Thursday, 28 June 2018

Year B 2018 - 6th Sunday after Pentecost - Text Mark 5:21-43 – The Ministry of Interruptions

Sermon 1st July 2018
Year B Pentecost 6 – Text Mark 5:21-43 – The Ministry of Interruptions

You know the drill.
It’s 6pm – you’re busy starting dinner or perhaps you’ve just sat down to dinner and the phone rings.
Should I answer it or let it go through to the answering machine?
What if it’s an emergency?
So you get up – there’s a pause – a couple clicks – and a voice comes on asking whether you’ve heard of the government solar rebate system.
Interruptions are annoying and frustrating.
In our bible reading today it seems that Jesus’ ministry was one long invitation for interruption.
He steps off the boat and immediately a crowd gathered around him.
Just once can’t Jesus just go somewhere for himself without the crowds following him?
And to make matters worse, within the crowd gathering around him now comes a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, who begs Jesus to come with him to his house because his daughter is unwell.
And then as he goes to Jairus’s place to heal his daughter there is another interruption – a woman who has been unwell for 12 years comes up and discreetly touches Jesus to heal herself.
So we have an interruption, within and interruption within an interruption.
Whereas this might make us cranky and short tempered, it doesn’t do that to Jesus.
And what we begin to understand from the way Jesus responds is that interruptions are part of Christian ministry.
I know sometimes as a Pastor you feel great when you look at the calendar ahead and see that there are no evenings out.
When the phone rings you can have this feeling of – I hope it’s not a baptism request or a funeral request or a wedding request.
It is very easy to see Ministry requests as interruptions.
But we need to turn that around and see interruptions as Ministry opportunities.
We all have those ministry opportunities that are easy to write off as interruptions to our otherwise comfortable lives.
It may be an interruption that gives us one of the greatest ministry opportunities to show the love that Christ has for others.
We’ve experienced the crying baby that interrupts our worship.
But let us take an example from Jesus who didn’t turn around to look with scorn on the woman who touched him.
He turned around to affirm that despite what others might be thinking about her – to him, and to God, she was a daughter of Abraham – one of the highest accolades he could give.
After so many people had cast her down, Jesus lifts her up, looks into her eyes and says the words which make her healing complete.
With the eyes of love on her, he said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
“Daughter.” Not an outcast.
Not a woman alone in a society because of her bleeding.
A bleeding that would have defined her as ritually unclean and disqualified her from offering prayer and sacrifice at the temple.
She was a beloved child of God.
Through Jesus we see the very heart of God.
Others may have judged her harshly, but God never forgot her, always loved her, and wanted to welcome her home.
“Your faith has made you well.”
“Go in peace,”
Sickness had defined her.
But Jesus set her free to be a daughter of God.
Perhaps we have an opportunity to have our worship interrupted and sit with the mum or dad and be with them and assure them it’s okay.
Worship is important and we can feel inconvenienced when our worship is interrupted but Jesus is more concerned about the needs of our brothers and sisters rather than ensuring worship is not interrupted.
Listen again to what he says in Matthew 5:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
How easy it would have been to finish offering the gift and then go and be reconciled.
It might have taken just a couple minutes.
But Jesus says there is no time to waste – go now – I can wait.
Or what about the times when you’re walking along, minding your own business when someone stops you and asks for some help – can you spare some change.
