Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Sermon 2nd June 2019 – The Ascension Text: Luke 24:44-53 – Our Jerusalem

Sermon 2nd June 2019 – The Ascension
Text: Luke 24:44-53 – Our Jerusalem

Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.
For 40 days after Jesus rose from the grave on Easter Sunday he walked the earth to establish eye witnesses so the world would be convinced that the resurrection was a real event and not a fairy tale as it is often described in our secular world.
People often think that proving the resurrection is our greatest challenge – convincing the world that Jesus rose from the dead because we have no physical proof.
I don’t think that is our biggest challenge.
The reality is that there is more evidence to prove a resurrection than to disprove it.
For example:
We have the account of an empty grave.
There was no body found when Mary went to the tomb.
This is further supported by Matthew’s Gospel that says the religious leaders paid the guards to say that they saw Jesus’ disciples carrying Jesus body away from the tomb.
They could easily have said that they themselves took the body away.
So an empty tomb is the reality especially since his body never turned up.
How easy wouldn’t it have been to make up a story that Jesus’ dead body was later found and yet this is never spoken about as an alternative story?
And Paul speaks about Jesus having appeared to over 500 eye witnesses including himself who was one of the most powerful enemies of Christians, approving their deaths and seeking to arrest anyone that called themselves a Christian – and now converted to Christianity and Jesus’ greatest missionary.
So, as I said, proving the resurrection is not our greatest challenge.
What is our greatest challenge?
I believe our greatest challenge is fulfilling Jesus’ commission that we heard in Luke’s gospel today to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to the entire world.
And we only have to look at what happened to Israel Folau who did just that when he called on all sinners to repent.
There is very little tolerance in our secular world today for us to preach a message of repentance and forgiveness.
There is very little tolerance in our secular world today to refer to people as sinners.
And yet that was Jesus commission to the apostles to proclaim forgiveness of sins to repentant sinners.
We can go into the world and attempt to have the world like and appreciate us.
We can do things like feed the poor – do charitable works – and a whole range of actions that help others.
And we should.
But we must remember what the mission was when he sent his disciples into the world.
That repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name.
There is no repentance if there is no sin.
There is no forgiveness if there is no sin.
There is no sinner if there is no sin.
Jesus’ death is meaningless if there is no sin.
There is no Gospel if there is no Law.
If we believe that Jesus came to die for our sins, then at some point we need to mention the word sin – and that’s when we lose people.
So how can we reach out into a secular world that rejects the idea of sin?
Luke gives us a clue in the commission by Jesus in both our Gospel reading and our first reading from Acts.
In the book of Acts he says - you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
In his Gospel he says - that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
In both instructions they were to begin their witnessing in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was their home town.
In fact Luke’s Gospel concludes with they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God”.
I believe that their proclaiming of repentance and forgiveness of sins was to their own lives first.
Their witnessing to the world would come by living out what they had witnessed – Jesus forgiveness of their sins.
Here in our church community and in our home community is where we are called to example to the world and witness to the world what Jesus has to offer.
How can we tell the world about God’s grace and the Gospel if we are not prepared to live it out in our own lives first?
How can we witness the forgiveness of sins to the world if we are not exampling it in our own lives first – in our Jerusalems – our families – our church community.
St Paul says in our 2nd reading about Jesus’ sacrifice for us - that he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
This, I believe, is how we best proclaim to the world what we believe as Christians.
But sadly we are often the worst examples of it.
And that’s not surprising because Satan knows how easy it is to target this area of our faith.
Later in the book of Ephesians Paul will encourage Christians - Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Paul knows how easy it is for the devil to get a foothold into our communities – in our church and family community – by steering us away from repentance and forgiveness and pointing us towards our anger and instead of repentance we seek to justify our actions – instead of forgiveness we exhibit hatred and revenge.
Many times the New Testament points us towards ourselves as the living example of the Gospel.
Jesus says in John’s Gospel: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
That’s a clear message by Jesus that our witness as his disciples comes when we love one another as he loved us.
If we fail to love one another as he loved us then what does that witness to the world.
