Monday, 23 December 2019

Sermon 29th December 2019 – 1st Sunday after Christmas Text - Matthew 2:13-23 – God’s gift of love (don’t waste it).

Sermon 29th December 2019 – 1st Sunday after Christmas
Text - Matthew 2:13-23 – God’s gift of love (don’t waste it).

The gifts have been received and opened;
The recycling bin is filled with gift wrapping that once made an ordinary gift seem extra special.
Our family and friends have come and returned home.
All that is to come as a reminder of Christmas is the Credit Card statement.
Soon we will start counting down again till next Christmas
The past month has included the busiest days and weeks of the year for many of us.
It is no wonder if we feel tired today and maybe there is a sense of relief that it is all over for another year – and a bonus, it’s a leap year next year so we get an extra day’s relief.
It has been a hectic couple of weeks but slowly our lives will return to normal, as we settle back into our regular routines.
We have celebrated Jesus’ birth which is always a special time despite the stress and pressure of trying to get everything done in time.
Christmas is special because it reminds us that God has not forgotten about us and never will.
Jesus is God’s gift to each one of us – Immanuel – God with us.
But what will we do with that gift?
We have 3 options:
First                 Add it to the pile of gifts
We seem to live in a time when we have everything we need.
With credit cards and ready access to cash, if we want something we go and buy it.
While that’s handy, it makes it very hard to buy things as gifts these days as the people we buy for seem to have everything.
So we either buy them some sort of novelty gift with no real use, or we buy them a gift card from the many hundreds of places that offer them.
In fact when you go to Coles or Woolworths they have all the companies available.
You just pick the one you want and take it to the checkout so you don’t have to go out of  your way to buy one.
This way they can get their own present to the value that you place on the card.
The problem is that many of those gift cards just get put away because we don’t need them straight away – and we forget about them.
That’s often how we treat the gift of Jesus.
We have so much in our lives, do we really value what Jesus brings to our lives.
Do we really need him?
We put him away and forget about him.
We get on with life and just take him out if we need him.
Or we just leave the gift card lying around unused.
A gift card that is not used is just a piece of plastic.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a $5 gift card or a $500 gift card – it’s the same amount of plastic if it’s not used.
Likewise if we don’t use Jesus in our life then he is just as useful as that bit of plastic.
Sometimes when we do actually receive a gift, we don’t really value the gift or use the gift as the giver intended.
If we know the giver of the gift is going to visit, we madly scramble to find their gift and put it on display.
That’s often how we treat God’s gift of Jesus to us.
Bring him out at Christmas and Easter, but for the rest of the year we’ll pack him away.
God gave us Jesus to bring hope and peace and meaning to our lives.
Not just at Christmas, but every day of our life.
Are you using Jesus in your life or is he just lying around unused like many of our bibles?

Second            Return it
Probably the 2nd busiest day in the retail calendar is the day after Christmas.
But it’s not just at the checkout for the Boxing Day Sales but the returns counter.
People who have received a gift that is the wrong size – the wrong colour – or just not wanted.
So too God comes to us at times in ways that we don’t like or expect.
Israel certainly didn’t expect their promised King to come born in a feeding trough in the back shed, born to an unmarried commoner.
And remember John the Baptist a few weeks ago was looking for a refund.
Are you the one or should we be waiting for someone else.
Many today have returned God for a refund.
They have neglected their baptism and confirmation vows.
They have lapsed from worship.
But that is because we expect God to be a certain way.
We were created in God’s image but we try to recreate God in our image.
But that’s exactly what God did at Christmas.
He sent his Son in our image.
Born as we are born.
Living the life we live.
Struggling – experiencing pain and rejection.
All this so we have a God who understands what we go through so he can give us hope.
If anyone should be seeking a refund, maybe it’s God.
But he doesn’t because he loves us.
When you receive a gift, the value is in the love that purchased that gift for you.
If you return it, the gift you receive or the refund you receive don’t have the love.
When we replace Jesus in our lives, we might find something that gives us pleasure but we don’t have the love that Jesus offers.
Jesus may not always be or do what you are looking for, but he loves you more than anyone or anything else can.

