Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Sermon 24th March 2019 - 3rd Sunday in Lent – Text Luke 13:1-9 – No blaming, just repenting

Sermon 24th March 2019 - 3rd Sunday in Lent –
Text Luke 13:1-9 – No blaming, just repenting

Last week saw an horrific act of violence against humanity when a gunman entered 2 mosques and killed 50 and injured around the same.
Again we are seeing what has dominated just about everything in Western society in recent times.
The left versus the right.
Each side pointing out how the other is to blame for the state of the world today.
The left blame the right for hate speech – homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia, misogyny,
The left blame the right for climate change.
The right blame the left for our moral decay through liberalism and closing down free speech and using children as political weapons with the most recent children’s rally against climate change.
Even in this shooting in New Zealand the left are blaming the right for their bigotry and the right are blaming the left from their policies on immigration.
What happened last week and what is happening with the state of our world is shocking but blaming one another, as we see, simply divides us even further.
Blaming others and pointing the finger stems from the beginning of creation when Adam blamed Eve and God.
The woman YOU gave me – SHE made me eat.
Eve blamed the serpent – he tricked me.
Jesus, in our Gospel reading, points the people away from blaming one another and urges them to look at themselves.
"Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless YOU repent, YOU will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless YOU repent, YOU will all perish just as they did."
Jesus does not apportion blame to anyone.
He doesn’t blame the sinfulness of the Galileans for what happened to them or those on whom the tower of Siloam fell as if tragedies are a cause an effect type of things.
Jesus doesn’t blame God for causing that tragedy.
What Jesus does is that he redirects their attention back onto themselves: unless YOU repent.
Why is Jesus so determined to have them look at themselves?
It’s because he wants them to experience a renewed relationship with God who doesn’t look to see who’s to blame or who to punish.
As Jesus says in John’s gospel – God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.
If we’re busy blaming others and pointing out their faults then we don’t get to experience the amazing grace that God has to offer us.
Sometimes we blame others or point out their faults because we’re afraid of what God or others will think of us.
That’s what Jesus is addressing when the people come up to him to tell him about the plight of the Galileans.
But God is a gracious God;
A God who when describing himself says:
The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
We don’t have a God who is looking for people to punish when they do wrong
This is our Lord about whom St Paul says:
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
God is not looking for a way to punish us but for a way to lead us out of our waywardness and back to his grace.
Jesus is wanting us to find the gracious God who loves us so much that he sent his one and only son to die for us – while we were yet sinners.
There is a hostile world out there – a hostile world that rejects and hates anything to do with God, Jesus and the church.
But  he doesn’t need us defending him and attacking others because of him because that is not in God’s nature to do so.
God is a God who is always seeking to bring people back to him and not for us to attack the so called infidels.
Remember that we too were infidels before Jesus dealt with our sinfulness.
The difference is that we know that Jesus is defending us from God’s judgment and we should be wanting all people to know that same compassion through repentance.
Repentance is returning to our Father who has been waiting for us to come home to forgive us and not punish us – like the return of the Prodigal Son.
Like the fig tree we are given second chances, third chances and more and it is thanks to God's grace that we can feel safe and secure in the arms of Jesus when the day comes when all people will be judged.
Thank God for the patience and grace of God the gardener.
Thank God that he is the one who is tending the garden and not us.
Jesus gives himself for us.
He becomes the manure, the fertiliser for us as he is rejected, laughed at, crucified as a criminal.
On the cross he waters the ground with his own blood.
He does everything.
We do nothing.
We simply trust in his grace.
In the parable of the unfruitful fig tree we see Jesus at work for us.
What is interesting in this parable is that Jesus doesn’t finish it.
We’re not told what happens a year later.
We’re not told whether the fig tree produced fruit.
Because that’s not what Jesus wants us to focus on.
He wants us to focus on his work of grace.
And so too, in our world, he wants us to focus on his work of grace.
We’re going to continue to see atrocities like we saw in New Zealand.
As Christians our call is not to join in with the world to apportion blame.
Our call is to offer hope to the world.
Hope to the world of God’s love for the victims.
And also to offer God’s forgiveness for those who commit such atrocities.
That’s what is radical and also hard to accept – that God could even forgive them.
But we must believe that because if there is a cut off of what and who God will forgive then we would never know if that included us.
God assures us that we are forgiven as he calls us to repent and experience his grace and mercy again and again.
It is human nature to try and apportion blame as if somehow we are innocent of everything.
Just as the people asked about the man born blind: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?”
It is impossible to offer a solution to end human suffering;
What we see in our parable is a word of grace;
A word of hope:
God is still tending the garden.
God is still working in and through his people to bring light and life, love and peace to a broken and sinful world.
And in that, there is indeed hope for all.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Sermon 17th March 2019 – 2nd Sunday in Lent Text: Luke 13:31-35 – Under the wings of God’s care

