was going to turn out the way it did. No one was prepared for it. And that’s why Jesus said – don’t worry about tomorrow. Seek first the kingdom of God and everything else will be taken care of by God.

 

I know that God is in control of what’s happening even if it doesn’t look like it. Our church doors are still closed but I still believe God has a purpose in all this. God made a very special promise to us in Jesus. As Jesus was about to ascend into heaven after defeating death by rising on Easter Sunday he said to his disciples – and to us – I am with you always until the end of time. A promise that comes to us in our Baptism.

 

So if you are anxious about the future – just remember that Jesus already knows your future and he has taken care of the most important part of your future- your eternal life in Heaven. So do not worry about tomorrow but let Jesus, who is the beginning and the end – the  same yesterday, today and forever – let him take care of all your concerns as you put your faith and trust in him.

 

Monday, 12 October 2020

Sermon 18th October 2020 – 20th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 22:15-22 – The Image of God

 

Sermon 18th October 2020 – 20th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 22:15-22 – The Image of God

As we get further and further into this period of lockdown and closed churches, I keep thinking of the incident in Acts 5 where the Apostle Peter was ordered by the governing rulers to stop preaching the Gospel. In response Peter says - "We must obey God rather than human beings! And he goes on and keeps preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I keep asking myself whether we are in that situation. At what point do we, as church, say that we are being denied the right to freedom of worship and that we must obey God rather than human authority. Have you wondered that? Have we given up too easy – too readily?

Well, Jesus was confronted with a similar dilemma today. The story going around was that Jesus was leading an anti-Roman militia aiming to topple the Roman rule and re-establish the Jewish nation under a Davidic Kingship. In other words, re-establishing King David’s throne and rule of Israel rather than Roman rule. And therefore the word had gotten around that Jesus was teaching that it was wrong to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor when the money should be going to God and re-establishing the Temple. So, this time, they really think that they have Jesus in the same way that the FBI were able to get gangster Al Capone not on the charges that they wanted him on but on tax evasion. So they put the question to Jesus - Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

First of all, Jesus knows this is an attempt to trap him.  As Matthew says: Jesus was aware of their malice. But I think his answer is the answer which applies to what we are going through at present: Jesus says: Show me the coin used for the tax.” When they showed him the coin he said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose title on the coin?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” At no time does Jesus say that part of his manifesto was for an uprising or rebellion. In fact Jesus resisted any attempts by the people to make him king and even rebuked Peter for resisting arrest when he pulls out his sword and cuts off the ear of one of Jesus’ attackers when he was being arrested.

The example Jesus uses is interesting. He gets the people to look at a coin and the image that is imprinted on it. Like our currency, it bears the image of the governing ruler. In their case – the emperor. In our case – the queen. And he says – because the money bears the image of the emperor he says – give to the emperor what belongs to him and give to God what belongs to God. So ownership is determined by image. Their currency bears the emperors image. So we have to ask – what belongs to God. Where is God’s image imprinted?

Well, as we go back to the very beginning of the Bible we read where God has placed his image: Let us create human beings in our own image – in the image of God he created them – male and female he created them. As Christians we must always remember that we belong to God.

No matter what rule we live under – not matter what laws are ruling over us – we belong to God. And no one can take that away from us.

When Jesus was being questioned by Pilate about submitting to his authority, Jesus doesn’t deny his authority: Pilate said. Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus doesn’t deny his authority but says, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.

As Christians we are called to reflect the image of God that we bear and to imitate Christ who saw his submission to Pilate as submission to God. St Peter talks at length about suffering as an example and witness to Christ. Not overcoming suffering but enduring suffering. He says: But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.

And he also says: Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

None of us like what is happening to the church but it’s a question of how do we respond. What is it that will bring glory to God? Well, again, St Peter says: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

We are not the first generation to suffer because of our faith. And part of our faith is trusting in God’s deliverance. St Paul, in our 2nd reading today urges us, as ones who bear the Image of God to imitate God: He says: And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers.

What example are we showing? Just look again at the fruits of the Spirit which are how we can example imitating Christ and God’s image: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, & Self-Control. These are challenging qualities to reflect in time like these but these are the qualities that Jesus says have been imprinted on us as the Image of God.

These are fruits which means that they come from being filled with the Holy Spirit. A lemon tree doesn’t produce apples – so a Christian  doesn’t produce hate or anger or lack of control. Likewise, a lemon tree that doesn’t produce fruit is just a tree. Our lives are to act like mirrors to reflect God’s presence in the world.