Third    Use it
The third option we have is to use the gift given to us.
To cherish it and honour it.
There is no greater joy to the giver of a gift than to see a child’s eyes open wide and the smile beam as the wrapping comes off the gift.
And then to see the child run off and play with the gift.
They may be so excited that they run off without saying thank you.
But you don’t mind.
The smile and enjoyment is the thanks.
Sometimes I forget to say grace before a meal.
Sometimes I go to bed and I am just so tired that I fall asleep during my  prayers or before saying them.
Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to read a devotion.
But God doesn’t mind.
He understands.
He looks at us with so much joy and pleasure.
He’s not up there like a strict school teacher who is going to slap your hand if you don’t remember to say please or thank you.
He is there to be with you wherever you go and whatever you do.
And he has given to you his Son Jesus to be with you – to support you – to guide you – to use in whatever way you need to use him
To speak with him – to unload your frustrations on him – to just have someone at your side when you need him.
He is Immanuel – God with us.
Jesus is God’s gift to you.
May you receive Jesus with joy and use him for your needs and your enjoyment and share the joy with others.
And unlike other gifts, you can’t break him.
You can’t wear him out.
And wherever you go, he will be with you.
Enjoy God’s special gift to you – Jesus Christ his Son.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Christmas Day Sermon 2019 – Truth is God’s true power.

Christmas Day Sermon – Truth is God’s true power.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
What I found  is special about Christmas is that everything God said would happen happened.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Even before Jesus was born all the Old Testament prophesies pointed to what would happen on that glorious first Christmas Day.
His birth place was prophesied: “But you, Bethlehem, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
The virgin birth and his call were prophesied by Isaiah: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
And there are a myriad more which refer to his life and death – all which came true.
In fact, it is believed that the Old Testament, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, contains over 300 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled through His life, death and resurrection.
(A side note: someone worked out – not sure how accurate it is - 1 person fulfilling 8 prophecies: 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000   -1 person fulfilling 48 prophecies: 1 chance in 10 to the 157th power 1 person fulfilling 300+ prophecies: Only Jesus!)
So what does this say about Christmas and Jesus’ birth?
If the shepherds believed and found everything that had been told them then we too are to believe that God continues to assure us that everything that he has said about Christmas and Jesus’ birth is true.
And for us the promise is found in the most quoted of bible texts: that God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Even though from the outside Jesus’ birth didn’t look overly spectacular – born in humble surroundings – born to commoners – no room in the inn – it doesn’t sound so inspiring.
But, you see, for God it was not about showing external power.
God had done that already with King Saul and King David and King Solomon and the vast armies that they led conquering many nations.
A spectacular temple and powers of his strength earlier against Pharaoh when he devastated Egypt to free Israel from slavery.
God had already shown his powerful might.
But God, through Jesus at Christmas, showed a more powerful and everlasting power.
Jesus birth was about revealing God’s truth – and as Jesus once said – the truth shall set you free.
God cannot lie – no that’s the work of Satan, the father of lies, who when he lies speaks his common language.
God cannot break his promises and convenants.
So God’s truth is God’s true power.
So as we journey through our lifetime we are confronted by many things that shake our foundations.
Fear of the future – fears of climate change – terrorism – economic instability – sickness and disease – death.
But we keep going back to that cornerstone of God’s promises – God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but receive eternal life.
We live in a world where sadly we don’t know what to believe – fake news it has been termed.
Sadly the internet has become the source of truth for so many of our young people – and not so young.
We go to Wikipedia and believe that is 100% accurate – it’s not.
We go to Dr Google when we feel sick and look up our symptoms.
It’s so hard to know whom to trust and what to believe.
Every day we are warned about this scam or that scammer going around.
How many people, despite being warned still end up sending money to people they don’t know because they believed them when they rang or sent an email?
People are becoming less trusting.
But Christmas we can trust.
The promises made by God to us are trustworthy and true.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Christmas is such a special time of year for families and friends getting together – to let go of the pressures of life just for a day or two as we spend time together.
But when Christmas is all over please don’t forget what Christmas means for us.
Christmas is God entering into our time and space.
Just as God walked in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve before sin entered in, now God again walks with us.
God has come to meet us where we are.
We don’t have to reach up to him like the people of Babel whose tower was so small that God had to come down to look at what they were doing.
Christmas is God entering our time and space – Christmas is God entering our lives – Jesus is Immanuel – God with us.
And so when Jesus left his disciples to ascend to Heaven he repeated that promise through our Baptism – I am with you always till the end of the age.
Immanuel – God with us.
Don’t let the world or anyone make you doubt the presence and existence of God.
God is with us.
God is for us.
And nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Christmas Eve 2019– Christmas removing fear