Sermon 17th March 2019
Text Luke 13:31-35 – Under the wings of God’s care

If you’re a cyclist or walker, magpie swooping season which always hits around September, just when the weather is starting to fine up.
It’s a horrible sensation as you’re riding and you see the dark shadow of a magpie with its wings outstretched and you brace yourself for that nip around your ears.
The reason they swoop is to protect their little chicks in the nest being cared for by their mother.
It’s no wonder that Jesus uses the example of a mother hen with outstretched wings protecting her children as a symbol for how God cares and protects us.
At some point those little chicks will need to learn to defend themselves but until they’re ready they are under the protection of their loving parents.
Those who are parents know that you never stop caring for your children even after they have left school, started work, gotten married and had children for themselves.
It’s part of our built in instinct to care for our children.
That’s the nature of God also.
Even those who reject God or who don’t believe in him are loved and cared for by God as Jesus says:
He gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the believer and unbeliever alike. (Matthew 5:45)
Not everybody sees God that way.
Some see God in a very different way  – with Judge probably being one of the ones that a lot of people associate with God.
He’s up there making sure we don’t do the wrong thing otherwise he’ll punish us.
They don’t see God as loving and protective but as authoritative and harsh.
But that’s not the image that Jesus reveals in our bible reading.
He shows us an image of a loving and emotional God – weeping over his children who have turned away from him rather than being angry at them.
Not wanting to judge or punish them but to embrace them under his loving, caring and protective arms.
Sometimes God’s care for us seems harsh, just as a parent’s care of her children sometimes requires discipline that seems harsh an unfair – we may see it has being “hen-pecked” rather than nurturing.
But we can understand why some people struggle with the image of a loving and caring God.
They look at the world and see a world full of trouble, war, sickness and disease.
They ask questions like, if God is all powerful and all loving then why does he allow evil things to happen, even in the church, as we are seeing with the outcomes of the Royal Commission into sexual abuse of children.
Anyone who has lost a loved one can reasonably question how a loving God allowed them to die.
But that’s not to do with God.
No, that’s to do with us.
We are the ones who chose to separate ourselves from God and fly the coup.
But God has never stopped loving us, just as a parent continues to love their child even when they disobey or move away.
But sometimes it looks as if God has forgotten us.
Abraham certainly felt that way.
God had promised him a child.
And now, in his 90s, Abraham is questioning God because he seems to have forgotten his promise.
Maybe it seems that God has forgotten you at times.
What we see in Abraham is the need to keep trusting God.
We too need to keep trusting God even if it seems that God has completely forgotten about us.
He never does.
Maybe we have hoped things would be better in our life.
Maybe we have asked over and over again for something in our prayers.
Abraham trusted God and was blessed by his trust.
Paul calls on us to have patience too.
He says to stand firm in the Lord.
And what we need to remember was that when Paul wrote that he was actually in jail because of his belief in Jesus.
Believing in Jesus doesn’t always mean that our life is rosy but we know that it will end up being truly blessed.
Paul encourages us to remember that this world is not always going to deliver everything we hope for.
And even if we do everything right and according to the book, it doesn’t mean that it is going to turn out alright.
That’s why people keep asking – why do bad things happen to good people.
In life there are no guarantees.
But through faith in Jesus there is a guarantee – the guarantee of life in heaven when we die.
Although Abraham is a spirit filled man who is devoted to God, his vision is focused on what is immediately in front of him which leads him to focus on the fact that he is childless.
God’s promise of a child for Abraham is beyond his human understanding.
Abraham is still walking by sight and not by faith and sometimes that’s the habit we fall into.
So Paul reminds us: our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can look all we want in the world but we won’t find true answers there.
Citizenship is a hot topic at present.
We have thousands that are wanting to take up citizenship in Australia as asylum seekers.
They see the blessings and opportunities that our country offers and want to have citizenship here to enjoy all the benefits.
They are prepared to risk their lives and the lives of their families to get here.
As citizens we sometimes take for granted what we have and it’s only when someone else comes in and wants to take it that we become possessive of it.
Like a child that doesn’t want their toy until another child is interested in it and it starts a massive fight.
Likewise we should cherish our citizenship in heaven.
As citizens of Australia we have all the rights and blessings afforded to citizens.
We have access to healthcare – to government benefits – we can vote.
As citizens of heaven we have something even better.
We have rights to eternal life in heaven where there is no more suffering or death.
And we should cherish that rather than grumbling if things are not quite right in this life.
Life will never be perfect in this life.
There will always be something that is not quite right – or someone that has something a little bit better than we do – or a new gadget that makes us hate the gadget we have even though it works just fine.
That’s human nature – that what Paul meant when he said:
Their god is the belly; … ; their minds are set on earthly things.(Philippians 3:19).
But keeping our eyes on what God has promised us in heaven helps to keep our minds focused on what we have in heaven rather than what we don’t have here on earth.
As Paul once said: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us [in heaven]. (Romans 8:18).
So, as citizens of heaven, stand firm in the Lord and keep your minds set on heavenly things and until we are safe in heaven we remain safe under the protective wings of our Lord as Jesus promised in our Baptism – I am with you always till the end of the age. Amen.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Sermon 10th March 2019 – 1st Sunday in Lent Text: Luke 4:1-13 – Overcoming temptation

