Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Sermon 4th November 2018 - All Saints Day - Text John 11 - The raising of Lazarus

The raising of Lazarus has some interesting dimensions to it.
The first one is when Jesus hears that Lazarus is ill he doesn’t immediately go to see him.
When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
Martha realises what Jesus has done and says: “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
Or there’s the part about Jesus telling his disciples that Lazarus has not died but is only sleeping and he’s going there to wake him up.
Then there is the stench that Lazarus has made after having been in the tomb for 4 days.
Or the part where Jesus yells at Lazarus telling him to come out of the grave.
But the part that really intrigues me in all this is what is regarded as the shortest verse in the bible:
Jesus wept.
Just 2 words but a huge impact as we try to understand death.
Jesus wept.
The reason I find this so intriguing is, why Jesus would weep.
Jesus knows that after a person dies they enter into heaven.
And even the fact that Jesus knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, why then would he weep.
What this reveals, I believe, is the real impact of death upon us and on God and what grief brings when someone we love dies.
Even on Jesus, the King of Kings – the Lord of Lords – the Son of God – the one who said he is the Resurrection and the life – who said that whoever believes in him shall live even though they die – he is brought to tears when he is faced with the harsh reality of death.
Death was not in God’s original plan of creation so it is so foreign even to God.
When Eve was asked by the serpent regarding the rules of the Garden of Eden she says:
“We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.
So death was not the plan of God but a consequence of disobedience.
So when Jesus himself experiences the loss of a friend – even though he knows God’s plan of the resurrection, it is so foreign even to him.
And when John sees the revelation of the new heaven and the new earth the very first thing he sees and declares:
There will be no more death!
Death is the first thing to be dealt with in Heaven.
Of all the experiences in our human life the death of a loved one is the most difficult.
In fact the death of a loved one is more difficult than facing our own death.
Jesus didn’t weep at his own death as he experienced excruciating pain.
In fact he found it within himself to ask God to forgive his executioners.
He was even able to share the Gospel with the thief being crucified next to him telling him today he will be in paradise.
As Christians we know that our own death means a passage into heaven to live with God where there will be no more suffering or death.
But at the death of a loved one we know that we must go through the rest of our life without that person we love.
And so grief becomes our expression of love for the one we love who has gone to be with God.
Grief hurts because the love we are expressing experiences also the reality of our sinfulness.
Let me explain that:
St Paul says in Romans 6, the wages of sin is death.
So when someone we love dies we are reminded of our own sin that caused the reality of death in this lifetime.
As Jesus was experiencing the reality of his own death he cried out not because of the physical pain he was experiencing but the spiritual pain of sin and the hurt and separation it brings;
He cries out “my God, my God – why have you forsaken me”?
He doesn’t cry out – why all this pain.
That is not physical pain he is experiencing but the spiritual pain of death and separation.
A pain that is inconsolable.
A pain that Jesus describes in his teachings of hell where there is eternal separation from God.
Hell is not a physical pain but the spiritual pain of eternal separation from God.
In a world without the Christian faith you can understand how difficult death is because it is not only the death of a love one that confronts you but also your own death.
As I’ve heard many many times from people’s deathbed saying that they don’t understand how a person without faith handles death.
And that’s also what St Paul says when he speaks about grief in death.
He says:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of humankind, who have no hope.
It doesn’t say that we should not grieve – but in our grief let hope bring comfort.
We have hope – hope in the resurrection – hope in God’s loving care both here on earth and in eternity.
St John gives us a glimpse of that care we will see face to face but that same care we have now which is hidden behind the pain of sin;
He says:
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! 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.”
The old order of things has died.
That love and care that we will experience – which our loved ones are now experiencing – is actually here with us now though we don’t fully see it.
St Paul speaks about that hiddenness in Colossians when he says:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, 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.
Notice he speaks in the present tense when speaking about God’s presence with us – since you HAVE been raised with Christ – when Christ who IS your life.
Your life is NOW hidden with Christ in God
But he also speaks in the future tense for when we will see and understand:
Then you also will appear with him in glory.
But until then we live with the grief of losing a loved one.