Christmas Eve – Christmas removing fear

Even though I have heard the Christmas story many many times, as I’m sure you have – I do wonder what it would be like to have heard it for the very first time – or in fact have lived in the very first Christmas.
If you’ve ever arrived at a motel and find that they’ve double booked your room and there’s nowhere else available – or if you’ve presumed there would be a room available and didn’t book – you could understand how Mary and Joseph would have felt – especially with a pregnant Mary.
Our reading of the Christmas Story makes Jesus being born in a manger sound very romantic.
But if you’ve ever visited a wool shed, like I did when I first started dating Sharon – it’s far from romantic.
Or imagine being Mary and discovering you’re pregnant – and telling people – it’s okay, the child is actually God’s.
Or Joseph finding out that his fiancĂ© is pregnant and it’s not his child.
And trying to tell his friends and family – it’s okay – God is the Father.
We make the story sound so romanticised – so loving and adoring – but that very first Christmas would have been anything but that.
For starters Mary, under the Old Testament law of Moses could have been put to death – not only for being unfaithful to Joseph but for blasphemy saying that she was bearing God’s child.
Sometimes we can miss the powerful message of the Christmas Story as it becomes just a feel good story.
Yes it is an amazing story that is lovely to hear over and over again during Christmas but God is wanting to remind you that at times life can be difficult.
Life can be uncertain.
Life was difficult and uncertain for Mary and Joseph but God reassured them that the child about to be born would be called “Immanuel” – which means God is with us.
And that’s the heart of the Christmas message.
In our lives with all its uncertainties, difficulties and complexities, God is with us.
And on each occasion when angels visited Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds – they began with the words – ‘do not be afraid’.
And that’s the heart of the Christmas message to you today – do not be afraid – for God is bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
And we need to hear that message more than ever today as the message of the world is the opposite;
Be afraid, is what we keep getting told.
Be afraid of climate change.
Be afraid of bushfires.
Be afraid of volcanoes.
Be afraid of droughts.
Be afraid of soaring temperatures.
Be afraid of hackers.
Be afraid – be afraid – be afraid.
But God, today, is telling you  - do not be afraid – for God is bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
And he will be called Immanuel – God with us.
And if God is on our side, who can be against us?
Today, God’s love becomes personal as God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
And nothing, neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So may God bless you this Christmas as the Christmas Story becomes your story and remove all your fears because God is with us.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Sermon 22nd December – 4th Sunday in Advent Text: Matthew 1:18-25 – What on earth were you thinking God?

Sermon 22nd December – 4th Sunday in Advent
Text: Matthew 1:18-25 – What on earth were you thinking God?