Or we see them ahead and think this is a good time to cross the road like the priest and Levite who crossed the road ignoring the plight of their brother in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
It’s easy to pretend not to make eye contact; it’s even easier to reach into your pocket and do a relay baton change manoeuvre where you give them the change and don’t even break stride.
But look what Jesus does.
He stops.
He didn’t need to.
He felt the power go out from him.
He would have known that whoever touched him had been healed – physically.
But Jesus knew there was more to life than physical healing – much more.
Jesus does this so often with his healing.
He doesn’t just cure physical sickness but restores people to their community.
She wanted and needed the bleeding to stop, but what she needed more—and Jesus knew it—was to be accepted once again.
To have God look into her eyes and call her “daughter.”
So often people are judged by society.
They are named in various ways as outcasts and treated as less than human.
We can easily give material handouts to the needy – but so can anyone in society.
We don’t have a monopoly on welfare just because we are Christian.
But we have something much more valuable that money can’t buy, as St Peter says - For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life.
The ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ.
That’s what we have to offer.
What the world sees as interruptions we need to see as ministry opportunities to share the love of Christ.
What the world sees as annoyance we need to see as ministry opportunities to extend the unconditional love of God in a world that defines who or what can be loved and who or what must be shunned.
Jesus turned no one away – not lepers, not people living questionable lives, not the sinful and unclean.
As Jesus said – it is not the well who need a doctor but the unwell.
And let us see interruptions not as random events but events carefully and specifically orchestrated by God.
We have an opportunity to give to those feeling shunned and outcast the opportunity to reach out their hand, like the unnamed woman in our gospel, to reach out and touch Jesus and feel his power go out from him.
The power of redemption.
The power of forgiveness as they receive the body and blood of Christ and hear that God loved them so much that he sent his one and only Son so they may not perish but receive eternal life.
She goes from an unnamed woman to Daughter of Abraham because of Jesus’ care and compassion.
It is so easy to miss those who are crying out for help.
The disciples missed it when Jesus asked “who touched me”.
To the disciples the woman blended in with everyone else –
His disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’
Jesus knew because he saw, not with his eyes, but with his heart.
The disciples couldn’t see her because to them she was just another person.
How many have we walked past – how many opportunities have we missed?
And they are not just those out in the public but they are also among us here.
Are there brothers and sisters of Christ among us who we have missed seeing their hurt.
Have we looked and been critical because they have lapsed and don’t contribute rather than looking with our hearts and asking how can we help.
Let us not see things as an inconvenience like Jairus’s household who saw no need to bother Jesus because his daughter had died - “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?
Nothing is trouble to Jesus.
Nothing is inconvenient to Jesus.
Nothing is an interruption to Jesus.
Everything is an opportunity to share the love and grace of God, so let us ask God to give us the heart as well as eyes of Jesus so we can see the hurting sons and daughters of Abraham among us.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Year B 2018 - 5th Sunday after Pentecost - Text: Mark 4:35-41 – Safe passage through the storm.

