Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Sermon 30th September 2018: Year B: 19th Sunday after Pentecost:Text: James 5:13-20 - The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective

Sermon 30th September 2018 (19th Sunday after Pentecost)
Text: James 5:13-20 - The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective

Prayer is an important part of all religions.
Whether it is Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Christianity.
In fact even non-religious people will make comments like – you’re in my thoughts and prayers.
They might even ask you to say a prayer for them.
Muslims pray 5 times a day.
Martin Luther devoted two to three hours daily in prayer.
Sadly today many see prayer more as a burden than as a pleasure.
Many feel guilty about their struggles to pray.
Prayer along with reading our Bibles has become a victim of our modern busyness.
Because we find prayer more of a burden it means we don’t often find time to pray and we don’t discover the joy and blessings of prayer.
Instead of praying, people take their problems to therapists, counsellors and support groups rather than to God.
Who needs prayer?
What is prayer?
Prayer is simply communicating with God, so why is it so difficult.
Maybe it’s because communication with other people has changed in today’s social media driven lives;
Communication has become shorter as we send text messages, emails, instant messaging which has become the way we communicate.
Has this changed the way we communicate with God?
Prayer has become like sending God a text message. Short, instant, not much thought, not much time or effort involved.
Why is it that we find it so hard to pray?
Why do we neglect this rich source of strength and power for our daily lives?
Some of the excuses are:
It takes effort to make time available every day to pray.
But we seem to make time available for other things – TV, sport, hobbies.
Maybe we’re not able to find times where it is quiet and still for just a short while.
The TVs on – the mobile phone is going off all the time – we have to check our emails and facebook.
When there’s quiet we don’t seem to be able to handle it too well because we’re not used to it.
It does take an effort to stop during a busy day and to spend time talking with God.
It takes an effort at the end of a long day to stay awake long enough to pray.
There are times I’ve said my prayers lying in bed only to wake the next morning and have no idea where I got up to.
We seem to be able to pray when there is a pressing need, when there is sickness or despair, but for the rest of the time prayer is often seen as a burden.
Even though it’s a bit of an effort we’re more than happy to put effort into other things – gardening, exercising, cleaning the house.
But we say – these need to be done.
Well, according to Jesus, James, Paul and others, prayer also needs to be done.
Maybe we doubt the value of prayer but as Christians we know we’re supposed to pray so we do it when others are around, like saying grace at dinner time – or we promise to others that we’ll pray for them but don’t.
If we truly believed in the power of prayer wouldn’t we spend as much time with our heavenly Father in prayer as we could?
Surely, as Christians, we believe in prayer, so why is it so difficult?
Why don’t we pray more often?
Maybe we’ve given up on prayer because God's answer is quite different to what we expected.
Jesus certainly didn’t give up on prayer when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane to avoid his impending death – not MY will be done – but YOUR will be done.
Paul also found the answer he sought different to what God delivered.
He prayed 3 times for healing but God's answer wasn’t the healing that he expected.
God’s answer drew Paul into a deeper and closer understanding of his suffering and a trust in God's grace to help him through the most difficult times.
And it was that answer that would help him during his other times of suffering including the years he spent in prison.
The answer was different to what he was praying not because Paul lacked faith, or that what he was asking was unreasonable, or that God wasn’t interested.
God's answer was one of love and care for his future sufferings and not just the one he was encountering at that time.
Maybe as we look back on our lives we will see that our prayers have actually been answered even though at the time we really thought God had not answered.
Sometimes when we are at our lowest words are difficult and therefore prayer is difficult.
But Paul also encourages us during those times when he said:
The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit intercedes with groans too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
So the first thing we need to do is to not feel guilty about our poor prayer life because that’s what Satan wants from us.
With the guilt gone from our prayer life, prayer, whatever shape it takes, becomes time simply being in God’s presence rather than a chore or duty.
That’s why when Jesus’ disciples wanted Jesus to teach them how to pray he didn’t give them a list of directions but actually gave them his own prayer to pray to lead them into a deeper time of prayer.
It wasn’t the only prayer they should pray but one that would bring them into prayer.
But prayer is also not just one way traffic.
Just as in a relationship a couple will speak with each other, so too prayer is not only us speaking to God but it is God speaking to us.
Let there be times where God speaks to you rather than you doing all the talking.
How can we know what God wants for us if we never listen and are always talking?
As St Paul says: If you aren’t able to pray, ask for the Holy Spirit to help you in your prayers.
The Holy Spirit will assure you that God is there for you and his love for you is even stronger in your time of need even though you might not necessarily feel it at that moment.
As St Paul discovered – when I am weak then I am strong.
Our loving Father and Saviour assure us that prayer is never wasted energy.
As St James says: "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective".
Maybe you feel that your prayer life is a long way from what it should be.
Maybe you’re embarrassed to let people know about your prayer life.
Just remember that with God it’s not about size as Jesus says –  if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,'
Or the father with the sick son who said: “Lord I believe, help me with my unbelief!”
James is trying to encourage us to seek opportunities to pray:
Are any among you suffering? They should pray.
Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them.
The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up;
And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
There’s no criticism there – just encouragement.
And so too we should not criticise ourselves because that will only make prayer an obligation and we will lose the joy out of it.
We all wish we could pray better, read our bibles more, have better devotional lives with ourselves and our family.
But let us remember that since they are our lifeline with God then it is what Satan will attack.
So we should almost expect that we’re going to struggle just as Jesus struggled when Satan attacked him in the wilderness and on the cross.
But as James said last week:
Resist the devil and he will flee.
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
So let us come near to God in prayer and let the Holy Spirit guide us into a deeper and more meaningful spiritual relationship with God.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Sermon 23rd September 2018: Year B: 18th Sunday after Pentecost:Text: Mark 9:30-37- God’s topsy turvy order