Do you ever question God and what he’s doing in your life?
What are you doing God?
Sometimes it’s really hard to understand why God does things the way he does.
It’s interesting as you reflect back on your life and things that you didn’t understand then have somehow contributed to the way your life is now and maybe you can understand now what you didn’t understand then.
But sometimes we don’t understand even as we near the end of our life and simply have to trust God and what he has allowed.
The death of a loved one – a tragic event in the world like a terrorist attack or a natural disaster that has taken lives and livelihoods.
It’s not to say that God has deliberately caused them but just allowing them can make us question God.
I wonder how Joseph felt today when he is visited by an angel to hear about God’s plan.
Discovering that his fiancé is pregnant and that he is not the father.
Having devised his own plan to separate from her the angel explains God’s plan.
That Mary is pregnant with a child of the Holy Spirit of God!
Is that what you’re expecting me to believe?
What are you doing God?
Is that what you’re expecting me to tell all my friends and relatives?
Of any number of ways that God could have brought about his plan he chose to have an unwed, engaged young woman become pregnant, conceived by the Holy Spirit.
God had tried a number of ways in the past to reach out and speak to his people.
But now God has a different plan as the book of Hebrews begins - In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.
There are theological reasons why the Saviour had to be human and divine.
Human to pay for human sin.
Divine so the payment would be a sinless death thereby fulfilling the entire debt of sin for all people.
But how God achieved this could have been done in a way that could have been done under the radar that simply achieved its purpose and that was it.
But God had a plan
Here we have a story that captures the minds of writers from which hymns, songs and carols have been written for 2,000 years and continue to be written.
If there was room in the inn would we have had such beautiful carols like Away in a Manger?
If God had kept this quiet and not announced the birth of Jesus to the Shepherds with a host of angels would we have been singing Silent Night and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
And even though Christmas gets hijacked with Santa Claus and other commercial ventures – how bland it would be if we didn’t have the likes of Carols by Candlelight and all the Christmas trimmings in supermarkets and around the place even in homes of non-Christians – even those of other religious beliefs.
Sometimes I wonder whether they get more excited about Christmas than the church.
We sometimes get caught up in arguing whether we should be having the wise men in Christmas pageants and whether it’s right or wrong to sing Christmas Carols during Advent.
Sometimes we get so focused on the busyness of preparing children’s services and other events that we don’t really feel like celebrating.
We complain because Supermarkets put up Christmas decorations in October and November rather than praising God that they are doing our work of highlighting Christmas to many more people than we ever could.
God chose a way to spread his love into the world in a way that has captured the imagination and hearts of the world for 2,000 years.
The world doesn’t get excited over burning bushes, plagues of Egypt, daily sacrifices, exiles and temples – all ways that God has previously communicated with the world.