And we love one another as he loved us when we repent when we are wrong – and we forgive when we are wronged against.
Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name – beginning in Jerusalem – beginning in our lives – our families our church families.
Likewise St Peter in his letter says: you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.
If people see us disputing with each other they won’t ask us about the hope we have.
We have to get it right here first or we will undo all the work of Christ’s mission to the world.
We may believe we have a good reason to hold a grudge or to be angry and believe that we can never forgive this side of the grave as I often hear.
But think of Jesus’ last words from the cross to his Father about those who humiliated him and nailed him to the cross – Forgive them Father.
Friends, our Lord walked this earth for 40 days to establish eye witnesses of his resurrection which has been effective for nearly 2000 years.
Let us not undo the work of those who have laid down this testimony and foundation by failing to repent and forgive in our own lives – in our homes – in our church – in our Jerusalem.
If we can’t be witnesses of repentance and forgiveness in our Jerusalem, then we can ever be witnesses in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Sermon 26th May 2019 - 6th Sunday of Easter Text: John 5:1-9 – Spiritual disruptions

Sermon 26th May 2019 Easter 6 and Thanksgiving service
Text: John 5:1-9 – Spiritual disruptions

While travelling along the freeway recently I found myself in the wrong lane.
I saw my exit getting closer and closer.
I just needed someone to realise I had my blinker on and slow down to let me in.
It was just there but I couldn’t get a break to let me in.
And at the last moment the car to my left slowed down and flashed his lights to let me in and I waved the biggest thank you to him.
So many ignored my plea to let me in to their lane as they weren’t looking at others and just kept focusing ahead.
How often do we miss the needs of people calling out for our help because we are so focused on our own journey?
I feel that this is what we are seeing in our Gospel reading today with the man who had been ill for 38 years waiting for his turn to enter into the healing waters of Bethesda.
Unfortunately it only allowed one person to enter the waters after which the healing properties would stop until next time.
And so those who were there weren’t looking to see who else needed to enter – they just had their own needs in focus and therefore the sick man kept missing out.
Presumably those who jumped in ahead of him thought that maybe the person after them would let this man go in ahead of them.
And that’s how life can sometimes go that we are so focused on our own needs that we can walk right past someone who needs our help and think – someone else can help them.
But we can be so focused on our needs and what we need to accomplish that we fail to see what is happening around us and all the wonderful blessings that God is placing right under our noses.
It is so easy to become transfixed on the busyness and stresses of life that we fail to discover what God is doing in our lives.
This life is a gift from God and as a result God’s blessings are all around us.
And what we discover, when we can take time to just pause life for a moment, is many times those blessings are discovered when we stop to take time and help someone else.
I’ve been in that situation before when I was the one in a hurry and thought to myself that the person behind me can let that person with their indicator on into our lane – I don’t have time.
But I’ve also been the one that has seen the person trying to get in and slowed down and waved them in – and I can tell you it’s a calming situation when you do that and really doesn’t add that much extra onto your time.
In our bible reading those who went ahead of the man who had been waiting for 38 years wouldn’t have missed out on their own healing if they had helped him in ahead of them.
They may have just had to wait a little bit longer for the next time.
Likewise, stopping to help someone in need might add a couple minutes to your routine – or even less – but the feeling of helping out another person in need is priceless.
Sometimes God places those opportunities in our way so he can bless us and others through us.
But it can disrupt our plans and put us out.
But if it’s to do something God has placed in front of us then we can be sure that a great blessing will come from it.
In our first reading we can see how sometimes our journeys can be disrupted by God.
We have Paul who is on a set course.
But during the night God disrupts his plans.
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
Paul could have dismissed it an kept going on his decided course.
Have you overlooked an opportunity for a blessing from God because you weren’t prepared to let a disruption take you off course?
If you feel that there is a blessing missing from your life to be thankful to God maybe it’s because you overlooked an opportunity that God put before you because you were too busy.
We need to look and listen and see if there is anyone around us that God has placed in our lives to help.
Those opportunities are easy to dismiss because we are so busy and to let someone else do it.
And the chances are that someone else will do it – so they don’t miss out.
