Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Sermon 12th July 2020 – 6th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 - Sowing God’s seed of love

Sermon 12th July 2020 – 6th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 -  Sowing God’s seed of love

 

I’m not a gardener – I can barely gather the motivation to drag out the lawn mower and mow the grass.

I look with envy those who live in apartment blocks and don’t have to worry about how long the grass is growing or how many weeds there are. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about it as I know that in Genesis working in the Garden of Eden was a blessing that Adam enjoyed.  In fact the name Adam means from the ground or the earth. But I also understand that one of the first punishments of Adam’s sin affected his enjoyment of gardening: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” So I don’t feel so bad about my reluctance to do gardening.

 

But in today’s Gospel reading Jesus uses a gardening analogy; a well-known parable known as the parable of the sower which I would like to go through and comment on. Some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart I think we all know this situation.  Maybe you’ve tried to share the gospel with someone. Maybe you’ve invited them to come along to church or a church function. I remember some years ago when one of my congregations was used by the local council as a watering stop for a local bike ride they organised and some people refused to stop and go into the church. We shouldn’t be surprised or disheartened when this happens but recognise what Jesus says about this seed we attempt to sow: the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart. This is a spiritual battle going on. This is frontline work on the battlefield and before we attempt to do anything like this we need to spend time in prayer and seek the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit. So remember that when you’re trying to share the Gospel with someone and they are rejecting, even antagonistic – if that’s happening then your efforts are working.

 

Too often we think when someone rejects our invitations that we’ve failed – far from it. The more we work – the harder the devil works but God’s Holy Spirit will win so we are encouraged to persist in praying.

 

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.  This is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.

 

This is a sad situation. A person has heard the word – received the word – but then falls away when they are persecuted because of their acceptance of the word. This calls for us to take particular care of those who are new to the faith. We can’t just invite them – introduce them to the church – and then leave them and work on someone else. This puts a great responsibility on the church to follow up visitors and newcomers to our church. We don’t just put them into our database, put them in the directory and send out the bulletin and that’s our job done. No, this make take a lifetime of nurture and maybe they may be the only person that God puts before us. This is not about quantity – trying to get hundreds or thousands through the door. No, the bible says that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents than 99 who do not need to repent. And this cannot be just the role of the Pastor or the Pastoral Assistants. We all have the responsibility of looking out for those who are missing – and this time of isolation is a real danger period for us of people slipping through the cracks. It’s so easy for one week to turn into 2 weeks to a month to a year.

 

Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. This is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

 

This is also an all too common situation where priorities quickly take over. Sadly with 7 day work week – 24/7 society – sometimes church on Sundays become the easy part in our life to neglect. Not intentionally. This is not saying that church isn’t a priority but it is the easy one to manoeuvre around. Sundays have quickly become family days for so many organisations especially sport. But before we become critical of families – can you imagine what a child might think of church when a parent says to them – you can’t play footy this morning – we have to go to church. Or, you can’t go to your friend’s birthday party because you can’t miss Sunday School.

Children quickly begin to see church and related activities such as Sunday School as the enemy. How often don’t we hear young adults reject the church because it was shoved down our throats when we were growing up? I don’t know what the answer is other than this is a real challenge for the church to work with families. Being a Christian is not just about church attendance. It is first and foremost about creating a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

 

Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”  This is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 

There’s probably not a lot to analyse here. Sometimes we sow a seed of faith and it grows but what we can gather from Jesus final statement is that sometimes it produces a hundredfold – sometimes sixty and sometimes thirty. So he affirms – this is not about numbers but faith. As I said earlier, maybe there will only ever be one person that God places in your life to mentor and nurture in their faith. In fact sometimes we may only have laid the foundation that someone else builds upon.

Which is what St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3: By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.

 

The final thought which the Parable of the Sower leaves us is that we can sow the seed anywhere. The farmer in our parable intentionally threw the seed on the path. There was no hole in his seed bag but rather he intentionally threw the seed among the thorns and the shallow ground. Even though he would know that they were not good places to sow seed he knew that ultimately it was not his decision or power to make them grow.. Have you ever thrown out food scraps and sometime later you’ve seen something grow – maybe some potatoes or tomatoes and yet when you try to grow them nothing appears. That’s how it is with God and mission.

