Thursday, 27 June 2019

Sermon 30th June 2019 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost Text: Luke 9:51-62 – Following Jesus, at what cost?

Sermon 30th June 2019 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 9:51-62 – Following Jesus, at what cost?

Have you ever signed up for something and it’s turned out to be something different to what you expected?
Or have you ever committed yourself to something and not realised just how much effort it was going to be?
Did you know that nearly two billion dollars a year on gym memberships is wasted in Australia?
Around 30 per cent of the population have a gym membership but around 30 per cent of those barely use it — going less than once a week.
This adds up to a staggering $1.8 billion.
Many people struggle to find the time to go to the gym, but seldom do they cancel their memberships.
Likewise, more than 50,000 students who started university in Australia this year will drop out.
Commitment – sometimes it looks easy from the outset but ends up much harder once you’re involved.
In today’s Gospel reading this is what Jesus is addressing – commitment for following him – for calling yourself a Christian.
In our Gospel reading Jesus faces 3 different people – one who called on him and others he called to follow him.
The first one comes up to Jesus and says: "I will follow you wherever you go."
He sounds like the man last week who was healed from his demon possession and wanted to follow Jesus.
He also sounds a bit like Peter who said that he would never fall away from the Lord – even if everyone else does – I never will - but who would later deny him three times.
Jesus says to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
So Jesus is saying – it’s not going to be easy.
Jesus is heading to Jerusalem where he will die a brutal and painful death through crucifixion on a cross.
Is this really what this man wanted when he says he will follow Jesus wherever he will go?
Saying you’ll commit and committing are 2 very different things.
Remember the rich man who came up to Jesus and said – what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus said to him: You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.
“Teacher,” he said, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
He found it easy at that level.
Jesus looked at him and said. “One thing you lack,” “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Are you prepared to commit and experience the good with the bad?
To go the whole distance as a Christian?
Are you prepared to allow Jesus to lead you and all that it means?
To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
The first question I would ask here is whether his father had actually died yet?
He doesn’t say so and maybe he is putting off a full commitment to following Jesus.
Today he might have said:
I’m too busy – I need to focus on my career – or a myriad of other reasons.
This is not in any way criticising anyone but acknowledging that life has encroached into church commitments.
Whether it’s Sunday sport – 24/7 work seeing more demands on Sunday shifts – growing expenses of mortgages and household expenses, childcare expenses needing extra shifts or just tiredness – the reality is that commitment to the church is being challenged.
Jesus’ reminder to the person is that the Kingdom of God needs to be proclaimed.
That was Jesus’ very first message – repent – the Kingdom of God is near.
In another place he says that no one knows the day or the hour of the coming judgment and there are so many parables like the unwise bridesmaids who were not prepared when the bridegroom came and missed out on eternal life.
And that’s what Jesus is concerned about.
This person wanted to wait until his life was more freed up, before he followed Jesus, which might have yet been years away.
That sounds like so many people today who put off following Jesus until some other day.
 But how do we know precisely when our or our loved one’s last day will be?
" Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home."
Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
A person who has committed themselves to following Jesus will be tempted to look back at what they’ve missed out on especially if the way forward looks daunting.
