Thursday, 30 November 2017

Year B 2017 - Advent 1 - Text Mark 13:24-37 – Waiting and watching.

Sermon 3rd December 2017 (Advent 1)
Text: Mark 13:24-37 – Waiting and watching.

We look again to God with anxious eyes this Advent. 
With all the difficulties in the world sometimes we can feel so inadequate in trying to make the world a better place. 
What difference do we make in the world? 
Sometimes the world’s problems seem so big that it’s like “David and Goliath” – but let us remember, David actually defeated Goliath – but not with his own strength or with weapons provided by King Saul – but relying on God’s strength. 
Advent keeps us watching and waiting for Jesus Christ to return and until then we ask ourselves: do we still trust that God is in charge,
Do we really believe that God is faithful to us and working towards bringing us home to be with him? 
Our Advent focus, as always, encourages us to trust in God despite what is happening around us. 
Advent is a time of waiting and watching to keep our hope alive, despite the headlines that continue to bombard our TV screens and newspapers. 
Whether it’s the tensions between the USA and North Korea, the terrorist attacks by ISIS, the drugs crisis or the growing immorality in the world – these all make us fearful.
But there’s another response to these that we continue to see and that is the growing prophesies of the world coming to an end.
I’ve lost count of the number of predictions warning of Armageddon, the Tribulation and the Rapture – and if you’re not familiar with those terms come and have a chat with me.
These can have a negative effect on our faith as we see with the Jehovah’s Witnesses who on several occasions predicted the end of the world – 1914, 1915, 1918 and 1975 which saw many quit their jobs and sell their houses.
That’s not what Jesus has said to do while we watch and wait.
Another response which we continually see is a desire to go back to the good old days.
Advent doesn’t focus on the past, when nostalgically things seemed better. 
Advent looks forward. 
But, one might ask, what do we have to look forward to? 
Despite the concerns we in the church and world have we express our faith that God has not given up on us. 
We reach out for God and discover God has been embracing us with love all along even during those times when we thought we were doing things alone.. 
Christmas decorations have been in the stores for some time already.
Yet, our focus is not there yet – we are still preparing so we can bring that one essential point to the forefront- Jesus’ birth.
And so we are called to “Prepare the way of the Lord” at Advent time.
Advent doesn’t begin with cheery anticipation of the birth of Christ but rather a reminder of why we need Jesus our Saviour. 
We hear Jesus’ warning sounds in our ears, “Be alert!  Stay awake!”
This gospel reading isn’t from the beginning of Mark’s gospel but rather it is near the conclusion;
it has a farewell theme preparing for Jesus’ arrest.
In this section of Mark Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple because that was where his disciples believed their earthly help would come from during their times of difficulty.
So when the temple was destroyed they thought their faith was destroyed.
Jesus taught them to look to him, the true temple.
This section of Mark also speaks of Jesus return in glory as an end to the doom and gloom. 
So Jesus encourages his disciples that we should always be watchful and be full of anticipation for Jesus’ return and be ready. 
We are also reminded that we may have to wait for some time since the “master” of the house may not come until very late into the night hours, perhaps not till dawn.
But Jesus calls us to keep alert, keep awake.
As many people stress over the coming holiday period and the Christmas rush, Advent calls us to prepare for something much bigger than the yearly arrival of Christmas and all the hustle and bustle of buying presents, sending out cards, and getting the Christmas lunch or dinner ready.
Advent calls us to pay attention to the world around us wracked with suffering, violence, and hunger.
The first Sunday of Advent begins with a story of cosmic signs, with the sun being darkened and the stars falling from heaven.
Advent reminds us that, like the people of the Old Testament, we cry out for a Saviour to come and rescue us to give us hope that all is going to be okay.
And that’s what we in the Church are waiting for  - the return of one who promised to save us and bring us to our new home.
We wait, and we hope and we keep watching, and keep awake.
In our world torn by pain and division, we look at the pain all around us and we wonder, “how long?”
How long will people have to live in fear in their communities, in their schools, and in their own homes?
How long will we live at odds with our neighbour?
How long will people have to endure violence and hunger and pain?
We are tempted to wonder if things will be this way forever.
But this season that we begin today — Advent — calls us to look deeper.
It urges us to “Keep awake!”
It is a call of urgency and longing, but also a call of promise: there is hope.
Things will not always be as they are.
Something is coming that is even bigger than our Christmas celebrations.
Or rather – someone is coming.
The world is waiting for justice.
The world is waiting for peace.
The world is waiting for God.
Advent is about preparing ourselves to receive the light of Christ that pierces our dark world.
Jesus does remind us that the world has an end date when he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31).
The world may crumble but Jesus and his words will last forever.

