Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Sermon 26th September 2019 – 16th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Luke 16:19-31 – reversal of fortunes

Sermon 26th September 2019 – 16th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 16:19-31 – reversal of fortunes

Earlier this year I was sitting in Swan Street Richmond waiting for a friend on our way to watch the football.
While I was waiting a young man came up to me with a collection tin and asked if I would like to donate some money.
There was no organisation on the tin – he had no identification on him – and I literally had no cash on me – I rarely do these days with tap and go on my credit cards.
So I apologised and said I was sorry but I didn’t have any cash on me – just a credit card.
With that he pulls out of his pocket an EFTPOS machine and said he would take credit.
That really caught me off guard and I was not about to trust an unknown person in the streets of Richmond with my credit card details.
But as he left I wondered about today’s Gospel reading.
Was I ignoring the plight of the poor?
Was I in danger of the end time separation of sheep and goats where Jesus condemns those who neglected “I was hungry and you did not give me something to eat” – for as much as you did not do it for one of the least of these you did not do it unto me.
Maybe I did – and so the first thing I did was not justify why I didn’t give him my credit card was to confess to God and seek his forgiveness.
We are all put into situations sometimes where an on the spot decision is needed and sometimes we choose wrongly – not because of evil intentions.
The correct response to that is not to dig up reasons as to why or why not – but to admit your short falling and seek God’s mercy.
That’s not what is happening in our Gospel reading.
What’s happening in our Gospel reading is a total disregard for the needy right at his doorstep where he had ample opportunity to support someone that God had placed right before him every day.
The rich unnamed man was not judged because he was rich – it doesn’t say that.
He was judged in that the extra that he had was used to make his life even more comfortable while a person in need sleeping at his doorstep was totally ignored.
The parable does not say that the rich man was evil, or that he obtained his wealth by dishonest means.
He simply ignored the desperate man at his doorstep.
How many times did he come and go from his house and all the while ignore the miserable condition of Lazarus at his doorstep?
And that was what caused his final torment that put him on the other side of the great chasm separating him from Abraham and Lazarus.
We don’t know much about Lazarus either:
How did Lazarus get so poor?
Was he a leper – hence the sores on his body?
Was he born blind,
We don’t know – but the story doesn’t say that Lazarus was a particularly good, “saintly,” person who earned his place by Abraham’s side because he was a good person.
We cannot read that into the story, that his goodness earned him his reward.
Because the parable does not say that Lazarus was good or evil;
I’m not sure this parable is about good and evil and punishment but about God being the one who sets things right at the end.
It’s very much like the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel.
Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth – it’s a reversal of fortunes
Lazarus is just the poor man at the door, passed by and unnoticed  --one of the invisible poor to the rich man, who had more pressing matters to tend to in his life.
In today’s context, Lazarus is part of the daily scenery we get used to seeing and soon don’t notice anymore -- like the people sleeping on the streets – we don’t hear about them on the news anymore – have they all found homes or is it just old news.
It’s much easier to sign online petitions about or click like or share a post about on social media as we wish them well.
As James says: Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
So in our story there is a message to wake up from our complacency.
A message of hope for those who suffer and a message of warning for those who ignore thesuffering of others.
The story shows Lazarus and the rich man in the next life.
Lazarus is now in the comfort and security of the “bosom of Abraham”.
