Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Year A - Advent 2 - 4th December 2016

Year A Advent 2 2016
Text: Romans 15:4-13 – The God of all hope

Of all the qualities that Paul could have assigned to God it's interesting that he refers to God as a God of hope.
We live in a world where hope is sought after so badly in so many ways because people want to be sure about their future
Knowing that their future is secure gives them hope for the future.
I read in the news last week about a 14 year old girl diagnosed with terminal cancer.
She requested that her body be frozen in a process called cryogenics which will maintain her body until science discovers a cure for her cancer and be able to give her the rest of her life back.
What I find sad about this story is that the God of hope doesn't just offer her her life back again but a life that has no end.
Even if science was able to give her back the rest of her life sometime in the future, like Jesus did for Lazarus and Jairus's daughter, like Lazarus and Jairus's daughter she would have to face the reality of death again.
The God of Hope however offers her a life where there is no more suffering or death, no more crying or mourning.
The world seeks hope, whether it be by hoping to win the lottery, hoping to own your own home, hoping to retire with a nice amount of superannuation,
the world sells hope to us but it is a hope that is never guaranteed.
Something can always go wrong.
Christian hope is different because of the one through whom hope comes.
Christian hope comes from the God of hope and therefore whatever God promises will eventuate.
Paul links hope with joy and peace when he says:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace.
Having just spent 2 weeks on holidays cruising around New Zealand there was a lot of joy.
Time away from the hustle and bustle of work – the joy of touring around and seeing a different part of the world – the joy of being on a cruise ship with fine dining and just being able to sit back and relax.
But like all holidays they come to an end and then the joy is only a memory.
Like Christian hope, Christian joy is different to the joy that the world gives.
The world gives physical joy but that joy is temporary.
The worldly joy is more linked with happiness.
Christian joy is different because it is not based on physical joy or happiness but a joy that comes from our Christian hope knowing that our life is on a journey towards heaven.
So even when a Christian is going through a time of difficulty and sadness, joy can still be a reality.
And no matter what life experience we are going through, even the most trying of circumstances, we can experience Christian joy even if there is no sign of physical joy.
I have seen Christian joy in the faces of those I have sat at their side on their deathbed.
There is no more physical joy for them but their lives are filled with Christian joy knowing that they will soon be in the loving arms of God.
And that Christian joy can only come from their Christian hope which is given to them by the God of hope – the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul in fact says – suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character and character produces hope – and hope does not disappoint us. (Romans 5:3).
And through that hope Paul says we rejoice in our sufferings!
Can you imagine the world telling us to rejoice in our sufferings?
And it is that joy and hope that gives us something else that the world cannot give – Christian peace.
As Jesus once said – I give you a peace the world cannot give. (John 14:27)
As St Paul said – the peace of God that goes beyond all understanding. (Philippians 4:7)
It is a peace that comes knowing that whatever circumstances we are going through there is that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – and that light is Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
There is nothing in this life that can give you the hope that Christian hope gives to us.
However, because of our human nature we keep looking for hope in the wrong places.
We keep going back to the physical hope that the world gives.
We look at our possessions, our careers, our money as symbol of hope.
We worry when we feel we don’t have enough to make our future secure.
And the world takes advantage of your insecurity to draw you deeper and deeper into fear and away from God.
The world sells a hope of a secured future, the joy of knowing that you don't have to worry about the future and peace knowing that your future is secured but guarantees nothing.
But the God of Hope, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is about a different future.
God offers hope of our eternal future.
Worldly hope, joy and peace is always contingent on worldly matters.
A global financial crisis can wipe away hope of the future
A diagnosis of a terminal disease can wipe away all joy for the future.
World trauma – wars, famine, disease, terrorism, floods, droughts and bush fires, global warming can wipe away our peace in an instant.
But nothing in the world can take away our hope of eternal life.
As Paul says – nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).
So the life of the Christian will always be one of wavering between earthly hope and Christian hope because of our insecurities – just like Adam and Eve did..
We are so tempted to put our hope in physical things that we can touch and see rather than Christian hope that is lived by faith – as the writer to Hebrews says – faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).
And so the message of John the Baptist is a valid for us today – repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
To repent means to turn back to God away from human insecurities.
For John the Baptist hope was always about the Kingdom of Heaven.
But even John wavered in the midst of his suffering when he wanted confirmation - Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Matthew 11:3)
And so too, we are going to question in those times but we need to repent.
The Kingdom of Heaven is what life is all about.
Life is not about possessions or success.
Life is about putting all our hope in reaching our Heavenly home.
And as John said – the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
It is a breath away which nobody knows when their last breath will be.
And if the Kingdom of Heaven is our hope then everything else in life doesn't really matter.
If we don't get to own our own home but reach our heavenly home what does it matter.
If we don't rise to the top of our profession but reach our Heavenly Home to live in the presences of Almighty God, what does it matter?
If everyone seems to exceed you or you don't achieve your worldly hopes and dreams, what does it matter when you reach your heavenly home and never have to experience disappointments ever again?
But Paul was insistent that our joy and peace does not start only when we have reached the Kingdom of Heaven.
No, it begins now because our Christian hope brings the future hope into a present reality.
So he says things like - our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20)
And, since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above; For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-4).
And that means we live our lives now as citizens of heaven, as John says – the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.
For us it is already here because our certain Christian hope means our eternal life has already begun even though we are not there yet.
If we live our lives worried about the future then we don’t fully understand what Christian hope means and offers, just like John when he asked – are you the one or should we expect another.
When our hopes become focused on worldly assurance then we will never be assured.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan for the future but we should live by faith trusting God when times are uncertain.
And when we live by our Christian hope then we know that our future is mapped out for us as Paul says - we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