When that will be, we don’t know so Jesus says to watch and be alert and let the world’s destruction be a sign to keep looking to God and his promise: I am with you always, till the end of the age..

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Year A 2017 - Christ the King Sunday - Text Text Matthew 25:31-46 –Love comes to life

Sermon 26th November 2017 – Christ the King Sunday
Text Matthew 25:31-46 –Love comes to life

Have you ever invited someone to church and they responded that if they ever entered a church the walls would come crashing down?
Usually they say that because they believe that their way of life is more than God or the church can tolerate.
In the world people have often thought the same believing the world is going end because of certain things happening.
I heard more than a few times that if Same Sex Marriage comes in it will be the end of society.
We’ve heard many times in our own church that if the Ordination of Women comes in that our church will end.
When we look at issues in these ways we can begin to believe that the world and the church depends on us rather than God.
That doesn’t mean that things don’t harm the world and the church but we need to remember that God is almighty – and hence, we name today, the last day of the church year, Christ the King Sunday.
The world and the church don’t depend on us – they depend on Christ.
In last week’s Gospel reading we heard about the King’s Servant who thought that it was up to him to preserve his master’s kingdom.
His master was going on a long trip so he entrusted his Kingdom to his servants.
Two of the servants took risks and were rewarded.
The third servant didn’t want to lose his master’s investment so he hid the money and on his master’s return proudly gave him back his property intact which angered his master.
His master could have done that himself before he left on his journey – but that wouldn’t have grown his kingdom.
In fact it diminishes his kingdom if we take into account inflation.
If I put money in the bank at 1% but inflation is 3% I’m actually losing money every day I keep it there.
Our world is a progressive world and things are going to change.
Whether you see that as a good thing or a bad thing we must not lose faith in God and we must not lose focus of what our call and mission is.
To love the Lord our God with all our heart and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
That’s what Jesus said is the greatest commandment and all the laws and prophets hang on these 2.
And following on from the greatest commandment Jesus gave us the great commission:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Notice who has the authority – Jesus.
And the commission was not to go and clean up the world but to go and make disciples and teach them.
So we are not to bury our love but keep working it to grow God’s kingdom.
So whether we agree or disagree with how things are going in the world our calling and responsibility is to love and teach – not judge and condemn.
That, as we hear from our Gospel reading belongs to God.
So when the account before God comes on that final day we hear what Jesus says about what our responsibility has been.
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
What we see here is love active in the world.
Or as our Church’s theme has been – “Where love comes to life”.
And that love is widespread – to the needy – to the stranger – to the outcast.
One might not agree with same sex relationships but there is the call to love unconditionally.
One might not agree with asylum seekers but that does not give the right to treat them inhumanely.
A person may be deserving of their prison sentence but we should never take joy in their suffering.
A person may be irresponsible in how they live their life contributing to their homelessness or poverty but we cannot ignore them or their needs.
When we look at Jesus’ ministry, he went out to the marginalised and those with whom he disagreed.
The Samaritan woman at the well – the Samaritan leper – both doubly marginalised by their nationality and status.
It was his love for Zacchaeus – another outcast - that saw him turn from his ways more than what any judgment would have achieved.
I can understand those who have conscientious objections to certain things but withholding love is not part of that objection as we remember that for God - God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
What is interesting about the love shown to the marginalised in our bible reading is that those who were showing love had no idea they were doing anything different.
It was so natural for them that they questioned the King - Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
But sadly those who were not extending love had no idea they were doing anything wrong:
‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’
And that’s the danger we face.
We think we are doing things to uphold God’s kingdom when in fact we are hurting others by the words and actions we do.
It can be a cliché but it is true in how Jesus lived out his ministry - loving the sinner while hating the sin.
To the woman caught in adultery Jesus separated the sin from the sinner – refusing to condemn her like the religious leaders wanted to do but telling her to go and sin no more.
As VCE students are nervously awaiting the results of the exams they have just completed it will be a daunting time for them wondering if they have passed or not.
As Christians we are thankful to God that our final examination is already secured through Jesus’ death for our sins.
But there are so many who have not heard or experienced God’s love.
There are so many who continue to equate God, the church and Christians as condemning and judgmental.
It’s not about accepting sin but it is about leading people to God and allowing God’s Holy Spirit to do his work.
Satan is very good at distracting Christians and the Church from the true mission of God.
We must remember that we are not the ones in control.
As St Paul so majestically put it in our 2nd reading:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