Sermon 23rd September 2018
Text: Mark 9:30-37- God’s topsy turvy order

Have you ever been at a function with numbered table settings and you always seem to be on the table number that is called last?
I’ve been on table one and they’ve announced “let’s do this differently and go in reverse order’.
That’s what I often think of when Jesus said, the first shall be last.
Actually it was a much deeper message that Jesus was delivering.
And it revolves around the start of his conversation which is now the 2nd time that Jesus mentioned to the disciples that he must suffer and die.
The fact that Jesus will suffer and die is not seen by Jesus as having failed in his mission.
Even though Peter couldn’t accept it, Jesus saw the outcome as success because it was the path that God had chosen for him.
We all have a chosen path by God which sometimes only God knows.
And success of that path is not always what the world would gauge as success.
When we look at the life of many of the prophets in the Old Testament their lives consisted of rejection by their own people.
Sometimes it even seemed as if God had rejected them like Elijah.
The word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
Despite his faithfulness Elijah felt as if God was not watching over him.
That pattern continued in the New Testament;
John the Baptist was executed.
And while in prison John wondered if Jesus was the one to put his hope in and sent his disciples to check:
Are you the one or should we look for someone else?
Paul faced many beatings including being whipped and stoned.
He spent a good part of his ministry writing letters to churches from prison.
John was exiled to the deserted island of Patmos.
Each of them by the standards of the world were seemingly failures.
But in the eyes of God they were faithful to the end.
St Paul wrote about that to the Corinthians when he said:
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
He also said: the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
And in closing he said: Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are
The disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ mission and they won’t until after he has died and risen from the dead and seen the true success of what he was sent to do.
That’s what Mark highlights:
The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Jesus’ success is not valued by human standards – otherwise he would have failed miserably.
Jesus’ success is valued by his faithfulness to God’s will.
And if we think that Jesus’ didn’t have any option or that it didn’t affect him personally because he was the Son of God, we just need to remember his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane:
He said: “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; and he prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup from Me; but not MY will be done but YOUR will be done.”
Our life journey may not always go the way that we want it to go.
Sadly many are under the misunderstanding that if we are faithful to God then he will bless our lives with worldly success.
But we don’t see many examples of that in the Bible.
In fact we see the opposite according to world standards.
And that’s because the true reward for faithfulness is not always in this lifetime.
The true reward is waiting for us in heaven.
If we look back at the early Christians they were persecuted for their faith – they were put to death - but the church grew despite the hardship.
The understanding that riches and success follow faithfulness in God is not what Jesus, Paul or other writers proclaimed.
In fact the words of Jesus spoke the very opposite:
He said: you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
The true reward for faithfulness is the assurance of eternal life in heaven.
And even in those times when we are struggling in our faith we can be assured that it doesn’t affect our salvation because, as Paul says in Ephesians;
It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
In our bible reading last week Jesus reminded us that we all have a cross to bear.
For some it is their health.
For some it’s their career or their financial situation.
For some it’s their family situation.
Our crosses vary, and as Jesus said
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Like Peter it is tempting to follow a more successful path but that would make us no different to the ways of the world.
God’s ways are not our ways.
God has given us a way that uses what the world calls foolish to achieve his greatness.
He has chosen a few splashes of water in Baptism to wash away all our sin and adopt us as his children.
He has chosen bread and wine to assure us of our home in heaven.
He chose death on a cross to defeat Satan.
Everything that in the values of the world smells of weakness and failure.
And God continues that path for us by asking us to go out into the world and carry our crosses.
To see suffering as a hidden glory of God, as St Paul did when he said – I will boast in my sufferings because when I am weak then I strong.
He asks us to live lives with different values by loving our enemies – forgiving rather than taking revenge.
To be a servant rather than seeking to be served.
God’s ways are topsy turvey to the ways of the world but God’s ways lead to a more blessed life.
The ways of the world might seem attractive but as Jesus said:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
So may you continue to follow Jesus even when that cross gets heavy and remember that Jesus as our Good Shepherd goes with you.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Sermon 16th September 2018: Year B: 17th Sunday after Pentecost:Text: Mark 8:27-38 – Spring has sprung

Sermon 16th September 2018
Text: Mark 8:27-38 – Spring has sprung.

