Thursday, 28 November 2019

Sermon 1st Decenber 2019 – 1st Sunday in Advent Text: Romans 13:11-14 – It’s getting close now.

Sermon 1st Decenber 2019 – 1st Sunday in Advent
Text: Romans 13:11-14 – It’s getting close now.

Having turned 60 a few weeks ago I got asked quite regularly – “how do you feel”?
Do you feel older?
And I reply by saying – truth be told, I don’t feel any different today than I felt yesterday.
And when I think of it, yesterday I didn’t feel any different to the day before.
And the day before I didn’t feel any different to that day before that.
And it got me thinking – at what point do we feel that change?
The change is so gradual that you don’t really notice –but can I say, I feel no different to when I was 18?
And at what point will I realise that I’m older.
Sometimes that reality only arrives when you try to do something when you’re 60 that you did when you were 18 and realise – I’m not as young as I used to be.
And that’s how life can sometimes catch you unawares when you suddenly realise that life has changed.
As we begin our Advent season this is also the focus that comes through in our bible readings – particularly in the reading from Paul to the Romans and in Matthew’s Gospel.
St Paul says to the Romans: You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.
As Christians it’s interesting to sometimes reflect on the reality that we have one less day today than we did yesterday until we are in heaven.
In Genesis 6 it says that God has limited our lifetime to a maximum of 120 years.
That means for me, I am technically “over the hill”.
I have lived half my life and now the 2nd half begins.
Let’s put that in mathematical terms.
Let’s say God is very generous to me and I live to 100.
Roughly speaking that’s 36,500 days.
At 60 I now have 14600 days to go.
And each day it goes down by one – and everyone keeps telling me how quick the year goes – and each time we celebrate Christmas it’s another 365 days off the balance.
St Paul is wanting us to reflect on our lives.
As Christians we are comforted knowing that whatever day God calls us home that our eternal life is assured.
But what about those who have not yet heard the Good News?
That’s where our concern should be.
Do we have someone in our life that we want to – need to – share the Gospel with?
Then today is the day to do it.
I know it’s hard – I have family and friends and I keep hoping and praying that I will have an influence and I try to live my life like St Peter encourages:
But make sure that in your hearts you honour Christ as Lord. Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you about the hope you have. Be ready to give the reason for it. But do it gently and with respect.
I know it’s hard to start the conversation and sometimes we can actually harm a person’s coming to faith with the wrong words and the wrong time.
And that’s why Peter says – always be prepared.
Be prepared for when that opportunity arises.
So when Paul talks about the time being short he talks about living our lives that might give an example for a person to ask us about the faith we have.
He says: Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
One of the best ways that we can witness for Christ is to live as Christ in the world.
Living lives that are different.
Living lives that set an example to others.
Living lives that stand out to others so they one day ask us about the hope we have.
If we want people to ask about the hope that we have then we are called to example that hope in the way we live our lives before others.
Using words of hope that uphold the Christian faith.
But something we can do which is urged to do is to offer prayers.
Even praying with the person.
So often we hear even from secular sources during tragedies “our thoughts and prayers are with you”.
When a person is going through a traumatic time, to offer to pray will most likely be welcome.
And in that prayer we can witness to God’s love and care for that person with gentleness and respect with the words that we use as St Peter encourages us to do.
Just as we can be accused of being hypocrites when we live lives that don’t reflect God’s love we can actually witness to God’s love when we live lives worthy of our calling.
As Jesus said before his death – love one another as I have loved you and by this all will know that you are my disciples.
As someone once wrote – you may be the only bible a person ever gets to read.
You may be the only Jesus a person ever gets to meet.
There would not be a Christian that doesn’t have someone close to them that doesn’t yet know about God’s love for them so we are not alone in our struggles.
And there is probably very few people out there that do not have some contact with a Christian that can share the Good News with them.
The time is drawing near for Christ’s return – a day closer than it was yesterday so let us seek opportunity to share God’s love and the best way to do that is to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
To love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us.
I know it can be hard and as each day passes it gets even harder.
But I’m so thankful that we are actually working with God in this.
That it is God’s desire for all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
And while we do not know the time – the day nor the hour of Christ’s return what we do know is that each day it is delayed is another sign of God’s grace and his desire for people to be saved as we are told by St Peter:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
So keep being the bible in living out God’s Word – keep being Jesus by loving as he loves.
And always be prepared to share the hope you have so all may come to know the truth.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Sermon 24th November 2019 – Christ the King Text: Luke 23:33-43 – Fully human, fully divine, fully saved.

