Thursday, 24 August 2017

Year A 2017 - 12th Sunday after Pentecost - Text: Matthew 16:13-20 – Jesus, Son of God – what does this mean?

Sermon 27th August 2017
Text Matthew 16:13-20 – Jesus, Son of God – what does this mean?

Getting into places is getting more difficult these days.
At the footy you have to go through bag searches and body scans which takes such a long time.
If you drive there you have even more difficulty with all the bollards that have been placed around areas to prevent the latest terrorist attacks of driving vehicles into crowds.
Airports are a security nightmare because of the concerns of terrorism also.
But it’s not just the issue of terrorism causing entrance headaches.
We have the incredible situation happening currently in our parliament with ministers being removed or under investigation for being dual citizens.
It’s a worry that if these earthly places are so difficult to enter, what about heaven?
Do you ever wonder about whether or not you’re going to be eligible to enter into heaven?
What is the eligibility?
Is there a minimum ENTER score you have to achieve to get in?
Do your good deeds have to outweigh your sins?
That was a question that vexed Martin Luther as he struggled to find a loving God who appreciated all the good things he was doing for him.
It just seemed to Luther that the more he did, the harder he tried to assure himself of entry into heaven the further away it seemed for him.
He called God a tyrant and spoke about how he at times hated God for the way he made him feel.
Jesus today teaches about entry into heaven and he teaches that entry can be understood quite easily.
He explains that it is one’s relationship with him [Jesus] that is our assurance of entry into heaven.
He begins by asking his disciples what everyone else is believing about him – who are they saying that I am?
Their answers sound okay but they are so way off:
“Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Those answers are of no help in getting into heaven.
Each of them were themselves looking for the coming promise of God so it couldn’t be them.
They were looking and waiting for the Promised Messiah or Christ.
And so he asks those who have been with him – those who are his dearest and closest companions.
Who do YOU say that I am?
Peter, as spokesman for the disciples answers on their behalf:
You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
And for that answer Jesus reveals the key to eternal life in heaven:
On this rock – believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God - I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The keys of heaven have been given to the church and those keys are used by forgiving the sin that had prevented entry into heaven.
Sin is what prevents entry into heaven.
Luther discovered that sin was not dealt with by balancing it away with good works but by coming before God and receiving his forgiveness.
And therefore there was no uncertainty over whether he had done enough good things or not.
God wiped away his sins by forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
So what does that mean for us – as Luther would always ask when explaining something about God?
He would always ask: What does this mean?
Does it mean that it makes no difference how we live our lives because at the end God is simply going to forgive us?
Certainly not!
That’s NOT what it means.
Forgiveness of our sins is not like paying off your credit card where you can simply fill it up again and pay it off and the end of the week.
No, it doesn’t mean that at all.
Jesus asks us – who do YOU say that I am - it’s a personal question that asks for a personal response.
St Paul answers that question in our 2nd reading when he says:
“I appeal to you by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
If Jesus is our Lord – if we truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for MY sins - then we should be living our lives in such a way.
Sin should be as abhorrent to us as it is to God because it is sin that prevented our entry into heaven and necessitated Jesus’ suffering and death in our stead.
Forgiveness is given by God because we are not perfect in living out our Christian lives not so we can do whatever we want.
Not at all – and again St Paul explains what that means for us:
He says: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect”.
So whereas entry into heaven might be easy it is not that easy to live the life that God calls us to live.
Holy and Perfect.
And that’s where our concerns and doubts arise wondering whether we are good enough.
And that’s the same dilemma Luther faced and he realised he needed to look outside of himself and to what God has given to him.
And that’s where he discovered his Baptism was a great comfort to assure him that despite his failings that he was still a child of God.
So instead of referring to all the good things he had done he would reply “I am Baptised”.
The good works weren’t irrelevant except if we are using them to try and convince God as to why we should enter heaven.
Our baptism is given to us by God so that we can look outside of ourselves for assurance of forgiveness and entry into heaven.
Sadly many use baptism like a gym membership.
A gym membership won’t get you fit and losing weight.
A gym membership gives you access to the premises to help us.
Likewise Baptism gives us access to God’s grace to help us in our weakness.
So we call Baptism a means of grace.
The same is said for Holy Communion.
Holy Communion is a means of grace by which we receive Jesus’ body and blood that gives and assures us of forgiveness.
And, as Jesus says, whatever is forgiven on earth is without a doubt forgiven in heaven.
So entry into heaven is not about what WE do – it is about what God HAS done.
What God HAS done, not will do.
So we can have that assurance now and not wait till the end of time wondering if we will get into heaven.
St Paul so beautifully puts it in his letter to the Philippians (3:20):
We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Saviour.