But here God showed his brilliance in choosing a way that would enthral the world and it doesn’t seem to be getting less important.
In fact it’s usually parents at State Schools that shout the loudest when political correctness steps in to cancel Christmas celebrations for fear of offending.
It’s usually your average householder that complains when the council doesn’t put up Christmas decorations.
God devised a daring plan.
Instead of fires and floods to judge the world of its sin, God would become flesh and blood and take the judgment on himself.
The creator of the universe, the One who called everything into being with his word, the great I Am would take on human flesh by having his word become flesh.
And not like anyone could have imagined
A baby.
God as a baby.
A vulnerable baby born in unhygienic surroundings – could you imagine the health department’s horror.
Not a baby of powerful royalty, but a helpless baby, born in a town not known for its importance - But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'
God took great risk in doing his plan this way:
What if something happened to God as a helpless little child when Herod sent a decree to destroy all baby boys?
That was the chance that love was prepared to take.
What if Mary faced the punishment of Moses’ law like the woman caught in adultery.
After all if it wasn’t for Jesus they could have enacted the punishment set down by God through Moses and stoned her to death.
But, you see, God was always in control of the narrative.
God sent an angel to Joseph to tell him about his plan.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”.
He sent an angel to Mary and Joseph to have them flee from Herod.
And God continues to be in control of the narrative as he continues to open the hearts of people not only through the church but through secular means – supermarkets, governments, TV and radio.
Yes we may have to endure the occasional Santa Claus and Happy Holidays but they are only there because the true Christmas narrative of the birth of Jesus continues to tug at the hearts of the people .- and for that we should be so thankful to God.
They might not know the 10 Commandments or the Apostles Creed or even the Lord’s Prayer – but they know something about a baby born in a manger – they know something about a virgin birth even if they don’t really understand.
They know about angels appearing to shepherds and 3 wise men bring gold, frankincense and myrrh – what on earth is frankincense and myrrh – it doesn’t really matter.
No one really knows what was leading the news of the time back 2000 years ago – in 2000 year’s time no one will really be interested in the things that are happening today – but I can guarantee they will be still talking about a baby born in a manger – unless Jesus has already returned.
Would we be talking today of a baby born in a palace.
Would we be talking of a baby born of nobility?
Would we have been talking about a leader killed in battle rather than executed on a cross.
God knows exactly the plan he has begun in the Christmas narrative.
And God knows exactly what he is doing in the world even if we don’t understand it or see any way that God is in control.
God’s plan and narrative is summed up in his message to Joseph today: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
God is with us – he  has always been with us and he will always be with us.
Let us trust what God is doing even if we don’t always understand it.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Sermon 15th December 2019 – 3rd Sunday in Advent Text: Matthew 11:2-11 – Jesus is the one we are waiting for;