Sermon 24th November 2019 – Christ the King
Text: Luke 23:33-43 – Fully human, fully divine, fully saved.

The church’s teaching about Jesus is that he is fully human and fully God.
He is not half human and half God.
So, mathematically it doesn’t add up as he is 100% human and 100% God – at the same time.
Throughout his life in the bible we see examples of both his humanity and his divinity at work at the same time.
He is born as all humans are – by an earthly mother.
He is born however without a human father, as we confess, “he was conceived by the Holy Spirit”.
He undergoes Baptism as all humans are asked to do even though he is God and at the same time the voice from Heaven declares – this is my Son.
He undergoes circumcision as part of the law of Abraham.
He shows human emotions – he weeps when he sees his dear friend Lazarus dead in the grave even though he declares to be the resurrection and the life.
He performs miracles that only God could do – healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on water yet he also shows human needs of eating and drinking and sleeping.
Before his death in the Garden of Gethsemane he shows both human and divine qualities about his coming suffering and death.
He fears for what is coming and asks God to remove it from him.
But then his divine nature comes through when he says – “not my will but your will be done”.
In our Bible reading this morning we again see the working together of Jesus’ human nature and his divine nature.
Jesus is experiencing everything humans experience – in particular, suffering and death.
But where is the divine nature of God as we see him about to die?
Can God in fact die?
Jesus is mocked for not saving himself.
He is ridiculed for not coming down from the cross.
Where is his divine nature?
Now would have been the perfect time to do that miracle and have everyone believe!
It is in the final words he speaks to his Heavenly Father as he agonises in pain – he calls out “Forgive them Father.
Would they have been your words?
Accidently cut in front of someone while driving and you’ll see (and hear) the typical human response.
Forgive them Father.
Not, “avenge my death” – or “you are making a huge mistake”.
Forgive them Father – words that only one who truly loves God with his whole heart and who loves his neighbour would speak in such circumstances.
As Christians this is the example that Jesus has left for us.
On the night he was betrayed Jesus left his disciples with a new commandment – love one another as I have loved you.
And here is where we see the example of Jesus love – to forgive even the unforgiveable.
And Jesus’ suffering and death show us the type of opposition that we face as we journey through life confessing our faith in Jesus:
First there are his executioners – the ones who intended harm and inflicted it upon him.
We have them too in our lives who want to see a world without religion – particularly Christianity.
They reject the church and want to cause it harm.
They are the ones who oppose us at every turn.
They ridicule the church – they speak out against the church – they challenge the church by objecting to what we do:
They mock God.
The church shouldn’t be teaching religion in our State Schools.
The church schools shouldn’t be receiving funding from the Government.
The church should be paying its fair share of taxes.
It’s easy to retaliate – eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.
But Jesus says – forgive them Father.
Then there were the soldiers who cast lots for his clothing while he is hanging there in pain.
There were the ones who scoffed at him – the leaders who made fun of him.
He saved others – let him save himself.
If you are the King of the Jews save yourself.
And then there was the thief on the cross who was deriding him even while he was taking his last breath.
