Thursday, 22 February 2018

Year B - 2nd Sunday in Lent - Text: Mark 8:31-38 – Follow the leader

Sermon 25th February 2018 2nd Sunday in Lent
Text: Mark 8:31-38 – Follow the leader

One of the features of Australian politics over the past 10 years has been the instability of leadership.
In the past 10 or so years we have had the deposing of the Rudd, Gillard, Rudd Government of the Labor Party and the Abbott Turnbull deposing in the Liberal Party.
In recent times we have seen the dispute in the Coalition between the Prime Ministry Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party Barnaby Joyce.
Many in society believe that we are lacking leadership and hence we tend to see more and more one term governments as people become displeased with the leader and demand change.
But it’s not easy being a leader because everybody wants you to lead them in the way they want.
And as a result leaders are trying to please everyone but find when they do that it leaves people disgruntled and also lacking respect for leaders.
Good leaders sometimes have to make unpopular decisions for the good of people and hope that people see that despite the hardship they are experiencing, their leaders are looking out for their best interests.
Jesus began to teach his disciples what he was leading them into.
It is very different to what they were perhaps expecting.
They and all Israel were waiting for the new leader that God had promised – a King both in the line of David and a mighty warrior like King David who led his people to success over their enemies.
With Roman domination over their land they were hoping that Jesus would once again re-establish Israel as a mighty nation.
But now Jesus reveals what his plan is;
Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed,
Peter, acting on behalf of the other disciples is mortified:
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Mark doesn’t have what Peter said but Matthew does:
Never Lord – this will NEVER happen to you.
Peter doesn’t like what he is hearing and refuses to allow his leader to even think about it.
But it is a decision that Jesus MUST do.
Jesus too was concerned about what was going to happen and prayed to his Father to take the cup of suffering from him – but closed his prayer with “Your will be done”.
Jesus accepted his Father’s decision.
As much as they do not like Jesus’ decision – without it they are doomed.
But now comes the difficult part of following Jesus:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
That’s the moment that Peter and the disciples realized that the Messiah they wanted was not the Messiah made known in Jesus Christ!
The disciples wanted a leader, a Messiah, who would be a political and military leader, leading the charge to put the Romans in their place once and for all.
They wanted someone who would raise them up to a position of power and importance.
They wanted someone so powerful that their enemies would cower and flee.
They were convinced that the keys to a good life were strength and power.
Instead, they got Jesus who taught about loving others, feeding the hungry, and foretold his own impending death at the hands of the very same powers he was supposed to overcome.
This was not what they had signed up for!
It’s easy to understand why Peter was so upset;
If we had been standing there we might have been upset, too!
But then again, who among us hasn’t wanted a God who is there at the first sign of trouble and sets things right?
Maybe we have asked God for a good parking spot; a better job, a new car or the bigger house.
We believe that if we can just get a little bit ahead and become just a little more successful, our lives would be much better.
Doesn’t God owe us that?
The disciples weren’t the only ones who believed that the keys to a good life were strength and power.
More often than not, we believe it too.
But it’s not only physical possessions we expect God to provide.
When tragedy strikes, we pray for a different outcome, and yet God seems far away from us.
Those who have been at the bedside of a friend or family member who died much too soon often find ourselves staring into the cold, dark silence of death, feeling abandoned by God.
They are among the crosses we have to carry.
Many situations cause us to wonder about this God we worship.
“Why doesn’t God just fix all of this?”
If God loves us, why do we suffer so terribly?
What sort of leadership is that?
But Jesus says that the life of a Christian is not about living a life that we desire but about trusting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
He says – whoever wants to save his life will lose it.
In fact Jesus says - If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
In our world today no one wants anything denied.
We believe we have a right to everything.
To confess Jesus as our Lord means standing at the foot of the cross as he is crucified.
Having Jesus as our Lord is more than fixing our lives.
Having Jesus as our Lord is about laying down his life so we may find ours.
It is then that we realize that the suffering we see around us—in the hospital bed, in the prison, on the street, in the mirror—is none other than the crucified Christ laying down his life again and again. In the midst of our suffering Jesus fulfils his Baptism promise – I am with you ALWAYS.
“If any want to become my followers,” Jesus said, “Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
That’s why Jesus rebuked Peter – get BEHIND me Satan.
Stop taking the leadership role and follow me.
But it is not all about doom and gloom and suffering as a follower.
As we follow Jesus we know that he is leading us to a better place – our eternal home in heaven.
We cannot understand the fullness of Christ’s resurrection unless we are willing to know Christ crucified.
Easter morning finds its true meaning and hope only through Good Friday.
And so, as we continue our journey through this holy season of Lent, may we walk alongside one another but behind Christ, bearing our crosses and proclaiming the faith of Christ crucified with our hearts filled with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and the assurance that until he has led us home “I am with you always till the end of the age”.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Year B - The First Sunday in Lent - Text: Mark 9:2-9 – Hating sin, loving the sinner.