Sermon 15th December 2019 – 3rd Sunday in Advent
Text: Matthew 11:2-11 – Jesus is the one we are waiting for;

In the lead up to an election we hear lots of promises about what this leader will do for us if we elect them.
And more often than not when the elected party forms Government we will hear reasons why they can’t immediately fulfil their promises.
One previous Prime Minister from some years ago made a distinction between promises and core promises to explain why some things were not achieved that were promised.
In our Gospel reading today we see again John the Baptist – a very different John the Baptist from last week.
Remember last week with his brazen tongue calling the religious leaders a brood of vipers?
He was filled with courage because he was preparing the way for the one who would come with fire – the one so important that John wasn’t even able to carry his sandals.
John was so confident of having Jesus in his corner that he dared to condemn Herod because Herod married his own brother’s wife.
Unfortunately for John he spoke harshly to the wrong person and ended up in prison.
And now John is starting to wonder about this Jesus fellow whom he thought was the Messiah and who had his back.
From his prison he sends some of his disciples to get some clarification –
He sent word by his disciples and said to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
Why would John ask that?
He was so confident – this is the one I was telling you about.
This is the one – and because he is the one – I must decrease so that he can increase.
What made John begin to wonder if Jesus was in fact “the one”?
It’s because John had based his understanding of Jesus on his own predicament rather that what Jesus had promised to do.
He missed the core promise of Jesus even though he knew what that core promise was.
John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
That’s it – that’s the core promise of Jesus and continues to be the core promise – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The angel revealed that to Joseph when he was instructed what to name him - Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
John missed that because he was judging Jesus on his own predicament.
The people missed that because they had in their mind what the Messiah promised by God would look like – and Jesus looked nothing like that.
Born in a barn – in a feeding trough – not in a palace
Born to an unwed, unfaithful mother – not to a Queen.
Eating with sinners – not the elite.
Consorting with questionable women – not condemning them
Riding into town on a donkey – not a royal chariot.
No wonder they cried out – away with him – crucify him – we don’t want him as our king.
We want Caesar as our King- he might not treat us nicely but at least he LOOKS like a King.
Jesus didn’t seem to be fulfilling “their” promises.
And therein lies the problem.
They had perceived what this Messiah would do.
And when he didn’t do what they expected him to do – like John the Baptist – they began to doubt Jesus and began to expect someone else.
What is Jesus promise to you?
What do you believe Jesus has promised you – these can be 2 very different things.
In your Baptism Jesus made specific promises.
Firstly he promised – I am with you always till the end of the age.
He also promised – whoever believes and is baptised will be saved.
Very specific – very definite – I AM with you  - you WILL be saved.
Things Jesus didn’t promise that we sometimes presume are –
If you believe in me everything in this life is going to be rosy.
If you believe in me you will never get sick – and if you do and have enough faith you will be healed.
If you believe in me you will be successful financially.
If you believe in me your family will never go through any difficult times.
Jesus promises are not about this life but about the life to come in heaven.
And that’s why John the Baptist declared Jesus to be – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
In Holy Communion Jesus makes specific promises to you:
This IS my body given FOR you.
This IS my blood given FOR you for THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS.
The entire promise of Jesus is eternal life in heaven.
For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son so that whoever believed in him will NOT perish but have ETERNAL LIFE.
It is like a legal contract that binds God to his promise.
And anything outside of that is hearsay and inadmissible.
So when John asks – should we seek someone else – the answer is NO.
Because no one else can fulfil the promise made by Jesus.
No one comes to the Father EXCEPT THROUGH ME.
It is sad when we see what some people go through in life.
But it is even sadder when we see a person abandon their faith in God because somewhere they have heard that a loving God would not allow us to suffer.
Suffering is not a sign of God’s lack of love.
Assuring us of our sins being forgiven and assuring us of eternal life is God’s promise and sign of love.
It is really tough sometimes in life but God wants us to trust in his love as we journey to our eternal home where all will be revealed – where all suffering and death will come to an end.
James, in our 2nd reading encourages us - Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.
St Paul also encourages us to be patient until Jesus’ promises are fulfilled – in Colossians 3 he says; 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.
The Kingdom of Heaven is what Jesus has promised us.
And what God promises he cannot revoke.
And the Kingdom of Heaven will answer all our questions that we have here now in regards to suffering as St Paul says - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Jesus says similar when he says about John – chosen by God to prepare the way for Christ – highly exalted by God – and yet Jesus says - among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
That’s how great Heaven is that awaits and we are asked to be patient and trust God’s promise.
Jesus is the one we can trust.
He is the one we are looking for and we are not to seek someone else.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Sermon 8th December 2019 – Advent 2 Text: Matthew 3:1-12 – Wilderness spirituality