Sermon 10th March 2019 – 1st Sunday in Lent
Text: Luke 4:1-13 – Overcoming temptation

One of my favourite Bible Readings is in St Paul’s letter to the Romans.
You possibly know it well, and if you’ve ever been a bible reader in church with this reading you’ve probably gotten a bit tongue tied.
It reads, from Romans 7 - I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 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. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does.
Why do we do what we do not want to do – and why don’t we do what we want to do when it comes to do with what God wants?
It’s been a problem right from the beginning of creation with Adam and Eve.
They had the world at their feet.
They had not a care in the world as long as they did what God wanted and not eat from the one tree in the Garden of Eden.
They were free to eat from any of the trees in the garden except one.
It was their one weakness – their Achilles heel – their weakest link – or whatever other metaphor you wish to use – and Satan knew it.
And that’s the pivotal point – Satan knew it.
He began by creating doubt – and then he wrapped that temptation so enticing that despite knowing what she had to do and what she should not do – Eve gave in to the temptation:
When we read Genesis 3 we see 3 things at play that led to Eve, and then Adam’s downfall:
First - the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.
Secondly – the use of doubt – did God really say?
And thirdly - the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom.
Satan’s craftiness and knowing our weakness – and the enticing nature of temptation – it’s the perfect storm.
And we see in today’s Gospel reading the same 3 power plays by Satan:
His craftiness knowing Jesus’ likely weakness – 40 days without food – you must be hungry – turn these rocks into bread.
The use of doubt – if you are the Son of God – “IF” – Satan knows very well that Jesus is the Son of God – otherwise why would he be trying to cause his downfall.
And further doubt – throw yourself down and see if God really loves you enough to catch you like he promised.
Thirdly – enticement –
Worship me and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world.
And this is where Satan now works in your life.
He knows your weakness and will use his craftiness to wrap that temptation in glitter to entice you and create just enough doubt to make you ask “why not”.
Are you surprised when you hear of devout TV evangelists who are caught having an affair with one of their parishioners – Satan’s not – because he knew their weakness.
Are you surprised when you hear of a devout Christian who has been caught stealing from the church – Satan’s not – after all, Judas was very easy to tempt with 30 pieces of silver to betray his Lord Jesus.
Are you surprised when a person who has been a Christian all their life suddenly stops coming to church and says they no longer believe – Satan’s not.
It’s what he does best and is constantly looking for his next victim, as St Peter says: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Peter got that warning from Jesus himself when he said to him - “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
So how do we overcome the temptation of this crafty serpent whose desire is only to “kill, steal and destroy”?
St Paul gives us a clue when he says – the good I want to do – and the evil I do not want to do.
We know what God wants and that’s why Jesus in his temptation always resisted the devil by saying – It is written.
The Bible is not a book – it is God’s living word to us.
And when we are tempted that’s where we go.
Satan may know your weaknesses but God knows your strengths and he who is faithful will present you blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus, as St Paul assured the Thessalonians.
And so when Satan tempts us and says – did God really say – we can respond – yes he did – because it is written.
Jesus also gives us a clue in his warning to Peter when he says – when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.
Jesus is acknowledging that Peter is going to fall to temptation but there is restoration by God.
And when he is restored he asks Peter to strengthen his brothers.
God always forgives when we repent – he always restores – so we constantly need to return to God and receive his grace.
And we need to strengthen one another as Jesus did when he said he was praying for him and the other disciples against Satan.
Encourage one another to seek God’s forgiveness.
Satan’s greatest weapon is our guilt.
That’s why he tempts us.
Not so we do wrong to upset God – but so he can accuse and convict us and break our relationship with God through guilt.
Look what it did to Adam and Eve as they hid in the garden from God.
And then they blamed each other  and God – the woman YOU gave me.
Look what it did to Judas as in his guilt he threw the money back at those who gave it to him and then took his own life.
Jesus says – come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest – rest for your souls.
As St Paul assures us in today’s 2nd reading - if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Satan is cunning and can hit us with precision for which we are urged to take up the armour of God and to take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Satan is not a cute little fellow in a red suit who comes out on Valentines Day.
He is the thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
But Jesus has come that we may have life, and have it to the full.
For these 40 days of Lent may we walk ever more closely with our Lord Jesus and call on him in that we may not be led into temptation and to be delivered from evil and the evil one and to be assured that "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved – because it is written."