(Please note: This Sermon was written for our annual Creation Sunday with the theme "Spring". It is still appropriate for the Gospel of the day).

Spring is a lovely time of year when we start to see a turn from the cold freezing weather to see the temperature start to edge up again.
You sort of think during the midst of winter that it’s never going to get warm again but you start to watch the 7 day forecast on the news and there’s suddenly a day or 2 where a rogue 20 degrees is there in the midst of the low to mid-teens.
Spring is a time of new growth when we start to get the lawn mower out more often after a season of hibernation.
And then the weeding starts again.
The final leaves from autumn are raked away.
Spring is an important reminder and very symbolic of hope as a season of life follows a season of death as we see trees that drop their leaves in Autumn now starting to shoot new life.
Jesus often spoke of death being the beginning of new life:
Jesus once said, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels--a plentiful harvest of new lives.
Or have you ever been through an area that has been ravaged by bushfire and seen the new life being produced on trees that have more greenery than before the fire.
It’s hard to comprehend death being anything but death;
It’s hard to comprehend that death can produce life.
But that’s what spring is evidence of in God’s mighty creation.
Today the Apostle Peter is finding it very difficult to understand death in a positive light.
Jesus tells his disciples that he must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed.
Peter rejects such a notion;
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
In Matthew’s gospel he says – never Lord, this will never happen to you!
And that’s because for Peter death is the final stage in life.
Jesus is the one that they had put their hope in but now he is talking about this death.
For Peter and many others there is nothing after death.
But Jesus didn’t leave it there;
He said, he would be killed, and after three days rise again.
Peter missed that final part – but after three days he would rise again.
And sadly at funerals many miss that promise of Jesus too.
The promise that Jesus made to us in our baptism:
All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
And so for Jesus, death was not the end season in a person’s life.
And just as Spring follows Autumn and Winter, so too life follows death in Jesus Christ.
God created the seasons to provide a cycle of life;
A cycle of life and death
Summer and Spring to regenerate life
Autumn and Winter to allow new life to regenerate through dying.
As the book of Ecclesiastes says:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to reap what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal;
Life too is a cycle of seasons.
From life – to death – to new life.
Death is difficult to understand outside of the Christian faith.
No matter how much technology has increased it cannot provide an answer to or avoid death.
In fact technology is one of the quickest things to die.
No matter how much we have discovered about health and wellbeing we have not been able to do more than increase the average age of humanity.
No matter how much plastic surgery, makeup and creams we use to make ourselves look younger – we cannot avoid death.
So death in an inevitable part of life.
But death is not the end of the life cycle because Jesus was able to create for us a new season of life by this life, death and resurrection.
Likewise, just as Autumn will follow Spring, so too Spring will again follow Autumn.
And so too, through Jesus, death which follows life now has eternal life following death.
We know that God created the seasons on the fourth day of creation when he created the sun, moon and stars to govern the nights and days and seasons.
And so as we orbit the sun annually seasons are created to continue the cycle of life on earth.
But in heaven there will be no more seasons as the Book of Revelations says:
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
Likewise in heaven there will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
So as we begin to enjoy this season of Spring as we feel the warmth – as we see the colours return to our trees and flowers and lawns, let it remind us and give us hope that as we journey through life we are not journeying towards the end of life in death but to the new beginning of eternal life after death.
As we grieve when we lose a loved one may the warmth of Spring and the new life it brings remind us of the warmth of God’s love radiating in our lives and the new life that Christ brings.
As St James says to us: Be patient my brothers and sisters, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
Let us also patiently wait for our Lord’s return and until then may the peace of God that surpasses our understanding keep our hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Sermon 9th September 2018: Year B: 16th Sunday after Pentecost:Text: Mark 7:24-37 – No line in the sand