 The rich man is in torment – a reversal of fortunes.
Jesus reminds us in the story that God notices the unnoticed;
He holds the unimportant as important;
He will comfort those the world ignores in their misery.
God knows the name of the poor and cherishes them (notice that the poor man has a name, Lazarus, and the rich man doesn’t).
Angels carried Lazarus away to the bosom of Abraham while he was someone who was counted as nothing in the eyes of the world.
The rich man also died and was buried.
That’s all it says about his death – there is no glory in it.
The parable serves as a wake up call.
The poor are right at our doorstep.
We don’t have to look far to see and respond to those in need, who require our time and attention.
But sometimes it’s not our eyes that are the issue but our hearts.
It is easy to become like the rich man and be blinded to the need as we complain about their disruption to our lives.
While national borders must be respected, so must the needs of those in desperate conditions that are at our doorstep seeking refuge
While the homeless disrupt our passage to work or our trip to the shops our complaints don’t provide them with food or shelter.
The rich man wasn’t evil and that comes through when he becomes concerned about the future of his brothers and doesn’t want them to experience the same torment.
He would rather spend his time in torment alone than have his family there also in torment so his heart is not inherently evil and selfish.
So this story is not a call to repentance so much but a call to wake up from complacency where it is easy to become complacent and ignore the needs of those around us as we get caught up in our own worlds.
We are called to be like God who makes the sun shine on the good and the bad, who sends the rain on the just and unjust.
It is that kind of unconditional love that we are often not able to grasp.
When Jesus went about his ministry he reached out to all.
He went in to eat in the houses of tax collectors and sinners and he went in to eat in the houses of the prominent religious leaders, prepared to share God’s love with them all.
The only words of rebuke we ever hear from the lips of Jesus are directed against those who tried to shut others out from the grace and love of God.
Who do we see and who don’t we see as children of God?
Who do we have compassion for and who are we willing to believe that they are just getting what they deserve when they have bad things happen to them?
The question I always ask myself when reading a parable by Jesus is – where am I in this parable?
Am I the rich man who is ignoring the plight of the poor at my doorstep – thereby challenging me to look around and make sure I’m not focusing on me only.
Or am I Lazarus and God is wanting to comfort me to not worry about the future and that if I don’t always receive what others do that God is going to restore me at the final judgement as Jesus taught in the beatitudes.
The reality it is that it is both of these.
Lazarus is at the front door and we can help him.
Or maybe you are at the front door and despite the world passing you by God will not.
It is a frightening parable in that the afterlife is different to the current life.
In the current life the rich man could have chosen better to ease the suffering of Lazarus.
In the afterlife Lazarus is unable to ease the suffering of the rich man.
This is a call to look around us NOW.
And on top of that the rich man is unable to warn his family of their impending situation if they don’t’ change their ways.
We are so thankful to God that Jesus has forgiven us for those times we could have done better in helping the poor.
But that is not an excuse to ignore the poor as Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself.
And that’s what the rich man did not do.
He feasted to satisfy his hunger while he did not provide at all for his neighbour starving at his doorstep.
And that’s not how we show our love to God, let alone our neighbour – for as much as you did not do it to the least of these you did not do it unto God.
So let us pray that God will open our hearts and our eyes to see Lazarus at our doorstep and provide the love and care that God has shown to us.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Sermon 22nd September 2019 – 15th Sunday after Pentecost Text: 1 Timothy 2:1-7 – One mediator