Monday, 4 March 2019

Sermon - Ash Wednesday - Text: Luke 22:1-6 Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus

Luke 22:1-6 Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching,  and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.  Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.  And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money.  He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

Betrayal is the theme of tonight’s Gospel reading and it also seems to be the theme of society today.
The two major stories in the media last week were all about betrayals at different levels.
The guilty conviction and jailing of Cardinal George Pell was steeped in betrayal.
The parents who felt betrayal of their children by the church.
But it’s not just the church – many institutions were named in the Royal Commission as having betrayed the trust of parents and the innocence of children placed in their trust – sporting institutions, religious institutions, educational institutions, service institutions like the scouts and YMCA – all betrayed the trust given to them.
And then there was the article about Lawyer X – Nicola Gobbo who betrayed various levels of trust.
She betrayed her clients who thought they could trust her to fairly represent them under the trust of attorney/client privilege.
Irrespective of what your views on these matters are there was a betrayal of trust.
It’s a horrible feeling being betrayed especially by a person you trusted.
In fact Jesus says that this type of close betrayal is a sign of the decay of our world and the sign of end times - “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child.
Betrayal by friends and loved ones is at the highest level of hurt and in many cases hard to forgive.
Whether it be in a professional relationship, a church relationship, a family relationship or a marriage.
One betrayal is often enough to destroy the relationship and any hope of reconciliation.
In today’s reading we hear of the ultimate of betrayals – that of Judas betraying Jesus.
Judas was the treasurer for the group of disciples and Satan tempts him where he knows he has a weak spot – with money.
The temptation of money was far too great for Judas to ignore and Satan knew it.
We know what happens because of that betrayal to Jesus but what does that betrayal do to Judas.
We will discover that the betrayal was so filled with guilt that Judas could not deal with it.
Even returning the money didn’t undo the guilt he felt for betraying Jesus.
And as a result Judas takes his own life.
This is the work Satan does.
He looks for an opportunity to use our guilt to break down our faith and our relationship with God.
This Sunday, the First Sunday in Lent, we will hear Satan tempt Jesus 3 times – 3 times that will fail each time.
At the conclusion of the 3rd temptation it says: he departed from him until an opportune time.
And that’s how Satan works – he looks for opportune moments to convict us of our sin to create guilt in us and our relationship with God because of our betrayal of God.
Judas’ guilt weighed heavily on him that he could not come before God to seek his forgiveness.
Compare the difference to Peter who denied Jesus 3 times but repented of his sin and was reinstated.
Jesus used Judas’s betrayal against Satan as we hear again tonight – our Lord Jesus Christ on the night he was betrayed took bread – take and eat this is my body – he took the cup – take and drink, this is my blood – shed for the forgiveness of your sins.
God does not want us to be weighed down by the guilt of our sin because that gives Satan that opportune time to burden our conscience and believe that God could not possible love and forgive me – not this time – not again.
But he does – it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us.
Satan waited patiently for that opportune time –
If you are the Son of God turn these rocks into bread.
If you are the Son of God throw yourself down and let God catch you.
If you are the Son of God worship me and I’ll give you all the Kingdoms of the world.
And that 4th time – if you are the Son of God, come down from the cross and we’ll believe in you.
But Jesus resisted that 4th temptation too.
And because he did he took all our guilt and burdens upon himself so when we are burdened by the betrayal of our sin we can look to the cross again and again and let Jesus take that burden upon himself as he says – come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest – rest for your souls.
The weight and burden of our betrayal against God is too much for us to bear on our own as King David discovered when he wrote Psalm 32:
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Note how David starts that Psalm – blessed is the one whose sins are forgiven.
Not blessed are those who do not sin.
We all sin and fall short of the glory of God but Jesus takes that burden and guilt upon himself to the cross.
And we need never lack trust in what God has promised when he promises to forgive us as we will be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As St Paul affirms: The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
May God bless your Lenten journey as you journey to the cross with Jesus and lay your sin and guilt – all your betrayals at his feet.