 

Sometimes the most extraordinary results come from our unintentional actions. As, again, St Paul says in 1 Corinthians: I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. Today’s Gospel reading is all about mission work. And mission work is different to anything else we do because we cannot measure it by human measures. This is where we are called upon to trust in God and the work that he is doing which we don’t always see. And unlike human measures this is again not measured by human measures as the angels in heaven rejoice over ONE sinner who repents. So let us be like the sower in our parable – let us sow wherever we go. Let it be so natural to spread the love of God that we don’t even know we are doing it, like the parable of the sheep and goats who had no idea that they were doing God’s work. When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you hungry and give you something to eat?

 

We can spread the seed of God’s love everyday of our life in every aspect of our life as we go about loving our neighbour as ourselves. So may God bless you as you sow his seed of love wherever God sends you. I’m not a gardener, and we might think that we are not missionaries. But we can all spread the love of God wherever we go and with whomever we meet. And let us trust God in all this who promised in our Isaiah reading today: so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.


Thursday, 2 July 2020

Sermon 5th July 2020 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 – Saint and Sinner inner struggle

Sermon 5th July 2020 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 – Saint and Sinner inner struggle

 

I love this passage by Paul today. It’s among my favourites because Paul really does sum up the Christian struggle and what it’s like. Many people I know feel guilt over their Christian life because of their inability to overcome temptation and a sense that they should have been able to feel better about their life and done better as Christians. They sometimes wonder if in fact they are truly Christians because they certainly don’t feel as if the life they lead is any different to anyone else. And they fall into the trap of comparing their lives with other Christians and feel their life falls well short of living the Christian life.

 

The problem there is that they are comparing their inner feelings with the outer appearance of the other person not knowing what struggles they may in fact be going through themselves. If that sounds a little bit like you – let me share with you that the person I have just described is me. As much as many people might expect a Pastor to be an example of having reached the benchmark of having their life all sorted out because we work full time for the church and spend so much time reading the bible – praying and never missing church – let me assure you that I am no different to any other Christian who struggles in their prayer life and feels guilty about how much time they actually spend reading the bible and living the exemplary Christian life.

But let me also assure you that we are not alone and have one of the greatest men of faith alongside us sympathising with us.

 

Paul shares with us today his own inner struggle to reconcile his life with the life he had supposedly left behind. He says: I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. The good he wants to do he does not do – but the evil that he knows he should not do he keeps on doing. Friends, let me assure you this is the life of the Christian. In fact I’d be surprised if there wasn’t among us those who do not struggle and wrestle with their faith. Paul identifies why this is and it has nothing to do with an inferior faith or weak morals. In fact it may indeed be the opposite.

 

Paul realises that because of his faith that he has become more aware of his short failings. Because of his faith he has become more aware of the reality of just how sinful he is. That’s what he says in Romans chapter 3 verse 20: He says: no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. For Paul, he was still the same person that he was before he had his conversion experience but now, because of his knowledge of Jesus in his life he became aware of his sinfulness and his need for Jesus in his life. In fact Paul, when explaining his life prior to knowing Jesus says: I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. And so, as he confronts his inner struggle and realises that his life is absolutely miserable – he asks the question - Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? And his answer – the very one who made him aware of his need for Jesus in his life - thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

Paul reveals to us that the solution to the inner struggles that we all have in our lives with overcoming sin – is NOT to try and attain a perfect way of life – even though God demands that from us. No, remember what he said earlier: no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law. But rather, our help is to go to the one who demands perfection from us seeking his mercy because we cannot achieve what God demands. Jesus also says that to us in today’s Gospel reading: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

As Christians we will never achieve what God demands from us – if we could then there was no need for Jesus to come and die for our sins.

Paul said that to the Galatians  - if we could become right through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

That doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want and claim – well I’m not perfect so I won’t try to be perfect.

No, Paul said that in last week’s bible reading from Romans 6 -should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! We have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? No, this is falling on God’s mercy through Jesus and coming to him to seek his mercy. It is accepting Jesus’ invitation –  Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Rest for your souls.

 

Living the Christian life and especially the expectations that we put on ourselves is not easy. We have the inner struggle of what Martin Luther called Saint and Sinner both wrestling for dominance in our lives.