Sermon 8th December 2019 – Advent 2
Text: Matthew 3:1-12 – Wilderness spirituality

John the Baptist is always an interesting character.
It’s easy to focus just on the message that he came to proclaim – Repent.
But there’s more to John the Baptist other than his sharp tongue that will soon get him arrested and put to death.
There is more to John the Baptist than his clothing and diet - clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
John’s message is an important message for the church today not just because of what he says but from where he speaks it:
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
The wilderness is an uninviting location.
After Jesus is baptised he is thrown into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for 40 days and he was there with the wild animals.
But the wilderness is also a place where Jesus grew in his spirit and was ministered to by the angels.
The wilderness is a place where God sometimes allows us to go – sometimes as individuals – sometimes as the church.
As individuals a wilderness experience can be caused by a time of suffering where we feel even a sense of abandonment by God.
It can be a time of life change wondering what the future holds – a relationship breakdown – a job loss – retirement.
Jesus himself experienced that sense of abandonment by God when on the cross when he cried out – my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.
Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, a Psalm of David, who also felt abandoned by God and spent a long time in the wilderness being chased by King Saul even though God had anointed him as the new King of Israel:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
Many of the Psalms were written from a deep spiritual experience that came from times in the wilderness – such as Psalm 130: Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
And so it seems that it is not unusual for God’s children to spend time in the wilderness – a time of deep anguish – a time of soul searching - but also a time of renewal.
And because we are so afraid of the anguish, we often do whatever we can to avoid going into the wilderness.
But in avoiding that experiencing what are we missing out from God?
Wilderness experiences can also be experienced by the Church – the body of Christ.
Both our congregations have had our Annual General Meetings and there is a feeling of wilderness ahead of us.
Can we financially remain viable?
Can our church remain united over the division caused by the questions surrounding Ordination?
Can we continue to run Sunday School with less teachers and children.
How much more is maintenance on our church going to cost?
These can make us panic as we don’t know what to expect and a wilderness ahead makes us worry.
We much prefer it when we know what’s going to happen.
When we are in control.
When we know that we can continue to keep doing the things we’re doing.
But in the wilderness experience there can be a spiritual awakening that God brings and a time of renewal.
As much as it is an uncomfortable experience it may in fact be where God is leading us into new and deeper experiences.
And when you listen to Isaiah in our Old Testament reading he uses a quite familiar term but maybe we haven’t given a lot of thought when we hear it-
From Isaiah - A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
A stump is the remnant of a tree that has been cut down.
Maybe the stump has been left for dead because it’s too hard to dig out.
It becomes a nuisance especially when you’re mowing the lawn.
It becomes an eyesore – a reminder of the once flourishing tree.
Sometimes things in the church can become “stumps”.
Things we still do that are struggling but we dare not let them go because we’ve always done them.
But we look at them and they remind us of what used to be.
We look at our Sunday school and feel depressed rather than celebrate who is here.
We look at our ageing congregation and feel saddened instead of thanking God for the ones that faithfully attend.
We treat these as stumps – relics of what used to be – nuisances - rather than a gift that God is keeping alive.
And then a small sprig appears out of the stump and new life is born.
And the stump that was dead now has a new growth.
And maybe that is where God is leading us – into the wilderness so he can renew us with a new vision.
If we think about the great heroes of the faith – Abraham who was called out of his homeland – his family and security to a place that God would show him – not a place that God revealed to him immediately.
Jacob, whom God called out of his homeland where he toiled for 14 years before he was united with the woman that he loved.
Or Noah who spent 100 days or more in an ark not knowing where God was going to lead him.
Or Jonah in the wilderness of the belly of a fish who learnt about God’s grace during that time.
Moses in the wilderness where he experiences God in the burning bush.
Peter and the disciples whom Jesus called from their livelihood where they dropped their nets and followed Jesus.
They dropped their nets so there was nothing from the past to cling to.
Paul, whom Jesus called from his life of prestige as a leading Pharisee into places where he was persecuted, shipwrecked, in chains in prison.
Paul says he counts what he has lost as nothing compared to knowing Jesus as his saviour.
And so many more of the Old and New Testament heroes of faith who learnt about God through times of struggle and wilderness experiences.
And each time God renewed his people from a remnant to fulfil his mission.
Maybe this is how God is leading us also into a place where we wrestle with God in the wilderness.
And like Jacob who wrestled with God in the wilderness of the Jabbok – he too came away blessed but he came away with a limp.
A reminder of his wrestle with God in the wilderness.
I know it’s daunting to look into a future that is quite frightening and unclear but that’s how God brings about his blessings so often in the Bible.
It reminds me of Moses encounter with God face to face:
Exodus 20 says: When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
Notice God’s presence was in the midst of the thick darkness – inside the wilderness.
It is easy to look at what’s ahead and worry.
But that’s how God has always brought about his blessings.
From Mary who trusted God even though she was about to give birth to a child that was not her husbands.
As they had to wrestle with there being no room in the inn and finding a place in the wilderness among the animals to give birth.
God is a gracious God and he has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us.
He promised in our Baptisms – I am with you always to the end of the age.
God promised that Jesus would be called Immanuel – God with us.
And he will be with us in the wilderness as we explore the next phase for our church whatever that might be.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Sermon 1st Decenber 2019 – 1st Sunday in Advent Text: Romans 13:11-14 – It’s getting close now.

Sermon 1st Decenber 2019 – 1st Sunday in Advent
Text: Romans 13:11-14 – It’s getting close now.