So a constant question we ask ourselves is what image are we reflecting? The image of God? Or our own image? The situation with our churches is extremely challenging. I have cried out to God – why have you abandoned me? I have cried out – take this cup from me. I’m not suggesting in any way that our suffering mirrors Christ’s suffering but Jesus has given us the example of walking the way of the cross. Peter wanted to avoid that – never Lord – this will never happen to you. Jesus rebuked Peter because in his attempt at honouring God by rebelling he was actually bringing dishonour to God. He is told that he does not have in mind the things of God but of man. Even though he really thought he was honouring God by rebelling against an injustice to his Lord Jesus – he was not allowing God to do his will. Which is why Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane says – take this cup from me – but not my will be done but your will be done.

I’ve said it before – I want our churches opened more than anyone. I am really struggling not being able to serve you with the Sacrament and having you here gathered for worship. But I truly believe that God is in control – we must believe that. And God’s will WILL be done. And God’s glory will be revealed. Look at the result Jesus got today when he upheld the authority even though the people felt that the taxes were unfair: They were amazed; and they left him and went away.

It might seem at times like we are weak and simply rolling over to the church closures. Maybe at times it seems like we are being disrespectful to God because we ae not fighting back against the closures. But the greater witness comes by imitating the humility of Christ and allowing God to bring about his will. And if, as part of God’s will, an injustice has been done to us then God’s justice is more satisfying and fulfilling. And if we allow God’s will to be fulfilled  in all this then we can be sure of a stronger and more faith-filled church. Maybe this is how God awakens his church and Christians. Maybe this is the new song that the Psalmist speaks about in our Psalm today.

But it means trusting God. It means giving to God what is God’s – as St Paul urges - to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship. We are not in the situation Peter found himself in Acts. Our worship may be redefined but not forbidden. What is being challenged is the peripheral and not the core. We will be back worshipping together. We will be back receiving the body and blood of Christ. Until then God stay strong in your faith – stay strong in your prayer life and be assured that God is with us for he is Emmanuel – God with us.

 

 

Monday, 5 October 2020

Sermon 11th October 2020 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 22:1-14 – Accepting God’s invitation

 

Sermon 11th October 2020 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 22:1-14 – Accepting God’s invitation

During this period of Covid restrictions the challenges of invitation has been at the forefront.

I’ve done a wedding, a baptism and 7 funerals – and all of them faced challenges of limited invitations. Funerals limited to 10, weddings 5, although fortunately the wedding I took were allowed to have 10 as it was still at the early stages of lockdowns and the first funeral we could have 30. And when we had that small 3 week window between the first and second wave we could have church services resumed but we were limited to 20 members. So we had to devise a roster system of inviting people which sounded so exclusive. Church should not be about restricting by invitation only but should be, as most church signs and bulletins say – ALL WELCOME.

As we move forward this is going to be one of the biggest challenges that faces the church as we continue to face restrictions on how many we can have at worship. And given the fact that inside worship may not be allowed initially and that we may be required to worship outside and still with restricted numbers, it’s going to be a challenge for us. But we’ll work out a way and whatever we are permitted to do we will do – and we will do it safely.

 But this is where we are going to need our church community and your support. During those 3 weeks that we could have 20 inside our church building there were some challenges. Cleaning the church before and after services - signing in – sanitising your hands – having your temperature taken – I know that some felt this was an infringement on rights and to an extent nuisance value. And I agree – I didn’t like it. But I love worship more than I disliked the requirements placed upon us – and so whatever we had to do we did.

 And as we move forward there may be these and more in way of restrictions. We may be required to wear masks. We may be urged or even required to not allow singing. We may not be able to use the common cup and need to use individual cups. Again, things we might rightly say are unfair – are against our human rights. And we may say – I won’t attend under these circumstances. I wish there was an alternative – but there won’t be. It’s going to be – you either do these things or you cannot open up for worship.

 We might not like or agree with the demands of reopening our worship but I am so sad at what has happened to you that I want to encourage you to look beyond the demands of what is being asked and help us to regain worship. And if we can only have 5 for the initial start up period then we will look at ways of having multiple shorter services each week offering private Holy Communion services.