Sermon 9th September 2018
Text: Mark 7:24-37 – No line in the sand

Once again Melbourne is gripped in racial tensions after a violent brawl in Collingwood in the early hours of last week.
The racial profiling identified the main perpetrators as African and Islanders.
It comes on the back of another wild brawl a few weeks earlier in Taylors Hill with similar racial profiling.
The Letters to the Editor and talk back radio were almost cut and paste from a few weeks ago with people saying the same things:
Deport them.
Jail them.
Stop calling them African Australians – there’s nothing Australian about them.
It is easy to get caught up in the hatred in similar ways that hatred was directed against all Muslims in the aftermath of terrorist attacks.
To suggest that God could possibly love them and send his own Son to die for them would have many people seriously looking at us with misgivings.
And yet that is the radical nature of God’s unconditional love – that God could possibly want them to be saved and come to him so he can embrace them with his love.
We have to believe that about God’s love because if we draw a line in the sand and say, this is where God’s love stops, then we could never be sure if God’s love extends to us.
How would we know where God has put the line in the sand.
Jesus today shows that in people’s minds there is a line in the sand but that Jesus wipes that line out completely.
A woman whose daughter is sick comes to Jesus for help;
She is of Greek origin so Jesus lays down the line in the sand for her request:
He tells her - I have come for the children of Israel (this side of the line in the sand). It wouldn’t be fair to take the children’s food and throw it to their dogs (the other side of the line in the sand).
So “fairness” is the line in the sand.
It wouldn’t be fair to take the children’s food and throw it to their dogs.
To help her daughter would be “unfair” – to help first the children of Israel is the “fair” thing to do.
But the mother points out to Jesus that it’s not about what is fair and unfair.
It’s about all people receiving what God has to give.
And so when Jesus says it’s unfair to give what belongs to the children of Israel to their dogs – she responds – even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.
The problem with using “fair” as the benchmark is that it is so subjective.
What one person deems as “fair” another might deem as “unfair”.
We hear it all the time in society.
Is it fair that an asylum seeker – or what many refer to as an illegal immigrant – queue jumpers – is it fair if they get housing while there are so many “real Aussies” who are homeless.
Is it fair that they take OUR jobs?
Is it fair that my taxes pay for the long term unemployed who are probably going to use it on drugs and alcohol?
All of a sudden we stop thinking about the needs of people and replace it with whether it’s fair or not – BUT according to OUR set of values.
Jesus did not extend his love to others based on whether it was fair or not.
He went to those who needed him.
He was criticised for it – he eats with sinners and tax collectors.
But as Jesus pointed out – a doctor goes to those who need him.
Or, when the woman washed Jesus’ feet with her hair:
If Jesus knew what sort of woman she was he would not let her touch him.
Or the Good Samaritan who did not base his help on one of his enemies as to whether it was fair or not but based on his need for help.
And Jesus told us to “go and do likewise”.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of judging others based on what we perceive is fair or not.
None of us like what we see happening in society today.
It does make us angry, but as St Paul says – in your anger do not sin.
Instead we are called to pray.
To not join in the chorus of those who regard others as more or less worthy of love and acceptance.
James points that out also when he criticises those who make a distinction in the church.
Those who showed acts of favouritism to the rich saying – have as seat here – this side of the line in the sand.
While to the poor they said – go and stand over there – the other side of the line in the sand.
Wealth became the line in the sand; rich people here – poor people over there.
Just as God shows no distinction in showing his love we too are to show no distinction when it comes to showing his love to others.
God loved “the world” so much that he sent his one and only Son to die for us.
It was while WE were yet sinners that Christ died for us.
It’s not while THEY were yet sinners – while WE were yet sinners.
And if we think it’s unfair that God should even extend his love to those with whom we disagree how unfair is it to God that he continues to forgive us time and time again – even though we’ve promised to never do it again.
But he does because his love is not based on fairness but on his unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ who died for us and the entire world.
There is no line in the sand.
And he does not place a line in the sand for us either;
Love your neighbour as yourself – we hear in James.
Jesus goes even further – love one another as I have loved you – and by this all people will know that you’re my disciples.
If we join in the cries of “unfair” will we witness to God’s love?
If we join in the cries of unfair, how can we be sure others aren’t judging us the same way when we stray?
As Jesus says: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
It is so easy to join in with the crowd as they did against Jesus and shout “Crucify Him”
It’s no different to the shouts:“Send them back where they came from – lock them up and throw away the key”.
Jesus however sets a different standard as he cries out:
Forgive them Father for they do not know what they are doing.
Remember what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
And as children of God we won’t be sitting under the table picking up the crumbs in heaven.
We will be sitting with Jesus at his table enjoying the great feast.
Until then Jesus invites you to his table to receive a foretaste of that feast to come as you receive, not crumbs that fall from the table, but the very body and blood of our Lord that is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins so you can be sure there is no line in the sand you have to reach because Jesus invites you to come, for all things are now ready.