A grief which is our continuing to express our love for someone after they have died.
A grief that is comforted by the Christian hope that death is not the end of life but the beginning of new eternal life in heaven.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Sermon 28th October 2018 - Reformation Sunday - Text: John 8:31-36 – The truth sets you free

Sermon 28th October 2018 – Reformation Sunday
Text: John 8:31-36 – The truth sets you free.

In my recovery at home earlier this year from Influenza and Pneumonia, I watched lots of TV.
There was not much I could do because of my lack of energy.
And I have to admit, I watched lots of episodes of Judge Judy.
She has lots of sayings that she yells at the litigants on her show but the one that I really love is when she catches out someone being a little loose with the truth.
She says, if you tell the truth then you don’t need a good memory.
When you lie you not only have to remember the details of the lie but you have to reconstruct new events around the lie which can often lead to being caught out.
If you tell the truth then you don’t need a good memory.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus speaks about the power of truth: he says:
If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Quite often Jesus would begin teachings to his disciples by saying: “Truly, truly I say to you”.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (John 6:47)
In some older version it would have Amen, amen, I say to you – as the Greek word “amen” is translated at “true” or “truly”.
So when we pray and end our prayer – In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen – we link praying in Jesus’ name with the truth.
This is complete opposite to Satan whom Jesus describes as:
A murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Luther in his Small Catechism ends his explanations of the Apostles’ Creed – this is most certainly true.
When Luther took on the church of his day it didn’t matter to him that he was taking on one of the most powerful institutions of his day – because he had the truth on his side.
It didn’t matter that he was taking on one of the most powerful rulers of his day – because he had the truth on his side.
It didn’t matter that his life and livelihood was in danger – because he had the truth on his side – and the truth was all that mattered.
And so when he is summoned to defend himself before the Emperor in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, he is demanded to recant all his criticisms of the pope and the Catholic Church he concludes with that famous statement; Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.
The truth is, as Jesus says, a freeing gift that God has given to us.
I’ve known situations where people have lived with lies for years fearing the consequences of their actions who have confessed after years of living their lie – years of covering up their shame – trying to remember what they had said to avoid detection.
But the weight on their conscience became too much and they confessed their guilt preferring to live with the consequences and shame of their actions rather than their guilt.
King David wrote about his own struggle with his conscience and the weight of his guilt and the freeing of his conscience through the truth:
In Psalm 32 he writes;
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
For King David, the consequence of his sin remained after he confessed – the death of his son – but the weight of guilt was removed immediately by God.
Sadly truth has become a victim of the age we live in.
We live in a time that is still known as Post Modern and one of the features of post modernism is that truth is relative.
What that means is that truth for me may not necessarily be truth for you – and we can both be right even though we believe the complete opposite.
We see that in society and we see that in the church – whether it be views on same sex marriage – the ordination of women – abortion – euthanasia or any other contentious issue.
And we’ve seen these differences descend into fights where we hurt each other because none of us can convince the other that they are wrong or that we are right and we refuse to see any other view other than our own.
And that happens when we take ourselves away from God’s Word and allow our own views and the world’s views to influence our truth.
That’s what happened in Luther’s day.
The church had lost its way.
The Word of God was no longer central to their teaching.
And therefore the Gospel was lost.
The Gospel that was found in God’s word where Salvation is by God’s Grace alone.
Unfortunately the word “Gospel” is used for many and varied things in the church and has lost the impact of what it actually means – saved by Grace.
So too in Luther’s day:
The Word of God was no longer taught in families.
The Word of God was no longer taught in the church.
So they didn’t know how to love one another and listen to one another.
How similar to what is being experienced in today’s society where God’s Word is no longer the source of truth.
Social media is where people go to find their truth and we discover what has been coined as “fake news”.
People believe everything except what God has said.
We need to get back to our Bibles and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us back to what God is saying to us, as Jesus said in John’s Gospel:
When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears.
There is a saying amongst the Lutheran church that says: Ecclesia semper reformanda est (Latin for "the church must always be reformed"
Some believe that reforming means that the church should always be changing because the world is changing.
That’s not how Luther saw the Reformation.