We could offer 20 minute private communions  with a brief break in between – that could allow for 10 an hour -5 times a day – one day at Ringwood and one day at Knox – that’s 100 members we could commune. Is that a lot of work for me – yes it is – but I am prepared to do whatever it takes to have you receive the body and blood of Christ. And I hope you are prepared to look differently at how we gather for worship. It will mean that we ask for help from our worship community to accept the invitation with the requirements that are being placed upon us to open.

 As we look at our Gospel reading it is easy to see how we can place our own needs and priorities over an important invitation.  A king gave an invitation to a wedding.  A King!

Who would knock back an invitation from a King? A royal wedding nonetheless – and yet people find an excuse to not accept the invitation. In fact it was worse than just rejecting the invitation: They made light of the invitation and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. Why would they do that?

 It’s easy to be like them and reject the changes we need to make also and criticise those who are thinking of ways that we can gather again. It’s hard to say when and if things will get back to the way things were before the pandemic struck us. And it’s easy to lose heart and focus on the unfair demands being placed on the invite rather than looking at what we are being invited to.

 We missed out on our Easter celebrations and it’s looking more and more like or Christmas may not be the large joyous occasion we have had in the past. It is easy, because of the situation that is before us, to allow our dismay to miss the opportunities that we have to worship God in new ways and new opportunities. We may allow our disappointment, our anger, our rejection to reject God’s invitation to worship because it’s not the way WE want it – it’s not the way WE are used to having it. We should not let our disappointment or anger cause us to miss the joy that God brings to our life.

 And so St Paul says: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Whether we’re sitting in our pews – in our usual way of worshiping or not, the Lord is near. This is going to challenge us to see worship stripped away from all the things we are used to in worship and bring it back to what is essential – word and sacrament. True we haven’t celebrated the sacrament of Holy Communion for 7 months – but we have been surrounded by the sacrament of our Baptism – as promised by God – I am with you always – as Paul said – the Lord is near.

 There is the old saying that necessity is the mother of all inventions.

Maybe this necessity of rethinking – reshaping our worship is that opportunity of looking at what is essential in our worship. We have seen beginnings of how worship has reached out to far more places than the 4 walls of our church buildings through the internet. As church attendances have steadily decreased over the past decade or so, maybe this is how God is going to reshape his church and send out more invitations to hear and receive the Gospel message of salvation. For too long the invitation has been rejected by more and more people.

This is our opportunity to send the Gospel to the ends of the earth which is the last prophecy that Jesus spoke of before his return.

 Maybe we’re not as comfortable about some of the changes we need to make to comply with the demands placed on us as we were with the ways we were used to. But it’s not about OUR comfort but about the world’s salvation. And Paul today urges us to look at what is truly important when he says: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about THESE things.  Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

 Maybe God is inviting us to learn new ways. But what is central is his Word and Sacraments and they won’t change. We will always keep them as central to our worship whether it’s inside our church building or in our carpark or wherever God allows us to gather and worship. If it’s only 5 for a period of time or 10 or 20, Jesus has assured us that where 2 or 3 gather in my name there I am in the midst of them.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Sermon 4th October 2020 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 21:33-46 – Holding up a mirror

 

Sermon 4th October 2020 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 21:33-46 – Holding up a mirror

 

One of the things I enjoy about the Pentecost Season in the church is that we spend a lot of time listening to Jesus’ parables. Parables are a special way that Jesus teaches the people listening to him. Some are hard to unravel. Some make you squirm as you realise that he is speaking directly to you. Some seem to be able to speak one way to you and another way to someone else. That’s the beauty of listening to Jesus’ parables.  There is always something new that you get out of them.

In a sense Jesus uses the parables like a mirror. He did that last week to the chief priests and elders with his parable of the 2 sons working in the vineyard. And he does it today in the parable of the disobedient tenants. Sometimes it is hard to point out a person’s wrong doing and using this way of helping them to see themselves in a parable helps them to actually see their wrong doing.

In the Old Testament God uses the prophet Nathan to do that when King David refuses to accept that he has done something wrong in committing adultery with Bathsheba. Instead of accepting his wrongdoing he has Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle so he can legally marry her. Nathan presents a parable before King David about a wealthy landowner who steals his neighbours family lamb to present as a meal for his guests even though he has plenty his own sheep. King David is furious at that rich landowner not realising that it is himself and he pronounces judgment on that tyrant. And then Nathan declares to King David – YOU are the man. He used the parable as a mirror for King David to see his own actions which he could not see on his own.