And that’s why Jesus said – come to ME and I will give you rest for your souls. That’s why St Paul when he struggled between the good he knew he should do, which he didn’t – and the evil that he knew he shouldn’t do – but he did – cried out - Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! And on top of that we have the judging eyes of the world whom Satan uses to bring us down.

 

Jesus also identified that when he spoke of himself and John the Baptist: John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, he’s a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Friends, we will never feel comforted by our own judgments or the judgments of others. There is only one judgment that matters and that is God’s Judgment which has already been pronounced upon us through Jesus and the assurance that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. So, friends, when you face that inner struggle, like in the cartoons where you have the devil on one shoulder telling you to do something and the angel on the other telling you not to do it – come to Jesus and let HIM bring you rest for your souls. No one can save our wretched lives except the one who died for us – Jesus Christ our Lord.

 


Thursday, 25 June 2020

Sermon 28th June 2020 – 4th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 10:40-42 – Extending our welcome

Sermon 28th June 2020 – 4th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 10:40-42 – Extending our welcome

 The comment has been made by several Pastors during the COVID 19 lockdowns that coming out of lockdown is much harder than going into lockdown. And it’s true from what I have experienced. Going into lockdown was as simple as shutting the doors and letting members know that until further notice that our church services have been suspended in our church buildings. People knew that because they saw it on the 24 hour news cycle. But coming out of lockdown and back into our churches has been difficult because we cannot open the church building to every member all at once and we cannot welcome visitors.

 And after last week’s service several members asked me – can we come next week. Can you imagine the pain that I experienced when I had to say – at this stage – NO. We have to allow others to come to church also. NO – you cannot come to church next week. Did you ever think we would be in a situation where we would have to say NO to someone wanting to come to church? Can you ever imagine a situation where you were hoping that a visitor didn’t turn up unannounced and that you would be in a situation where you would have to turn that person away? So you can understand how difficult this has been for the church in resuming worship.

 In a way it was much easier being in lockdown where, in a sense, no one was welcome. That’s really not true – but it’s the reality at present that our churches are struggling to juggle the restrictions. But let us remember that just as worship is not the full extent of our Christian life neither is the welcome we offer to friend and stranger alike on a Sunday. When we leave church on a Sunday we don’t stop being Christians in the rest of our lives. What we experience in worship we live out day to day in our daily lives. Likewise, the fact that we cannot welcome strangers and all members at this stage into our church buildings does not mean we cannot extend a welcome to others to experience the love and grace of God.

 In fact that has been the challenge for us in this time of isolation and lockdown in looking at ways of BEING church rather than DOING church. As St Paul says in Romans chapter 12; Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship. And so we can continue to extend the hospitality of welcoming even while our churches are extremely restricted – and for some churches – their church buildings are still locked physically.

 Notice the transcending levels of Jesus’ welcoming in our Gospel reading today: It begins with God – whoever welcomes you welcome ME and whoever welcomes me welcomes the ONE WHO SENT ME. Then – whoever welcomes a PROPHET

Then – whoever welcomes a RIGHTEOUS PERSON And then whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these LITTLE ONES. So the love and hospitality we show can be extended to anyone – anywhere – even with the giving of a cup of cold water. The outreach and welcome to the world has NOT stopped simply because our church attendance has been restricted. Remember in Jesus’ ministry he went and ate with sinners. He invited himself into the home of Zacchaeus.

He walked among the lepers – the gentiles and the unclean. Jesus was not restricted. And even from the cross – nailed and unable to move physically he is still able to minister to the world as he cries out forgive them Father.

 Our welcome can and ought to be practiced by us at any time, no matter what circumstances or crises we find ourselves in.

Worship of God is not just an hour on a Sunday – it is our entire life as Paul says – offer your bodies as a living sacrifice – this is your true and proper worship. Don’t get me wrong – Sunday worship is important – it is where we gather as the family of God around Word and Sacrament. But in situations where our worship is interrupted such as now we can still be the people of God in welcoming friend and stranger alike. We also come to realize that our welcoming does not need to consist of large, heroic acts.  Any simple acts of kindness we offer as welcome for one another are all part of God’s work in the world.