Having turned 60 a few weeks ago I got asked quite regularly – “how do you feel”?
Do you feel older?
And I reply by saying – truth be told, I don’t feel any different today than I felt yesterday.
And when I think of it, yesterday I didn’t feel any different to the day before.
And the day before I didn’t feel any different to that day before that.
And it got me thinking – at what point do we feel that change?
The change is so gradual that you don’t really notice –but can I say, I feel no different to when I was 18?
And at what point will I realise that I’m older.
Sometimes that reality only arrives when you try to do something when you’re 60 that you did when you were 18 and realise – I’m not as young as I used to be.
And that’s how life can sometimes catch you unawares when you suddenly realise that life has changed.
As we begin our Advent season this is also the focus that comes through in our bible readings – particularly in the reading from Paul to the Romans and in Matthew’s Gospel.
St Paul says to the Romans: You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.
As Christians it’s interesting to sometimes reflect on the reality that we have one less day today than we did yesterday until we are in heaven.
In Genesis 6 it says that God has limited our lifetime to a maximum of 120 years.
That means for me, I am technically “over the hill”.
I have lived half my life and now the 2nd half begins.
Let’s put that in mathematical terms.
Let’s say God is very generous to me and I live to 100.
Roughly speaking that’s 36,500 days.
At 60 I now have 14600 days to go.
And each day it goes down by one – and everyone keeps telling me how quick the year goes – and each time we celebrate Christmas it’s another 365 days off the balance.
St Paul is wanting us to reflect on our lives.
As Christians we are comforted knowing that whatever day God calls us home that our eternal life is assured.
But what about those who have not yet heard the Good News?
That’s where our concern should be.
Do we have someone in our life that we want to – need to – share the Gospel with?
Then today is the day to do it.
I know it’s hard – I have family and friends and I keep hoping and praying that I will have an influence and I try to live my life like St Peter encourages:
But make sure that in your hearts you honour Christ as Lord. Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you about the hope you have. Be ready to give the reason for it. But do it gently and with respect.
I know it’s hard to start the conversation and sometimes we can actually harm a person’s coming to faith with the wrong words and the wrong time.
And that’s why Peter says – always be prepared.
Be prepared for when that opportunity arises.
So when Paul talks about the time being short he talks about living our lives that might give an example for a person to ask us about the faith we have.
He says: Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
One of the best ways that we can witness for Christ is to live as Christ in the world.
Living lives that are different.
Living lives that set an example to others.
Living lives that stand out to others so they one day ask us about the hope we have.
If we want people to ask about the hope that we have then we are called to example that hope in the way we live our lives before others.
Using words of hope that uphold the Christian faith.
But something we can do which is urged to do is to offer prayers.
Even praying with the person.
So often we hear even from secular sources during tragedies “our thoughts and prayers are with you”.
When a person is going through a traumatic time, to offer to pray will most likely be welcome.
And in that prayer we can witness to God’s love and care for that person with gentleness and respect with the words that we use as St Peter encourages us to do.
Just as we can be accused of being hypocrites when we live lives that don’t reflect God’s love we can actually witness to God’s love when we live lives worthy of our calling.
As Jesus said before his death – love one another as I have loved you and by this all will know that you are my disciples.
As someone once wrote – you may be the only bible a person ever gets to read.
You may be the only Jesus a person ever gets to meet.
There would not be a Christian that doesn’t have someone close to them that doesn’t yet know about God’s love for them so we are not alone in our struggles.
And there is probably very few people out there that do not have some contact with a Christian that can share the Good News with them.
The time is drawing near for Christ’s return – a day closer than it was yesterday so let us seek opportunity to share God’s love and the best way to do that is to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
To love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us.
I know it can be hard and as each day passes it gets even harder.
But I’m so thankful that we are actually working with God in this.
That it is God’s desire for all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
And while we do not know the time – the day nor the hour of Christ’s return what we do know is that each day it is delayed is another sign of God’s grace and his desire for people to be saved as we are told by St Peter:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
So keep being the bible in living out God’s Word – keep being Jesus by loving as he loves.
And always be prepared to share the hope you have so all may come to know the truth.