We ARE citizens of heaven and that is a citizenship that we do not want to renounce.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Year A 2017 - 11th Sunday after Pentecost - Text: Matthew 15:21-28 – God’s “un-fairness

Sermon 20th August 2017
Text: Matthew 15: 21-28 – God’s “un-fairness”

Today’s encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon is often misread and even misunderstood.
People are often left scratching their heads wondering about Jesus’ treatment of this woman pleading for Jesus to heal her daughter.
They often ask why Jesus denies her request at first.
But as I read the account I don’t see anywhere that Jesus actually denies her request.
The disciples tell Jesus to “send her away”.
A similar response to the 5000 hungry people looking for food when Jesus told his disciples to feed them.
But Jesus didn’t send the crowds away and he doesn’t send the woman away.
His response is “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
He doesn’t say “no” but points out the unfairness if he were to respond to her request.
But when does Jesus do anything that is considered fair by worldly standards?
He tells a parable about a generous landowner who pays his workers the same amount whether they worked an hour or an entire day and is considered to be unfair even though it was what was agreed.
He tells a parable about a father who welcomes back his prodigal son and is called “unfair” by the older brother for welcoming him back into the family and celebrating his return.
What is considered generosity by Jesus is often interpreted as unfair by those who see what he is doing.
There are cries of unfairness as Jesus invites himself to the house of Zacchaeus while the religious leaders call him out as unfair for eating with tax collectors and sinners instead of them.
Many consider God’s actions of judgment against sin as unfair:
We are made this way by our Original Sin.
We have no say over our sinfulness and yet we are judged.
But again, in this, God’s generosity comes through this unfairness as God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21).
If we’re talking about “unfair”, how unfair was that for Jesus?
God’s grace is often seen as unfair and today we see that at work as Jesus shows that God’s grace trumps fairness by worldly standards.
Jesus uses this Canaanite woman as a teaching principle for the disciples who will one day continue Jesus’ ministry.
They are going to go out and be challenged by Jesus’ inclusion of those considered outsiders.
This is not the only time that Jesus has gone against conventions of his day – he healed a Samaritan leper – he spoke with a Samaritan woman.
Both women and lepers were unconventional for a religious teacher like Jesus let alone Samaritans.
We too are going to be challenged as we go out into the world to share the Gospel with outsiders.
There are people we are more comfortable with but we are called to spread the word to all nations.
It’s interesting that the disciples question Jesus in regards to this Canaanite woman but not his going into Gentile countryside – Tyre and Sidon, part of Lebanon.
As Lutherans it has been particularly challenging as we have for generations isolated ourselves from ecumenical relations operating with the principle – Lutheran pulpits for Lutherans only and Lutheran altars for Lutherans only – known as the Galesburg rule.
Our challenge has come that our children are no longer marrying only Lutherans.
Our Lutheran schools are seeing Lutherans as a minority both as students and teachers.
Just think how challenging it is for our School Pastors who are called to minister to predominantly non-Lutherans including, perhaps, a majority being non-Christian.
Likewise for our Pastors in aged care – both sectors (education and aged care) growing too fast for us to keep up with.
And also our Pastors serving in defence chaplaincy who faced the added challenge of inter-faith issues..
Imagine Peter’s challenge when the Holy Spirit called him to the home of Cornelius and he witnessed the Holy Spirit being given to Gentiles for the first time.
Peter responds at God’s generosity: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. (Acts 10:34,35).
When his fellow disciples heard what he did they criticized Peter and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:2,3).
When Jesus gave the great commission he told his disciples to go to “all nations” to baptise.
He also gave the instruction to teach.
So as we go to invite all to God’s house and God’s table we are also called to teach.
Not so they earn the right to be included but so they can truly understand and appreciate what it is they are receiving.
This woman was received and helped by Jesus without first needing to renounce her citizenship.
The reality is that God does love all people – God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to die for our sins.
God doesn't make any distinction between Jews and Canaanites, between those who appear to be righteous and those who don't.
As Jesus says: He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45).
Sometimes God sends in our path people who are difficult – people who are outside our comfort zone – people with whom we disagree and to help them may make us feel that we are going against God’s will.
Those who do not believe in Christ are not infidels – they are not the enemy.
They are people for whom Jesus also died who have not come to know how much God loves them.
It’s interesting that Jesus commends the woman for her faith.
What faith does she have?
She is not a Jew although she addresses Jesus by his correct title: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David;
We too get people coming to the Church looking for help even though they are not part of our community.
It’s easy to send them away.
We don’t have the resources.
The Salvos are probably able to help you better.
But for some reason God has sent them to us and as difficult and as inconvenient as it is to us we are God’s presence.
As we go about our daily routine we see the Canaanite women that God places in our path – but are we sometimes more like the priest and Levite who crossed the other side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
I find it really hard too like when I turned up to church last Sunday and find someone sleeping in the doorway and my first thought is the inconvenience rather than the opportunity to help and ringing in my ears is “as much as you did not do it for the least of these you did not do it for me”.
As we look back will we regret the opportunity missed to extend the grace of God.
I am sorry for the way I first responded but I’m also thankful that Jesus listens when I cry out: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David;
We don’t always get it right but we have a merciful God who forgives.