So may the God of hope continue to strengthen you faith so you may continue to find joy in this life amidst all the doom and gloom that the media reports on and find the peace that comes from knowing Christ our Lord allowing you to wait again this Advent season for our Lord to return – come Lord Jesus come.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Year A Advent 4

Year A Advent 4
Text: Matthew 1:18-25 – Christmas – more than a fairy tale

Most of the world was saddened at the death of Nelson Mandela.
At a memorial ceremony recently held in his honour, a controversy erupted.
Standing alongside several world leaders including US President Barrack Obama was a person employed to interpret the speeches with sign language for the deaf.
It didn’t take long for news to come out that this person wasn’t actually signing what was being spoken.
When asked why he did what he did, he claimed that he heard voices that told him what to sign and even saw angels standing in front of him.
People have made the conclusion that this person is mentally unstable and should perhaps be institutionalised for what he has said and done.
People become sceptical when you start telling them about supernatural experiences
So, can you imagine what people thought of Joseph when he told his family and friends that his fiancĂ© was pregnant with God’s Son and that an angel had told him this?
I wonder what people really think when we start telling the Christmas story about virgin births and angels.
One of the difficulties that faces the church, I believe, is that we have romanticised the Christmas story that it almost becomes a fairy tale.
It’s become a romantic love story of a young man and woman whose love for each other has seen them able to come together in marriage against the odds.
We see the lovely pictures of Mary and baby set in a scenery with Shepherds, Kings and animals all gathered around under the bright shining star paying their respects to this young romantic couple and their new born baby.
That’s what people want to see and hear on Christmas Eve but sadly it hides the stark reality of what really is happening and the grim reality of why it is happening.
Joseph and Mary’s relationship was against the odds.
Their struggle was against a strict Old Testament law that said that Mary should be stoned to death for her infidelity. (Leviticus 20:10-12)
Their birthing room was a stinking stable with smells that one can barely tolerate for any period of time.
Have you ever been in a shearing shed or walked through the show grounds to all the smells and noises?
Have you ever slept on hay in the cold outback let alone imagine what it must have been like giving birth?
Christmas is an amazing time.
I love the carols, the trimmings, the children’s plays and all the things that make it so special.
But we must also remember how significant it is what is actually happening.
The Son of God being born to a human woman.
The Islamic faith condemns Christianity for daring to believe that Mary could bear the Son of God:
“They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word of blasphemy, verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. (Qur'an 5:73)
And so the Muslim faith understands the significance of what Christmas is proclaiming~
And again the Quran writes: Christ Jesus the son of Mary was no more than a messenger of Allah; Say not "Trinity": desist: it will be better for you: (Quran 4:171)
What happened on that very first Christmas was not a romantic love story.
The birth of Jesus Christ, the incarnation, is the full power and authority of Heaven descending upon the earth to prevent all of humanity being destroyed because of our sinfulness and disobedience to God.
And it happened in a way that was more dramatic than can ever be sung or acted out because it is unimaginable.
There is nothing romantic or playful about what is happening here, nor about what is about to happen – so much so that Herod puts to death all the children in the region under 2 years old just to protect his kingship. (Matthew 2:16)
As Christians we should treasure what is happening and never underestimate the power that is at play here.
God, the creator of heaven and earth and all that exists believes that the only way that he can save the world from oblivion is to send his own Son to be born as one of us.
We face strong opposition today from the world.
The world wants to remove Christ from Christmas.
They find it offensive.
It wants us to celebrate Happy Holidays or offer Seasons Greetings.
It wants Christmas Carols replaced with songs of Santa.
Tell the world you’re a Christian and you might find a similar response to that of Joseph when he told his family and friends that an angel told him that his fiancĂ© is pregnant with God’s son.
But we must stand up and be proud about what we believe.
The reason God took such drastic measures 2000 years ago is still relevant today.
There are people not saved – in fact most of the world either rejects or does not know about Jesus Christ and that is a real concern for their eternal salvation.
The Christian message is not an easy message to deliver but God has provided us with an opportunity with the appeal that Christmas has to people.
Children love dressing up as angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph.
Adults don’t mind coming to church that once a year to begin their Christmas celebrations.
Carols by Candlelight are extremely popular with many councils funding community evenings and TV networks televising the publicly sold out carol evenings.
Let us use these as opportunities to teach so they don’t just become fairy tales and make believe.
It really did happen – and it happened for a reason.
God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
God did not send his Son to condemn the world but to save the world through him.
May God bless you as you celebrate Christmas with your friends and family but more so may Christmas draw you into a deeper and more fuller relationship with God who loves YOU so much that he sent his Son to save YOU.