He fought for truth because the church had moved away from what God had established through Christ.
The church no longer resembled the body of Christ.
Many believe the church is dying because it has become irrelevant in the eyes of the world.
Maybe it’s dying because its message has become no different to that of the world
Maybe it’s dying because it no longer offers a word of hope different to the world.
Luther brought the church back to God’s word and declared:
By Grace alone – by faith alone – by Christ alone – by Scripture alone.
The church in Luther’s day had lost the truth because they had put works over grace – Mary and the Saints over Christ and tradition over Scripture.
Today we face the same challenge unless we can encourage Christians to open their bibles and let God speak to them.
It’s hard in today’s world but we are called to speak the truth in love.
Luther spoke the truth in love because he loved God and he loved his fellow brothers and sisters.
In speaking the truth he ruffled a few feathers but he was more concerned about the faith of his brothers and sisters in Christ.
He could see that they did not know the word of God and were relying on worldly things just like the Jews in Jesus day who had moved away from God’s word and relying on “We are Abraham’s descendants”
God’s Word is still relevant for today as Jesus said:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Friends we need to study our bibles.
We need to open our bibles and read what it says about the world we live in.
And sometimes we need to speak the truth in love;
But let us remember remember how that love looks:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
If we are going to call ourselves Christian, then we need to know what Christ says and teaches.
And to do that we need to hear again and again what Christ teaches.
And Jesus says:
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Sermon 21st October 2018: Year B: 22nd Sunday after Pentecost:Text: Mark 10:35-45 – Life turned upside down

Sermon 21st October 2018
Text: Mark 10:35-45 – Life turned upside down

When something unexpected disrupts our lives we use the term – it’s turned my life upside down.
We struggle when life doesn’t seem to go the way we want it to go.
We like to be on top of things but sometimes things happen out of our control.
It is natural to want life to go smoothly and according to our plans but as you would be well aware that’s not always the case.
Disruptions can be hard to manage especially when one comes on top of another and another.
We like to be at the top of our game and in control.
In our Gospel reading today, James and John thought they would get a head start on the other disciples.
Their thinking is that Jesus has 2 spare seats right next to him – one on his left and one on his right.
Let’s grab them before someone else thinks of it.
And when the other 10 disciples found out about it they began to be angry with James and John.
Not because they were being disrespectful to Jesus but probably because they hadn’t thought of it themselves.
Jesus teaches his disciples a very important life lesson.
James and John were correct in their thinking.
There would be only 2 seats directly next to Jesus in heaven – one on his left and one on his right.
But how long before James and John would have started fight about who would be at the more prominent position on Jesus’ right hand side.
But Jesus points out that the true meaning of life is not found at what the world might consider the “top of the ladder” but hidden in the opposite of what the world deems as being on top.
For Jesus it began at his birth.
This King of Kings was not born to a Queen or Princess.
His entry into our life came through a young girl, born in a stable in poor humble surroundings.
His life was in danger from an early age when Herod wanted to kill him.
He became a refugee fleeing to Egypt.
Mary and Joseph with their baby Jesus had their lives turned upside down even though just prior to that angels had sung about his birth and locals had flocked to see him and royalty from other lands had come with gifts to worship him.
As he grew he had no secure lodgings as he said: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
His friends were the lowliest and poorest, the diseased and the outcast.
And even though he claimed to be sent from God and the people at one stage gave him a parade, he was so unlike the Son of God, the Messiah that had been expected by the people of God. 
His life was almost immediately turned upside down again as the people called for his death – crucify him!
His death on a cross was cruel, humiliating, shameful, painful and yet this, again, is where God has hidden his victory in the opposite.
God had turned Jesus’ life upside down!
Jesus humiliation becomes his glory.
Jesus death becomes his victory over death.
Jesus suffering becomes his comfort for us.
This is so hard to understand, especially when we read in today’s reading from Hebrews:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard.
This was such a difficult thing to understand even for those who were the closest to him.
The one who came to save them dying on a cross.
That’s not the way life for Jesus was meant to be.
