Thursday, 27 July 2017

Year A 2017 - 8th Sunday after Pentecost - Text Matthew 13:321-33, 44-52 – Kingdom Parables

Sermon 30th July 2017
Text Matthew 13:321-33, 44-52 – Kingdom Parables

Jesus today continues his teaching in Parables and gives us 5 ways to imagine the Kingdom of Heaven:
Like a mustard seed;
Like yeast in flour;
Like treasure hidden in a field;
Like a priceless pearl;
Like a net that catches all kinds of fish.
These are not just a repeat of each other but each one contains a particular aspect that Jesus wants to highlight.
So how is a mustard seed like the Kingdom of Heaven?
The focus here for Jesus is the size.
Sometimes we confuse God’s mighty acts with worldly mighty acts.
We talk of multi-national corporations and their success – huge companies like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook – the Big 4 banks as they are referred to.
God on the other hand shows his might in different ways – strength through weakness, wisdom through foolishness.
These include the life and death of Jesus: rejected from birth when Mary was forced to give birth in a manger in a barn, rejected by his religious leaders leading to his arrest, humiliation and death and yet through these God brought about the greatest victory over sin, death and Satan.
So as we look at our own lives we should not be saddened if in our own eyes we feel we don’t shape up to God’s awesomeness.
Maybe you don’t read the bible all that often, maybe you don’t pray when you should, maybe you don’t feel like you get anything out of church including Holy Communion.
Even St Paul, the example of commitment and dedication to the Christian faith knew that feeling of letting God down but did not despair.
Instead he looked to God and wrote:
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to better ourselves in our faith but we should recognise that God doesn’t judge according to worldly standards.
When the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, he didn’t do that but pointed them to the strength of the faith that they had – again using the example of a mustard seed:
"If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you. (Luke 17:6)
Jesus continues on the matter of size but talks about Yeast
When making bread you use the tiniest amount of yeast but it makes dramatic changes to the dough.
Without it the dough would remain flat – but with it, it rises and changes its appearance totally.
So too with faith.
Our faith changes us.
It permeates every part of our being.
It permeates every aspect of our daily living.
It changes the way we look at things.
We see things through the eyes of faith and it has changes that it makes in us..
We turn the other cheek instead of taking revenge.
We love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us.
Sadly our “old Adam” – our sinful nature – still hangs around and tries to influence otherwise but through our Baptism we drown the “Old Adam” and a new self rises each day just as the yeast causes the flattened dough to rise anew.
Jesus then changes his aspect of the Kingdom of God away from our personal qualities to what it is that we are focusing on.
A treasure hidden in a field.
The treasure of heaven is sadly hidden to so many people.
It is hidden behind sin in the world that people don’t see the true meaning of Heaven and the church.
It is hidden behind the human failings of Christians and the church that people reject God’s free gift.
As Christians we are called to reveal what is hidden.