But I hope and pray that it will teach me that what I see as an inconvenience, like the Canaanite woman to the disciples, is seen as an opportunity that God has placed before me to show just how much Jesus loves and cares.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Year A 2017 - 10th Sunday after Pentecost - Text: 1 Kings 19:9-18 – The Deafening Silence of God.

Sermon 13th August 2017
Text: 1 Kings 19:9-18 – The Deafening Silence of God.

People often ask me how I became a Christian and then later on becoming a pastor.
They seem a little disappointed with my answer thinking I had this huge mountain top experience or where God appeared to me in a vision to convert me and then tell me to become a pastor.
Becoming a Christian I was simply reading a bible given to me in my high school days and realised that this was what I had been searching for.
Becoming a Pastor was a gentle transition from giving of my time serving my local church to deciding to look at working full time for the church.
No thunderbolts – no lighting flashes – no messages written in the sky like Emperor Constantine who in the early 4th century saw the cross of Christ in the sky with the words “by this sign conquer”.
God often works in subtle means – maybe a word or comment from a friend or stranger.
As much as we would love definite signs and messages from God to know what to do or to confirm that what we are doing is his will that’s not how God has chosen to reveal himself.
Maybe you’ve been disappointed with God’s silence at time when you really needed him to give you some strength or guidance.
I’m sure our church leaders would love to know without a doubt whether God wants our church to have women pastors or not.
I’m sure we would love it if God thundered from heaven whether same sex marriage was right or wrong.
Especially when we are going through a difficult period in life it would be so reassuring to hear God call out to us that it’s going to be okay.
In our Old Testament bible reading we come across the prophet Elijah who is really needing God’s support and guidance.
He is hiding in a cave, depressed because he believes that he is the only faithful person left – they have killed all the prophets of God and he believes he will be next.
At times it can feel like we are all alone too in times of suffering or when it seems the world is going in a completely different way to the church.
Sometimes, like Elijah, it can feel like we too are all alone in the battle.
This would be the perfect time for God to thunder down a message for Elijah and everyone around to remind them who God is.
He tells Elijah to go and stand on the mountain because he is going to send that affirming message.
There was a great wind that split the mountain and shattered rocks – but that was not God’s message.
There was an earthquake but that was not God’s message.
Then there was a roaring fire – but no message from God in the fire.
But then came the sound of sheer silence which was where Elijah heard the message from God he had so needed to hear.
But not only that, God assures Elijah that he is not alone – he has preserved 7,000 faithful people to be alongside him.
God gives us a message.
But it is wrapped in silence too.
God’s word is in the water of our baptism.
It looks like water – it feels like water.
But it is God’s word to assure us that we are not alone – I am with you always.
God’s word is in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
It tastes like bread – it tastes like wine – but it is God’s word of comfort that we are not on our own in the battle that rages around us – this IS my body – this IS my blood.
We all go through those times where we struggle.
We all go through those moments where we want to be in control.
Just like Peter who when he saw Jesus walking on the water wanted that same power and authority.
Jesus invited him to step out of the boat and he walked on the water like Jesus.
But it wasn’t long before the wind and waves reminded Peter of his humanity and he began to sink.
Maybe it was because Peter’s encounter with Jesus at that time was shrouded in doubt;
Lord, IF it is you command me to come to you on the water.
IF it is you???
Not that dissimilar to Satan’s “if you are the Son of God” and the people’s derision of Jesus – If you’re the son of God come down from the cross.