And so we can see that even though life for us is not always how it is meant to be as far as we’re concerned, God reveals a hidden glory behind what seems to us to be pretty dismal things.
And then we can hopefully begin to understand the strange sayings of Jesus.
“The greatest one among you must be your servant.
Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great”
 “Those who want to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it”
“If anyone of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of all; and if anyone wants to be first, you must be the servant of all”
Life turned upside down is where God’s hidden presence is found.
As St Paull also discovered – when I am weak then I am strong.
Life in Jesus is back to front and upside down. 
The Kingdom of God is not the same as that of the rest of the world. 
Jesus defines greatness in such a different way – he uses words like love, humility, service, kindness, meekness, mercy, servants, losing one’s life to reveal greatness in God's Kingdom.
Values are changed. 
What is great in God's kingdom is different to what is considered great in the world. 
It might be considered great in the world to put down those we don’t life, or to ridicule people who are different, but greatness in God's Kingdom is to show kindness and love to our enemies and rivals and help them to succeed even if it means we miss out – as the 5th commandment says.
We might show our strength by criticising others and gossip about them to put them down but in God's Kingdom greatness means to defend others, speak well of others and be supportive as we follow the 8th commandment..
It might be considered great in the world to look after your own needs first and then the needs of others but in God's Kingdom greatness means to give food to the poor, a cup of water to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless, visit the sick and clothe the naked, to go the extra mile – to give up our spare coat and not keep it just in case.
Jesus spoke of being a servant and he leads by example.  “For the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”.
Following the upside down ways of Jesus is not easy. 
They are challenging.
Hopefully they will make us rethink our values and see the ways our society influences our thinking and behaviour in a negative way.
 Jesus’ upside down ways will open our eyes to realise how far we have gone off track going down the easy path, followed popular trends, done the “in thing” rather than taken the harder path of humility and service to others.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus outlined the true path:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
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.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Notice that the starting point for all those blessings are what we might consider things we would want to avoid.
As you experience turmoil and disruption in your life ask God to reveal his blessing and trust in him.
Prayer is not always about healing but sometimes it’s about revelation: asking God to reveal himself amongst us.
We all want life to go along smoothly without disruptions but you would know from experience that that is not how life goes.
It’s in those difficulties when God’s upside down love rests on us as St Paul heard from God in his suffering that was turning his life upside down:
God said to him: My grace is all you need, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
And so Paul said: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
God called it grace. 
We think greatness is all about us. 
But thank God for his grace that comes to bless us when life has turned upside down.
It doesn’t always mean that God will turn our life back around but he will bless our lives in the midst of our suffering and will reveal his love for us.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Sermon 14th October 2018: Year B: 21st Sunday after Pentecost:Text: Hebrews 4:12-16 – Our sympathetic God

Sermon 14th October 2018
Text; Hebrews 4:12-16 – Our sympathetic God.

With a state election coming up in a few weeks we are going to see lots of promises made.
And in particular we’re going to see a lot of sympathy from the candidates who say how much they know we are hurting with rising prices, rising crime, and many other issues in society that make life difficult for so many people.
There will be the visits to country towns to assure them that the needs of rural folk are not forgotten.
There will be visits to work sites and fitting in with the average worker donning the hard hat and safety vest for photo shoots.
But it seems that no sooner does a Premier or Prime Minister get into power that it’s business as usual and the promises and sympathy are just words rather than actions.
Many become quite sceptical of their sympathy because they simply don’t seem to understand the hardships because they arrive in chauffeur driven cars – some have multiple houses they own – and their salary increase is greater than the entire benefits of many pensioners and welfare recipients for the year.
In our 2nd reading today from Hebrews we have a different situation.
The text is speaking about Jesus and says:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
Jesus is not a politician and he is not speaking to get our vote.
Jesus is letting us know that the pain and suffering and struggles we are going through - he understands.
In fact it is more than just understanding.
Jesus is feeling the pain first hand.
Our church is hurting at the moment and there is none hurting more than Jesus who feels every kick in the guts, who sheds every tear, who feels every betrayal.
And he does so because the church is his body and when the church hurts his body hurts and feels every pain.
St Paul reminds us that the church is a body and when one part of the body hurts the entire body hurts.