Just as our lives are hidden as St Paul says: your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:3,4)
When people finally discover what the Kingdom of God is all about they rejoice just like the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents and finds the Kingdom of God (Luke 15:10)
So we are called to present the true picture of the Kingdom of God by loving one another as Christ loves us and by this all will know we are his disciples.
The pearl of great value is a similar discovery with a minor difference.
The pearl trader is looking for the pearl.
It comes as no great surprise but perhaps more of a relief that he has found what he has been looking for.
We keep hearing how our world is more and more spiritual but they just don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord.
A few of us went along to the Islamic Museum last week and the tour guide was saying that as a Muslim she believes in Jesus Christ.
She just doesn’t believe he is the Son of God.
Like her there are so many who are searching but have not discovered the true pearl that God has revealed in his Son Jesus Christ.
As the body of Christ we have that mission to present the pearl of great value that gem we call Jesus Christ as Saviour.
There are people searching;
30% may have ticked the No Religion box but that means 70% have not rejected their spiritual journey.
That 70% includes the 52% who ticked the Christian box but how many are struggling in their spiritual walk with God as we don’t see that many in church.
We have (Ringwood) over 200 on our membership list and average between 80 and 90 on good Sundays.
We have (Knox) around 70 to 80 on our membership list and average around 30 on a good Sunday.
Where are the rest?
We have a long list of Baptised contacts who do not worship.
They are all searching but have yet to discover that Great Pearl.
And that’s where the Holy Spirit becomes their helper – their intercessor praying with sighs too deep for words
That’s where the Holy Spirit becomes OUR helper as he searches the heart and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
So how is a net that catches all kinds of fish like the Kingdom of Heaven?
The final parable is also about the Kingdom of God but it is the reason why we become passionate about sharing the Kingdom with others.
Although Jesus died for all sins there are many who reject his grace.
The net is spread wide to catch all humanity but there are those who refuse his grace and refuse to repent.
This parable reminds us that while God is patient not wanting anyone to perish, while God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, he will and he must deal with sin that is not repented.
These are not my words – these are not the words of the Church – these are the very words of Christ himself.
As St Peter says:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The Kingdom of God is a precious gift and it is a gift given to all people.
And God wants all people to have the opportunity to hear the good news and he promises that he will not bring about the end until all have had the opportunity to hear it.
Jesus says the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
And God assures us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” Romans 10:13)
But Paul also puts the challenge before us:
How can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone telling them? 15 And how can anyone tell them unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

