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.