Sermon 18th February 2018 – 1st Sunday in Lent
Text: Mark 1:9-15 – Hating sin, loving the sinner.

The story of Noah’s ark is a favourite among many people, particularly young children.
It is a story that is best known for the images of all the different animals lining up, two by two, to enter the ark to escape the coming flood.
It’s a story that brings out pictures of joyful scenes, happy animals and the image of a huge rainbow in the sky that again depicts joyful scenes.
Those scenes are a favourite amongst Sunday School stories and songs.
But Noah’s ark is a far cry from playful joyful scenes.
It is a picture of God’s anger at sin and human beings and how God tries to deal with the situation.
It begins with a regret voiced by God – a regret that he had ever made Adam and Eve and all humanity:
God responds angrily saying that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”
God is struggling with what to do with sin and sinful human beings.
Sin that is so ingrained in humanity that he cannot separate them.
Sin that he detests so much in humanity that he loves so much.
And so God tries again.
He has one family that he respects – Noah and his family – and he will repopulate the world by saving that family and by saving 2 of every animal to breed them and repopulate the earth with them.
But what God discovers is that the water that he uses to wash away the evil in the world does not cleanse the world of sin as it soon begins again in Noah’s family despite their upright living.
God introduces a system of sacrifices.
3 times a day, morning, noon and night, the people of Israel would sacrifice a burnt offering to appease God for their sin and the sin of the world.
And once a year on the Day of Atonement, Israel would capture a goat and lay hands upon it symbolising the placement of all their unintentional sins on it and then cast the goat out into the wilderness taking their sins with it – from where we get the term scape goat – a person who takes the guilt on behalf of another.
But again, sin torments God as the people wander away from God after he had forgiven them and follow other gods who seemed to offer more.
Again God’s anger causes him to cast his people from his sight and he has them exiled into foreign lands and allows their temple where the offerings were made to be destroyed.
But again, that struggle within God between sin that he detests and humanity that he loves sees him relent time and again – in much the same way that he relented from destroying Nineveh in the days of Jonah.
And so we see this love of God for humanity that forgives the sin he detests when we repent of our sin.
As we move into the New Testament we see God’s struggle with sin continue.
He can’t just ignore it and combines his love of humanity and his hatred of sin by sending his own son to become a sacrifice for our sins as Jesus proclaims:
For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus with the message “Repent” – the same message that Jesus would proclaim also - repent, and believe in the good news.
Repentance allows God to rebuild us.
This message of repentance was so important that Jesus leaves towns still crying out for healing from their illnesses to that the message could be preached everywhere.
Jesus, the Lamb of God, becomes our scape goat by which our sins are placed on him and he is cast out taking our sins with him to the cross as our once and for all sacrifice.
On this first Sunday of Lent we see the playing out of that action by God reflecting all the elements we have seen in the Old Testament in God’s attempt at dealing with our sin.
We see the waters of the flood used to drown out sinful humanity now being used to drown our sins through Baptism as Jesus begins his ministry for humanity by undergoing his own Baptism.
Immediately after his baptism Jesus is sent by the Spirit into the wilderness, a place of danger and alienation.
But God’s love for his own son ensures that he is not alone in the wilderness as Mark writes - the angels waited on him:
And that same promise and love is enacted in our Baptism where Jesus promises – I am with you always.
He never leaves us alone in the wilderness of life.
Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness, again reflecting the flooding in Noah’s time when it rained for forty days and 40 nights.