 In this time of isolation, lockdown and restrictions we simply need to look around to see who is in need and offer God’s welcome which Jesus describes can be as simple as offering a glass of water. The act of welcoming has not been in lockdown and in fact we have been given even greater opportunity to extend it to those who are struggling through economic hardship and also through loneliness.

Later in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus will highlight how important this work of welcome is to God 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.’ ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me – or in some translations – you did TO me.’

 Christian faith is often described by Jesus as – even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed.

But with this faith we don’t need to move mountains. It is also made up of small acts – acts such as making a phone call to ask how a friend or stranger is doing, helping with groceries for those in isolation and unable to get out, reaching out to the lonely and most vulnerable among us.  There are no small gestures.  A cup of cold water is the smallest of gifts that Jesus mentions – a gift that almost anyone can give.  But a cup of cold water is precious and life giving to a person who is thirsty.

It doesn’t take much to be welcoming and sometimes with our busyness of church life we have even overlooked the stranger and needy among us.

 Maybe this break has been a blessing that God has been able to use to bring about good. Maybe the good that has come from this is that it has required us to look at new ways of connecting with friends and strangers and gotten us out of our comfortable ways where we can sometimes miss and neglect visitors. There are still many among us who have chosen not to be here in worship for health reasons. Let us not forget them in our busyness to return and fulfil all the requirements to keep our church safe. In our busyness and rejoicing in returning to worship let us continue to support and take the church’s welcome out to others who cannot join us yet and remind them that they are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

The welcome mat doesn’t live at the front door of our church. The welcome mat lives in our hearts as we take the presence of God to the world and offer the gift of welcome into God’s family and not just the church building.


Thursday, 18 June 2020

Sermon 21st June 2020 – Pentecost 3 Text: Matthew 10:24-39 – Physical and Spiritual Fear

Sermon 21st June 2020 – Pentecost 3

Text: Matthew 10:24-39 – Physical and Spiritual Fear

 

Our last service in this church was 22nd March – 3 months ago. It was the 2nd last Sunday of Lent just before Palm Sunday which celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus. I like to think that today is our Triumphal Entry even though not all our members have returned because of continued restrictions. But we are on our way and as from next week we can increase our numbers again. It’s been a difficult 3 months especially for some of our more isolated members and it continues for many of our members whose health is compromised and are not feeling comfortable about returning to worship or other public gatherings.

 

As a Pastor I also worried at the start of our isolation about our churches wondering whether we could survive a period of no services as our finances were struggling even before we went into lockdown. But I underestimated the faithfulness of all our members and for that I am deeply sorry. I succumbed to the basic human flaw of fear. Something that we all do at some time or another in our faith journey – we fear. Something Jesus’ own disciples did even while in his presence.

 

Fear is an natural human response to the unknown. Fear can be either physical or spiritual fears about our future. And our physical fears can at times affect our spiritual fears. In our gospel reading Jesus acknowledges that there are 2 fears – the physical and the spiritual. He says: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

 

Human nature is often, daily even, confronted by human fear. And it is usually a fear for our human future. Do I have enough money? How will my health impact on my life? Is my job safe? And so often the church is affected by earthly fear even while it maintains its spiritual confidence. Will we meet our budget? Where are all our young people? Who is going to take over the leadership roles? Physical fears can at times impact our spiritual security. Peter, walking on the water, faced his physical fears – the wind and the waves – but then began to sink as his faith in Jesus began to be affected. But our physical fears are comforted not by physical assurances but also by our spiritual assurances. Working harder to earn more money won’t remove our physical fear – it will just delay it as new fears arise. Running programs in our churches to get more people into church or telling people to give more won’t remove our physical fears – new ones will always arise.

 

Our fears, whether they are physical or spiritual are comforted only by God. And Jesus reassures us that every fear, no matter how small or how big, our physical and spiritual fears are all known by God and are all managed by God. Jesus says: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 

As we have journeyed these 3 months in lockdown – and as we look to the future with still some uncertainty of how things are moving forward – God has journeyed with us and will continue to journey with us. God has not and never will abandon us but makes his presence known to us. Physical fears are all around us and we find that once we’ve overcome our latest fear there are new ones just around the corner. Jesus says they can come from anywhere – even from unexpected sources –even our own family. Jesus wants us to be aware that only from God can we attain an assurance of care an protection.

