Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Sermon 2nd December 2018 - Year C - First Sunday in Advent - Text Luke 21:25-36 – True Hope

Sermon 2nd December 2018 – First Sunday in Advent – (HOPE)
Text: Luke 21:25-36 – True Hope

Hope is a funny word.
It’s one of those words that depending on the context it could mean the opposite of what was intended.
Like the VCE student who “hopes” to get a good result in their exams – there is a degree of uncertainty not knowing what the result is going to be.
Or the person who lives in hope of winning the lottery one day – a day that may, or most likely will never come.
On the other hand we speak of the Christian hope of which there is absolute certainty of what we are hoping for.
As St Paul says – hope does not disappoint us.
The first Sunday of Advent always has a sense of fear about terrible things that are predicted for the future.
It speaks of: People will faint from fear of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 
But the purpose of Advent is not to frighten you or make you worry but to bring you hope.
Jesus is alerting us that things will happen that will cause people to fear.
Even if you’re not a Christian you know that things in the world are not getting better.
Violence, crime, wars, global warming.
All these are signs that the world is in disarray.
Advent is about bringing hope in the midst of our fears;
And we need hope more than ever.
Because horrible things run non-stop through our news feeds creating fear.
Advent reminds us to keep focused on heavenly things that will last forever and not earthly things that will pass away.
The signs of disarray are a reminder that the world is not well.
But the disarray has a purpose to keep us putting our faith in God.
But if we focus on the terrible things without hope we can, as Jesus says, faint from fear.
Suffering has a hidden blessing.
Suffering is an indication that something is not right.
When you get a tooth ache it’s a message to you to go to the dentist and fix the problem.
If there was no pain you wouldn’t be aware that there was something wrong and more damage could occur.
So too the suffering in the world is a message from God to come to him for hope because there is something wrong with our world – we call it sin.
Jesus says: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
We cannot ignore the things happening around us.
And even if life for a period of time is going okay something can happen to change all that.
And it’s when those problems happen that we feel helpless.
We begin to see what’s wrong with life and the world, what’s not right with our family and what’s not happening in the church. 
All we see are the negatives and we respond with despair and hopelessness that things have become so bad. 
Instead of dropping our heads with sorrow and defeat Jesus says - stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
Without hope people look for ways to escape through things that don’t provide any lasting comfort at all.
Jesus says be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.
I actually had no idea what the word “dissipation” meant but it means - overindulgence in sensual pleasures;
And as we look at our world today it explains a lot about how people, not just young people, escaping the worries of life through artificial means that don’t last and in fact sends them spiralling further downwards.
You see people partying, revelling, holidaying, seemingly without a worry in the world but inside are lonely and depressed.
If you’ve been watching the news you would have seen the revelling of young people away on schoolies.
And a new breed with them I saw – “moolies” mothers of schoolies who go along with them to, supposedly, look after them.
We feel the need to be in control of our life and to have our plans all worked out. 
But we all know that there are times when things get out of our control and we are overwhelmed.
It’s in those times when we don’t give up – we don’t drop our heads in disbelief or regret, but lift our heads high and we look to God to remember that Jesus has promised to return and take us to be with him in Paradise.
We call this the 2nd Advent when Jesus returns in glory.
This is our Christian hope! 
This is the confidence and certainty we have as Christians; that we have Jesus as our saviour. 
This is what enables us to deal with everything that causes us to panic and create fear in us. 
We have a saviour who loves us and will gather us together as his dear children. 
No eternal harm will come to us even though heaven and earth are passing away because we are part of the new heaven and new earth. 
We may face earthly harm at times, as did St Paul, and the other disciples – and also Jesus.
But Jesus shed his blood for us on the cross and paid the ultimate price for us. 
He has conquered all evil and death so that in our last hour on earth we can rest in peace and confidence – our hope is in Jesus who has done everything for us.
And yet in spite of the hope that we have in Jesus the text today also reminds us that until he comes he wants us to keep working for the Kingdom.