Sermon 24th June 2018 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 4:35-41 – Safe passage through the storm.

The nation was shocked last week at the brutal attack and death of a young Melbourne comedian walking through a park in Carlton on her way home from the city.
The nation was shocked she was just 900 metres from home.
But whether she was 900 metres or 900 feet from home the tragic circumstances are just as significant.
And the fact that she was walking through the park in the early hours of the morning does not add or detract from the tragic circumstances.
The reality is that we live in a world where tragedy can hit us wherever we are, whoever we are – young, old, male or female.
The circumstances do not change the tragic nature of the event.
Some say she shouldn’t have been walking that time of night alone in the park.
But people are attacked in their homes – in the shopping centre – in their car.
Tragedy does not discriminate.
They are the young – they are the elderly.
When it comes to tragedy, there is, to quote St. Paul, neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female.
And when tragedy happens and we mourn the loss of someone we know and love it raises many questions for us including “where was God”.
Why didn’t God prevent this from happening?
That is the question we hear today from the frightened disciples:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Where was Jesus while they were battling a raging storm that was swamping their boat?
In the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion;
Maybe that’s how it seems to be for you when you’re going through some difficult time – that God is asleep when you need him the most.
The world around us rages with natural disasters – volcanoes in Hawaii and other places – wildfires – effects of climate change.
The world around us rages with human influenced disasters – crime, terrorism, drugs, murder.
The world around us rages with things that are out of our control – accidents, sickness, death.
It doesn’t matter how these tragic circumstances come or to whom they come, they can sometimes make us question what God is doing in the world.
To many it has left them with the conclusion that either God is unable to help us or God is unwilling to help us.
Because if God could help and was willing to help then why would he allow the tragic circumstances to happen.
But let’s remember in our Gospel reading a few things.
First, Jesus was with the disciples in the boat.
He didn’t send them across the sea while he stayed in safety on the shore.
And neither does Jesus take himself away from you when you’re going through a time of difficulty.
He promised: I am with you always till the end of the age.
Certainly it might seem like we’re going through things alone at times but as St Paul discovered during the times of his suffering that the power of Christ was resting upon him.
The 2nd thing we learn from the boat encounter is that Jesus responds to their cries for help.
While the storm rages around the disciples causing them to fear, it has no effect on Jesus who is able to weather the fiercest of storms.
That doesn’t mean that Jesus does feel our suffering but rather he is able to be our source of comfort as the book of Hebrews says:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin.
And because he did not sin he can protect us from the most tragic of events – eternal death.
And that means that tragedies are limited to this lifetime only and as Christians that means that we can look beyond our tragic circumstances to a new eternal life where there will be no more suffering and death.
The final part of this boat and storm encounter is Jesus’ authority.
At his command the wind and the waves cease.
And the disciples rightly claim:
Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Even though it looks at times that the world is out of control – Jesus remains in control.
Even though at times it seems that Jesus is unable or unwilling to help, he is our Lord who is riding the waves with us.
Jesus’ complete authority is displayed in this scene that will be affirmed, firstly by Jesus when he says in the Great Commission:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”
And then later affirmed by St Paul when he says:
God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
As we journey, like the disciples, to the “other side” we’re going to face tragedies at various times.
Despite all the precautions and safety procedures we undertake, our world does not discriminate where the next tragedy takes place.
And it has nothing to do with whether Jesus is unwilling or unable to help or prevent.
It is sadly a result of our eyes being opened to knowing good and evil.
But we are assured that in the new life that Jesus has won and prepared for us as the book of Revelation assures us - Nothing evil will be allowed to enter.
Life is a journey to the other side.
And in our Gospel reading we are assured that Jesus is with us until we arrive.
His presence does not guarantee a smooth sailing but it does assure us we’ll reach our destination.
No matter how rough the sea gets Jesus says: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
It is sad when life ends tragically.
It’s sad when life ends naturally at the end of life.
But regardless of how life ends we are assured that death is the beginning of new life in heaven where no evil will be able to enter.
And the final lesson we learn from the disciples is that we those storms come we go to Jesus who promises: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though they may die, they shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Year B 2018 - 4th Sunday after Pentecost - Text: Mark 4:26-34 – Sown in darkness

Sermon 17th June 2018 – 4th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 4:26-34 – Sown in darkness