Sermon 22nd September 2019 – 15th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: 1 Timothy 2:1-7 – One mediator

I listened to an interview with Australian swimmer Susie O’Niell.
She was affectionately known as Madam Butterfly as she dominated the pool with her butterfly swim style.
Leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics she was the champion of the 200m butterfly.
She held the world record and was about to swim in front of her home crowd.
She felt couldn’t lose – but she came in second.
In the interview she re-watched that race.
She entered the 200m butterfly final as the defending Olympic champion who hadn’t been beaten for six years.
She broke the event’s 19-year-old world record during the selection trials.
If you were a gambler you would have put everything on O’Neill walking away with her second gold medal of the games.
She qualified fastest for the final.
But to everyone’s surprise she came in 2nd.
As she watched the replay during her interview she broke down and saw herself as a failure.
2nd fastest in the world but she didn’t see it that way as there was only first place that was considered as successful.
My heart went out to her because she is not a failure.
No one is a failure.
Just because we sometimes don’t achieve what we hope to achieve doesn’t mean we’re failures.
And, to me, that’s the wonderful thing about having faith in God.
That no matter what happens in life that we have a God who loves us and has prepared a home in heaven for us which is our goal in life.
A goal which has been achieved for us by Jesus.
Sadly we have placed grand expectations on ourselves to achieve in this lifetime.
And sadly those expectations are not always met.
How comforting to know that when our expectations are not met that God never sees us as a failure.
We might see ourselves as failures at times.
The world might judge us as failures at times.
But God does not.
St Paul says today – God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
The truth that God loves the world so much and for all people to be saved through Jesus Christ.
God’s desire is to have everyone live with him in heaven and that makes us all winners in the eyes of God.
We live in a world where we feel we need to measure up.
But not before God, as Jesus Christ has measured up for us.
We don’t have to achieve anything.
We don’t have to come first – or make the top 10.
No, Jesus has run the race and won the crown of glory for us.
And that’s why Paul says - there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.
Only Jesus has won the victory that assures us of eternal life.
Sometimes the Christian faith can seem exclusive because we claim that Jesus is the only way to assure our salvation.
But it is in fact the very opposite of that because it claims that all people are loved by God and that God’s desire all people to be saved.
That is at the very heart of our belief – that God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that WHOEVER believes in him has eternal life.
Yes it sounds exclusive at times when he hear teachings like this one that says there is only one mediator between God and humankind.
Or when the book of Acts says - There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
Or in fact by Jesus himself who says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
But what some might say is exclusive is actually inclusive because all people are given access through Jesus Christ and guaranteed the path to eternal life.
Whoever calls on the name of the Lord WILL be saved.
There is so much assurance because there is no confusion as to the path to salvation.
It is not by good works – otherwise how would we ever know whether we’ve done enough.
I’m sure that if I had to rely on my good works for eternal life I would completely fail.
It’s not by other religions – how could we ever be sure if we’ve chosen the right one.
But, as Paul says – Jesus has paid the ransom to obtain us freedom.
Even as a Christian I sometimes feel as if I’ve failed but then I’m reminded through my Baptism that Jesus has paid for my failure by his own life.
To many people his death seemed failure but we know that his death ended in his resurrection.
And so we see that success to God is not measured in human terms.
And so we need to be careful we don’t measure the church by worldly success models.
To many the church looks like it is failing because it is being measured by earthly standards.
The amount of programs being run.
Its acceptance of various ethical issues being pushed by society so it doesn’t seem out of step with modern society.
But none of that matters to God because there is only one mediator between us and God – Jesus Christ.
The wonderful thing about this type of understanding of our salvation is that it frees us completely to not worry about what happens in life.
Whether we succeed or fail in the eyes and standards of the world we know differently.
We know that our life has been written for us and that we live each day knowing a different future to those who have written and rely on their own future.
And what that does it that it allows us to live life for others.
And that’s why Paul urges that  prayers and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
So when I see people who are struggling in life I pray for them.
And by doing that we remember that God is at work in all things.
That God is actually in charge and in control of what happens in all of life because God is working hard to achieve his desire to have all people saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.,
When we see life from that perspective – that it is God who takes charge of the future then does it matter if we are a small struggling church or a booming mega church?
Doing the work that God has asked us to do – whether it’s 2 or 3 or 2 or 3 thousand – when we believe it is God and not us who are in control then we see life from a different perspective.
Maybe that sounds unrealistic, especially when the church feels so much smaller, so much more powerless today.
Regardless of how unrealistic it might seem Christians are vital for today’s society for our prayers.
Not just the rulers deserve our prayers, but everyone does.
Why are our prayers vital?
Because God desires that every single person will be saved and so we pray for them.
No one is worthless, no one is a failure, no one is beyond God's love or the reach of God's mercy.
It isn't my God against your God, but our one God who loves everyone.
Paul didn’t think or worry about the mammoth task before him including opposition that the people he was witnessing to were not worth it.
Paul himself had to make the case over and over that his mission to the Gentiles was legitimate and ordained by God, in spite of opposition and condemnation by those who felt God was just for the people of Israel.
The hope of God that all will be saved is supported with the hope that all will "come to the knowledge of the truth," that is, the truth of the gospel. – that there is only one mediator between us and God – Jesus Christ.
And our challenge is that there is growing resistance against Christianity not only by unbelievers but by so many people today who say they are "spiritual, but not religious” and thereby reject Jesus as the only way to salvation.
And so they are seeking a path to God and to salvation without Jesus.
But, as Paul said, there is only one mediator between God and humanity – Jesus Christ.

The letter by Paul provides an important reminder that there is one God and that God loves every single person and doesn't want to lose a single one as we heard in last week's reading about lost coins and sheep and, in every case, pray always for people to come to know Jesus as their Saviour, who is looking for them.
So we are to pray not just for ourselves and our own families and friends but for all of God's creation to come to a knowledge of the truth.
And Jesus is the way, the truth and life and we come to the father through him.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Sermon 15th September 2019 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Luke 15:1-10 – Lost and found

Sermon 15th September 2019 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 15:1-10 – Lost and found