Even in his dying moments he could not find it in himself to believe in Jesus.
That is how strong our opposition is.
That a person would rather roll the dice and face the judgment of hell (if hell exists) rather than hedge their bets and find out if what Jesus says is true.
But then there is the glimmer of hope that our reading gives us – that not all is lost.
That not all abandon and reject Jesus.
There are 2 thieves that have been crucified alongside Jesus.
While one spurns rejection at Jesus the other doesn’t.
And not only does he uphold Jesus he also rejects the other thief and his attacks on Jesus.
So I believe that God is wanting to encourage us that while the guards, the people, the leaders and others heaps scorn and abuse on him.
And in the midst of that abuse and the suffering and pain Jesus not only asks God to forgive them but he assures the thief on the cross of the Good News – today you will be with me in paradise.
So this is our mandate too.
That in the midst of the rejection, the abuse, the suffering that the church is going through we are to put aside our earthly response and seek God’s strength to forgive and to pray for God’s salvation to all.
And we are not to give up.
Who would have thought that a thief in his dying moments would repent and seek out Jesus.
And notice that there is no penance.
He’s not told to go and make amends for what he has done.
He doesn’t even confess his sins or repent but simply asks Jesus to remember him and have mercy.
What a gracious act by Jesus while in the midst of suffering and rejection and abuse that he can still muster the strength to extend God’s love to one who was until a few seconds ago one who had rejected him.
And we also get this message from God through this that Jesus power and authority comes from the cross in the midst of his suffering, rejection and ultimate death.
And this too is where the church and Christians are given the power and authority to proclaim to the world God’s love and mercy.
We are called to put aside our human response to what is happening around us and to extend God’s love and mercy to the world.
It is so easy to respond with human emotions which Jesus did not do even though while undergoing his suffering and rejection as truly human, 100%
We too are called to love as Christ loves.
To have the same mindset as St Paul says in Philippians Chapter 2.
Who emptied himself and became obedient even unto death on the cross.
It is easy to respond in human ways – to fight fire with fire – but Jesus shows us a different way.
To forgive – to pray for forgiveness – and to extend God’s love and mercy unconditionally and without any Quid Pro Quo as he did to the thief on the cross.
Jesus said last week – the world will hate you because of me.
But he says – love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
He says forgive them – even if they sin against you 7 times in the same day.
This is how we will show that we are different.
This is how we will show God’s love.
A love that while we were still sinners against God that he sent his Son to us.
It is tempting to use worldly ways to fight against those who fight against us.
To defend ourselves.
But Jesus has already won the fight.
He has fought the good fight and won the victory for us.
Here, on this table, we will receive all that we need for the battle that rages around us.
The body and blood of Christ.
The same body and blood of Christ that cried out from the cross “forgive them Father”.
The forgiveness that we receive and are asked to extend to the world.
A forgiveness that also assures us that today, or whenever Christ calls us home, we will be with him in Paradise.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Sermon 17th November 2019 – 23rd Sunday After Pentecost Text: Luke 21:5-19 – Better than Fig Leaves