Israel kept looking back to what they believed were the good old days when their bellies were filled in Egypt as slaves rather than looking ahead and continuing to eat this detestable manna, as they called it.
Even Peter when he was on the mount of transfiguration didn’t want to come down from there but stay and offered to build three shelters because the present looked better than the future.
Maybe the future looks uncertain for the church.
We remember the good old days when Sunday Schools were overflowing – when church pews were filled – when finances weren’t a problem.
We remember when Christian values were the norm rather than an offence to society.
We remember when youth groups were how children entertained themselves and met their husband or wife.
The good old days.
Jesus calls us to follow Him and not look back or stay static.
When Peter again misses the point and wants Jesus to not go the way of the cross he rebukes him and says – get behind me Satan.
Follow me!
And make no mistake, following Jesus is costly.
But following Jesus is actually freedom though it might not look that way from the outset.
Many believe that following Jesus restricts our freedom.
They’ll quote you the 10 Commandments – Thou shalt not!
But Paul talks about freedom in a different way in our Galatians reading today:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”.
Paul warns that freedom can be understood in the wrong way.
You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.
Somehow people will believe that freedom means I can do whatever I want.
But sadly, because of our human nature, freedom to do whatever I want leads to enslavement.
And Paul lists a whole lot of behaviours that on the outset look like they are an expression of freedom when in fact they actually devalue our lives and some will trap a person with addiction.
This is what he says:
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness (which means to being promiscuous or unfaithful, idolatry, sorcery, enmities (or hostility), strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions (or disagreements), factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing (or abuse of alcohol), and things like these.
These are things that begin as expressions of human freedom – seemingly fun even - but end up controlling us.
And that’s what Paul is warning against and says that following Jesus allows us to escape from them.
That’s why Jesus, seemingly over the top, warns against looking back or putting off commitment for now – because he knows what our human nature is like.
Following Jesus allows us to see true freedom that is not wrapped up in lights and glitter like what the world believes freedom looks like.
Just look at pictures of Las Vegas and all its lights and glitter but inside are people trapped - addicted to gambling ruining their lives and the lives of others.
Jesus offers us a different way – the way of the Holy Spirit whose fruit is seen in a different light:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
There is no law against such things, Paul says – because they don’t trap or devalue human life
For many, maybe some of  you, following Christ has been costly.
Maybe you’ve had to give up something or sacrificed something.
Maybe you’ve given up an opportunity.
Maybe you’ve had to say no when everyone else is saying yes.
You’ve given up weekends – finances – free time – and much more.
Yes it can be costly to follow Christ but what Jesus gives to us is priceless – eternal life which cost Jesus a lot more than it will ever cost us.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that freedom means to be free to do whatever I want.
Freedom is to be free from the stranglehold of things that offer us plenty but deliver nothing.
There’s no such thing as “the good old days” to look back to;
I’m sure in those “good old days” they too were looking back.
Keep looking forward because your salvation is one day closer today than it was yesterday.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Sermon 23rd June 2019 - 2nd Sunday after Pentecost - Text: 1 Kings 19:1-15a – Strength for Ministry in silence