But it is we who miss out because hidden inside that disruption is a blessing from God.
If we look at Paul’s life, to the outsider it might look as if he has not much to be thankful for.
In his letter to the Corinthians he tells them of what he has endured as a Christian:
I have been in prison, been flogged, exposed to death again and again, five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
And yet he says: but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
It’s true that those who ignored the plight of the man waiting 38 years got their physical healing but they missed out on an even greater experience of helping a person in need and receiving a blessing from God.
Don’t confuse material blessings which the world provides with spiritual blessings that God provides.
They are very different in nature and very different in how they are received.
Material blessings are rewards for success.
And the moment you receive them they can disappear with your next failure.
Spiritual blessings from God are hidden in humility and servanthood.
They are often missed because we don’t recognise them like the servants who naturally served others without knowing in Jesus’ parable:
‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “
And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
Look for those opportunities to serve others – they are there.
They may be simply letting a person into your lane – letting someone go ahead of you.
They will provided inner spiritual blessings for you but they may be preparing your for an even greater opportunity to serve without you even realising it
We have so much to be thankful to God for but so often we miss them because we are so focused on our own journeys.
Imagine if Paul was so focused on where he wanted to go.
Paul’s vision was while he slept.
Maybe we need to make intentional times to find a quiet place away from our worldly interruptions and allow God’s spiritual disruptions to our plans.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Sermon 19th May 2019 - 5th Sunday of Easter Text: Acts 11:1-18 – Do not hinder God

Sermon 19th May 2019 - 5th Sunday of Easter
Text: Acts 11:1-18 – Do not hinder God

With all the scandals in the church these days why are you still coming to church?
With all the negative press about Christians these days why are you still a Christian?
With all the other things you could be doing with your time and money why do you come to church?
With all the scientific arguments working overtime to disprove the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus and the resurrection and everything to do with the Christian faith, why do you still believe in Jesus?
For me, and I believe for you and others, it’s because of today’s text from the Book of Revelation:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
Regardless of what society deems the church to be and what today’s world can offer with all its glitz and glamour, technology advances, health and medical advances – it cannot provide what the Christian faith offers:
 Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
There might be a variety of reasons why you could easily turn your back on the church and God but what are you giving up if you do?
It’s like the situation when Jesus is teaching his followers about who he is and they find it really difficult to accept.
And John says: From this time many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Jesus asked the Twelve.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?”  Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
And that’s the crux of the issue.
The church is not perfect.
Christians aren’t perfect.
But the Christian faith offers what no one else can offer – eternal life in heaven with no more suffering or death.
And that’s where things WILL be perfect.
There is no doubt that the world around us has changed and sometimes it’s really hard to accept the changes around us.
And it’s the changes in the world that has caused the world to move away from the church.
But despite the changes we know that even though the world may move away from God, God never moves away from the world.
And his Holy Spirit is working hard to reconcile the world with God as God is reconciling the world through Christ.
He can’t walk away from the world – he loves the world so much that he gave his one and only Son as a sacrifice to ensure we would be with him forever.
Over the generations there has been pressure for the church to change and it has been it ever so slowly that the church has responded.
The music has changed.
The seating has changed.
Confirmation of our children has changed.
The style of worship has changed.
But the central message of the church must NEVER change no matter how unpopular or out of touch it may seem – that Jesus Christ died for my sins and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The word “sin” is so foreign to our world today but we need it because Jesus died for our sins – that’s the Gospel message.
That is non-negotiable – in fact Paul says that if anyone comes with a different Gospel they are to be condemned.
But Peter, in our first reading today, shows how radical the parameters of the message can be challenged – not the message but how it is delivered.
Peter was challenged by the Holy Spirit to go to Joppa to meet with a Gentile by the name of Cornelius.
While he is there the Holy Spirit is received by Cornelius and his household.
Peter is scolded by the other disciples because this is deemed as against the rules of purity.
But Peter explains to them his vision where he sees all kinds of unclean animals that were previously forbidden as food and he is told to eat them.
Peter objects to which God responds: What God has made clean, you must not call unclean.
And so Peter says: If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?