Sermon 17th November 2019 – 23rd Sunday After Pentecost
Text: Luke 21:5-19 – Better than Fig Leaves

It would be fair to say that most people believe that we live in uncertain times.
Whether it be through financial insecurity, unemployment, fears of a recession. Even the housing market which has always been a safe investment in bricks and mortar is quite unstable. And in these days it’s not just the financial aspects of the housing market that causes fear but the inferior quality that has seen cracks appearing in it.
Then there are the conflicts around the world, wars, drug cartels, terrorism.
And who can forget the fear caused by global warming in recent times that has seen school children miss school to rally for change – a fear that we have only 12 years left before our eco-system collapses.
We could go on and on and include the bushfires, droughts and other natural disasters.
The list of problems facing the world today is seemingly endless.
But we shouldn’t be misinformed - economic crises, wars and natural disasters have been a part of human existence from the beginning of time as a reminder of our fallen world because our eyes have been opened to know Good and Evil.
What we are going through in our present age is nothing new, no matter how much the media tells us that this is “unprecedented”.
Jesus himself told the disciples today:
When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful calamities and great signs from heaven.
Our world has been through far worse despite what we are told.
Just ask those who remember the Great Depression of the 1930s or the horrors of World War One and Two and the Holocaust – Black Saturday, Black Friday, Ash Wednesday.
Every age has faced tragic circumstances and despite our best efforts every age to come will also face them as this world is not paradise.
It is a broken and fallen world.
Some might ask where is God in all this.
He is where he has always been – at our side feeling every ounce of suffering.
As Jesus once said in a parable about hunger and thirst – as much as you didn’t not help those in need you did not help me.
Jesus feels the thirst and hunger.
It is human nature to believe that the pain and suffering that we are going through is far worse than what others have been through.
And it is also human nature that when struggles happen in life that we believe that we are the ones who alone can fix the problem.
And so it becomes tempting to be like the disciples and look for physical assurances during those times rather than spiritual.
To look to the work of our hands rather than God’s because then “I” am in control.
The disciples even pointed it out to Jesus in speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God as if that was what was important about their faith,
Sadly they were more focused on what was outside the temple rather than inside the temple.
So you can imagine the disciple’s dismay and confusion when Jesus said, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Isn’t that blasphemy – that Jesus says God’s temple will be destroyed?
The disciples were falling in to the same trap that Adam and Eve fell for back in the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden.
They were allowing their eyes to look for assurance rather than trusting in God.
Let’s go back to Genesis 3:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
The very first consequence of that sin was that they took control – they saw that they were naked so THEY sewed fig leaves to make coverings for themselves.
But look what happens at the end of that chapter - The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
How long will fig leaves last as clothes?
How long will bricks and mortar, money and possessions last as security?
So God made them a covering that would last.
And God has made you a garment that will last – your Baptism.
As we approach the end of the church year our bible readings are chosen to remind us that our world is also coming to an end.
Even if we could stop all the crime, wars, climate change or whatever else brings fear into our lives the reality is that this is NOT the world that God has planned for us.
God has planned a very different existence for us in his presence through heavenly Worship.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make this world a better place but it is about where we put our hope, trust and faith in this lifetime.
Like the disciples it is so easy to put our trust in things we have built up for ourselves – our possessions, our careers, our finances or whatever else that might be so we can be in control.
But as Jesus warns, these have no lasting security – just like the fig leaves Adam and Eve made for themselves.
It’s like the 2 men who built their homes.
Both homes were identical.
But one was built on sand – and the other on rock.
And when the storms came the house on sand collapsed while the house on rock continued to provide shelter.
Notice in that parable that the house provided comfort and security for both until the storm came.
Our jobs, our possessions our finances are gifts from God to help us enjoy life while on earth.
But they are NOT the foundation for our lives.
No, our foundation is Jesus Christ and his teachings as he instructed Peter:
On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.
There is no doubt that the church is going through difficult times.
The storms have well and truly hit us and according to Jesus we should not be surprised and we should in fact be preparing for much worse challenges.
Jesus says: they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.
He even says - You will be hated by all because of my name.
The temptation is to move away from Jesus and his foundation.
The temptation is that we have to become more like the world so that the world will like and accept us.
But there is real danger in that because we lose our foundation so we can take control of our lives.
And when we lose our foundation then nothing is secure.
It is human nature to want to feel secure about the future.
And the world uses methods to frighten you to future proof yourself.
To set up foundations to secure your future.
But there is no security against sickness no matter how well we look after ourselves.
There is no security against an economic collapse no matter how vigilant we’ve been setting up our financial portfolios.
There is no security against natural disasters – war – terrorism.
But there is security in our eternal life and that security is Jesus Christ.
Jesus has future proofed our eternal life through our Baptism - by paying for our sins and assuring us of forgiveness on Judgment Day – a day that has brought fear to so many people.
None of us know what tomorrow might bring but Jesus does promise that God is with us to the end of the age,
God is still in charge, and we can trust in God when we can no longer trust anything else.
When all else fails – when not one stone is left standing – when death and decay are all around us – we remember God’s promise – I am the same, yesterday and forever – I am the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end – and even though Heaven and earth will pass away, my words will never pass away.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Sermon 10th November – All Saints Day Text: Luke 20:27-38 – Life, but not as we know it.