Jesus time in the wilderness becomes a place of temptation by the devil – again replaying the scene from the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve are tempted to depart from God’s care and to provide for themselves and as a result are banished from the Garden of Eden and sent into the wilderness.
But God doesn’t abandon them.
He provides clothes for them.
He provides protection for Cain when he is banished for killing his brother Abel.
We see a God who continues to struggle with sin he detests and humanity whom he loves.
God now deals with our sin but does not allow his anger to destroy us like he did in the days of Noah.
He does not cast us out of his sight like Israel in the exile.
God now deals with our sin, as Paul says:
Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.
Instead of expressing his anger against us because of our sin, Paul says in 2 Corinthians –
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
A sweet exchange of our sin for Christ’s righteousness.
Sin still plays a heavy weight on Christians.
And that’s where the devil still does his work.
He accuses us, as his name’s meaning suggests – the accuser.
And that’s where our Baptism does its work for us as Paul again says:
Baptism now saves you-- not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
None of us are perfect but we are all forgiven when we call upon the name of Christ – the Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins – the scape goat who takes our sins into the wilderness but leaves us in the presence of God’s love and mercy.
In these next 40 days of Lent we will journey with Jesus to the cross.
We will have opportunity to reflect on our relationship with God and our sinfulness that saw Jesus crucified for our sins.
These 40 days will be our wilderness experience as we reflect on our sinfulness that God detests and our humanity that God loves.
Throughout the history of God, we see God’s people spending their time wrestling with God in the barren places.
Abraham and Sarah journeying to the unknown promised land - the wandering of the people of Israel for forty years, Jacob’s wrestling with the unknown stranger at the Jabbok where he walks away victorious but lame.
The wilderness can be a place of self-discovery as we too struggle with God.
God’s people never faced the wilderness alone.
For forty years, God journeyed with Israel.
For forty days, God watched over Noah.
For forty days, God stood with Jesus.
For forty days God watched Nineveh repent in ashes and sackcloth.
And for our time in the wilderness God will stand with us.
Our church, our community, our world—now more than ever—needs the wilderness.
We need to spend the time looking at ourselves in order to find new life, new ministry, and new ways of being the people of God.
We don’t like wilderness experience.
We prefer things to stay the same, for things to be frozen in time – like Peter in the Transfiguration.
We long for the way things were in the past, but God is calling us, like the people of Israel, to a new future – our promised land.
God has work for us to do and that work begins, like it did with Jesus, when we are driven to the wilderness of discovery.
We go to the wilderness to discover anew the joy of being loved.
We go to learn once more what it means to be and live as God’s loved ones even though sin fills our every inclination.
We go to listen for the voice of God calling us again.
We go to see Christ more clearly in the world around us.
We go because that is where we encounter God.
The wilderness is calling.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Amen.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Year B - The Transfiguration - Text Mark 9:2-9 – Faith in low times

Sermon 11th February 2018 – Transfiguration Sunday
Text Mark 9:2-9 – Faith in low times