Those feet bringing the Good News of the Kingdom of God are yours and mine.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Year A 2017 - 7th Sunday After Pentecost - Matthew 13:24-30,36-43 – Evil mixed with good

Sermon 23rd July 2017
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43 – Evil mixed with good

‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’
That is a question that has been asked of God since the beginning of time.
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’
As we hear the creation story it concludes with the proclamation from God:
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31).
If all that God created was “very good” where did evil – or the weeds – come from?
Because God created everything people ask, did God create evil.
Our parable declares that is not so:
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
In explaining the parable Jesus defines who the enemy is:
“the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil”
It’s a really difficult thing to understand.
We confess that we believe in God the Father Almighty – make of heaven and earth – of all that is – seen and unseen.
Does that include what is evil?
Does that include the suffering?
I think the answer to this difficult question is in the parable where it speaks about the wheat and the weeds mingling together so much that to remove the weeds might harm the wheat.
If we go back to the creation account we see the account of Adam and Eve’s disobedience by taking from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The ground which Adam worked would now produce weeds –
“the ground is cursed because of you. It will grow thorns and thistles for you. (Genesis 3:17,18)
What transpired from that was not a punishment but a reality as God says in Genesis:
“The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.
In the next Chapter it speaks of Adam and Eve’s relationship and says: Adam knew Eve his wife; (Genesis 4:1)
“To Know” in this Hebrew understanding is not just a head knowledge but an intimate union of two becoming one – as in Adam and Eve becoming one flesh – bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.
Notice it wasn’t the tree of good and evil – but the tree of “knowledge” of good and evil
Evil, as well as the good God intended, has become one with us – good and evil is now bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh.
And the evil, as we see from our parable, comes not from God’s creative act but from the devil’s sinister attack on the world.
An attack that God had protected us from when Adam and Eve only knew good.
Paul recognises that creation is out of order because of the existence of evil.
He knows that evil is not what God intended for his ‘very good’ creation and says:
All creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope,  the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22 NLT)
So Paul understands that evil, including suffering and death, are not part of God’s good order but what the devil introduced through evil
And all people and all creation are subjected to it.
But Paul keeps our spirits up by reminding us that evil is only part of THIS creation and not the new heaven and new earth that God has prepared for his children and all creation where nothing evil will be allowed to enter (Revelation 21:27)
And he says: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.
And Jesus, too, is telling us to just be patient.
Just wait until the right time when God will finally deal with the evil in the world.
We want God to deal with evil right now but Jesus warns against that saying you may in fact damage the wheat when pulling up the weeds.
Let us remember that for us the knowledge of good and evil is also intermingled in our own lives.
If God destroyed evil, not one of us would be here! 
We have all sinned and sin is evil in God's sight.
To uproot evil now would destroy us.
We must wait for the final judgement where God will properly deal with evil, including the evil that exists in us which will be judged by God’s grace through Jesus’ forgiveness.
We need to be careful that we don’t take on a position of moral outrage.
We are tempted to rush to judgment and in the process use the same harshness that we find offensive in others.
And so we have a warning from St Peter who says:
Do not repay evil with evil. On the contrary, repay evil with good (1 Peter 3:9)
We can easily have within our response to evil the very evil we hate.
We see evil and want to do something about it.
And in doing so we can discover a part of ourselves that we don’t like.
Our moral outrage can become oppressive and hurtful.
This is a difficult time for the church because of the decline in ethics and morals.
People live by their rules “whatever works for you is fine”, “whatever is your truth is the truth. I cannot judge your beliefs” “it’s your body you can do whatever you want to it”.
In such an atmosphere of extreme tolerance it becomes hard to take a stance.
Whether you agree or disagree with her, look how society responded to Margaret Court’s opinion on marriage.
The beauty of Jesus’ parable is that it asks us to take a second look before we rush to judgement.
The owner of the wheat field is about how God views the evil mingled in with his very good creation.
It teaches us how to deal with evil in an appropriate spiritual way.
When we read of the rush to judgement of the servants we can identify with them.
But we need to be cautious because there are consequences to actions in that we may harm the good in dealing with the evil.
That doesn’t mean we stand by and do nothing but we leave actions of judgment to God and the final judgment.
We are called to be salt and light in the world – not the judging fire.
When the people did not welcome Jesus the disciples James and John saw this, and asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them. But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Luke 9:53-54)
We can pray for those affected by or who cause evil.
We can be God’s salt and light in the world to bring good from evil – transforming lives.
And remember that what humans intend for evil God can turn into good (Genesis 50:20).
That’s what Joseph said to his brothers when they expected him to repay their evil against him with evil.
But he didn’t.
In fact Paul says that we can deal with evil in a way that brings good but also judgment.
He says:
Never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” (Romans 12:20).