Sermon 23rd June 2019
Text: 1 Kings 19:1-15a – Strength for Ministry in silence

Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought – I just want to go back to sleep.
Do I have to get up?
As we move into the depths of winter it is very easy to feel that way.
And as the nights get dark and cold if you’re on a committee it’s very comforting to hear that we don’t have much to discuss on the agenda so let’s cancel the meeting.
It’s easy to become discouraged when things around you aren’t exactly inspiring.
I have to say also that I find it difficult like many people to stay encouraged in Ministry at times when you look around and wonder sometimes why.
When you put a lot of effort into things and very little happens.
I know when I talk to volunteers in our churches that it’s very easy to get discouraged when you put a lot of work into something and you don’t see any results.
No one turns up or there’s very little encouragement.
Or you work your backside off and only get criticisms of what you did wrong.
It can make you feel a little bit like Elijah in today’s Old Testament reading?
He sits down under a tree and asked God that he might die: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors."
What got Elijah to that point?
After all this is just after he has had spectacular success against the false god of Baal.
On Mt Carmel Elijah invited all the prophets of Baal to a challenge to see whose God was more powerful.
Elijah won that battle and had all the prophets of Baal put to death.
So he must have been quite proud and confident.
But what Elijah discovers is that ministry for God is relentless.
And what I mean by that is that it is constant and it is draining both physically, mentally and especially spiritually.
And so often I see people in ministry – volunteers, paid layworkers and Pastors who are just fatigued spiritually and mentally.
And that’s what Elijah discovers here – that you win one battle and the next battle begins.
Satan never takes a break.
As St Peter says in his letter - Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
But like the devil who is constantly on the lookout so too is God.
Suddenly an angel touched Elijah and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat. He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
What was it that saw Elijah so worn out – the same thing that affects us as we work for God:
Elijah said to God - I have been very enthusiastic for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.
Haven’t you felt like that at times?
That you’re working so hard and yet nothing happens.
In fact worse than nothing – there are people unappreciative for the work you do, as Elijah felt:
They killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.
And that’s how ministry for God can seem at times no matter what type you do.
Whether it’s full time, part time, a couple times a year – voluntary or paid.
Working for God is not so much physically draining but spiritually exhausting.
Because when we are working for God we have Satan and the spiritual forces working against us.
As St Paul reminds us - For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
What we need to be aware of is that God is always there with us even if we feel like we’re all alone, like Elijah.
But sometimes God’s communication with us is very subtle – through water – through Bread and Wine.
Maybe we are looking for huge results for all the hours of work we put in and all the sacrifices we make – but sometimes we don’t see the results of what we do in such clear ways.
For Elijah he heard the voice of God speaking to him in the most unexpected way.
Maybe Elijah expected to hear God’s response to his concerns in the great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
Don’t underestimate the results of your work for God just because you don’t see or hear it in huge spectacular ways.
Working for God is not like other work.
Ministry for God is not about a win/loss ratio.
Ministry for God is not about a profit/loss statement.
Ministry for God is about souls that are saved – souls that we don’t always see as numbers in the pew.
As much as we would love to see our churches overflowing and our budgets in surplus it is about seeing heaven overflowing and that we don’t see in physical ways at time.
And don’t underestimate the ministry work that God is doing in your everyday ordinary life.
When Jesus healed the demon possessed man he wanted to go with Jesus and do ministry with him.
But Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and tell everyone how much God has done for you."
Ministry is not just the work we do here in the church.
It is just as important ministry in the work we do in our daily lives – in our work, in our schools, in our sports, in our day to day running around
It’s how we treat people on the roads, in the supermarkets, walking down the street, at the footy – as St Paul says - We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us..
It’s about telling others how much God has done in your life.
And telling others about how much God has done in your life may be simply living out your faith in a way that examples the Christian faith.
Loving one another as Jesus loves you.
Forgiving as you have been forgiven.
Treating one another equally as St Paul says in our 2nd reading –
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Sometimes it feels as if we are fighting a losing battle but God reassures Elijah that although he feels like he is doing it alone God has in fact reserved for himself 7,000 faithful people.
Sadly, because the church lives “in the world” we are often influenced by worldly success targets.
We rate success on numbers and dollars – and realistically we do have to pay our way like other organisations.
But we are first and foremost citizens of heaven and we exist solely to be the body of Christ in the world.
And that’s where we have to trust God in all we do and not become disheartened like Elijah but listen to the small quiet voice of God encouraging us.
Though sometimes that small quiet voice of God is heard in sheer silence.
So continue to be encouraged as you serve our Lord and tell everyone how much God has done for you and make time each day to listen to the voice of God in sheer silence.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Sermon 16th June 2019 – Trinity Sunday: Text: Romans 5:1-5 – Persevering in suffering

Sermon 16th June 2019 – Trinity Sunday
Text: Romans 5:1-5 – Persevering in suffering