I read an interesting article a while ago about parents who forget their child in the back seat of their car and go off shopping or come home and forget their child is still in the car.
As we know that can have tragic consequences particularly in summer.
I was staggered when it was suggested in the article that you should put something valuable in the back seat, like your mobile phone, so you when you remember that you haven’t got your mobile phone that you then see that your child is in the back seat.
I don’t know about you but I found that to be an extraordinary situation that one can forget a child in the back seat but a mobile phone would be missed almost immediately.
No one in their right mind would ever suggest that a mobile phone is more valuable than a human life but it’s funny how sometimes we can become complacent to the ones we love most.
And sometimes we can treat people as objects and objects as the most important part of our life.
You hear so often of children playing in the park while parents have their eyes buried in their phones.
Or families that disintegrate as careers take parents away from their families.
It is very easy for the things that are most valuable in our life to be overlooked or taken for granted even though they are still valuable.
So the article wasn’t suggesting that a mobile phone was more valuable than a child but that sometimes the things in our life that are of value are taken for granted.
And we only realise their value to us once they are gone.
You know how it goes – you get home and throw you keys the first place you find and then in the morning you’re searching everywhere for them.
And once they’re found you are so thankful and you vow in future you going to put them in a specific place – one specific place – so you never lose them again.
How long does that last?
The bible readings today point out how valuable the lost are to God and that he will do anything to find the lost and rejoice even more about finding someone that is lost over someone that has always been there.
The lost are so important to God that he will search for one lost sheep while he still has 99 sheep that have never strayed.
Significantly what our bible reading shows is that no one is ever too lost for God despite what we might think.
We should never give up on God searching and finding people who have strayed from God – including ourselves.
And there are 2 examples that show the heart and nature of God.
In our Gospel reading we see Jesus associating with the ones least expected.
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
So often we picture Jesus or God as judgmental and distancing himself from people who are far from perfect.
Maybe you’ve experienced that sort of understanding before.
But here we see Jesus, not distancing himself from the sinful but drawing near to them.
Not only does he welcome the sinful but he eats with them.
And then in our 2nd reading, Paul stands as far away from God that anyone could possibly have done so - a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence towards Christians.
We see in Paul a person who hated Jesus, hated Christians, and set out to destroy church and arrest Christians.
What we see in these accounts is that God is more concerned about finding those who are lost than making sure that all the rules are kept.
Sadly we often get what is important around the wrong way – like the parent and their child and mobile phone.
There are lessons for all of us - God’s unstoppable love and compassion for all people.
And we see that God goes to any length to find those who have left him or have not yet come to know him.
And note the great risk the shepherd takes in leaving the 99 sheep while he goes looking for the one who is lost.
And even though it was that one sheep who was disobedient while the other 99 obeyed all the rules, he still throws a party for everyone, which will probably cost him more than the value of the one sheep he has spent all his energy to find!
I heard an interesting statistic recently that if billionaire Bill Gates were to drop a $100 bill on the ground it would not be worth his time stopping to pick it up.
And yet this shepherd stops, puts 99 sheep at risk – takes time out of his busy day – throws and expensive party – and all because of one lost sheep.
In human terms that sheep wasn’t worth going after – but not for God.
We were not worth God sacrificing his son for us and yet God loved the world so much that he sent his son to die for us – while we were yet sinners.
In a similar way, the woman who lost one coin sets aside her daily household chores.
She disrupts the world of her home just to find the one coin that may not in itself cover the cost for the party she throws to rejoice!
What these do is to challenge the value system of human beings.
That we don’t value people on what they contribute or don’t contribute.
That we don’t value people on the types of lives that they live.
But that we value all people as loved by God.
Sadly we live in a world where devaluing others has become commonplace.
We are challenged to remember that we are all lost.
But God is compassionate, pursuing us even when we are at our worst.
And so as we look around us and see people who are drifting away from God we are to see them as people to whom Christ is going towards – like the lost sheep.
People whom Jesus is looking for – like the lost coin.
People for whom Jesus came, like the sinners with whom Jesus met and ate.
When we see people who reject God – who despise God and everything he stands for – people who despise the Church and Christians – then we are to see them like Paul whom God snatched from disbelief and placed him as his most important Apostle.
Even Paul couldn’t understand that – calling himself the worst of sinners and one abnormally born when it came to be called a child of God.
It is easy to label people as atheists, God-haters – heretics – apostates – and so many other terms – but God only has one term for all people – people for whom Jesus died.
And that includes not only the tax collectors and sinners but also scribes and Pharisees who didn’t realise they were lost as well.
The tax collectors and sinners were lost physically because they didn’t know about God and his love for them.
But the Scribes and Pharisees were lost spiritually because although they knew about God’s love for themselves, they were unaware of God’s love for the tax collectors and sinners.
So we are challenged to not only to seek the lost whom God is looking for but also to look at ourselves and constantly find ourselves as we too have drifted away too easily from God’s compassion for ourselves and others.
But we are so fortunate that we cannot ever drift away so far from God that he cannot find us.
And that goes for all people.
We should never think of anyone too lost but as people for whom the Good Shepherd is always seeking.
For none were more removed than Paul and yet he too discovered Christ Jesus who came into the world to save sinners-- of whom he considered himself the worst.
But he received mercy and the utmost patience, and we too are asked to show the same mercy and patience with all people so that all would come to believe in him for eternal life.
To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Sermon 8th September 2019 – 13th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Jeremiah 18:1-11 – Moulded by God

Sermon 8th September 2019 – 13th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Jeremiah 18:1-11 – Moulded by God.