He even says that some of our opposition may come from those we might have thought we could expect to find peace and comfort. He says: For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Don’t misunderstand Jesus’ thinking - that he is against family – not at all. In fact the 4th commandment upholds family and commands us to love and respect our parents. What he is saying is that only God can provide guaranteed assurance that removes all our fears. Because God can provide not just physical protection but spiritual protection. And for Christians that is so important as Paul says in Ephesians: our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

 

So when it comes to our Christian faith we’re going to find that the physical comforts that usually provide hope to people is not where we are going to find our help. The battles that we face as Christians are spiritual battles because the devil is always working to undermine our faith and will use those who are closest to us at times to attack our faith. That’s what we’re up against but we are assured that one greater than all the powers of darkness is  fighting for us. Physical fears will always affect us. It’s who we are as human beings. Even Adam and Eve with all the physical wants and desires met in the Garden of Eden felt they wanted more and were tricked by Satan. Their physical fears became spiritual fears. And notice that Satan used their fear to set husband against wife – the woman you gave me!

 

And that’s where God’s grace always comes in to help us. Our spiritual fears have been defeated. They have been buried with Christ in our Baptism, as St Paul reminded us today: All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. There’s our spiritual fears dealt with. Dead and buried. And we know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

And neither does it have a hold over us because we have been buried with Christ and will rise with him.

 

Physical fears will remain with us until we are through this life. And those physical fears will at times be the source of our spiritual fears and may often be from those closest to us. Satan spares nothing when it comes to attacking our faith.

But Jesus comes to comfort and protect us. God knows your fears – he knows the very hairs on your head. So the one who knows when a sparrow falls from the sky certainly knows when you have fallen for you are worth more than many sparrows.


Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Sermon 14th June 2020 – 2nd Sunday after Pentecost Text: Romans 5:1-8 – Saved by grace

Sermon 14th June 2020 – 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Romans 5:1-8 – Saved by grace

 

Today begins our Pentecost season. Even though we celebrated Pentecost Sunday a couple weeks ago this is now what we refer to as the Pentecost “Season”. The Pentecost Season is considered to be the growing or teaching season of the church – and hence the paraments have been changed to green this week. Green representing “growth” such as when our lawns and gardens begin to grow with green shoots. The focus of the Pentecost season is on the teaching of Jesus’ disciples. Not just the 12 Apostles but all Christians – you and me. And so we see that in our Gospel reading: Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues. Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority to go out and preach and teach.

 

And our 2nd reading – St Paul’s letter to the Romans summarises the heart of the Christian teaching: He says: Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; We sometimes summarise this teaching as – saved by grace, through faith, for Christ’s sake. We even summarise that further by calling it “The Gospel” – saved by grace. We need to keep that teaching at the heart of our understanding and in everything that we teach because we need to keep coming back to it time and time again.

 

Paul teaches us how this understanding of God’s grace actually helps us in those difficult times to not only deal with life’s challenges and come through them but to actually grow through them. He speaks about how our faith and our knowledge that we are saved by God’s grace enables us to not only endure in times of suffering but to actually grow in faith through them. He says - that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Isn’t it interesting that at the heart of our growth is suffering? Usually we might associate suffering with a decaying of our growth. And we have seen this growth through suffering during this time of suffering in the church that could have easily have broken our spirits by being unable to gather for worship. But we have actually rallied together to support each other. New friendships have been formed as we have picked up the phone to call one another and check up on each other. What could have broken our spirits, I believe, has done exactly what St Paul said it would do – our suffering has produced endurance – our endurance has produced character and our character has produced hope in us.

 

In times of suffering it is easy to give up hope. But our faith in Christ reminds us that suffering is limited only to this lifetime. Without wanting to downplay suffering which can be extremely debilitating – our faith reminds us that suffering has a limited effect on our lives. One of the blessings that God did when evil entered into his perfect creation was he limited the reach of evil and suffering by removing the tree of life from the reach of Adam and Eve. One could associate the removal as a punishment but in reality it is a form of God’s protection and blessing to ensure we didn’t become exposed to evil and suffering eternally. And so death became not a punishment for sin but an end time for all suffering and evil which extends only for this life time. So our focus turns to what God has planned for after this lifetime where we are told that there will be no more suffering or death which are the old order of things as we hear in Revelation 21. And St Paul even says in chapter 8 of Romans that he considers the present suffering of this life is not worth comparing to the glory that awaits us in heaven. And even to the point of saying he rejoices in his suffering. Not because he enjoys suffering but because it reminds him that this life is not where true joy is to be found but in heaven.