Jesus said in this time of waiting to be alert at all times, praying;
And Paul also in our 2nd reading instructs us how to live our lives until then:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another.
We fail often in our love. 
As individuals and as a congregation this is our constant challenge. 
To love others even more, even those with whom we have clashed;
Those who are unwilling to be loved;
How can we be the love of Christ to others?
This should be our constant prayer in these days before Christ returns – that we would continue to grow in love that knows no limits just as God has shown no limits in his love for us in Christ.
Only as we love others can we begin to understand that God loves us.
And in God’s love we are able to understand the hope we have in this life.
Our hope is not like worldly hope where many hope to win the lottery so they won’t have any money problems.
Because other problems will arise.
They will arise also for the Christian but as Christians we have hope that they are limited to this life only.
As children of God we have every reason to be filled with hope  because of Jesus our Saviour. 
When trouble and death come our way we will not be left feeling lost and alone  – Jesus is the resurrection and the life and he will lead us through all these things safely. 
And most importantly we will not be terrified when Christ returns and begins the Judgment because all our wrongs have been forgiven and forgotten by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. 
 “You will be free from all impurity and blame on the Day of Judgment”
And you will be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
 The return of Jesus is not something to fear unless you have rejected his offer of salvation. 
But as Christians, we can stand up and be confident because we know our redemption is drawing near.
We can and will live in hope;
We will not fear when Jesus will come in glory to judge the living and the dead because of his grace.
The Last Judgment will put things right.
And Jesus will say to you, as he said to the thief on the cross:
 “I forgive you. Welcome into paradise.”
So let us not be afraid.
Let us prepare to celebrate the birth of our Saviour who offers not fear but forgiveness.
Jesus, who offers not condemnation but life eternal.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Sermon 25th November 2018 - Year B Last Sunday of the Church Year - Text Revelation 1:4b-8 – A God who “is”

Sermon 25th November 2018
Text: Revelation 1:4b-8 – A God who “is”

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
This is a very powerful statement by Jesus exercising his complete authority in the world.
And Jesus always speaks in such definitive words.
I am THE Alpha and THE Omega (the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet).
Just as he said in John’s Gospel:
I am THE way, I am THE truth, I am THE life.
Not A way, A truth, A life.
But as I’ve mentioned before, it’s getting real difficult for the church because we live in a generation where we have no right to claim any ultimate truth or authority – whereas Jesus speaks in exactly those terms.
Most are fairly comfortable with the first part of what Jesus claims:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,”
People see the church as the place to begin their journey – the Alpha – having their child baptised – giving them a good start in life as I’ve often heard it referred to.
In fact my own Baptism was along those lines.
Having a Muslim father and a Lutheran/Christian mother, they discussed how their children should be brought up – to which my father commented that we would probably fit in better and have more opportunities as Christians.
And that’s the great thing about Baptism – it doesn’t matter what reason there is because it is God who is baptising.
People also see the church as the place to end –the Omega -seeking out a Christian funeral for their loved one to give them comfort and peace.
But it’s the 2nd part of what Jesus says that adds a third dimension with which people struggle:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
So here we have the beginning and the end – the one who was and is to come – but what about “who is”?
That is a present dimension for Jesus presence in the world in much the same way God revealed his name to Moses and Israel as Yahweh – I AM.
Not I WAS or I WILL BE – I AM.
That is the part that our world struggles with and fails to recognise.
A God who is.
John’s Revelation describes what it means for us to be living under Jesus as our King here and now as we prepare for the future coming Kingdom of Heaven.
He says:
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father,
There are 3 parts there:
First; To him who loves us.
We are loved by God.
How can we be an example to the world that we are loved by God?
Before his death Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment – love one another as I have loved you.
So to say that Jesus is our King means that we listen to him and what he commands.
The people are called to be loyal to their King.
And Jesus, our King, commands us to love – to love one another as he loves us.
To love doesn’t mean we have to like everyone – and I’m sure that there are people that you just find it so hard to like.
But to love means to see others as an extension of God – as they are created in God’s image.