It is easy for us to justify our lives before God by declaring ourselves righteous saying – I haven’t killed anyone so I’ve never broken the 5th commandment. I haven’t stolen anything. I haven’t committed adultery. It’s like the man who came to Jesus one day to ask how to inherit eternal life. Jesus said: You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus knew his heart and what to present for him to look at himself like looking in a mirror.

Martin Luther when writing his Catechisms said that God also uses the Law as a mirror, in particular the 10 Commandments. He explained what is referred to as the 3 uses of the law with the purpose of leading us to the Gospel pronouncing the forgiveness of our sins. He said that the First Use of the Law acts like a curb or a fence. It is the Law that is enacted by our Governments to protect us. So, the commandments – you shall not steal – you shall not kill – these govern law and order. As citizens we Christians follow them. If we break them, even though God forgives us, we are still punished by law. They are laws that God provides to give law and order and peaceful communities.

The 2nd Use of the Law is what is described as the Mirror. These are what we as Christians are to use to reflect on our lives. Like the young man claiming that he had kept all the commandments since he was a child, he was urged by Jesus to look again with Christlike eyes. So when Jesus was asked what is the Greatest Commandment he answered – love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength – and love your neighbour as yourself. So as we reflect on the commandments and try to justify ourselves by saying – I haven’t killed anyone so I haven’t broken the 5th commandment, St John says in his First Letter (3:15) to look again: Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer. Or if we say that we love God but John again tells us to look again - If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. Jesus says, anyone who looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery in their heart. So the law here is to act like a mirror to remind us of our need for Jesus. 

Like King David we often try to avoid our guilt. We are very good at making excuses or justifying why we did what we did. The problem with that is we then avoid hearing the comforting word of God’s forgiveness. That is God’s desire for you. Jesus says – God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. God wants to love us – to forgive us – to wrap his loving arms around us to let us know of his  grace for us. We hear Jesus weep when we keep trying to deal with our guilt by our own means like King David and the Pharisees did: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

And we hear how heavy that guilt weighs upon us in King David’s Psalm 32: Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one     whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent,  my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. So the purpose of the 2nd Use of the Law is to drive us to Jesus Christ and his grace and forgiveness. We call that Justification

And once we have been comforted by the Gospel the Law takes on a new role in the life of the Christian – we call that Sanctification. Knowing that we have been saved by Grace. Knowing that the Law can no longer condemn us because of Christ – we are now free to explore the gift of God’s commandments to see how to live blessed lives. The reason I don’t commit murder is not because I’m afraid of the punishment of jail. The reason I don’t commit murder is not because I’m afraid of God’s judgment. Rather I don’t commit murder because I love God with all my heart and because I love my neighbour.

And that’s what Jesus is trying to teach through the parables. And it did the trick as Matthew points out: When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. Now they are invited to repent and discover the freeing Gospel – but they unfortunately don’t: They wanted to arrest him.

St Paul knows all too well our human tendency to avoid accusations of wrong doing: If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Even though, according to Paul’s own words, when it came to righteousness under the law he was blameless – he lacked knowing the grace of God because he had no need for it. But when he came to know Jesus Christ as his Lord he found a different blessing from the law – not blamelessness but forgiveness – as did King David. Not having a righteousness of his own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

If we try hard enough we can always find a good excuse or a reason for why we did something we shouldn’t have. God wants us to come to him not so he can condemn us and make us feel guilty but so he can free us from the guilt and burden that King David experienced when his bones were crushed by the weight of his sin. Maybe we have to face an earthly punishment when we confess but what a freeing gift it is knowing that God does not condemn us. Imagine how free the woman caught in adultery felt when Jesus said that all her accusers were gone and that he did not condemn her either but to go and not let sin enslave her any more. Or the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears and dried them with her hair while righteous Simon the Pharisee ignored the needs of Jesus: And Jesus says to Simon: “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Let us not be afraid to come to Jesus and bring all our baggage with us. God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world but to save the world through him. Go in peace – your faith has save you.

 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Sermon 27th September 2020 - 17th Sunday after Pentecost: Text: Philippians 2:1-13 – Strength through humility

 

Sermon 27th September 2020

Text: Philippians 2:1-13 – Strength through humility

 

How are you feeling after 8 weeks of stage 4 lockdowns? How are you feeling after 6 months of restrictions on what some call basic human liberties and rights? Do you feel like fighting back? Do you feel like sometimes joining the protesters and fighting the system? Can you imagine how many times Jesus was tempted to fight back and didn’t?