And since he is saved by grace – he rejoices knowing that his rest and glory are soon coming.

Jesus also said that: As you go, proclaim Gospel, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near. In fact, in 2nd Corinthians, through his suffering Paul is able to gain strength in faith saying “when I am weak then I am strong” because his reliance on God is made even more clear.

 

Jesus also teaches in our Gospel reading a very real issue that faces Christians in the world and a reassurance so we do not lose hope. Jesus makes no secret that as we go out into the world as his disciples that we will not always be welcomed. He says: I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; So the first thing we learn from this statement by Jesus is that we should not be surprised or disheartened at the attacks and rejection. We should not see it as a failure of the church to connect with the world but rather a rejection of God because of the evil that has been released into the world that is against God and all who put their faith in him. So often the church has been afraid to speak out against sin and error in the world because it doesn’t want to be rejected by the world as antiquated and irrelevant. So often we have softened our message because we have wanted to be accepted and liked by the world. But that goes against what Jesus has warned us against when he said - you will be hated by all because of my name.

 

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should look for ways for the world to hate us. But we should not be afraid to speak out where we see the world going off the rails. And we should not be afraid to be rejected or ridiculed for speaking the truth. But on the other hand too often the church has spoken out against issues without offering God’s word of grace and forgiveness but rather only judgment. Remember the Pentecost message that Jesus asked us to proclaim – that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to the entire world. In doing that we are reminded that we are all well off the mark when it comes to obedience before God. And, as Paul reminds us, this is how God has shown just how much he loves us:

He says: God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Can we honestly say that we have always dealt with people in the same way? That we have “while they were yet sinners” that we have shown love towards them?

 

That’s what being saved by grace means. Knowing that God has shown his grace to us that we have been freed to show grace towards others. This is the freedom that the Gospel brings us. That our one and only concern is getting the message out to all people that God loves them. And even if sometimes life doesn’t seem to be for us all that we hope for – our Christian hope reassures us that it’s okay because our life in heaven is guaranteed. And sometimes it’s in those disappointments – those times of suffering – those times of rejection – that we are redirected towards our faith because there is nothing else. And it is that faith – that hope that does not disappoint us, as St Paul said. Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. And why doesn’t hope disappoint us? Because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

What a wonderful and freeing Gospel that has been given to us. That our life’s destiny has been written and assured through Jesus Christ our Lord. That God’s love is proven to us that even while we were and still are sinners, Christ Jesus our Lord has given his life for us.

 

Let us continue to cling to that hope in all that we are going through and let us be prepared to give the reason for the hope that we have with anyone who asks so they too may know the comfort that God brings through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

 


Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Sermon 7th June 2020 – Trinity Sunday Text: Genesis 1 – Our identity

Sermon 7th June 2020 – Trinity Sunday

Text: Genesis 1 – Our identity

 

I love Christmas – I love Advent – I love Lent – I love Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. They are high points of celebration in our church. But for some reason, Trinity Sunday is the Sunday that I just love to celebrate. I’m not quite sure what it is but I guess it’s because Trinity Sunday defines God. But even more than that it defines us – who we are.

 

The Trinity is what sets us apart from every other religion. In the past it distinguished between true worship and heresy and still does today. The true church was the church that worshipped the Triune God. When we look at our creeds that we confess every Sunday they are structured in that way – we believe in God the Father almighty  - we believe in Jesus Christ his Son – we believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son. As the early church developed in those first centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection – it was the identity of God that distinguished between true believers and those that the church declared to be heretics.

