Thursday, 29 August 2019

Sermon 1st September = 12th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Luke 14:1, 7-14 - The best seat in the house

Sermon 1st September = 12th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 14:1, 7-14 -  The best seat in the house

We probably don’t realise how much status is held by seating.
The AFL finals begin this week and already there has been outrage over seating.
Geelong wants a home final but their ground doesn’t seat enough to cater for the huge crowds.
The Gabba in Queensland holds 42,000 and there are 3 times that amount of members between the 2 clubs.
And finding a seat on an aeroplane to attend an interstate match has become extremely expensive because of the high demand for seating.
And as the Grand Final draws near we will hear the outrage of seats unavailable for grass roots members who make up the core supporter groups as corporate seating takes precedence.
It seems that whenever you see sporting or other popular events, the front row seats are usually made up of celebrities and A listers who are either invited to attend or they have enough money that they can afford to buy the most expensive seats while diehard fans miss out or have to sit way in the back.
It makes people sad, even angry, when they are such diehard fans but celebrities, corporate sponsors and the rich seem to get the best seats simply so they can be seen at the events by the media.
Having the best seats is often seen as a status symbol.
I’m always intrigued when I catch a flight at the airport and there is the scramble to be the first on the plane to get your seat even though it doesn’t get you to your destination any quicker, and if you’re seated in the aisle you’ll have to get out anyway to let the person in the window seat in.
Jesus also sees today that seating arrangements were the cause of much distress.
He noticed how the guests chose the seats of honour and warned them that they were opening themselves up to ridicule rather than honour if someone more important arrived and they had to give up their seat.
He said it was better to choose a lower seat and wait to be asked to move up when the host sees you sitting in a lower seat.
Is Jesus really worried about seating arrangements?
Is Jesus really worried about us being embarrassed because we might have to give up our seats to someone more important?
I very much doubt that seating at a banquet is what Jesus is worried about as that is not the reason Jesus came to give his life for us.
And what if you choose the lower seat and are not asked to move up?
What Jesus is trying to do is have us see life in perspective.
In a sense life here on earth is like a seat in a waiting room.
We are here on our journey to heaven.
And sometimes we can lose that perspective as we think that this life here on earth is our main focus.
As much as we strive to achieve our best – a comfortable home, a satisfying career, success for our children – sometimes these aren’t achievable for one reason or another and we can sometimes feel anger towards life and towards God because we feel we deserve better and that God hasn’t rewarded us for our faithfulness.
But God has rewarded us – not in this lifetime but in the life to come.
But we can be so focused on achieving our dreams in this life that we forget about God and our neighbour whom we have been asked to love as we find ourselves becoming the main focus of our love.
Our 2nd reading today highlights that there are hidden blessings when we focus away from ourselves and focus our attention on others.
The writer to the Hebrews says:  Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
I love that image.
Sometimes we don’t get recognised or thanked for what we have done but those people we have helped may have actually been angels.
How amazing is that?
Jesus confirms that focus when he says:  "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
If we are doing things for this lifetime or to achieve recognition or rewards in this lifetime then we are selling ourselves way too short.
What Jesus and the writer to the Hebrews are trying to encourage us with is to keep our eyes focused on the coming rewards and to keep living this life without worry about rewards and outcomes.
We can become so focused on achieving in this lifetime that we can become quite depressed and disillusioned about what seems to be failures for all the good work we do.
Jesus assures us that we will be repaid at the resurrection.
And even if life seems to be quite negative for all our faithfulness, Hebrews says: The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?
Life doesn’t always reward or reflect what efforts we put in for others.
So many people miss out on receiving the accolades or awards for the sacrifices they make for others.
But God sees all.
And even if we don’t receive the recognition we deserve we thank God that we also don’t receive from him what we deserve.
We don’t deserve all that God has prepared for us – eternal life in heaven.
But we receive it from God because of his love for us and his desire to have us live with him forever in heaven.
And if we can understand that for ourselves then we can accept that at times we too will give to others, not for the rewards or recognition but because of our love for God and our neighbour.
It is very easy to get caught up in seeking recognition or status among our friends and family.
But Jesus has arranged for us the highest honour of all.
A seat of honour at the wedding feast in heaven.
I love that imagery of St John in Revelation when he sees what is coming for us:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Until that great and glorious day God invites you to the foretaste of the feast to come as he invites you to his table to feast on his Body and Blood in Holy Communion.
Here is where all our concerns about status and recognition are put to one side as we come together around the one table – to receive the one bread and the one cup.
No status or honour separating us as we gather as the one body of Christ.
As we go out into our weekly world we will be tempted and challenged by the world who will want us to place different priorities in our lives.
But when that happens we set ourselves up for disappointment because we will never reach a point where we are satisfied or something will come along to undo the blessings we have received for all we’ve done.
God’s blessings are different.
Because they are reserved for our eternal life, as Jesus promises: you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Don’t short change yourself.
God has abundant treasures laid up for you as Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel - “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
So let us seek first the kingdom of God and all his treasures will be added unto us.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Sermon 25th August 2019 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Luke 13:10-17 – 6570 days of suffering