Last Monday we celebrated the Queen’s Birthday and along with it came the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Among them, as usual, was a list of sporting and entertainment celebrities.
Along with the naming of the award recipients came the usual criticisms of why ordinary Australians who give of their lives are not rewarded.
They actually are – it’s just that we don’t know who they are so they don’t make it into the media reports.
And you’ll probably find that most people who dedicate their lives to helping others don’t really want the accolades or recognition.
Just helping others is their own reward and character building.
And that’s where true character building comes from when we give of ourselves without acknowledgment or reward for what we are doing.
Sadly we live in a world where we can’t handle suffering and lack of recognition too well.
Think of many junior sports where scores are not kept so you don’t have a losing side.
Some sports don’t give out awards for fear of hurting those who don’t receive one.
We think we are doing favours by not exposing people to loss or suffering but we are in fact preventing growth of character.
It is often through suffering and adversity where we see people develop extraordinary strength.
One of the recipients of the Queen’s Birthday honours was a well-known battler of suffering in Rosie Batty.
Rosie Batty was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for her distinguished service to the community as a campaigner and advocate for the prevention of family violence.
This came about as she suffered the loss of her son through family violence.
She used her suffering to become a spokesperson against family violence and to help others through her suffering.
So there is no doubt that her suffering has produced perseverance in her to fight against family violence – that her perseverance has produced character in her that has achieved great respect from the community and that has produced hope for herself and others.
Another person that exemplifies this character building and hope through perseverance in suffering is Neale Daniher who is suffering the debilitating condition of Motor Neurone Disease who has campaigned to raise money for support rather than letting his suffering defeat him.
And that’s what Paul is also highlighting in the life of the Christian as suffering becomes part of God’s revelation rather than his displeasure or abandonment.
As we celebrate Trinity Sunday today – the Trinity is all about God revealing himself.
God has revealed himself to the world through Jesus Christ – the Son of God the Father who have sent their Holy Spirit to remain with us here.
Through Jesus’ suffering and death God has also revealed himself to us as our Father in Heaven as Jesus’ suffering and death has restored our broken relationship with God.
In the beginning when God created Adam and Eve he had a relationship with them by which he would walk amongst his creation and meet with them.
But when sin entered the world so did suffering and a broken relationship with God.
Jesus came as the new Adam to destroy the old Adam in us and restore our relationship with God.
In fact it is a far better relationship with God than the beginning as we become children of God and receive eternal life as an inheritance from God our Father in Heaven.
So as Jesus is about to depart from this life he tells Mary to tell the disciples that he is ascending to his Father and our Father.
As we wait for our own ascension into Heaven, Paul connects the suffering we go through in this life with the glory that awaits us in heaven just as Jesus’ suffering led to his glory.
God does not create the suffering but neither does God remove the suffering.
Instead God uses the suffering in our lives to bring us closer to himself.
It’s a strange understanding but if you’ve ever had someone you’ve loved go through suffering you know that mysteriously it draws you closer to them – it even intensifies your love for them.
Paul discovered that through his own suffering that God reveals a special deep love when we go through times of suffering.
And it was through this discovery where Paul discovered God’s grace when he said:
I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul discovered a very special revelation by God whose weakness is greater than human power – whose foolishness is greater than human wisdom – whose love is shown through suffering.
Trinity Sunday is all about how God has revealed himself to the world.
He revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But he has also revealed himself in the mystery of suffering.
Suffering is not nice – but sadly it is part of our existence while on this earth.
But Paul assures us that it is only for this life and that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Suffering is not a sign of God’s displeasure but a sign of our broken relationship in this life through sin.
Suffering is not a punishment from God but a consequence of Good and Evil existing in this lifetime.
Suffering points us away from the world for answers and to God who promises us a future without suffering.
And as the suffering points us to God it helps us to persevere – to continue to live despite our suffering and enable us to witness our faith.
And as we persevere we grow in our faith and produce a character in us that examples to others that suffering is not the end of the world and neither does it mean we cannot enjoy a quality of life.
And it’s by that perseverance and character that enables us to keep putting our hope in God – who is not punishing us or abandoning us but loving us in a deeper more intimate way.
As you journey through this life there will be times of suffering- personal, emotional, spiritual.
But we know that this life is only a journey and that we have our Lord Jesus who has also suffered and empathises with our suffering so we can persevere – so our Christian character can witness to others going through times of suffering and thereby give them hope also by assuring them of God’s love.
And we too, through our sufferings are able to persevere by our assurance of our home in heaven knowing that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that is awaiting us.
A glory that Paul saw when we was given just a glimpse of what is waiting which no human words could describe.
So may the Holy Spirit keep you strong in your faith to persevere in hope until we reach our heavenly glory and may you always be prepared to give an answer to all who ask you about the hope you have.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Sermon 9th June 2019 – Pentecost Sunday Text: John 14:8-17, 25-27 – Your legal advocate

Sermon 9th June 2019 – Pentecost Sunday
Text: John 14:8-17, 25-27 – Your legal advocate