They wanted a sign – Peter wanted a sign to be sure it was Jesus.
Jesus rescues him but doesn’t place him back on the water but places him back into the boat with the other disciples.
He did that because that is where his strength and support was.
In biblical understanding the boat is considered by many scholars to by symbolic of the Church.
It teaches us that we too are not alone.
We have each other.
When we are baptised we are baptised into a community.
We don’t baptise in people’s homes.
We baptise in the church and become part of that community to be supported and also to support our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Sadly Peter’s error was not only to take his eyes of Christ and begin to sink.
His other error was to step out of the boat and leave his brothers to manage without him.
That’s why Jesus places him back into the boat – not back onto the water.
Because he needed the disciples but the disciples also needed him.
And Jesus doesn’t stay on the water but comes into the boat with Peter and the apostles.
Jesus doesn’t criticise Peter for being afraid.
Who wouldn’t be afraid in the midst of a storm?
We all have our fears.
But why did you doubt?
Did you really think I wouldn’t come?
Did you really think I wouldn’t save you?
Did you really think that I would ever, ever leave you alone?
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Something missing from this English translation that is seen clearly in the Greek text is that “it is I” is actually “I AM” – the name of God.
Jesus is saying: Do not be afraid – I AM.  I AM – the Lord – I AM God.
Jesus and Peter get into the boat. The wind ceases. “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’”
There are plenty of challenges ahead for Christians and the church and Jesus will say to us “Take heart, I AM; do not be afraid.”
We are not lone rangers – we are not vigilantes.
We are the community of Christ called to serve together.
Called to serve and support one another.
That’s why Jesus first task when he began his mission was to call disciples to himself.
And when he sent them out he sent them two by two.
This isn’t the only time that Peter will want to take the lead.
When Jesus tells the disciples that he must suffer and die as part of his mission work Peter objects – never Lord – this will never happen to you.
And again Jesus places Peter back where he belongs – get behind me Satan. (Matthew 16:22,23)
Also at Jesus’ arrest Peter goes it alone - "Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will." (Mark 14:29)
I know that sometimes we would really love it if God came and “smited” the evil – if he came and rained down fire and brimstone on the Sodom and Gomorrahs of today.
But that was not the message that Jesus sent his apostles to preach and the message that the church continues to preach:
In John’s Gospel it says – as the Father has sent me so I am sending you – if you forgive anyone their sins they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.
And in Luke’s Gospel he tells them repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations.
God is well aware of the state of the world at present.
God is well aware of the challenges facing the church today.
We are called to exercise the Ministry of Reconciliation between the world and God.
That doesn’t mean we accept what’s going on but we show a different way.
We take God’s light into the world to reveal God’s love for all humankind.
We take God’s salt into the world to cleanse, preserve and flavour the world by the way we live our lives.
We are God’s light and salt in the world not his fire and brimstone.
We are not to judge as Paul says: do not say in your heart who will ascend to heaven or who will descend into hell.
That judgment belongs to God.
We are called to bring the Good News as Paul says – how beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News.
And that Good News is that if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you WILL be saved.

Grant this Lord to us all. Amen.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Year A 2017 - 9th Sunday after Pentecost - Text Matthew 14:13-21 - How did he do that?

Sermon 6th August 2017
Text: Matthew 14:13-21 – How did he do that?