The peace of God that surpasses our understanding, keep your hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Year A Advent 2 2013

Sermon 8th December 2013
Text Matthew Matthew 3:1-12 – Detoxing our souls

Detox diets seem to be all the rage with people wanting to drop a few kilos or dress sizes to get ready for summer.
Winter has taken its toll but can be hidden under layers of woolly jumpers to hide those extra kilos that seem to creep their way in during the colder months.
It’s so easy to put on those kilos but it’s so hard to take them off.
And so the ads are coming through quick and fast on the latest fads before you have to put on those summer clothes that don’t hide much.
There’s been the lemon detox, the 7 day detox, the 10 day detox, the 20 day detox; the fruit juice detox.
Detox aims at flushing out all the bad things that have clogged our bodies.
Detoxing is a quick way to feel good and maybe drop those kilos quickly but unless it is followed up by a lifestyle change, the original kilos soon come back – and they bring along a few friends with them.
Today a new character enters into our Advent season whom we know very well.
John the Baptist.
This was a person who had a very strange diet of eating locusts and wild honey.
John was a big fan of detox but not the food type of detox to deal with our physical concerns.
No, John was concerned about a more damaging harm being done, not to the body, but to the soul.
He called for the people who came to see him to “repent”.
To detox from harmful ways that were damaging their souls.
The detox that John calls for is “Repentance”.
Repentance is a change of life.
A change in the way we live and change in the way we think.
It is a turning away from a way of living that is causing harm in our spiritual life and turning back to God.
It is much like turning away from all the junk food we eat and back to fruit and vegetables.
Away from the alcohol and fizzy drinks and back to water.
And God has promised, when we return he will receive us and forgive us.
Isn’t it funny though how we naturally gravitate to the junk?
We know it’s not good for us.
We have regrets and wish we didn’t eat what we did.
And when we eat fruit and veggies and drink water it’s amazing how great they taste and how good we feel, but we don’t crave them.
Our bodies crave what’s not good.
I want to look at the 3 Repentance comments that John makes and why he makes them:
Repent – the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
John might seem like one of those cartoon characters we often see with the sandwich board around their neck crying out – repent – the end is near.
Nobody takes them serious.
As Jesus said last week in our Gospel reading – no one knows the day or hour when Jesus is going to return so his return is always near.
If he were to return today we couldn’t say that we weren’t warned.
Even though it’s been 2,000 years there is no reason why it could not be today.
Nor do any of us know when our last day will be.
Just like the rich fool who gloated over his success and decided to sit back, eat, drink and be merry.
To which God replied: 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. (Luke 12:20).
John was concerned that the people were complacent.
We all know someone who has put off committing to God.
I’m just too busy with work and family now.
We often see that with their church attendance.
We’re just too busy to commit to church at the moment.
Sunday’s our only chance to sleep in and have time at home.
Our task is to pray for them and seek ways to support them.
They may be too busy for church – but the church should never be too busy for them.
We need to support them so that the kingdom of heaven remains near to them.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not just near in time – it should also be near in physical terms.
As Christians and as the church, maybe we can look for ways to take the Kingdom of heaven to them just as Jesus took the kingdom to those who didn’t belong to the local synagogue – the sinners and tax collectors.
We can take the church to them by visiting them – phoning them – offering ways in which we can support them in raising their children’s faith as we promised when they were baptised.
We get critical when they don’t bring their children to church – but maybe we can think of ways we can bring the church to their children.
Bear fruit worthy of repentance
Just as lemon trees produce lemons, orange trees produce oranges, and apple trees produce apples – so too a Christian who has been saved by God’s love and mercy should produce love and mercy to others as fruit of our lives being saved by God.
That was the teaching behind the unmerciful servant who refused to forgive the debt of one of his servants, a meagre few dollars, even though he had just been forgiven millions of dollars by the King. (Matthew 18:21-35)
The church and Christians need to be examples of the love and forgiveness we have received from God, including those who do not love us as Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43,44).
Repentance is turning away from how the world acts and acting how God acts.
But like junk food we tend to stray back too easily to the ways of the world in treating one another.
We hurt one another with the words we use.
We take our time to forgive when we’re hurt.
We get angry and say things we shouldn’t – treat people with disrespect.
That sort of thing doesn’t bring the Kingdom of Heaven nearer but drives people away from church.
I’m sure we can all think of ways that we have not really been good examples of the love and mercy we have received.
Baptism of repentance
This is where the promise of John becomes all significant to Christians.
Baptism is the solemn pledge of God to Christians that he will never forsake them.
In spite of our waywardness, God will always welcome us back like the father of the prodigal son.
Baptism is the covenant of God that he will not and cannot break.
We can reject it but God cannot revoke it.
And that’s the difference between a promise made by God and a promise made by humans.
In fact we see when God made his covenant with Abraham he swore by himself.
We often “swear to God” or swear on the Bible in court when we want to emphasise a solemn promise – so does God:
The writer to the Hebrews talks about the covenant which God made to Abraham:
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, (Hebrews 6:13).
And so when God makes a promise he keeps it.
And it is through that promise that we have peace with God.
A peace that comes from knowing that God will never reject us when we come to him in repentance.
God will never turn us away when we turn to him.
That’s the peace we have – the peace that goes beyond all understanding as we light the 2nd Candle of Advent today – the candle of Peace.
St Paul says: since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
There is a saying – you are what you eat.
If you eat junk food then your body will reflect that.
But also, if you live your life right your body won’t crave junk food.
When I’ve been exercising I crave water and fruit.
Likewise, if we sin our lives are affected – anger, hatred, resentment – these are the fruit of sin.
But when we live lives of repentance and live lives of prayer, worship and love then our lives find a peace that can’t be found anywhere else.
This is the fruit of repentance.
And since we are children of God in Baptism and in Holy Communion receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we are what we eat and are called to live lives that reflect that.

