Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Sermon 4th Sunday after Epiphany - 3rd February 2019 - Text – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 – God’s covenant of love in Baptism

(This sermon is prepared for our annual Baptism Celebration service)

Sermon 3rd February 2019
Text – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 – God’s covenant of love in Baptism

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Why did Paul single out love as the greatest of the 3 qualities that he listed – faith, hope and love?
Why did he have to actually say one was greater than the other?
Doesn’t Paul say that we are saved by grace through faith – so surely faith is essential for salvation?
Doesn’t Paul that say that hope does not disappoint when he says - we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint.
Why does he single out love as the greatest of these 3?
It’s because love is at the base of everything that God does.
There would be no salvation by grace through faith if God’s love did not come first.
If God did not love us then he would not have sent Jesus to die for our sins and therefore there would be no salvation no matter how much faith we had.
We would have no hope of salvation if God’s love did not come first.
As Jesus reminds us – for God so loved the world that he gave us his one and only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
God’s love comes first and without it no matter how much faith or hope we had we would be doomed to eternal punishment and death.
In the beginning it was God’s love that created us.
He had a multitude of angels and heavenly hosts so why would he need to create us unless his love drove him to do so.
When his heart could no longer persevere with us he regretted creating us but he could not totally eradicate us so he preserved humankind through Noah.
When Israel constantly disobeyed God and chased after other gods, God wanted to get rid of them all and start again but his love, fortunately, saved them.
So many times we see in the Old Testament God’s disappointment with his creation and yet his love overrides everything.
As we read the Old Testament of Israel’s continued disobedience you wonder why he chose them in the first place and why he didn’t replace them with a more obedient nation.
They must have thought similar because in Deuteronomy 7 Moses says to them:
The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you.
Maybe you’ve wondered whether God really loves you enough to forgive you and offer to have you live with him forever in Heaven.
Or maybe you’ve wondered why God could possibly love you.
Maybe you’ve felt unsure whether God still loves you after all the things you’ve done or haven’t done.
But let us remember that when God first loved us there was not much in us to love.
St Paul says – But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
As we acknowledge our Baptisms today let us remember that Baptism is God’s covenant with us – it is not our covenant with God.
If we have any doubts whatsoever then God directs us back to our baptism to remind us that what he said to Jesus in his Baptism he also says to us:
"This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
God’s love for us does not go up and down like a yo-yo depending on how we live our lives.
God’s love is always to the fullest.
As someone once said (I think it may have been Phillip Yancey) – God cannot love us any less that he does – and God cannot love us any more than he does.
God is a God who makes one-way covenants that are not negated by our disobedience just as he did through Noah after he destroyed all living creatures apart from Noah and his family.
He said: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
Did you hear what God said about us – “even though EVERY inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood”
In our 2nd reading today St Paul put the parameters of God’s love for us.
Even though we are more familiar with this text at weddings between husband and wife, it is God’s promise to us of his love for us:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour 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.
God’s love for you never fails which is why Paul says that love is the greatest quality of God.
And we are now sent to example that love to others with the same parameters.
And when we find it hard to love let us remember our Baptism and God’s covenant of love and that we love because God first loved us.
May God bless you richly in the covenant of your Baptism.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Sermon 3rd February 2019 (from 2016) - 4th Sunday after the Epiphany - - Text Luke 4:21-30 – Including the excluded

Sermon 3rd February 2019 (from 31st January 2016)
Text Luke 4:21-30 – Including the excluded