Sermon 25th August 2019 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 13:10-17 – 6570 days of suffering

6570 days.
That’s how many days the woman in our Gospel reading had been afflicted by her condition.
For 6570 days this woman could not stand up straight but was stooped over.
6570 days of suffering with no indication life would ever be different for her.
Would it have made any difference to the woman if it had been 6571 days?
Most likely not after all those years of suffering – one day more.
So what we find here in our Gospel reading is not so much a woman in need of physical healing but a synagogue ruler and group of on lookers who were in need of spiritual healing and an understanding of God’s compassion for the suffering.
If Jesus had waited one more day then the woman would still have received her healing but the Synagogue ruler would not have had his hardness of heart revealed.
Why was that more important for Jesus than this woman who had for 18 years, 6570 days, had been oppressed by Satan in her affliction?
It’s because Jesus is not so much concerned about our earthly condition but our eternal condition.
Jesus came to this world to bring eternal life.
The woman’s physical condition would not have exempted her from eternal life in heaven.
In fact, as St Paul says in 1 Corinthians, her perishable body would have been raised as an imperishable body with no more suffering or pain.
But what Jesus is worried about is how the Synagogue ruler’s hardened and uncaring heart might affect his relationship with God and his eternal salvation.
So to bring his hardness of heart to the surface Jesus seemingly breaks the Sabbath commandment.
Seemingly, but as we will discover when Jesus challenges the Commandment’s strict following by the letter of the law he will reveal the spiritual purpose of the commandment – in other words – the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.
Through his healing of this woman Jesus is able to point out the hypocrisy in the way that they are prepared to interpret the commandment in their own way when it is in their best interests:
The Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?
We are all pretty good at keeping our hardness of hearts in check so others don’t see it.
But there will be something that highlights a hardness and brings it into the open – a prejudice, a bias, a secret thought or desire.
These can sometimes become times of testing that God will use in order to bring to light to ourselves areas in our lives that need addressing.
And that can be a difficult and painful and challenging testing.
It might be our thoughts on things happening in the media where we might surprise ourselves to know how we really think about people.
We claim to love God and our neighbour – but reckon those dole bludgers should have their welfare cut and go and get a job like the rest of us.
Or why are we spending my taxes on a safe injecting room instead of building the East West Link so I don’t get caught up in traffic.
Or why do we allow people from other countries to keep coming here and buying our houses, our baby formula, taking our jobs. This is MY country.
Or why was that person let out on bail – or on parole – lock ‘em up and throw away the keys.
It is very easy for our hardened hearts to be revealed when we are confronted by a situation that we are struggling to accept.
And sometimes in the church God might challenge us with a situation that requires us to distinguish between applying a Gospel or Pastoral approach to situation in the midst of a literal application of the law.
One example that has confronted our church in recent times has been the new Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation.
God’s law is abundantly clear – You shall not kill.
That includes our own life including Euthanasia or Voluntary Assisted Dying.
How do you weigh up compassion for the one suffering while upholding the 5th commandment – just as Jesus was confronted with regarding compassion for the bent over woman and the 3rd commandment?
The synagogue ruler was not wrong in his application of the Sabbath Law – but he was wrong in his understanding of compassion.
This is not permission to ignore the commandments.
No, Jesus said - "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; (make not of that reference to Law and Prophets) I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.
And he fulfils them by summing up the law by saying to love the Lord your God with all your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself - All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
See the connection between these 2 statements with “the Law and the Prophets” – fulfilling the law through love.
This was the greater healing that Jesus saw being needed in the synagogue ruler.
And while he maintained that the Sabbath Law was still God’s commandment he saw that the Commandment to love his neighbour interpreted that commandment in a new light.
And that’s why he says on another occasion – the Sabbath was made for man – not man for the Sabbath.
The hardness of heart of the Synagogue ruler was further revealed when he criticised the woman for being healed -  "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."
The woman didn’t come to be healed – Jesus called her over to be healed.
How often don’t we do that – blame the person for the predicament they are in rather than having compassion for the predicament they are in.
We live in a fallen world and as a result people are going to succumb to unenviable situations.
We make wrong decisions.
We all do!
Blaming them does not help them – even if they are responsible for their predicament:
Remember Jesus’ parable when he says: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
He didn’t say – I was hungry and you told me to go and get a job and pay for some food.
He didn’t say – I was in prison and you judged me for breaking the law – do the crime, do the time.
This is not ignoring the commandments but showing compassion to a person being oppressed.
The law and Satan will crush a person’s soul through sin.
Jesus was exemplary in showing compassion while upholding the law at the same time.
When the woman was caught in adultery he didn’t excuse her or deny the law of Moses that demanded her death but protected her from those who wanted to crush her further.
He told them – you without sin can cast the first stone while to the woman he said he did not condemn her but told her to go and sin no more.
Hardness of heart is very damaging to faith.
To the faith of those we are judging.
But it is also damaging to our own faith as we may also be suppressing our own freedom from God’s mercy for our sin.
As Jesus said – by the same level you judge others so too you will be judged.
Jesus was trying to free the Synagogue ruler by revealing his hardened heart.
God also wants us to look at our hearts so he can also remove anything that prevents us from experiencing the freeing mercy that comes when we show that same mercy to others.
Jesus repeatedly challenged rules and customs that lacked compassion and justice, and this story embodies his attitude towards injustice.
Jesus came to  free 2 people today.
The woman from her physical burden that kept her bent over and hopefully the synagogue ruler whose spiritual burden kept him bent over and unable to show compassion.
God’s mercy frees each of us from the burden of the law as he does not remove the law from our lives but its bondage that enables us to live lives that receive God’s mercy and compassion and can thereby show that same mercy and compassion to others.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Sermon 11th August 2019 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 – Faith in the unseen