High and low experiences are part of everyday life.
When a couple gets married they vow to love each other “in sickness and in health – for better and for worse – for richer and for poorer.
It acknowledges that even in marriage there can be the highs and lows.
So too in the life of faith.
There are times when we feel lifted up, taken up to a place a little closer to God and God's glory.
There are times when we feel we are hearing God speaking to us, telling us things, giving us direction, comfort, joy.
But these times are not always long lasting.
These times do not come often, no matter how much we strive for them.
In fact most days we probably live our lives down on the ground, unaware of the wondrous, transforming power of God at work in the world and in the life of the church.
What we fail to see sometimes and struggle with is when we focus only on the up or down times in life and in the church also rather than seeing them both as experiences with God.
It can make it seem that God slips in and out of our lives and somehow we have to capture and hang on to that high point and avoid the low points all together.
That’s what happened on the mount of Transfiguration.
Peter's mind is on glory, not on suffering and loss.
Peter wants to build 3 shelters – 3 places for Jesus, Moses and Elijah to stay so he doesn’t have to let go of this highpoint in his life.
But there’s a couple of problems with this sort of thinking:
Firstly, what about everyone else?
Peter is really happy to stay up there with his 3 heroes but what about everyone else?
What about Jesus ministry to those who still need to hear his message?
Remember last week’s Gospel when the people wanted him to stay in their town and heal everyone: he said: “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Jesus doesn’t want Peter to remain on the mountaintop but to go back down into the valleys – back into the low lands to share their experience of Jesus’ glory to give hope to others.
He realises that Peter doesn’t quite understand yet about Jesus true glory – and he won’t until he has claimed the ultimate victory of defeating death.
And so he instructs Peter, James and John not to tell others about their experience until after he has risen from the dead.
Likewise here at church is not where God needs us.
He needs us back in the world.
He needs us in our workplaces – in our schools, in our hobbies, in our sports, in our families and frieands sharing with them the Christian hope of eternal life.
We come here to church to receive that mountain top experience as we hear our sins forgiven – as we experience God’s Word and Sacrament – but we come down from that mountain top and back into our valleys.
But the other reality that Peter ignores by wanting to maintain that mountain top experience is that it ignores God’s presence in times of difficulty.
God is not only present in those mountain top experiences he is also with us in times of suffering as Paul proclaimed:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Our text says that Jesus came down from the mountain with them.
He didn’t let them go back down into the valley on their own.
And neither does he leave you alone as he promised – I am with you always.
Peter feels that he needs to maintain that mountain top experience in order to experience God’s presence.
And wouldn’t we all want that all of the time.
Wouldn’t we want to capture those moments when we feel so close to God that we could touch him.
None of us enjoy those low moments when we feel emptiness and lowliness in our faith.
But despite what we feel, the reality of Christ’s glory is here with us all the time even if we don’t see it – even if we don’t feel it.
For Peter, suffering and death aren't on the agenda when it comes to Jesus.
Remember his response when Jesus spoke of his impending suffering and death:
Never Lord – this will never happen to you.
But that is where Jesus’ true glory is going to be experienced.
That is where Jesus’ mountain top experience will be made available to all – as he is crucified for our sins on the hilltop of Golgotha.
Peter doesn’t need to build a shelter for Jesus.
Jesus is going to build a shelter for him and all of us to shelter us from God’s judgment.
That shelter is his cross.
It is not we who build a shelter for Jesus.
Jesus has built a shelter for us through our Baptism by which God has declared his everlasting covenant with us, just as he confirmed his everlasting covenant with Jesus when he confirmed his Baptism love with the words –
This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
The same words spoken at Jesus Baptism.
The Transfiguration was not supposed to be an experience for the here and now only but to give us hope for the future.
As Peter, James and John go back down into the valleys they are going to witness and experience the greatest challenge to their faith as Jesus is arrested, humiliated, tortured and then shamefully put to death.
It will be an experience that will see them abandon him at his moment of need – it will see Peter deny knowing Jesus when he needs his support.
But then after he has risen from the dead Peter will recall that experience and Jesus’ instruction to wait till he has risen from the dead.
And then all the pieces of the puzzle will begin to show the true picture of Jesus’ glory.
We too need to look beyond the individual experiences we go through and rediscover the big picture of our life in Christ.
Sadly we live in a world that is obsessed with instant gratification and many can’t deal with the low points in life.
Like Peter on the mountain top, the world doesn’t want to wait.
It wants its glory here and now.
But in times of suffering or in times of facing death, the Transfiguration reminds us of Jesus’ coming glory that has defeated death and offers us comfort and hope.
A comfort and hope that we can experience now but look forward to experiencing fully in the life to come as St Paul says in Colossians 3:
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.
So, like Christ’s glory which is real but hidden behind his suffering and death – our glory is present but hidden behind our sin and flesh.
The Transfiguration brings our Christmas and Epiphany season to an end.
A season filled with joyful emotions.
And now we prepare for our Lenten journey for the next 40 days.
A journey that gives us an opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ suffering and death and to reflect on our own lives and how we have failed to do what God has asked of us.
How we too have fled from God when he has needed us.
How we too have denied God when he has needed us to speak up for him.
But as we end that journey on Easter Sunday we join with the angels and archangels – the cherubim and seraphim, Mary Magdalene and Peter and all the other witnesses of the resurrection, with earth and sea and all their creatures, we praise Jesus for his glory and the hope he gives us.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Year B Epiphany 5: Text Mark 1:29-39 – True Healing