With Father’s Day last week no doubt many fathers received home-made gifts from their children.
Whether it was macaroni glued to paper with some sparkles on it or maybe something a little bit more complex – no father goes through and analyses it to point out errors.
You didn’t spell Father correctly – your drawing of me has the wrong colour hair – the thing you built me is a little bit flimsy.
No, we love them because our children made them.
And they too are so proud of what they made and would be devastated if the following day or week they found that you had thrown their creation in the bin or shoved it into a draw.
“Didn’t you like what I made for you” would be evident on their sad little face.
If you saw the same thing at someone else’s place made by someone else’s child you’d probably laugh at it.
In our Old Testament reading we see a story of God the creator at work using the image of a potter moulding a piece of clay.
God sends Jeremiah to the potters house because he wants to teach him about his relationship with the people he has created – firstly the Nation of Israel – but also us.
Jeremiah went down to the potter's house, and there he saw the potter working at his wheel.
The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
What Jeremiah observed here was that the potter didn’t throw out the vessel or get angry and pound his fist into the clay and curse it when he notices something wrong with it.
No, he gently works with the clay and remoulds it.
What God is teaching Jeremiah here is a lesson on how God works with us.
None of us are perfect – we all have our flaws and faults.
Some of them have occurred through birth.
Some of them have occurred because of the way we have lived our lives.
Some of them have occurred as a natural part of our advancement in years.
I’m sure that there are very few who look in the mirror and say – wow – you’re perfect in every way.
We find our faults and sadly in today’s world we don’t know how to deal with our faults and flaws.
Even more sad is we don’t know how to deal lovingly with other people’s faults and flaws.
We judge ourselves and we judge others.
We discard ourselves and we discard others.
We try to find ways to hide our flaws and faults so others don’t see them.
And many times we do that by pointing out other people’s faults and flaws so they look at them rather than us.
Everything has to be perfect in today’s society.
We see the photo-shopped pictures of celebrities and believe that we too should have that image.
And if we don’t get enough “likes” on our photos on social media we get depressed.
If someone makes a comment we don’t like on one of our pictures we “unfriend” them.
We are living in a very superficial age where vanity has taken over people’s lives and they feel that they have nothing to live for once their looks fade.
But the beauty of life is that God never looks upon us like that.
And that’s because God is the potter who created us.
And when he looks at us he sees himself because we are created in the Image of God.
So to reject us or to criticise us he would be criticising and rejecting himself.
And God wants us to see ourselves in that way – as created in his image even though we aren’t perfect.
We have our faults and our flaws but we have been created by God.
We might not understand sometimes why God has created me in this way or allowed something to happen but we trust God that he loves us as our creator and doesn’t discard us because of our faults.
Sometimes life changes for us whether it’s through ageing, sickness or an accident and we start to question our value in life.
But God - as seen in the potter example - reshapes us for his good purpose.
It might not have been an intended situation as God never causes pain or suffering for anyone but he will continue to use us and mould us in his own special way.
And we might not even know how God is using us – and that’s what we call faith.
That’s what Jeremiah saw: he reworked the clay into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
God never discards anyone.
We might discard ourselves or others but God never will.
He treasures everyone.
He doesn’t see the faults or the flaws but loves what he has created.
And there’s the challenge for us too.
To see the faults and flaws and differences in others and ourselves as part of the creativity of God.
To understand that God is the creator.
And even if they might be things we disagree with the challenge is to still see and accept people as children of God.
That’s not to say God has specifically created a person with that fault or flaw but that he does not reject them but continues to love them and use them in ways we don’t always see or understand.
Some people may use that as an excuse for unacceptable behaviour – God made me this way – but that is for God to judge and deal with.
Jeremiah was sent by God to watch and observe the potter in action who never rejected his creation even with the faults in it but continued to work with it – reshaping it into a vessel he would continue to love and use for his good purposes.
He didn’t send Jeremiah to judge or criticise the work of the potter but to see the potter at work creating his masterpiece.
And so we are called to see ourselves and others as works of God as St Paul so beautifully puts it in Ephesians Chapter 2 -  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
So may you see yourself and others as God’s masterpieces and remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and God is the one who created us and beholds us dear to his heart.