Every day I do things that I have no idea how they work.
I have no idea how my car works.
I just put my key in the ignition and turn it on.
Put it in to gear – press the accelerator to speed up and press the brake to slow down.
I have no idea how any of it works – I just know it does.
I turn on the computer to read the paper online – check any emails, check my bank accounts – and yet I have no idea how a computer works – I just press the button and it comes on.
I have no idea how the internet works – I just use it.
That seems to be the principle at work in Jesus’ parable today about the farmer and the growing seed.
We know that planting requires someone to sow the seeds.
The seeds need to have soil, and the soil needs to be weeded and have work done to it.
The soil needs to be watered and fertilised regularly.
Gradually it grows and then bears fruit.
This process seems to be simple and straightforward.
The seeds dwell in the darkness away from the human eye so we don’t see what happens in the process.
How long this process takes we can guess, but we don’t know the exact timing.
What exactly occurs in the darkness, we don’t know.
Will anything grow from the seed?
We do not know that, either.
How often don’t farmers and gardeners discover that they put in the best fertilizer, water as often as they should, and tend to the seed passionately, but sometimes nothing grows?
However, we have faith that something may grow from seeds and plant them anyway even though there is nothing we can do to make them grow.
That is what our first parable in today’s Gospel is about: God’s grace and our faith.
In fact St Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.
The parable talks about the kingdom of God.
And one of the things we learn about the kingdom of God is that it is not some faraway place or in the future after we leave the world.
Rather Jesus talks about it being among us now like growing seeds.
And one of the tasks, as St Paul said to the Corinthians is to keep establishing God’s Kingdom on earth.
We need to be faithfully planting the seeds of God’s love and have faith with those God-given seeds.
God created the seed, God will graciously take care of it.
We, like the farmer in the parable are to keep planting, keep sharing the good news of God’s love wherever we go – like the Parable of the Sower who sowed seeds wherever he went, even among the rocks and thorns where traditionally they wouldn’t grow.
But remember, God makes them grow, not us and the growth is a mystery.
We can’t force the seed to grow.
We can’t yell at the seed to make it grow.
We can’t threaten the seed to make it grow.
And yet, sometimes, these are the methods we use in trying to convert others.
We need to be patient as St Peter says: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
We need to be patient.
Abraham learnt to be patient but learnt the hard way when he took matters into his own hands.
Instead of trusting that his seed would come from Sarah he became impatient and took matters into his own hands with Hagar.
And that created a dispute between Sarah and Hagar – Ishmael and Isaac.
A dispute that continues today with conflict over who is the true first born of Abraham’s seed.
When we first came to know God, it probably is because someone has planted the seed in us.
It may have been our parents from our baptism, to Sunday school, confirmation and all the time bringing us along to church.
Or it could have been a random event where the Holy Spirit led you enquire about your faith.
There are many ways that we help that seed to grow.
We go to church to worship, we study the Bible.
We may join some fellowship, enjoy hospitality, hear and see the testimony of other Christians where we grow in our understanding of the Word and God’s way.
After planting, the nurturing takes place.
As we become the seed planters that’s where we can sometimes become disheartened and impatient.
How long will this transformation from seed to plant take place?
We do not know.
In our Lutheran understanding that planting begins with Holy Baptism.
The transformation has begun.
In Baptism we are buried with Christ in his death – like a seed buried in soil.
By it we share in his resurrection – like a seed that has sprung from its death to new life as a tree or plant.
Through Baptism we are reborn by the Holy Spirit and we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
This is like the metaphor of planting that Jesus uses also when he says - unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
If the seed is not buried and never releases its old form, it won’t sprout into new shoots and have new life.
As Christians, through our Baptism, we die from our old lives so we can be born again.
When the seed is buried in the soil, it dwells in the darkness.
Our life journey can be the same.
Sometimes it is when we feel buried in dark moments, surrounded by stinky manure, that we are actually receiving God’s gracious blessings in our life.
However, we may become afraid and reject the presence of God because of the darkness.
It’s like the Israelites at the mountain of God –
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
How often do we think of God being present in the dark places like a seed buried deep in the ground.
By the grace of God, we go through transformation and have new life.
Eventually, the plant inside the seed will break through the soil and sprout into a small plant, grows leaves, flowers, then fruits.
We are challenged to endure the dark moments; to be patient; a new life will come out of it.
Ezekiel also uses the language of a gardener:  a twig is planted and bears fruits.
We might have thought that a young twig would not have a chance to survive since it has no root, but because of God’s grace and love, it grows into a noble cedar tree and offers shelters to God’s creation.
Maybe we have looked at our own lives – at our own congregation and wondered if God can really make anything grow.
Well, let us look at the second parable in the Gospel.
It talks about the smallest of all seeds growing to be the largest shrubs.
Here we have something small that turns out to be something great.
But the greatness is not about the tree itself, but about its effect of offering protection and a resting place to others.
Sometimes we need to look at ourselves – our congregations and it’s not about how big we are but our faithfulness in being God’s kingdom in the world.
In God’s kingdom, anything is possible.
The kingdom of God is not  about material gain, but God’s love for us, and our love for God and each other.
So, do not be afraid of dark moments.
Do not be afraid of the small moments.
Keep the faith and be patient.
If you’re worried about a friend or family member’s faith – keep praying – keep watering – keep fertilizing.
You may not see any results on the outside but God is working on the inside to make that seed grow.
Do not underestimate the small or weak, for God has a plan for all of his creation and his Kingdom presence in the world.
Let us be faithful – let us be patient and trusting and keep planting and loving God and praying his Kingdom come.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Year B 2018 - 3rd Sunday after Pentecost - Text: Mark 3:20-35 – United we stand, divided we fall.

Sermon 10th June 2018 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 3:20-35 – United we stand, divided we fall.