We have just celebrated Australia Day – a day when we like to show our patriotic side.
I saw many cars flying the Australian Flag like they were an important diplomatic car.
The Australian culture is an interesting culture that is constantly changing because of our multicultural influx.
But nevertheless we have that Ocker Aussie nature that people love to exhibit.
Throw another Shrimp on the Barbie.
G’day Mate.
Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi, Oi,Oi.
The great Australian mateship.
Grabbing the Esky and heading off to the beach or to the cricket.
Heading off to the beach to get an Aussie Golden Tan – although these days it’s not highly recommended.
Grabbing a VB for that hard earned thirst.
And as the old jingle stated – we’ve got football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars.
But another trait that Australians have been noted for is what is known as the Tall Poppy Syndrome.
You can see this at present in tennis players like Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic.
We loved and supported them when they first began but once they started carrying on and mouthing off we started to lose our support of them.
We love it when the little Aussie Battler makes good – we love barracking for the underdog.
But they better not get too high and mighty or we’ll knock them down faster than it took them to rise to the top.
Jesus too experienced this Tall Poppy Syndrome when he arrived in his hometown.
He was given the prestigious honour of reading the Holy Scriptures on that Sabbath day and was invited to speak to the congregation.
Jesus announced that the Scriptures were actually speaking about him.
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth (Luke 4:22).
But then it all changes when he explains what God’s mission is.
Jesus seems to have gotten too big for his boots and they start to bring him down.
Isn’t this Joseph’s son
Matthew’s gospel goes even further into this account;
“He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. (Matthew 13:55)
If we look closely at what Jesus was saying he was not big noting himself or trying to raise his profile.
When he said that this reading was being fulfilled today it wasn’t to elevate his status.
He was actually elevating the status of the underdog.
It was never Jesus’ intention to claim status for himself, as Paul reminds us in Philippians:
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges and he took the humble position of a servant (Philippians 2:6,7).
In the 3 examples that he cites, Jesus shows God’s care for the underdog.
Firstly – Doctor cure yourself (Luke 4:23).
Jesus is most likely looking ahead to the crucifixion.
In the Garden of Gethsemane he will show his anguish at what is about to happen:
“My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:38,39)
Then when on the cross he is taunted:
He saved others, but he can't save himself! He's the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. (Matthew 27:42)
Jesus wasn’t thinking about himself – he was thinking about those he came to save.
He didn’t come to “cure himself”.
If the cup of suffering had been taken away from him or if he had come down from the cross – maybe he would have “cured himself” and gained some respect for a little while longer – but we would have been lost in our sins forever.
Likewise we are sometimes going to be challenged to make sacrifices for the saving of others.
Maybe you’ve been challenged in a call to ministry but have looked at what this means to you rather than what it might mean for others.
God will always provide for you even when it seems you have nothing to give.
And then there are the other 2 examples that Jesus cited where God goes looking for the outsider – the underdog – rather than operating with an inner circle.