So if we see a person in need we can’t ignore them just because we don’t like them.
The Good Samaritan may not have liked the Israelite that had been attacked but to ignore his needs as Jesus says – as much as you did not do it to the least of these you did not do it unto me.
We may think we have very good reason to not love someone but God had much more reason to not love us – We crucified God’s son.
But it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us – because God loved the world so much that he gave his ONE and ONLY son.
If there was more he could have given us he would have so how can we believe we have reason to not love someone?
The second part was: To him who has freed us from our sins by his blood.
As good Lutherans we know that we are Saved By Grace.
We have defended that – our forebears in Australia left home and livelihood to uphold that – Martin Luther put his life on the line to proclaim that.
But how often don’t we allow our sin to once again own us?
That’s not to say that sin is not a struggle – it’s a massively difficult struggle.
St Paul knew that struggle all too well:
For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
But the answer to sin is not – “well I know God will forgive me so it’s going to be okay”.
That’s not what being saved by Grace means.
Not at all, as St Paul says in Romans 6:
Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
And yet that’s often how we treat sin as something that’s easier to ask for forgiveness for than to confront and overcome.
But sin is serious – it’s not just a blip on the radar.
It took Jesus’ blood to free us!
Sin is what caused the fall at Creation;
In fact Jesus talks about knowing you’re doing something wrong – he says if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
To live with Christ as our king means to see sin for what it is – that it is what caused Jesus death and not just something to look sideways at.
Finally Jesus says:
To him who has made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father.
The focus word there is that we are priests – we are all priests.
In the Old Testament the priest stood between God and the world.
In the Old Testament the Levites, from whom the priests came, did not receive any land in Israel as an inheritance.
And the reason is because God said the Lord is their inheritance – a much more precious gift.
Do we realise, as Christians, what God has given us – an inheritance of eternal life.
He has given us access to himself through his Word;
He has given us access to himself through prayer.
He has given us access to himself through our Baptism and Holy Communion.
Do we really value them or have they just become an empty ritual?
Do we pray like it’s a privilege to speak with God and ask for his help for others or is it just another “thing” we have to do?
Do we read his word – a word where in some places around the world the bible is banned and smuggled in – sometimes just a couple pages at a time?
The priest had the huge responsibility to ensure the holy things of God were used to extend God’s grace into the world
In the Old Testament there is a story of a man named Uzzah – not a priest.
When the Ark of the Covenant – the Holy Seat of God - came to its resting place, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled and it was about to fall. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.
He was not allowed to touch it because he was not a priest.
But we are invited to extend our hands and receive the Holy Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood.
Do we see the Holy Things of God with reverence or are they so common to us that we don’t realise what a gift God has given to us through Jesus.
To live with Christ as our King means to treat with reverence what God has given to us.
The world has lost its respect for God and anything to do with him – but we must never!
We are called to carry Christ’s Kingdom in the world even if we feel as if the world thinks we’re silly to believe in God in this day and age.
Jesus says he is returning and we will be vindicated and upheld by God himself on that day.
Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
But not us – we won’t wail we will rejoice and be proud as Jesus says in Luke 21:
So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!"
Until then may the peace of God that surpasses our understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Sermon 18th November 2018 - Year B 26th Sunday after Pentecost - Text Text Hebrews 10:11-25 – The Day is approaching

Sermon 18th November 2018 – 2nd Last Sunday of the Church Year (26th Sunday after Pentecost)
Text Hebrews 10:11-25 – The Day is approaching

The last census revealed what we all knew without the numbers being officially collected.
The numbers in church are declining.
We didn’t need to see what people responded in the census we just needed to look around us and see the numbers that used to be here just aren’t here anymore.
There are a variety of reasons.
Busyness – relevancy – disagreement with doctrines – failing to get anything out of coming to worship;
Or it could simply be people moving away or being called home by God.
Some that I’ve spoken to who have lapsed say things like:
I can find just as much inspiration by watching Songs of Praise or Mass for you at home on TV.
I can find God everywhere I go so why do I have to come to church?