 

In Paul’s letter to the Phillipians St Paul says that even though Jesus had every right to fight back against the injustices that were done to him, he didn’t. He says -though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Jesus could have demanded his rights – in fact at one stage it seemed like he might do that but responded – your will be done – not mine. Jesus was tempted to exert his rights – you’re hungry – turn these rocks into bread – if you’re the Son of God. If you are the son of God – come down from the cross.

 

It is easy, when we feel our human rights are being infringed upon, to fight back and often what happens is that the problem then escalates and gets worse. Instead, as Christians, even when we might feel infringed upon – even if we truly feel we need to respond – we need to remember, again, Christ’s qualities: That he - emptied himself - he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross.

What Paul is trying to teach us is NOT to be weak and like doormats for people to wipe their feet on.

No, humility is God’s hidden strength in us. Rather he is trying to show us a different strength where we actually use another person’s energy to defeat themselves.

 

I remember many years ago in my youth when learning martial arts my teacher said that the real skill is to use the other person’s strength against themselves. Paul sort of gave us an example a couple weeks ago when he said in Romans 12 - Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” So rather than fighting back, aim for peace and reconciliation and allow their conscience to do its work.

 

Jesus also gives us an example today in our Gospel reading when he uses the strength of his accusers against themselves: When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Now, Jesus could have fought back, argued against them – what’s this to do with you – but he let them do that to themselves: Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? And what happened – their fighting against Jesus was turned in on themselves: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.”  So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” Now Jesus doesn’t need to exert his own strength but neutralised their strength by themselves: And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. And even against our greatest adversary – the devil – James says - humble yourself before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Don’t fight against him – resist him – and he will flee.

Stand and fight and you enter his territory.

Humility is the secret weapon that God has given to us. It doesn’t mean weakness, but has James says – it is handing over to God. And so, Jesus, instead of fighting back, like Peter did when he cut off the ear of one of Jesus’ attackers in the Garden of Gethsemane, humbles himself to God even to the point of death on the cross.

 

Most of us don’t like the way things are. We want our liberties back – we want our church gatherings back – but how do we express ourselves in the best way? By humility and obedience – as Jesus did.

Maybe some of the restrictions are unfair or over the top. Maybe the cure has become worse than the disease – but we need to be careful, as Paul says in Ephesians – in your anger do not sin. As Christians we trust in God to whom all must submit. If there is injustice in this then God is the one who judges, as Paul says - at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And that’s where we turn for justice rather than taking justice into our own hands which we are always tempted to do as human beings.

 

The pandemic has turned our lives upside-down.  We have been struggling to deal with the situation physically, mentally, spiritually, and economically.  In times of difficulty and chaos, it is very easy to despair and fear and take matter into our own hands. And when that happens it causes more disharmony.

We can see it in the Israelites when they were led out of slavery from the Egyptians and were facing difficulty and challenge in the desert. They questioned and quarreled with Moses.  They lost faith and sight of God’s presence, they would rather be back in slavery in Egypt. And that’s what happens when we fall back on our own defence rather than humbling ourselves before God and allowing God to take control. That’s what was behind Satan’s temptation of Jesus which on the surface didn’t seem that bad – you’re hungry – turn these rocks into bread. But this was about humility and trusting God. About letting God take control and not taking control himself. Christ humbled himself and God exalted him.

 

Just like the Israelites, when we lose sight of God’s control, all we can focus on is going back to the previous “normal” life.  The truth is that there may be no “normal” life we once had.  Things may be different.  And we can either trust God or use all our energy to fight and demand our human rights back again. And so Paul encourages us that when we trust God then he brings about his glory: And he reminds us in the closing of our reading - God is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

 

It’s not easy to forgo our own rights but Paul urges us - Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

 

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Sermon 20th September 2020 Text: Matthew 20:1-16 – A generous God.

 

Sermon 20th September 2020

Text: Matthew 20:1-16 – A generous God.

 

Have you ever had that stumper of a question put to you? How can a loving God send people to Hell? How can a loving God send people to Hell? What I find interesting in today’s readings – especially our Old Testament and Gospel reading is a different question. The question – how can a loving God NOT send people to Hell?

 

Our Old Testament reading tells a bizarre account of a prophet named Jonah. He was sent by God to an evil country called Nineveh.  His message to them from God was that in 40 days God was going to destroy them because of their evil. Jonah didn’t want to go there and jumps on a ship going in the opposite direction to Tarshish. But God, instead of finding someone else, sticks with Jonah to teach him a valuable lesson.