 

But are these just theological words created by theologians? No, it is how God has revealed himself to us in the way that not just defines himself to us but it also defines who we are as God’s children. To understand this, let us go back to the beginning where it all started. In our first reading we do exactly that – we go back to the beginning: In those opening verses we see the Trinity at work – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – the Spirit was hovering over the waters – and God said – let there be light. Here we have the Trinity at work in creation – God the Father who created – the Word of God that was spoken – let there be light – and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us –  and the Holy Spirit hovering waiting to bring life into God’s creation. And then at the creation of humanity – let us create human beings in OUR image. So the Trinity does not just define who God is – it defines who WE are. WE are created in God’s image.

 

We also see the Trinity at work in the New Testament at Jesus’ baptism. We witness the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and the Father declare – this is my Son whom I love. And then in our Gospel reading today Jesus commission us to go into all the world baptising in the name of the Trinity – in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – and I am with you always till the end of the age. The Trinity not only gives us God’s identity, it also gives us our identity. Jesus says - I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

The Trinity doesn’t just define God it defines us.

 

Identity is becoming such an important issue in today’s society – identity. People are so confused about who they are. They try to copy their screen idols believing they need to look like them to have their identity. They believe that because their celebrities look perfect that they need too also. When they take photos of themselves they use what are called filters that will cover up their flaws so the world doesn’t see what they really look like. And when it comes to gender identity, we no longer have 2 genders that we hear the Trinity declare in our first reading: God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. In Facebook there are 71 different genders that a person can choose to sign up under. Jesus himself reiterates this identity: "Haven't you read that in the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' This is not denying or downplaying the challenges that people have today – and it’s not just young people challenged with identity – it’s people of all ages.

 

God has given us an identity in Jesus Christ. And it’s not about gender or anything else – as Paul says in Galatians when explaining our identity through our Baptism;  He says -   in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. God has given us an identity – his identity.

 

We have been created in God’s image. And what an amazing identity that is The world has become a confusing place for everyone and creating new genders or creating filters on your pictures or whatever way a person tries to feel better about who they are is only ever short lived. But in Christ we are a new creation – the old is gone and the new is here. And as Christians we are called to love those who are struggling with their identity and not judge them. As Paul said in our 2nd reading: Agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

 

We see everyone as God’s image – everyone as a person for whom Jesus died - as Paul says in 2 Corinthians: from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. What a wonderful privilege that despite our disobedience to God and what we did to his Son by crucifying him that God still loves us and invites us to participate in the Holy Trinity. Jesus did that both before his death and after his death. Before he died he said, when you pray, pray “Our Father in Heaven” – OUR Father in heaven. When he rose from the dead Jesus gave Mary the message he wanted to tell the disciples: Tell them: ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

 

Friends, our God is not what some people understand as God. To many people God is an overlord. Someone who is watching our every moment in order to judge us. When Jesus, who is God and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, when Jesus came to dwell with us he came as a servant. Not to be served but to serve each of us. And Jesus say, God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. The Trinity is an important theological understanding of God. It separated true worship from heresy. But that was not the intention of God when he revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was to invite us into his family of love. To share everything that he has with us. To assure us of the inheritance that is passed on to family members and that is what we are – children of God – the family of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Thursday, 28 May 2020

Sermon 31st May 2020 – Pentecost Text: John 20:19-23 – Life through the Holy Spirit

Sermon 31st May 2020 – Pentecost

Text: John 20:19-23 – Life through the Holy Spirit

 

It seems strange to have today’s Gospel reading. I say that because we also had this Gospel reading – a shortened version of it – the first Sunday after Easter. It was then when we were into our 3rd week of lockdown and isolation and I made the comment how we were somewhat like Jesus’ disciples – locked away in fear. They were locked away for fear of the Jews who had just crucified Jesus on the cross. We were locked away for fear of the Coronavirus – COVID 19. Today’s reading is shorter. It doesn’t include the situation of Doubting Thomas who wouldn’t believe that Jesus came to visit them after his resurrection – unless I see the nail marks in his hands. Today’s focus is on the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples to prepare them for leaving the physical safety and returning to the world – the world of which they were afraid. That day for us also is getting nearer and in some aspects is already upon us.

 

John’s Gospel is quite different to the other 3 – Matthew, Mark and Luke. John doesn’t have a lot of the parables and accounts that the other 3 have. And John’s Gospel has stories that the other 3 don’t have

But something that particularly stands out for me is that John tells the story of Jesus as a retelling of the Genesis story of Creation. John’s Gospel and Genesis begin in a very similar way: In Genesis – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In John’s Gospel - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were created; without him nothing was made that has been made. So, they both start the same way – In the beginning – and both speak about creation.