That must have been very challenging to Peter and the disciples who were so devoted to their laws of purity that were given through Moses.
And no doubt this would have caused great division between them and the devout Jews who could not accept a change to the ways they were always done.
Sometimes in our attempts to protect the way we have always done things we can lose what is at the heart of the Gospel.
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.
And that’s what John is describing in his Revelation – eternal life where death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
Jesus made a clear distinction between what was sacred to the Gospel and broke down many barriers that were holding the gospel away from people – eating with sinners – touching and restoring the leper – freeing the woman caught in adultery – the man with the withered hand – the bent over woman were healed on the Sabbath.
And he enshrined those actions within the new commandment – love one another as I have loved you.
It’s hard and it’s challenging when things around us change but we must identify those things that are peripheral to the Gospel and those that are central.
And what is central – and has been and will remain to Lutheran teaching – is Word and Sacrament.
The Word of God cannot be compromised as even Pilate said when the Jews wanted him to change the sign above Jesus’ head – this is the King of the Jews – what is written is written.
And the sacraments – Baptism and Holy Communion.
These are the means of Grace by which God assures us that we shall not perish but receive eternal life where death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
They are not symbolic and neither do they represent God’s grace and love.
They ARE God’s grace and love where water and word combine – where bread and wine have Jesus’ Body and Blood – in with and under.
They are the Gospel in action – they are God’s love which we are to example to one another.
Sadly defending the way we have always done things has often gotten in the way of the Gospel.
Traditions are important but once they hinder the Gospel and our love for one another then they are no longer serving the spread of the Gospel.
“Who are we to hinder the work of God”
But we must distinguish between tradition and doctrine.
Bread and wine is not tradition but the teaching of our Lord.
The King James Version of the bible served a good purpose in the church but once the old English no longer served our changing language other translations better served the church.
Infant baptism is not a tradition but a teaching of the church.
Pipe organ serves a good purpose in the church but so does contemporary music.
St Paul says to watch your doctrine closely not your tradition.
And so for Peter, even though the laws of purity had served Israel for many centuries now came the time to spread the Gospel further which meant God gave permission to extend his Holy Spirit into previously unclean situations.
Maybe God has challenged you with some of the changes that the church has undertaken for the sake of the Gospel.
We have not always made decisions that have pleased everyone and that’s really difficult but we need to be aware that this is where Satan can enter.
How easy would it have been for Satan to side the other disciples against Peter.
That happened in Galatian when Peter was criticised for that which is what Paul called “another Gospel” and condemned those who persuaded Peter to now think differently about Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit.
Our church has recently made decisions that have hurt people.
Our church has done things in the past that has hurt people which is coming out in the Royal Commissions.
Not only do these actions hinder the gospel but how we respond also hinders the gospel.
And that’s when we need to remember Jesus’ final command before he died to love one another as I have loved you – and by this all people will know that you’re my disciples.
And the opposite is true too – when we don’t love as Christ loves – forgiving one another – then we hinder the gospel and stop being witnesses as his disciples.
It’s hard – just as it was hard for the disciples to accept what Peter had done that went against centuries of teachings from Moses.
They wouldn’t have understood why God would do it – just as we don’t always understand why God does some things – but they were prepared to trust for the sake of the Gospel and not hinder God.
God’s will is for all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth – a will so important to God that he allowed his own Son to be sacrificed.
Let us also trust God and allow his will to be done which is not always OUR will.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Sermon 12th May 2019 - Good Shepherd Sunday - Text: John 10:22-30 – More than a number

Sermon 12th May 2019 – 4th Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday
Text:  John 10:22-30 – More than a number

I was watching a TV show the other night and a person when about to die says –
“well, I guess my number is up”.
How often are you identified with a number?
At the bank you have account numbers, PIN numbers and credit card numbers with expiry dates and security number on the back that you have to constantly quote.
The taxation department identifies you by your Tax File Number.
You have a Medicare number.
When you enquire about a bill you are asked is, "What is your customer number?"
When you go to McDonalds you are assigned a number and you pick up your order when your number is called.