The temptation is to walk away from the body to let God know how much it’s hurting.
But God knows because the church is his body.
Peter said to Jesus: “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
He said that because Peter felt a little betrayed and let down when Jesus said:  how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.
“But we have left everything and followed you”.
Jesus reassured Peter and the disciples: Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
Jesus shares with us that there is suffering for the sake of the Gospel.
In this life time he calls it persecution.
And that suffering is being experienced by the entire church at present as we live in the aftermath of our latest Synod.
I find it really sad that we vote on such important matters because votes divide.
In the secular world we vote.
We vote for our political party and we have no choice but to live under whoever wins..
And when the party we did not vote for wins we are sad but we learn to live under that political party.
But the church is not a political party – it is the family of God.
And in families we don’t vote we talk.
In families we hurt more than in the secular world because of love:
The more we love, the more we hurt when we feel betrayed – hence Jesus’ hurt for us because of his love for us.
When a work colleague hurts you, you eventually work things out.
But when a family member hurts you it really hurts and you don’t want to ever talk to them again.
We’ve been talking about the ordination of women for decades but the end result is we end up voting.
There has to be a better way and we need to recover from this hurt and find that better way.
But we can’t find that better way if those who are hurting walk away.
The man in our Gospel reading wanted to find eternal life.
He thought it would be easy when Jesus told him the simple path:
Follow the Ten Commandments.
Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.
Jesus told him what to do; he said:
“Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and walked away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Notice he went away grieving as if there was a death.
For many, if not all, we walked away from Synod grieving because it felt like the pain of death.
Voting is the simple path – it leaves winners and loser in the secular world.
But in the church, the body of Christ, it only leaves hurt – because when one part of the body hurts, the entire body hurts.
Walking away is the human response to hurt and pain.
Jesus wanted to walk away from his hurt and pain in the Garden of Gethsemane – take this cup from me – it’s too much to bear.
But he knew that he if walked away – if he came down from the cross as the people urged him too – then the problem of sin and our separation from God would remain.
If Jesus walked away then we would be still living with our sin.
But he didn’t:
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
And it’s because Jesus didn’t walk away that we can approach the throne of grace with boldness, and confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
And that time of need is NOW.
But we need the whole body because the whole body of Christ is hurting.
Jesus says in our hurting that we can approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
These are words of confidence. 
They tell us that through Jesus, our gracious God is available to each one of us. 
These words tell us that God is not out of touch with what is happening right now in our lives and in the life of the church.
God knows from firsthand experience.
God knows our pain, our fears and our hopes. 
He understands. 
He feels. 
He has compassion.
Through Jesus we have direct fellowship with God, and through Jesus, God has direct understanding of what it means to endure the joys and hardships of life in this world. 
Our God understands.
He understands when we don’t understand and question what is happening. 
When we ask those questions that start with “why” or make statements that start “it’s not fair”, God knows and understands the pain that cause us to question his plans for us and his body, the church. 
God says, “Trust my love for you. 
There are many uncertainties in this world but there is one thing that is an absolute certainty and that is God’s love for you and God will never do anything that will contradict that love. 
It might look as if God doesn’t care, but trust his love for you.
Jesus hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be human. 
We are encouraged to trust God in those times when we don’t understand what is happening in our lives. 
When we are hurting;
When we are bewildered;
When we are physically, emotionally and spiritually drained and we have no reserves left,
We can be certain our heavenly Father knows exactly how we feel.
And that’s because Jesus suffers with us. 
And we are invited today to come confidently to God to find healing for our hurt. 
Because he understands, we will find help.
Healing can take time and hurt will leave a scar.
But as we travel through this life, we can be certain that we have the loving arms of God around us. 
They are there even when we think they aren’t there because we have a God who is touched by our human weaknesses, who really knows what it is like to be you.
You may not be ready to heal just yet because the pain is raw.
But remember when Jesus came to Thomas AFTER his resurrection.
He still bore the scars of his sacrifice.
Jesus still bears those scars and sympathises with you and your scars and invites you to come boldly and confidently to his throne of grace to find healing and comfort.