May the peace of God that surpasses our understanding, keep your hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Year A - Advent 1

Year A - Advent 1
Text Matthew 24:36-44 – How many shopping days till Jesus returns?

The countdown begins with how many shopping days there are to Christmas.
Actually with online shopping and 7 days a week trading, we don’t have any days to deduct between now and the 25th December.
We just have to be good at maths – which isn’t that hard since today is the 1st of December.
With the commercialising of Christmas every day 24/7 is a shopping day, and for many that’s all Christmas has really become.
A big shopping nightmare.
And as organised as we seem to be it still always creeps up on us and the need for that last minute gift or that last minute food item always seems to be there.
Advent is that time of preparation in the church to help us prepare for Christmas.
The 4 candles of the Advent wreath and the 4 Sundays of Advent are there in much the same way as Lent is for Easter, to prepare us spiritually for Christmas.
The busyness and physical demands of Christmas can sometimes unprepare us spiritually.
A busyness that also happens in the church with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services to organise, Sunday School children to prepare, amid all our own personal planning for family Christmas.
Sometimes the busyness can distract us from the blessings of Christmas.
I have even heard, sadly, people saying – “I hate Christmas … I can’t wait for it to be over”.
And that’s a real sad thing to hear because Christmas was never intended to be a burden on anyone.
It was the fulfilment of God’s promise to the world to send a saviour to reconcile the world to God.
Once we reach Advent we know the time is short to have things ready for Christmas.
Places are already taking orders for Christmas trees, Christmas lunches, Christmas accommodation and other Christmas related activities.
People are making plans about who’s having Christmas this year – whose parents is it our turn to visit – the Christmas card lists are getting done and cards ready to mail – especially if they’re going overseas.
The time is getting shorter by the day.
Paul reminds us that the time for the 2nd Christmas – the second coming of Jesus Christ is also drawing near.
He says – your salvation is nearer today than it was yesterday;
The night is far gone, the day is near.
Ever since Christ ascended into heaven, the world has been living in Christmas Eve.
None of us know the day of Jesus’ return.
None of us know the day that God has assigned for us to leave this life for the coming Kingdom.
And so we are urged to constantly live in readiness because, as Jesus says “you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”.
And that can be very frightening if you’re not prepared.
Do you ever remember your parents leaving you home alone with strict instructions?
No parties, no friends, and no mess.
And then they end up coming home early unexpectedly!
You hear the car pull up in the driveway and you quickly try to tidy up all the mess.
It’s a horrible feeling that sends a shiver up your spine.
Jesus says that his return will be like that.
It will come like a thief in the night.
And he says you must always be ready because he is coming at an unexpected hour.
Are you ready?
If Jesus were to pull into the driveway today, so to speak, would you be ready to face him?
Or are there some things you need to tidy up in your life?
Are you putting off some things, still doing some things you know you shouldn’t, harbouring a grudge or hatred you know you shouldn’t.
If you were to confront Jesus today is there something that you would be ashamed of?
If so, then have we become complacent thinking that we’ve got plenty of time to amend our life?
Paul urges us to put aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.
He lists several behaviours but they aren’t limited to those.