If you are in business you need an ABN 
When driving you’re identified by your licence number and your registration number
Numbers are so impersonal.
You are not a number to God but it’s your name that is important to God.
When Moses was sent by God to free Israel from slavery God didn’t given him a special weapon to fight Pharaoh with – he gave him his name.
Names are so important that God has enshrined his own name by the 2nd Commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.
Philippians, when telling us about Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice says that God gave to him – the name that is above all names that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.
In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus speak words that give us comfort knowing that we are more than a number to God.
Jesus tells us about the very personal and intimate relationship that he has with us.
He says, my sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and he says, as our Good Shepherd - “I know my sheep and my sheep know me—
And that knowing goes right back to your Baptism where you are named before God – Peter James Ghalayini – I baptise you in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We can be excused for not quite connecting with this illustration that Jesus has given as our Good Shepherd and we as his sheep.
The Australian sheep farmer does not give off the same type of image that we read about in the Bible.
We would rarely see a Shepherd today lay down his life for one of his sheep.
We would rarely see a shepherd lie across the sheep pen to act as a gate to stop predators attacking them.
We would rarely see a shepherd leave 99 sheep to go looking for a single lost sheep.
And that’s why Jesus, when referring to himself as our Shepherd says he is our “Good Shepherd”
Jesus does things for us that others would not do, especially fulfilling what he said about himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
That’s what we have just celebrated again this Easter.
Jesus is also connecting himself to the Old Testament imagery that we read in Psalm 23.
King David, the writer of Psalm 23, refers to the Lord as my shepherd.
There is nothing I need – I shall not be in want.
I will not be afraid for you are with me.
King David is expressing the personal relationship that God had with him.
King David went through difficult times with the previous King, King Saul, refusing to give up his kingship after God took it away from him and gave it to the young shepherd David.
As our Good Shepherd King David speaks about Jesus being with us wherever we go.
He is there in green pastures to celebrate in good times
He leads me beside still waters bringing us peace in times of distress
He revives my soul when the stresses and pressures of life wear us down.
He guides me along the right path for his Name's sake to help us when we don’t know which way we should go in a particular situation.
He is there in times of grief and despair so that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me;
He is there to spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies to protect me from dangers;
There is never a time or place in our lives when his goodness and mercy don’t follow us all the days of our lives,
And especially important is his promise – I am with you always till the end of the age when I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
There are times when it seems that Jesus is not so close to us.
When he seems anything but the Good Shepherd.
We have prayed for help in times of sickness and the pain is as intense as ever.
We have asked him to guide us through some difficult decisions but we have taken the wrong direction.
We have wanted him to watch over our loved ones, but they have still been caught up in trouble and accidents.
But the fact is that Jesus hasn’t gone anywhere.
It’s not about how we feel but what we know about Jesus our Good Shepherd.
He is right here with us.
He knows what is happening in our lives.
He knows how anxious we are.
Jesus’ promise to be with us is assured even when we are doubting and despairing,
He promises: "I am the good Shepherd, I know my sheep".
Even though we are down and almost out, we are assured that we are in the arms of the everlasting shepherd who lovingly supports and strengthens us in our weakest and most painful moments, and no one can snatch us out of those loving arms.
The image of the Good Shepherd is one of love and closeness.
And as his followers, we share the same concerns as he has, and show our love in very practical ways, as Jesus did.
As he said to Peter when reassuring him of his love for him he said that that love is shown in physical ways:
Feed my sheep;
Care for my sheep;
Jesus calls us to become shepherds to one another.
We are to be shepherds to one another as members of this congregation and parish.
We are to be shepherds to one another in our families, in our work, in our schools, in our sports and hobbies and amongst our friends.
Just as Jesus shepherds us with his love, we shepherd those whom God has placed in our lives with that same love.
That was his new commandment before he died – love one another as I have loved you.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know that we have a loving shepherd who walks with us through the good and bad.
And that day when we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death he will walk with us and lead us to the glorious new life beyond the grave.
Because we have a loving shepherd, our Good Shepherd, whose goodness and love will follow us all our lives and we will live in the house of the Lord forever.