In the story book Aesop’s Fables there is a story called - The Four Oxen and the Lion
A Lion used to prowl about a field where Four Oxen gathered. 
Many times the lion tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. 
One day the oxen started quarrelling among themselves, and each went off alone in a separate corner of the field. 
The Lion then attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.
The motto of this fable was – United We Stand, Divided We Fall.
It is a motto that has been used down the centuries even today amongst Unionists when they are fighting for better pay and conditions for their members.
As one employee they wouldn’t have much power at all –but united in a union they have great power.
United we stand – divided we fall.
So a strategy when taking on such a powerful force is “divide and conquer”.
Jesus uses this principle in today’s Gospel reading when he is accused of using Satan or Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, to do the miracles he’s doing, in particular casting out demons.
Jesus points out how ludicrous that is – how can the devil be against himself casting out demons?
Jesus says: If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.
Satan’s motive is to divide and conquer – and particularly when attacking God’s children – the church and Christians.
It was the method he first used in the Garden of Eden when he tempted Eve alone.
Where was Adam?
It is the same question God asks in our Old Testament reading: the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
It’s the same question we ask of Adam when Satan approaches Eve – Adam, where are you!
Together they could remind and encourage one another about what God had said.
Alone they were perfect picking for Satan’s cunningness.
That’s why when Jesus sent out his disciples he sent them out 2 by 2.
To support each other and uphold one another.
And so Satan knows that if he can divide, he can conquer.
And that’s what happened on the night of Jesus’ arrest as prophesied in the Old Testament in Zechariah: Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.
And Jesus reminded them of that too: "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: "'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'
And this is now Satan’s method of attack – to divide and conquer.
And we see it so often in the church where division has been the greatest attack on our church.
You only have to look at what we have been facing for the past 20 or more years on the Ordination question.
We have a situation where our church is divided having voted 3 times in the past 15 years.
The vote failed by 13 votes last time.
But what we have seen is a church that has stagnated in its mission and presented a divided front where we are at each other trying to outdo each other – casting dispersions – calling names – making accusations – pointing our errors - making threats – and it just needed 13 votes to do this.
We are fortunate that we are a church that has its roots in division with the 2 Synods 50 years ago and we are working hard through prayer and consultation to avoid that split again.
But Satan persists and he is very active in congregations looking for ways to undermine the good work through petty squabbles.
We have seen churches damaged irreparably over things like service times, new carpets, budget items;
These have caused more divisions than deep theological issues.
In the New Testament we see the Corinthian Church arguing over Baptism.
But not on theological grounds such as whether it should be infant baptism or full immersion – but whose Baptism was better because of who performed the Baptism.
But Paul reminds them – is Christ divided?
No he’s not and neither should the church, his body, nor Christians, his temple.
As we hear in our Gospel reading – a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
Churches and relationships can be greatly damaged by division where we refuse to admit our error or forgive one another.
And that’s what Satan looks for.
He looks where he can incite anger.
And look how he set Adam against God – Adam against Eve.
It wasn’t me!
“The woman you gave me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
In our anger we can say things that hurt, including people we love dearly as we become defensive.
And that’s why St Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians: “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
It’s sad seeing the good work that churches do undone by a disagreement amongst some members that could easily be resolved through an apology and forgiveness.
It’s sad to see relationships end over disputes that could be solved by showing the same forgiveness that God shows us.
It’s especially sad when we as Christians who know the love and forgiveness that God has expressed to us are not prepared to extend to others.
It’s sad that we can’t apply the words of Christ to others – “forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”.
And it’s because of this difficulty, like Adam blaming God, blaming Eve, that we allow Satan to have his foothold into our relationships – into our churches.
Have you ever had a dispute with someone you love.
And you’ve fought for days – not talking – giving the cold shoulder – feeling resentful.
And then one of you says sorry and the other says I’m sorry too.
And you feel really great.
And you wonder – why don’t we reconcile immediately?
Why do we go through that anger and resentment?
It’s because of our human nature and Original Sin that we have inherited and we have allowed Satan to have that foothold to do his damage of dividing and conquering.
Like the lion in Aesop’s fable, he remained patient knowing that the oxen would one day drop their guard.
So too St Peter warns: Be alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Let us too be alert to the devil’s cunning as he uses our disputes, our anger, our pride to divide and conquer us.
And as St Paul says to the Galatians: As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Because it is those of the household of faith that Satan is seeking to divide and conquer.
United in Christ we stand – divided in Christ we fall.