There were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.
The widow of Zarephath symbolises brokenness and despair.
She represents so many in our society today.
She was down to her last meal.
She was going to feed her son the last meal and wait to die.
Who does she represent in society today?
How many in our society have lost hope and are turning to solutions that provide relief even if it may mean death?
So many turn to drugs, alcohol, sex and other behaviours that do not support a healthy lifestyle.
We are sent, like Elijah, to them to bring hope through the Good News.
It’s much easier to mix among our own but Elijah was sent to a people not his own.
There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."
Naaman didn’t deserve to be healed.
He thought he was too good and important to be told what to do by a servant rather than have the prophet Elisha come out to him.
There would have been others much more appreciative of the healing than Naaman.
Likewise there are many in our society that don’t deserve God’s love.
But let us remember – no one deserves God’s love.
None of us deserve God’s love – and that’s the Good News.
God loves us in spite of our unworthiness – that’s grace.
Likewise we are called to go and reach out to the unworthy – to the underdog – to those society has written off and forgotten.
It’s easy and comfortable to stay in our own surroundings but Jesus shows that it will be in the outside world where our message will be received.
But let us not forget that those closest to us also need to hear about Jesus even as Jesus went to his home town.
And note that it was his hometown that rejected him.
We too will face rejection but that must not stop us from going to where God’s word needs to be heard, just as it didn’t stop Jesus.
Jeremiah had doubts to:
Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy. (Jeremiah 1:6).
But God reassured Jeremiah:
Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, (Jeremiah 1:7,8)
What is it that is stopping you?
Jesus teaching is about God being on the side of the “other” - those not like us.
And at the heart of Jesus reaching out to “the other” is his love for all people.
As Paul said – if we don’t have love then the words and works we do are nothing.
The same love that saw God give up his one and only Son for us needs to be at the heart of all we do and say.
The love that saw Jesus refuse to “heal himself” and come down from the cross needs to be at the heart of all we do to – to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34,35).
To go the extra mile when we’d rather stop. (Matthew 5:41)
To give away the extra tunic when we’d rather feel secure having a second one for ourselves just in case. (Luke 3:11)
God didn’t hold back – he gave his one and only Son.
Jesus didn’t hold back – he gave his entire life.
And we too, knowing that our eternal life is secure should think about those for whom that is not the case.
Jesus’ hometown was enraged when Jesus suggested God’s love extended to the outcast and foreigners.
Let us embrace that opportunity which God places before us and remember that we too were once foreigners and outcasts to God but his love never failed but came to us while we were still sinners.
God’s love includes the excluded just as God’s love now includes us through our Baptism.
Just as Jesus passed through his opposition who wanted to throw him off the cliff, let us push through all that opposes God’s love from reaching out and making the excluded become included into God’s love and grace.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Sermon 27th January 2019 – 3rd Sunday after Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a – Every member needed