Sermon 4th February 2018 – 5th Sunday after the Epiphany
Text: Mark 1:29-38 – True healing

One of the things that I miss about my first Parish in Minyip, a rural country town in the Wimmera, is going out at night and just looking up at the night sky.
Away from the city lights you could see so much more than in metro areas.
If you looked long enough you would see a satellite making its way across the expanse.
If you stared long enough into the deep darkness you could make out the Milky Way.
So incredible that it is awe inspiring and as a Christian there is something else that I can’t really explain that gives me a sense of closeness to God.
As I read the Isaiah passage today I get a sense of that is what Isaiah is also experiencing:
The awesomeness of God’s creation –
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
I wonder why more people don’t look at creation and discover a Creator God who is responsible for not just our world but the expanse of the universe that we have only touched on the fringe of and discovering new galaxies in the growing expanse.
I wonder if the reason is because of what we see in our Gospel reading this morning.
After Jesus left the Synagogue they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases. In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”
How much does human suffering play into people’s rejection of Jesus Christ?
How often don’t we hear people ask – if there is a loving God, why does he allow people to suffer.
Is God really all that amazing and powerful if he cannot rid the world of suffering and starvation and all the other things that cause us to doubt his existence.
And when we are confronted with that question it can be hard to answer and may even cause doubts in our own minds especially if we are the ones experiencing suffering.
Suffering is a part of human existence that cannot be avoided.
And even if we used suffering to reject the existence of God it does not solve the problem of suffering.
In fact it makes it worse.
The reason that it makes it worse is because it means that if there  is no God then this life is all we are given.
And if we are born into suffering then there is nothing to look forward to.
And even if we suffer late in life we don’t look back and think, “well at least I didn’t suffer in my early years”.
No, we suffer at the time and gauge our entire life on that present suffering.
But as we see in our Gospel reading, Jesus gives the people hope for their suffering through healing them.
But that’s not why Jesus came.
His mission was not to heal everyone here otherwise he would have to had lived on forever here and not died so he could continue to heal future generations.
And so when his disciples come looking for him because the numbers were just growing and growing, he said: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
He didn’t say, let us go to the neighbouring towns so I may heal them also.
No, he came to proclaim a message.
A message that God has come to bring us to our new and true home in heaven.
And so he proclaimed – the Kingdom of heaven is near.
And in that Kingdom of Heaven is where everyone will receive full and final healing where our old and decaying bodies will be raised and renewed.
So if we reject God because of the suffering then we also reject the comfort for our suffering that only God can offer.
 And that’s why St Paul says to the Romans in the midst of their suffering because of their faith in Jesus - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Jesus could easily have used his entire 3 years of ministry healing the sick and still not completed his task.
And even if we were healed every time we prayed, eventually we would have to face the reality of death.
His task was to restore the relationship of the people to God so we could have everlasting hope and not just hope for the immediate situation.
He may have healed someone but with no guarantee that they wouldn’t experience suffering the following day and certainly in the future their death.
But by restoring their relationship with God he gave them that hope for eternity.
And so part of his teaching them included modelling a relationship with God through prayer.
Prayer is communicating with God which gives us strength and hope especially in times of suffering.
In the midst of his huge workload of healing he stops and goes off to pray to his Father.
We too can help people to see that through prayer we can experience hope for the future even if our present seems hopeless.
Until we reach our final destination in heaven we come to Jesus in prayer.
Sometimes in his wisdom God will grant the healing we pray for in this lifetime and I’ve met many as you may have that proclaim that they have had miraculous healing.
Maybe you’ve experienced the miracle of healing yourself.
But so many people live with their suffering which is not a sign that God loves them any less.
God’s full expression of his love for everyone comes on the cross when Jesus gives up his life so we can be sure our sins are paid for and our eternal life is secure.
And that is the greatest healing and greatest mystery:
That the one who created the heavens and the earth – who put all the planets and galaxies and stars in space, is concerned for us even though we disobeyed him.
Enough that he would send his own Son to suffer a cruel and excruciating death – for us.
Jesus suffered and died so our suffering and death would be limited to this lifetime only.

And until the age to come where we will experience full healing and eternal life Jesus promises in your Baptism, “ I am with you always till the end of the age”.