Any behaviour that we would be ashamed of if Jesus were here we should be changing.
If we don’t think Jesus is going to return today or tomorrow then when do we think he will.
It’s one day less today than it was tomorrow.
None of us live perfect lives.
But there is a difference between refusing to change our ways when we know we are living in darkness and our inability to live perfect lives.
As Christians we live under the grace of God asking God’s forgiveness for our sinfulness.
Even though we live in sin because of our sinful nature we also live under God’s grace.
And that’s the promise to the world otherwise instead of 2 being in the field and one taken and the other left, none would be taken.
We are ready for Christ to return, but not by what we do.
If our readiness relied on our behaviour then none of us would ever be ready.
None of us know when Jesus will return so how can we ever be ready?
What if he returns and we have had one of those bad days?
And so our readiness comes not by what we do but by relying on God’s promise to us.
He has promised in our baptism, I am with you always – to the end of the age.
He has promised in Holy Communion – this IS my body – this IS my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
In fact Luther’s Catechism says concerning Holy Communion :
Fasting and other preparation are good. But a person is truly worthy and ready who believes these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  The candle we lit today is the candle of hope.
Many believe there is little to hope for in the world.
The wars have many countries on a knife edge especially with the threat of nuclear attacks.
Terrorism has made us afraid to fly, afraid of the stranger, afraid of multiculturalism.
Global warming has many worried about whether we will have  future world for our children and grandchildren.
The church too worries about its future with numbers dwindling and congregations ageing.
But Jesus brings hope into this world with a promise.
A promise to the world that I am with you.
A promise to the church – that it will prevail forever and not even the gates of hell will destroy it.
Jesus' warning isn't meant to make us fearful and anxious but alert.
Some years ago after the September 11 terrorist attacks the Australian Government led an advertising campaign – be alert but not alarmed.
That is also the message of Jesus.
Be alert – the day is drawing nearer every day.
But don’t be alarmed because Jesus has saved us.
We believe that Jesus is coming again.
We believe that we are born again – dead to sin and alive in Christ.
And so we are called to live our lives in such a way.
Loving God and loving our neighbour.
Living as if our eternal life has already begun – which it has.
This gospel is a call to live heavenly lives now in preparation for our eternal heavenly life.
If we know we should make changes, then now is the time to do so not tomorrow:
As Paul urged: Now is the moment to wake from sleep and put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are called to be a people of hope and Advent is a time of preparation.
We prepare because we have hope in God's love and grace.
A love and grace that was born as a sign of God’s love to give us hope for our eternal life.
We may not know the day nor the hour when Christ will return but we do know that he is coming and tomorrow will be one less day than today.
So with that assurance, we can live free and celebrate life and love confident of the future assured by the same God who laid down his life in his love for us, and rose again to lead us beyond fear and tragedy into the new age of love, life, hope and peace.
It is this Jesus who is coming, and unlike the people of Noah’s day, we will always be ready for his coming into our world because of his love for us.

So until that day may the peace of God that surpasses our understanding, keep your hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.