Sermon 27th November 2019
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a – Every member needed

The human body is an intricate and complex creation by God.
It is capable of feelings – emotions –pain.
It has things about it that science can’t explain and nothing in the non-human creation has.
It has a conscience – it has a soul.
The human body was the only part of creation that was created in the Image of God.
And because the human body is so complex so too is the life experience of humans.
Animals don’t have money problems.
Animals don’t have employment problems.
Animals don’t have relationship problems.
As Jesus once said: Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one inch to your height? “So why do you worry?
Animals feel pain and certain emotions but not to the extent of human beings.
Last week I accidentally stood on my dog’s foot.
He let out a yelp and I turned around and gave him a pat and said sorry and his tail was wagging again.
No resentment – no feeling of needing to hurt me back.
Human beings have a different sense of natural justice – if someone hurts you then you hurt them back.
As a result, human beings are much more complex in their relationships.
St Paul, when describing the body of Christ, the church, uses the complexity of the human body as an analogy.
He says: Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
Just like the human body, the body of Christ, the church, shares the same complexity.
The church has feelings.
The church has emotions.
The church suffers pain.
Sadly, too, the church feels a need for natural justice that when attacked it defends – when hurt it retaliates.
It often forgets Jesus’ call to “turn the other cheek”.
And just like a human body needs healing when it goes through suffering so too the church, Christ’s body, needs healing when it goes through a time of suffering.
If you’re hurting, you don’t just ignore it or go away and do nothing – you seek ways to heal it.
So too, when the church is hurting, the church needs to deal with the sickness and seek healing
At Synod last year South Australian and Northern Territory Bishop David Altus reminded us that our church is hurting.
And like a body that is hurting it needs healing.
The problem we have is that when our bodies are hurting we tend to deal with the symptoms rather than the underlying problem.
We have an itch, so we scratch it but that can make the problem worse.
Like a child who has a cold sore and licks it constantly for soothing even though it makes the sore worse.
 We have a cough, so we’ll take a cough drop of cough medicine rather than finding out from the doctor what is causing the cough.
But, as we often hear in advertising, if the problem persists seek medical attention.
As a church, the body of Christ, we have tended to deal with the symptoms and the problem has gotten worse and sadly to the point where many believe that amputation of that body part is the only solution.
But Paul highlights how EVERY part of the body is essential:
If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
Likewise if the church was just made up of people who had the same view on issues we would never be challenged to grow in our thinking.
If a body part leaves or is cut off, then the body is incomplete.
As Paul says - If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
In fact Paul says that those delicate parts of the body require much more care.
One of my members in my first parish sadly had to have his leg amputated because of an infection.
And he shared with me that the pain is worse even though the infected leg was no longer there.
He experienced what are called phantom pains and they are worse because the pain does not go away for the body and now there is no body part to scratch or rub.
What this tells us is that the body of Christ hurts even more when a part of the body is not there.
And we know that by our friends and family that are not with us.
We can take them off the membership list but that does not bring healing but a more difficult pain.
The human body is a complex creation by God and so is the body of Christ, the church.
Our human bodies need care and so does the church
The human body needs love and companionship and so does the church.
The human body needs food and water and so does the church which God provides through the sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism.
And just like our human bodies need regular check-ups to see where our bodies are needing attention so too the church needs regular check-ups to see where it needs to focus its attention.
In our Old Testament reading Ezra read God’s Word to the people to bring them healing from God.
They had gone astray – they were following other gods and idols; they were neglecting the poor.
And as they heard again the Word of God they realised where they had gone astray.
We go astray at times ever so slightly to begin with that we don’t realise how far we have strayed from God.
Luther called this the need for the 2nd use of the Law.
In case you’ve forgotten your Confirmation lesson, Luther says that the Law acts in 3 ways:
As a Curb to keep us on the straight and narrow – so society has law and order.
Secondly as a mirror so when we think that our lives are going okay the Word of God convicts us and reminds us that we have strayed and need Jesus to forgive us.
And Thirdly as a signpost to show us how we can live a God pleasing life knowing that Jesus has saved us.
But it’s that mirror that we need to find – to hear God’s Word to remind us that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
God’s word is not to bring judgment when it convicts us but to drive us to Christ and the healing Gospel.
And if we don’t deal with it then it’s not just our lives we are affecting but the life of the entire body of Christ.
It’s not very comfortable looking in the mirror at times seeing our imperfections – our wrinkles and grey hair our blemishes from ageing.
And the closer we bring that mirror to our face the more we see the imperfections.
So too as the people heard Ezra reading God’s Law it says - all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.
But the intention of God’s word – God’s law – is not to hurt but to heal.
Ezra says to the weeping people - Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
Sometimes it hurts to be reminded of our condition before God.
Just like a surgeon’s scalpel that sometimes has to cut deep in order to heal, so too God’s word is likened to a double edged sword that cuts in order to heal so we can hear the sweet sound of the Gospel.
God’s word brings us comfort but sometimes it first needs to remove the unhealthy parts that have made their way in.
This is different to amputation which removes a body’s member – but the foreign part that does not beong.
Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it as he preaches today to his people:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.
And that’s what Jesus now proclaims to you – the year of the Lord’s favour as today this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing
So go – eat and drink from the grace God has given to you but share with the body of Christ – those missing out from the grace and healing that God’s word brings.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Sermon 20th January 2019 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany - Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 – God the gift giver

Sermon 20th January 2019 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 – God the gift giver