Sermon 10th November – All Saints Day
Text: Luke 20:27-38 – Life, but not as we know it.

Today we acknowledge All Saints Day and a day of remembrance for those who have given of their lives to defend our nation.
It is a day when we give thanks to God for their lives but even more than that we give thanks for the hope of the resurrection which enables us to take comfort that death is not the end but a doorway of entry to eternal life.
While death ends life here on earth that life is continued in eternity in Heaven with God.
And it won’t be just a continuation of life here.
I mean who would want that?
Who would want to have to go through all the pressures of life again – working and all the struggles of life here?
I know I don’t.
And that’s what Jesus is trying to teach the Sadducees today.
They didn’t believe in an afterlife so they just presumed that those who did thought it would just be a continuation of life here on earth.
The Sadducees were one of the religious groups of the Jews who didn’t believe in the resurrection to eternal life.
So they asked a long, somewhat convoluted question about marriage in order to trip Jesus up about the resurrection.
They weren’t trying to find out about eternal life but just to prove Jesus wrong.
So they put up this seemingly crazy situation before Jesus about a woman married to 7 different brothers who had all died and had married her as part of the Old Testament law of succession, wondering whose wife she would be in the afterlife.
Jesus showed them that they were taking situations that belong to our human, finite life and trying to apply them to the afterlife, which is infinite and beyond our full comprehension.
The bible tells us in several places that while life continues after we die it is not the same as it is here.
For those who have suffered in this lifetime there is the hope that they won’t have to go through that again when St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
For those who have grieved in this lifetime for loved ones St John says in the Book of Revelation:
‘God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
For those who have found life a toil through back breaking work just to make ends meet, working from sun up to sun down, again the Book of Revelation says:
There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
For those who have experienced persecution or injustice that has never been made right the Book of Revelation says:
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. And … Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” a for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
The sea was symbolic of where evil spirits would find their home – hence Jesus walking on the water showing his authority over the evil spirits including the pigs who rush into the water once the demons entered into them.

Jesus explained to the Sadducees that the resurrected life in Heaven will not be the same as human life, so it is wrong to apply the same categories of marriage to it.
He says those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.
It is difficult when someone we love dies because while they are in that new existence of eternal life we are still here dealing with the earthly realities of life and death – grief, sorrow, loneliness.
And that’s really hard because even though we are comforted for them we still deal with the struggles of life while we wait for Jesus to bring us home.
But we need to remember that whilst our loved one is in the presence of God, so are we.
As Jesus said to them: Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."
Again, that is hard to fathom because just as the Sadducees were trying to apply earthly parameters in heaven, we are trying to understand heavenly parameters while we are still on earth.
But that’s exactly the reality we have as Christians when St Paul says to the Colossians:
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
All Saints Day often gets criticised by those who don’t understand it and believe that we are glorifying the dead.
That could not be further from the truth.
It is giving thanks to God for the life that he gave and  for the faith that he gives.
Also unfortunate is our hesitance as Lutherans to use the words saints because of the Reformation where Luther object to prayers to the saints.
But “saints” is a word used widely by St Paul in his letters when he wrote to the churches.
Saints were those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and he made no distinction to the living or the dead as those who had died in faith continued in the church through their heavenly worship with us.
That’s why in our creed we refer to the Communion of Saints as we gather with the angels and archangels and ALL the company of heaven when we worship and celebrate the sacrament.
So let us remember that God is a God of the living and that the living includes us and those who have gone ahead of us to their new life in the presence of God.
As the angels said to the women at the grave on Easter Sunday, we don’t look for the living among the dead –
We don’t understand death while we are in this life because we have no idea of the immensity of what is waiting for us.
In 2 Corinthians St Paul said he was taken up into heaven and given a glimpse of what was waiting for us and said he saw things that humans are not permitted to know.
He also said in Romans that he considers that our present sufferings here are not worth comparing to the glory that awaits us in heaven.
There is a total inability to understand the afterlife compared to our present life
So I’ll leave my final words to St Paul who said in our reading this morning:
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.