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Year A 2017 6th Sunday after Pentecost - Text: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 – Generous or irresponsible Sower?

Sermon 16th July 2017
Text: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 – Generous or irresponsible Sower?

When I found out that my first Parish was going to be a country town in the Wimmera called Minyip I was contacted by the chairman to see if my family and I would like to come up for a weekend to be shown around the town where I would be the Pastor.
The chairman drove us around several farmlands and being November the crops were in fine shape.
He told us that this was going to be one of their best years.
There had been good rain and good sunshine and Minyip had one of the best soils for growing crops.
That night at dinner at one of the elder’s, another farmer, dropped in to tell us that the frost from the previous night seems to have wiped out around 90% of the crop.
It was devastating.
When I arrived early in the year to begin my ministry the fears were confirmed.
I asked one of my members what will they do.
He said – we’ll put another crop in this year.
He said – there’s no guarantees in farming except if you don’t put in a crop then you definitely won’t get a harvest.
Jesus uses the example of a farmer in our Gospel reading to explain how mission works.
He uses the example of a sower who goes out to sow and he seems almost foolish in how he scatters his seed.
The sower seems somewhat irresponsible.
Why throw seed on rocky grounds or among the thorns or on the path.
The point Jesus wanted to highlight was that our results will not always be what we might expect when we plant the word of God in other people's lives but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sow the seed.
That's a great message for us for when we get discouraged – such as when we see the results of the latest census with “no religion” being the fastest growing category in the religious section.
Jesus tells a comforting story about expectation and discouragement.
It says that people will each react differently to the same witness we give.
One may be so angry at God and the church that they can't hear or believe the good news at all.
Another may hear the witness, come along to church for a while but then simply disappear without reason or notice.
But the comforting message of this parable is the assurance that there always will be those who hear and believe, who grow and mature in their faith.
This is a wonderful assurance for us as we try so hard to witness but feel like giving up because of the disappointing results.
It was an important message for the disciples because at the time everything looked so good and successful.
But before very long the crowds would turn against Jesus and many would turn hostile toward him.
A cross would be prepared in Jerusalem to end the life of the one they had put their hopes in.
This parable that Jesus told is not so much about soils but about how God uses what we sow and asks us not to think about whether or not God is able to use that seed.
This is about sharing the message anywhere and everywhere.
There is nowhere that we are where we do not have the opportunity or the responsibility to share the word.
And we should not think that God’s word could never grow here and we should not be deterred when our witness seems to fall on barren soil.
Nothing is barren to God but an opportunity.
That's good news for us as we seem to be further and further away from the deep, rich soil we want to be near.
The parable of the sower is to give us encouragement in God’s work in mission.
If mission were our task we’d either lose heart or give up asking:
Why doesn’t everyone who hears the word believe? 
Why is what is so plain to us so unclear to others? 
Why, when we can say, “Jesus is Lord,”, don’t others get it? 
What’s wrong here?
Why are churches getting smaller or struggling? 
Is there something wrong with the word? 
Is the seed not what we thought it was?
Are we wasting our time? 
Did the sower get it wrong?
Whether it’s a baptism where we don’t see the family again or a visitor who doesn’t return or a lapsed member or a member of our own family that has stopped worshipping  – we continue to sow the seed of God’s love and hope.
We continue to pray for them.
We continue to reach out to them.
But above all we continue to be ready to receive them.
The Isaiah reading reminds us that the Word of God does not return to God without having done its work.
“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
The Word of God is effective.
It creates life.
We do not give up just as the sower did not give up, no matter how hopeless and unpromising the situation may appear.
We sow the seed and leave the results to God as St Paul told the Corinthians:
It's not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What's important is that God makes the seed grow. (1 Corinthians 3:7 NLT)
We sow the seed even though our first judgment or even common sense says that it isn't worth the effort.
It is worth the effort because Jesus Christ died for that person.
God sees the possibilities when we just can't make them out.
When we sow God’s seed we also sow in the most unpromising places.
But the Holy Spirit takes control and the response may surprise us because God is at work creating the harvest.
Our planting of the seed doesn’t need to be that spectacular.
It doesn’t need to be the latest church program being used by the big successful church brands.
We can simply tell them about our relationship with God and share the love we have received first from God.
No one is unreachable in God's sight.
God calls us to invite all just as he did in the parable of the King’s wedding feast:
He told his servants:
Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:9,10)
God invites us sow anywhere and everywhere and to not be discouraged at the results.
God is the Lord of the Harvest and we trust that he can and will make the seed we sow grow.
Jesus is saying, “Sow the seed!” 
Don’t worry about whether YOU think the soil is good or bad, receptive or not. 
Don’t be saving up seed for the places YOU think will be the most fertile. 

This seed is so precious, it has to be shared, and there’s plenty more seed where that came from.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Year A 2017 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Romans 7:15-25 – Regretting our actions.

Sermon 9th July 2017 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Romans 7:15-25 – Regretting our actions.