I was watching the TV show – America’s Got Talent a couple of weeks ago and they had a magician as one of their acts.
They chained him up and put handcuffs on him and then placed him inside a wooden box in a hole that had been previous dug.
The men outside the hole began to shovel the dirt on top of the box.
He had 90 seconds of air to get out.
As the clock nervously ticked down there was panic.
After a couple of minutes his wife hysterically yelled “get him out”.
Everyone panicked – until one of the men shovelling the dirt pulled off his hat and revealed himself as the one they had buried in the box.
I said – How did he do that!
As we hear today’s bible reading – the feeding of the 5000 – which was probably more than 10000 as women and children weren’t counted many people have asked how did Jesus do that?
How did Jesus feed all those people with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish?
The first thing we need to understand – it wasn’t magic.
It wasn’t a trick.
Magic works on sleight of hand.
Jesus’ action today was nothing but a miracle.
At the start of the miracle we hear why Jesus does this great miracle rather than let the people go hungry or send them away:
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Compassion is what drives all of Jesus actions.
Compassion is what drives all of God’s actions especially the life and death of Jesus;
For God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. (Psalm 103:8)
God’s compassion does not want us to perish so he does something about it.
Without God’s compassion we would have perished because of our broken relationship with God through our sin.
But God, through Baptism has washed away our sin and renewed our relationship with him.
How extraordinary.
In fact, so extraordinary that it made Martin Luther ask – How did he do that?
How can water so such amazing things?
Luther explains that it is not the water that does these things – but water used together with God’s word.
And that word, as Jesus says – whoever believes and is baptised will be saved!
God says it and God does it.
In today’s feeding of the 5000 we see the difference between words spoken by the disciples and the words spoken by Jesus.
When the disciples saw the crowd – their words were:
Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.
Jesus words in response were:
“They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
This dumbfounded the disciples because they didn’t have faith in Jesus words.
They responded “how”?
And so again Jesus responds with the words ““Bring them here to me,”
As we look around the world and all the problems facing us;
As we look at our own lives and all the challenges that we face we took may ask – how can water make any difference to all the struggles that I’m going through.
How can water fix the problems in society?
Why does the church place baptism in such a central place to deal with all the questions and struggles in the world.
Shouldn’t we be more about physical responses to the problems in the world?
No – because that would leave us in the same place that the disciples were in;
They saw the large crowds and their only solution with their resources was to send them away.
There’s enough food for us – 5 loaves and 2 fish is ample for 13 – but not for thousands.
We must keep God in the centre of our lives because otherwise we would tire and lose our compassion for the needy.
We are already seeing that.
We see the thousands arriving as refugees and many responses are – send them away – we don’t have enough for ourselves why should our limited resources be used on others.
We see the drug affected – alcohol affected – and we respond – why should our taxes pay for their drugs and alcohol.
We see the homeless sleeping on the streets in Melbourne and our response, like the disciples is “send them away”.
By our baptism we are reminded that we are children of God.
We are reminded that we were once lost and separated from God but God did not send us away.
Rather, in our Baptism God promised “I am with you always till the end of the age”.
The feeding of the 5000 reminds us that we cannot do things alone.
Whether it’s in our own lives or the world around us God invites us to bring it first to him.
We tend to look at what we have and wonder how we are going to deal with what’s in front of us – like the disciples who looked at their food – 5 loaves and 2 fish – they looked at the crowd – but they didn’t look to Jesus.
Notice something in the reading though.
Jesus said – bring the food to me – he blessed it – and then he gave it back to the disciples.
He gave them back 5 loaves and 2 fish.
It doesn’t say he multiplied the loaves and fish.
He didn’t hand them 5000 loaves and 2000 fish.
Likewise God doesn’t give us what we might think to be enough to deal with our situation but he gives us faith to trust that we can do with what he gives us.
And not only that, but the disciples gathered leftovers.
And how many times don’t we get through those confronting situations and ask ourselves – why didn’t we trust God.
I know it only seems like water but it is more than that.
It is water, together with God’s word.
And God’s word is powerful.
God’s word created the world.
God’s word became flesh and lived with us in Jesus.
God’s word stilled the storm when Jesus told the wind and waves to be quiet.
God’s word raised Lazarus from the dead when he told him to come out of the grave.
God’s word changes bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
And God’s word brings you life as he says – I am with you always – as he says – whoever believes and is baptised will be saved – as he says, take and eat, this is my body – take and drink, this is my blood given for the forgiveness of our sins
And it will be the final word you hear when Jesus says:
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.(Matthew 25:34).
God’s word is powerful – it is life changing – it is life giving.
And God’s word is given to you in your baptism.