God sends a storm to cause the ship to almost sink. Jonah, realising that he is at fault offers to be thrown overboard.  The crew do so and he is swallowed by a giant fish for 3 days and then spat up onto the shore.

He goes and delivers the message and as a result Nineveh repents and God changes his mind about destroying it.

Now we have in our reading a sulking Jonah. And why is he sulking? From Jonah’s own mouth: O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. Jonah wasn’t afraid of the Ninevites and what they might do to him. He was afraid of God’s love and mercy and that he would not follow up the threat if Nineveh became aware of their destruction and asked for God’s mercy. That’s why Jonah didn’t want to go – he wasn’t afraid of what Nineveh would do to him; He was afraid what God would actually do to Nineveh- forgive them.

 

We have a similar situation in the Gospel reading where Jesus tells a parable about workers in a vineyard.  There are the lucky ones who were given a full day’s employment with full wages. During the course of the day he went out 4 more times – 9am, noon, 3pm and 5pm – offering work. And when it came time to pay them he paid them all a full day’s wage. Even though the ones hired first received what they had agreed to they were furious because the owner paid even those who had worked just one hour the same amount of money – a full days wage. The owner responds: Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?

 

I have to admit that sometimes my comfort comes knowing that there is a judgment day and that those who have caused an injustice in the world will need to give an account before God. But in reality that is no better than Jonah or the workers who grumbled against the landowner’s generosity. The stories of Jonah and the generous landowner challenge us when we try to evaluate what is fair or not fair in life. When we evaluate fairness we usually evaluate from our perspective and how a situation affects us. What God is trying to teach us here is to consider a bigger picture when evaluating fairness.

 

God speaks with a very angry Jonah who believes God has acted in an unfair way. Nineveh were evil people and they deserved to be punished – probably very true. But God wants Jonah to see it from a different perspective. In the heat of the day as Jonah sat and waited for God to destroy Nineveh, God appointed a bush to give shade over Jonah and save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it died and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die.  He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.”  

Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

 

Jonah was considering fairness from his own perspective and failed to see that even though Nineveh were evil they were still God’s people whom he created. People whom he loved so much that he would send his own Son to die for their sins. And that’s the same with our Gospel reading. It was not about fairness but about God’s love and care for all people. Yes the ones who worked only an hour received exactly the same as those who worked the entire day and maybe it seemed unfair to those who worked all day. But God was fair to everybody giving them what they needed and not what they deserved. God was fair in that he gave what he had promised – a full day’s wage.

 

And that’s the lesson for us. That we received from God not what we deserve but what we need. And God will honour his promises to us when it comes to eternal life in Heaven. Let us ever be thankful that we do NOT receive from God what we deserve but from the gracious love and mercy of God. Let us be thankful that for us God is a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. So as we reflect on God from that perspective let us also reflect that outward and not gauge life as to whether it is fair or not from OUR perspective but from God’s perspective who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

As Christians who know that we are saved by grace this should also be our perspective throughout life.

Life is often unfair. For some it is mostly unfair when we look at how some people prosper in life and yet have no regard for God in their life. Paul could easily had seen life as unfair from his perspective. From the moment he became a Christian it seemed like his earthly life became so unfair. From a respected and influential Pharisee Paul was now subject to persecution, ridicule and imprisonment. But Paul did not see life from that perspective. Rather he saw it from God’s perspective: He says: To me, living is Christ and dying is gain. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. So Paul saw the difference in perspective. If he were to die he knew he would go to Heaven and how great that would be. But to continue to live, even though it meant imprisonment, threats to his life and all sorts of hardship – it meant that he could keep working for God and spreading the Gospel for other.

 

Maybe life sometimes seems unfair but this is where faith comes in. We know God is loving and gracious and will give to us eternal life as he has promised. If we want to consider unfair, how unfair that he who had no sin became sin for us so that we should become the righteousness of God. As we consider Jesus’ parable today let us remember that those who worked all day, knew all day that they and their family would be able to afford a meal that night. But those who were employed only in the last hour did not know until that last hour that they might be able to put something on the table for their family to eat even if it was just one hour’s pay as they presumed. Let us continue to pray for the godless so they too may be able to experience the joy we have knowing that whatever life presents us, our present suffering is not worth comparing to the joy and glory that awaits us. And let us remember that today that reality is one day closer that it was yesterday.

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