Well Christmas is well and truly over both officially and unofficially.
It was over officially 2 weeks ago on Epiphany Sunday – the 12th day of Christmas.
But I suspect that for many people Christmas was well and truly over unofficially on Boxing Day, the 2nd Day of Christmas.
Christmas seems to be a time that causes more stress than enjoyment for many people because of the pressure it creates.
And one of the pressures that it seems to create more and more is what gift to buy for others.
Trying to find something that expresses our feelings for a person is one thing.
But in this day of consumerism, trying to find something that they haven’t already got is not that easy.
We’ve tried to make it easier in our household by adopting what many call “Kris Kringle”.
We pull a name out of a hat and we just buy for that one person.
But even that makes it difficult.
I usually say “whoever has me, as long as it’s Yellow and Black I’ll enjoy it.
Gift giving is not easy, which is a shame because it is so rewarding when you can buy that perfect gift for someone that is exactly what they were wanting.
For children it is not that difficult because they will tell you, or Santa, what they want for Christmas.
But for adults it’s hard and a lot of pressure.
Often we’ll resort to buying a gift card for them, but again you have to work out from which store you’ll buy the gift card.
And it can become impersonal as they know exactly how much you spent on them.
In today’s bible reading Paul talks about gift giving also.
And he’s talking about gifts that God gives to us.
There are several things that Paul says about gifts that God gives.
First - there are varieties of gifts,
Usually when people talk about gifts of the Holy Spirit they think of extraordinary actions – quite often the gift of speaking in tongues or gifts of miraculous healings.
But God’s gifts vary and sometimes we might not even associate things that people do as a gift from God.
Paul gives an example of some but it is certainly not limited to them:
He comments on the gift of wisdom (like King Solomon), the gift of knowledge the gift of faith, the gift of healing, the gift of miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues.
But he doesn’t say that one gift is better than the other because they are all given by the same Holy Spirit.
And not everyone receives all the gifts and not all of the gifts are given to everyone.
Paul says all these are given by one and the same Spirit, who gives to each one individually as the Spirit chooses.
And they are given for the common good.
They are not given for our own good but for the common good and the building up of the church – not the building up of ourselves.
And sometimes we don’t recognize that what we have is a gift from God because we are evaluating it in comparison to others.
What we don’t often see is how what we are doing is contributing to the common good and the building up of the church.
And we are guilty at times of not recognizing the contributions that other people are making but we soon discover them when all of a sudden they stop their contribution.
I can recall in a previous parish no clean cloths being available for wiping the communion cup.
Such a seemingly small contribution that goes unnoticed until just before the service we’re scrambling around wondering what we’ll use instead.
It doesn’t seem the same using paper towel.
Or inviting a visitor to stay for a cuppa and realizing that the person on duty for providing milk didn’t turn up – and hasn’t been at church for weeks and is only noticed when there is no milk for morning tea.
No gift is unimportant when it plays a role for the common good of building up the church.
We are all guilty of believing that things just happen until they don’t happen.
Whether it’s the tidying up during the week – getting the Christmas tree – changing the candles – cleaning the altar cloths – getting communion ready – changing the paraments, mowing the lawn, teaching Sunday School.
And there are so many unseen contributions – the prayers – the words of encouragement – visiting the sick - everything that happens for the common good and building up of the church is a gift from God – no matter how big or how small.
But there is one gift that God does give for all people and it is the true sign of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
St Paul says that no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.
If you’ve ever been asked or challenged as to whether you have the Holy Spirit – this is the one sure and true sign.
If you believe in Jesus Christ then you have the Holy Spirit.
Martin Luther also confirmed that when he explained the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed;
He says:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
And this is why Paul can confidently say – to each is given the gift of the Holy Spirit because the main gift of the Holy Spirit is faith in Jesus Christ to believe that he is your Lord and Saviour.
And it is then the working of that gift of the Holy Spirit that then creates the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
As Paul says about these – there is no law – there are no limitations.
And Jesus also shows another gift when giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles says “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven;.
So a gift that is given to you by the Holy Spirit is the ability to forgive.
Probably one of the least recognized gifts that God gives to us is the ability to forgive one another and restore relationships especially when without the Holy Spirit we might be facing something that is unforgiveable..
When people talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit it’s sad that it is usually gifts that can of turn the focus onto the person receiving.
In fact St Paul says: if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
Jesus in his ministry avoided doing miracles to draw attention to himself such as in our Gospel reading.
He seems at first reluctant to change water into wine but then relents in order to bring glory to God and to build up his disciples.
He reacted strongly against requests to keep doing miracles as will Paul when speaking against speaking in tongues because of the distraction it was causing - 
He says: I thank God that I speak in tongues more than any of you. But I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language.
Whatever your contribution to the church it is a gift of God – no matter how big, or how small – and even if it goes unrecognized, remember what Jesus says –your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Sadly the gifts that God gives to us can easily become about us rather than God as Jesus would often respond to miracles he performed to not tell anyone.
We don’t do it for reward but be assured that what you do does not go unrecognized.
Whatever your gift to the church – thank you and God bless you.