The news this week has been dominated with violence in sport where people have reacted in ways that they say was not to cause hurt but it did.
It began with Richmond footballer Bachar Houli who knocked out a player when he got frustrated with him grabbing onto him.
The next week Melbourne footballer Tom Bugg also allowed his frustrations get the better of him to punch and knock out an opposition player saying how ashamed and remorseful he felt.
And that same week AFL’s diversity manager Ali Fahour ran meters to punch an opposition player in the head – again saying how much he regretted his actions.
So often we hear of people hurting others but that had not been their intention.
We were all shocked and saddened at the news of a respected surgeon at Box Hill hospital who simply asked a person outside the hospital to not smoke in the hospital precinct.
The person reacted by punching the doctor who last week died from the injury.
Time and again we hear of people – good people – who don’t think about their actions and as a result cause hurt that they would never intend but their anger has gotten the best of them.
Anger can get the best of us.
Our emotions can get the better of us.
Most of us have probably been angered at some point and really felt like retaliating.
Maybe we’ve yelled at the driver who cuts us off.
Maybe we’ve cursed someone who has jumped in and taken the last car spot we were waiting so long for.
Or go to Centrelink and watch the anger boiling over at people waiting for over an hour.
The incidents of road rage are just sad where people retaliate with out of character violence.
We need to understand that in each of us is the ability to do something that hurts another person even though that is not who we are.
St Paul expresses that inner struggle that we have at times when he says:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
So often we hear of people’s whose lives have been ruined and who have ruined other peoples’ lives by one action that has unintended results.
How often don’t we hear of well-respected people attending a party or nightclub and overdosing.
Or the quiet unassuming person becoming addicted to the drug ice.
How often don’t we hear of a group of friends going out for a few drinks and in a random response someone hits somebody who falls to the ground, hitting their head and dying.
Our actions have consequences.
There is a term called the butterfly effect which speaks about the massive consequences that can happen from a small action elsewhere.
It is the concept that small actions can have large effects such as a tornado being influenced by minor vibrations caused by the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier.
We live in stressful times – some believe more stressful than ever before.
The stresses of work.
The hustle and bustle of life.
The continuous nature of life with 24/7 lifestyles – TV, Shopping, Internet, Mobile Phones, Globalisation – we never seem to switch off.
Phones go off in the middle of the night.
Phones go with you on your holidays.
More and more people are becoming addicted to the Internet but it’s not just the bad things on there but it’s things like Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, online gaming.
But they also become the source of anonymous hate – and sometimes not so anonymous.
We hear of people being bullied.
People being “fat-shamed” which is the latest term.
People creating fake accounts so they can hurt their friends but they don’t realise it is them doing it.
So called innocent remarks can have tragic outcomes especially in the lives of youth.
Where will it all lead – when will it end as new innovations are created to keep us even more involved.
Part of our human nature is that we keep on going and going.
God created the Sabbath so we could take time to stop and rest – physically and spiritually.
We become stressed – we become anxious – we become depressed.
Our relationships struggle.
Jesus also recognised just how erratic life can be.
He saw how people’s words hurt others including himself.
He said: John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; Jesus came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard.
Jesus provides a different way.
A way that wasn’t focused on the hustle and bustle.
And he extends an invitation to you:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
And I love that Jesus explains that rest when he says - you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)
It’s not just physical rest we need.
We need spiritual rest – time with God to find that inner contentment.
St Augustine put it so beautifully when he said:
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
That’s where St Paul found his way out of his burden:
He said: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I think we can all sympathise with Paul.
We want to do the right thing.
We make New Year’s Resolutions because we want to change but find the old habits too hard to break.
The good we want to do we do not do – the evil we know we should do – we keep on doing.
But sometimes our inner self gets overloaded.
And sometimes it can be a minor thing that tips us over the edge.
Compare the difference between seeing a person wanting to change lanes and you slow down to let them in – it makes you feel good that you’ve waved them in.
But on another occasion that person will infuriate you and you’ll toot and give a filthy look.
There is no need for that and that’s what we need to take to Jesus when we feel like that.
Because a snap reaction can have us regretting what we have done or said in a moment of frustration.
It’s like the warning given to Cain by God when he was angry because his brother gave a better offering to God:
Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:5-7).
That moment of anger led to an irreversible action.
And that’s what we are all capable of and why Jesus invites us to come to him:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest … and you will find rest for your souls.
So as you go from here may you find that rest for your soul so you can allow the peace of God that surpasses our understanding to fill your hearts and not give Satan a foothold to lead you astray as St Paul says:
“In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26)
He doesn’t say don’t get angry – because sadly that is who we are.
But in our anger we are susceptible to actions that hurt – actions we regret.
Come to Jesus and find rest and let Jesus rescue you.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!