Sermon 11th August 2019 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 – Faith in the unseen

The book of Hebrews is an interesting book in the New Testament.
It is masterly written but we don’t know who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews.
Initial thoughts were that it might have been Paul but scholars believe this was so it would get into the New Testament.
It seems to be written to people who are giving up their faith because of persecution - who are leaving the church, who are leaving the Christian faith.
In Chapter 10 it specifically pleads with the readers:  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.
That’s what Jesus is also concerned about in our Gospel reading with the Day of the Lord coming nearer – when he says:
"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
The book of Hebrews is written to people who have endured suffering and  now, these people are growing weary in their faith.
They look at what’s in front of them, and they don’t like it.
So the message is: Don’t give up.
Have faith.
Trust that Jesus Christ is the one in whom we can hope.
Jesus Christ is the one in whom we can trust.
Jesus Christ is the one in whom we can place our faith because Jesus holds the future.
Have faith in Jesus because Jesus is the future and the faithful one.
So in our bible reading it’s not surprising that it contains the word “faith” 7 times.
The Book of Hebrews is very concerned about Christians losing their faith as they look around them and see people losing their faith because of what’s happening.
And so the take from this is that what we are experiencing in the 21st century is not a lot different – in fact no different – than the very first century.
So our reading encourages us to not be so concerned about what we see but about what we believe.
Not about what we see or hear from the voices in the media and in the public about the Christian faith but about what God says:
And that’s what we call “faith”.
And so it says: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
We can’t see things we put our faith in.
But we can see all the turmoil and troubled times in the world around us.
God has enshrined our hope in physical things – the water of our baptism, the bread and wine of Holy Communion – his word made flesh.
But only by faith can we actually understand and experience them.
Without faith they only seem to be what we can visually see –water, bread, wine, a book.
But with the eyes faith they are for us the power of God.
Just as St Paul says about the Cross of Christ.
To the eyes without faith it was a humiliating death – total defeat.
But as he says in 1st Corinthians: the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
We visually see the same thing as everyone else.
But with the eyes of faith we can see God at work.
The book of Hebrews was written into times just like these.
Times of persecution.
Times of drifting away from the Christian faith.
It reminds us to not give up the faith because we are giving up so much if we do with the Day of the Lord’s Judgement coming.
The journey of faith is not always easy and the writer uses several Old Testament heroes of the faith to encourage us – like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah – who all faced difficulties of varying types.
But he speaks about Abraham’s faith – often referred to as the Father of Faith.
The writer says: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance;
Abraham was asked by God to trust him when he was asked to leave all his security behind – his family, his friends, his livelihood – and to go to the Promised Land without knowing where is was or what it might provide.
Sometimes the future is not known for us and the church and we are asked to trust God.
Abraham faced enemies and hostile lands, just like we do – but he kept his faith in God just as you are asked to do.
We too are on a journey to our Promised Land and along the way we go through hostile territory.
Sometimes we don’t know what is around the corner.
But, like Abraham, we are asked to have faith in God.
We are on our journey to our Promised Land in the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus says:
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
It is when we let our fears take hold of us that we put less faith in Jesus and more faith in ourselves – and that has no assurance.
Assurance, as the writer says faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
We cannot see the future, but God in Jesus has made a future that awaits us.
We cannot see the future, but in Jesus, God shows us a future which Jesus has prepared already.
The church is not perfect.
It lets people down at times because it exists in human time.
That is what if often called the church militant – the church that is fighting the good fight.
But there is also what is called the church triumphant.
The church that has already won the victory through Christ’s death and resurrection.
The church that Jesus has built on the rock of faith and not even the gates of Hades can overcome it.
The church is where we see faith being formed and strengthened through Word and Sacrament.
Faith that trusts the promises of God and the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
Faith that stands on the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.
This is faith that endures and carries people through incredible physical suffering and pain.
This is faith that asks for forgiveness, faith that forgives, faith that reconciles, faith that changes lives.
A faith by which God leads to hope and joy and strength and peace and a future we cannot yet see, but of which we can be assured and confident.
As St Paul says to the Colossians – our lives are hidden now with Christ in heaven.
And when Christ returns and his glory is revealed so too our lives will be revealed.
It is a glory that is not yet seen but one that is there and experienced through faith.
Being a Christian – worshipping our Lord – receiving the Sacraments – are all about preparing us and keeping us ready for our Lord’s return.
They are there to keep us strong in our faith so we will not fear that Day of Judgment whenever it comes – so we can be confident of our eternal life and receive the Kingdom prepared for us with pleasure.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Sermon 4th August 2019 – 8th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Luke 12:13-21 – Using our abundance

Sermon 4th August 2019 – 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 12:13-21 – Using our abundance

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce stirred up the media this week when he said that he was struggling financially to support his families even though he earns well over $200,000 per year.
You can imagine there was not much support or sympathy for him.
In explaining himself he said that what he was trying to say was that if he is struggling on that sort of income he can’t imagine how families on Centrelink do it.
Subsequently he called for a rise in Centrelink benefits.
There is nothing that becomes more divisive when it’s an issue involving money.
Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables told by Jesus were concerned with how to handle money and possessions.
In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money.
In fact one commentator said that Jesus spoke more about money than he did about love.
And in one passage in the New Testament we have a combination of both – the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
Note however that this is often misquoted as money is the root of all evil.
As a result, financial success and owning of possessions has often made Christians uncomfortable feeling a sense of guilt.
Likewise the parable that Jesus spoke is also often misunderstood and misused.
I’ve heard it explained that the rich man was being punished by God because of his greed.
But it doesn’t say that.
Nor does it say that he is wrong for having such great wealth.
And there are 2 statements that that confirm this and become the teaching of this parable;
Firstly Jesus’ reason for calling him a fool.
His exact words: `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'
It’s very similar to the book in the Old Testament called Ecclesiastes that says:

I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.
So Jesus criticism was because he had built up all this wealth and did nothing with it.
He stored it up in bigger barns and then his life ended and it went to someone else.
Remember that the original context for the question was about inheritance.
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me."
And who knows what that person inheriting the property will do with their inheritance
Who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish?
Remember what the Prodigal Son did with his inheritance?
Money and possessions are not evil in and of themselves – they are part of the way that God blesses us so we can live our daily lives.
It is part of our daily bread than enables us to buy the things we need in life.
But God often blesses us with more than we need and he does so for us to help and support others who don’t have enough.
We could ask why doesn’t God just give it directly to them.
That’s part of the mystery of our fallen world where God has provided ample but we see the Western world in health crisis through obesity and the 3rd world in health crisis through starvation and malnutrition.
But it is also how we learn about generosity.
If everyone had all that they needed we would never experience the joy of giving to others.
God gives us abundance to use to help others.
Remember the parable Jesus taught about the 3 workers and their talents.
One had 5 and earned 5 more.
One he gave 2 and he earned 2 more.
But to the other he gave 1 talent and he buried it in the ground to keep it safe so he could give it back to his master intact and unused.
God wants us to use what he has given to us to help and support others.
Even when you use it to go and buy yourself a cup of coffee you’re helping the store owner to earn his income.
The rich man was foolish because he simply built bigger barns instead of using his riches he had stored up his wealth and didn’t get to use it in his lifetime.
The 2nd teaching that comes from this text is its very last verse:
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
Again, this is not critical of those who have an abundance but of those who through their abundance have forgotten about their need for God in their life.
Again look at where the problem was.
It wasn’t that he had stored up treasures for himself but in his richness he was not rich towards God.
Fundamentally this is restating the first and greatest commandment.
Loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbour as ourselves.
And so we see our resources as means to love and care for our neighbour in need as we would for ourselves.
The issue here was removing God and neighbour from his life.
Listen again to his self-motivated actions:
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.
If God has richly blessed you – thank him.
If God has given you abundantly – ask him for guidance and how to use it.
God has given to us possessions to use for the good of all, including God, including our neighbour, including ourselves.
Remember when Mary used the expensive perfume to anoint Jesus?
Judas wanted it sold and used to help the poor.
But Jesus said no.
This perfume had been set aside for his own use.
We shouldn’t feel guilty about the blessings God gives to us.
What we need to be careful of is that they don’t become the focus of our security and selfish pleasure as they did for the rich fool in our parable.
It was not the riches that were the issue but his heart.
His riches became the focus of his devotion and he himself became the source of his thanks and gratitude:
And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.
We can easily demonise the blessings which God has abundantly blessed us with but like everything – it is about our heart and where it is focused.
It is about where your security is as Luther says in his Large Catechism when explaining the First Commandment:
Anything you set your heart on and rely on is really your god.
As St Paul says – the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil – not money.
The love of anything over God is root of all kinds of evil.
But the love of God and neighbour means that the blessings we receive – the abundance of property and possessions we receive – we use to help our neighbour in need.
As Jesus once said – I was hungry and you gave me something to eat – I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink – I was naked and you clothed me.
So the poor rely on the generosity of those who have plenty and that’s where the rich fool went wrong.
He used his abundance to secure his own future instead of following the example and love of God who gave up all he had to ensure our eternal future.
And his Son Jesus Christ our Lord who emptied himself for us and humbled himself to provide us with all spiritual blessings and to give us life and life abundantly.