What we need to be clear about is that this is not a new problem facing the church.
The book of Hebrews was written about 30 years after the death of Christ and therefore during the infancy of the church.
In that time we read in the book of Acts about thousands of conversions during the years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
But here, just one generation on, we are already hearing of concerns about those drifting away from the church.
We often hear of warnings that the church is just one generation away from extinction because of people leaving but, as we see, God has different plans.
He has kept the church going for around 2000 years and promises that not even the gates of hell will overcome it.
That doesn’t mean the church hasn’t been without its challenges but its future existence is in God’s hands.
We don’t know who wrote this book but the author writes:
Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
So already, not long after huge conversions, we see there is a concern about the numbers dwindling away – people neglecting to meet together.
But what was the writer concerned about regarding people neglecting to meet together?
How to balance the budget?
How to pay off the loan for the extensions?
How to ensure we keep the congregation open so we don’t lose our pastor or have to join with another congregation?
But that’s often what our motivation is in mission.
The writer is concerned with the Day approaching.
What Day?
It is the day that the Bible often refers to as the Day of Judgment;
A day that Jesus speaks about a separation of sheep and goats, wheat and weeds, good fish and bad fish – with the separation meaning some missing out on eternal salvation.
That is what our mission must be motivated by.
A mission that is at the heart of God who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
The day that Jesus warns about saying that people will be led astray and away from God.
Jesus, like the writer of Hebrews, is worried about the eternal future of the person rather than the earthly future of the institution.
In fact Jesus went outside of the institution of his day and drew people back to God – back to the Gospel when he ate with sinners and tax collectors – healed the Samaritan leper – forgave the adulterous woman – healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter – and a multitude of other examples.
Jesus wants his disciples to be aware that there will be influences to take them away from following him.
And he’s worried because the ones that are trying to lure them away don’t have their best interests at heart but try to mimic the comfort Jesus offers.
They might seem enticing but once trouble strikes they are nowhere to be found.
When Jesus speaks about himself being our Good Shepherd he also describes the character of the False Shepherd:
The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.
How many have put faith in their careers only to lose their job in times of downturn.
How many have put their faith in their superannuation or other investments to see them wiped out in a market crash.
In Jesus’ time it was the temptation to put their faith in the magnificent temple that had been built.
And as magnificent as those buildings looked, Jesus said that there was no security in them at all:
One of the disciples said to Jesus:
Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Jesus turned their faith in the human made temple to the true temple when he said: Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."
We hear people leave the church because it is no longer relevant to them;
If that’s the case then there is a problem with either the message or what they are hearing as it is always relevant.
The church’s message is the Gospel – that God welcomes us into his Kingdom.
If that’s not the message we are preaching or that is not being heard then there’s a problem because the world can offer much more than we can if that’s the case.
And that’s what the writer to the Hebrews says:
This is the covenant that I will make with them, says the Lord:  I will put my laws in their hearts,  and I will write them on their minds,”  “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Therefore, my friends, we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus.
What Jesus is concerned about is that his disciples, including today’s church, are not led astray by a message that does not lead us to the comfort that Jesus brings by his forgiveness won on the cross.
And that’s what the writer to the Hebrews says too:
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
What can we do to help others find this confession of hope?
The writer of Hebrews says: Encourage them.
Encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Our motivation for mission should always be so others can experience what we experience in a relationship with God.
An experience that can be mimicked by the world but cannot replace what God offers.
It might seem appealing to look at the large stones and large buildings but they will crumble in time whether it’s wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; or earthquakes in various places.
But God’s word is forever.
And it’s by God’s word that we have confidence to enter the Kingdom of Heaven;
A kingdom that was once shut by our sinfulness but now the curtain has been torn in two by the blood of Jesus Christ as God will remember our sins and our lawless deeds no more.
That’s what we and God wants everyone to experience which only a relationship with Jesus Christ can offer.
Yes God can be found in many places but only as we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ can we encourage one another in our faith and have confidence that our sins are forgiven and entry into heaven assured.