A few years ago I was thinking to myself that maybe it’s time I thought about having a will prepared.
For a long time I kept hearing that it’s never too early to start thinking of things like wills and powers of attorney.
But I thought to myself I might try and do it on the cheap.
So I bought one of those $29.99 will packs from the Post Office – after all, how difficult could it be?
I opened the pack and read the instructions and the leading questions for each section and thought to myself I have no idea what to do – it didn’t make sense.
And when you’re dealing with legal matters you don’t really want to make a mistake.
And that’s when I thought to myself, it’s time to speak with a lawyer.
They are the ones who know the “legalese” language as it’s often referred to.
And when you’re dealing with legal matters, the slightest error can void a very important contract and so having a lawyer as our advocate in legal matters means we can put our affairs in to the hands of an expert who knows what they are doing.
And that’s why today as we celebrate Pentecost we are so thankful to God that he has given to us the greatest Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
Because when we are talking about the law and legal matters, God’s law is not something that we want to discover that we have messed up because the consequences are enormous – this is our eternal salvation we are speaking about.
Fortunately the Holy Spirit, our advocate, is an expert in God’s law and has drawn up our last will and testament and our inheritance with no chance of an error causing it to be voided.
St Paul says – all who are led by the Spirit of God are children on God.
As children of God, Paul says the Spirit is a spirit of adoption which gives us the legal right to call God our Father.
And as we are children of God it also entitles us to be heirs of God with equal rights to the inheritance as Jesus, the Son of God.
And so Paul says – “We are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Whatever Jesus has a right to as the Son of God we too have the same rights.
As Paul says in Romans 6: just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
And that last will and testament is so secure that no one can void it or challenge it with the Holy Spirit as our advocate.
Not that the devil doesn’t try – or as I’ve referred to him before – the Devil’s Advocate.
He tries very hard to convince us that we are not worthy of eternal life in heaven.
And he uses every avenue he can to void God’s covenant with us.
He knows the law backward and he knows every wrong that we have committed to break God’s law.
His records are impeccable.
He will remind you of every stray word –every evil thought and inclination.
He will remind you of the lustful thoughts of your heart – every straying eye.
He knows every “I” that is not dotted and every “T” that is not crossed and will find the smallest action to void your inheritance.
And the devil will use your guilt to make you question your inheritance.
He will challenge it and convince you that you don’t deserve to receive the inheritance of eternal life.
But what we need to remember are 2 things.
First, even though the devil keeps meticulous records of the wrongs we have committed God doesn’t.
As St Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “love keeps no record of wrongs”.
Unlike humans who cannot forgive AND forget, God remembers our sins no more.
So while the devil pricks our consciences of our sin, that’s all he has.
He can accuse us but he cannot judge or condemn us – he has no legal right to do so as Luther discovered when he was being tormented night and day and cried out “I am Baptised”.
That was his legal defence and yours.
Because in Baptism is where we receive the Holy Spirit and become Children of God.
Again, using legal terms in Ephesians Paul says - The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised
But the 2nd point regarding the devil is that Jesus says: “there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies”.
The Holy Spirit, our Advocate however, Jesus says – is the Spirit of Truth.
And the advocate, the Spirit of truth says “do not let your hearts be troubled – and do not let them be afraid”.
And on the day of Pentecost when Peter gave his first sermon to the people who had been gathered there he closes with the assuring words of why we should not be troubled or afraid – because everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
And that’s the work of the Holy Spirit, given at Pentecost, as Paul says – no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
There are many gifts of the Holy Spirit – there are many fruits of the Holy Spirit.
But there is no more important work of the Holy Spirit that Luther’s description in his Small Catechism:
“I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel … and kept me in the true faith and … On the last day he will raise me and all the dead and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life; this is most certainly true.
Signed, sealed and delivered!
That my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my fellow heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven, fellow children of God, is the true work of the Holy Spirit that assures us of being heirs of the Father – joint heirs with the Son and there is not a hope in Hell (and I mean that literally) of anyone challenging our inheritance.