It’s okay to be concerned about things happening in the world but let that concern lead us to prayer and to love of our neighbour in need so that the church and us truly become a place where Love Comes to Life.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Year A 2017 - All Saints Day - Text Matthew 22:15-22 – Text: 1 John 3:1-3 – We are family

Sermon 5h November All Saints Day
Text: 1 John 3:1-3 – We are family

There is a saying – blood is thicker than water.
It is said to indicate that when it comes to loyalties family comes first.
Families in the Lutheran Church has always been important too.
You may have one or more family tree books so you can trace your genealogy and work out who that 2nd cousin once removed is.
There is any number of companies offering DNA testing and ancestry research to help you find that family lineage and produce that family tree.
Family is important to us and family is also important to God, and as we see in our bible reading today, we are God’s family – we are God’s children.
St John says: See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
Notice that John doesn’t put it as some future event.
It’s not what we will be but, as John says, that is what we are.
Sometimes we misunderstand our relationship with God and think that God could not possibly love us because of our sinfulness.
We are children of God NOW.
Maybe it doesn’t look like that at times as we go through times of suffering and times of feeling we are in the wilderness with God but regardless of how we feel, God has declared:
We are God's children now;
John also says, what we will be has not yet been revealed.
And again it’s important to note what John says – what we will be has not yet been “revealed”.
It has been achieved but not yet revealed which is similar to what St Paul said to the Colossians –
For you died, and 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 3,4)
On All Saints Day we commemorate the memory of our loved ones who have completed their life here on earth and now wait the great day when we join together in heaven.
It is a day that can reignite our pain through grief and so St Paul says about death - we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Even Christians, knowing about God’s love and what he has prepared for us in heaven, can sometimes feel anger towards God when death happens.
Even though we know that death is because of our disobedience – the wages of sin is death – nevertheless we can still feel some sort of betrayal by God who is supposed to love us:
Why did God let this happen?
Why did God take away someone I loved?
The reality is that God has not taken our loved ones away from us – sin has taken God’s loved ones away from him.
And because the wages of sin is death, God uses death to bring his children home.
So when Paul talks about death in 1 Corinthians he doesn’t deny death but denies victory to death:
He says: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. (Christ’s victory)” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pauls seems to be saying that the sting of death is still there because of sin, but the victory is not.
The sting of death is  everything that goes with death including suffering.
And so when John sees a vision of heaven he sees:
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.
We have a wonderful life waiting for us but it is the sting of that doorway that we must all pass through.
But once through we leave the old life behind to live in the presence of our Father in Heaven and everything we read about our life there is just unimaginable.
In fact, St Paul was given a glimpse of what was waiting for him to keep him strong in his faith because of all the suffering he was going through because of his faith in Jesus Christ and he said:
 I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell. (2 Corinthians 12:3,4).
So, yes death is difficult and it hurts the grieving.
But what a glorious homecoming is awaiting us as we are reunited with our heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and brother.
This is a family reunion like no other family reunion.
It may be in the future but it is with us now as we are already God’s beloved children through Baptism.
The sting of sin and death is still with us but the victory is long gone as the blood of Jesus Christ has washed us clean.
Death no longer has any power over us even though it looks like death has the final say.
But victory is ours now through Jesus Christ, as we grieve but not as those who have no hope.
Our hope is in Jesus Christ as we wait his return and we remember Paul’s words to the Colossians:
Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and 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 3:1-4)

All Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.