 

Interestingly today’s Gospel reading also images the Genesis account of life being created. In Genesis chapter 2: Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. That breath of life is the Holy Spirit which God breathed into lifeless Adam. In our Gospel reading, in John 20, we see again the breath of God creating life: Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” We were dead in our sin but the Holy Spirit now breathes God’s forgiveness into us.

The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring life. But not just any life but God’s life. A life that brings order and purpose into life. Look at the disciples before the Holy Spirit was breathed into them. Their lives were chaotic and meaningless – ruled by fear.  Locked away in fear – that’s not quality of life. Their lives were very much like Creation in the beginning before God breathed life and order into it: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Look at the people gathered together in Acts on the Day of Pentecost: Gathered in Jerusalem was a whole host of languages -  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome.

And the Holy Spirit came and brought them together as one and removed the language barrier that had been confused from the time of the Tower of Babel.

 

God’s Holy Spirit created new life in them to hear the Gospel. And that’s what the Holy Spirit does in our lives too. Our new life begins in our Baptism when the Holy Spirit is given to renew our life with God. The old is washed away by the forgiveness of our Original Sin and a new life emerges to dwell with God. In Jesus’ own life this is when it all begins for his Ministry. At his Baptism he sees the Spirit of God descend from heaven and land upon him and the voice of God declaring – this is my Son whom I love. So, in each situation – there is life already there but there is no order or meaning. Adam was just dust on the ground before the Spirit of life was breathed into him. Jesus ministry began when the Spirit declares his Sonship. The disciples were a disorganised rabble of fear with no life.

And the people gathered in Jerusalem were a babbling mess brought into order by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And our lives were in darkness before the light of the Holy Spirit was given in our Baptism.

 

There are differing views on what the Holy Spirit does. And they are all valid – all mentioned in our second reading: Speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, gifts of prophecy, teaching and leadership.

And then there are the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. But these are all results of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us what the purpose of those fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit are: For the common good The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to create order in God’s creation. So when Paul talks about the Holy Spirit in 1st Corinthians it was because Corinth was  a church that lacked order because they didn’t understand the Holy Spirit:  And Paul says that God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

 

As we continue to journey this unprecedented journey together as Church, the Holy Spirit has been the essential gift of God that has kept us united and in order. He has been our comforter in times of worry and distress about our church services being cancelled and our health concerns. He has been our intercessor – praying of us in those times when we just did not know how or what to pray. And he has been our paraclete.

A word that means someone who stands beside us. And that’s what God has done through his Holy Spirit.

He has stood beside us just like Jesus came and stood among his disciples in their fear.

 

Just like the Day of Pentecost where scattered nations were drawn together as one as they heard the gospel message preached by Peter, so too we have journeyed together at times not sure what to do or where to go but kept together by the Gospel. And now that lockdowns are starting to ease we’re having the same challenges to our life and order. Should we start services – should we wait. Should we have communion – should we wait. Should we have several services with 20 people each – how do we do it – who does all the cleaning and sanitising. I want to restart Holy Communion services more than anyone but we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit so we don’t become like the Corinthians – a church of disorder. This needs to be a spiritual beginning and not just a physical beginning of our worship again. There are many physical requirements we must meet before we begin but more importantly we need the Spiritual wisdom and presence of God through his Holy Spirit. So we need your prayers more than ever and we need God’s wisdom which is also the work of the Holy Spirit. Let us never forget that even while our church doors remain locked, Jesus still comes in and stands among us. In the midst of our uncertainty and not knowing which way to go, Jesus comes and breathes his Holy Spirit onto us and says – Peace be with you.


Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Sermon 24th May 2020 – The Ascension Text: Luke 24: 44-53 – Ascended, not gone.

Sermon 24th May 2020 – The Ascension

Text: Luke 24: 44-53 – Ascended, not gone.

 

There seemed to be a feel of jubilation this week when I spoke with people. The first of the lockdown restrictions were eased which allowed family members to once again visit. With many mothers unable to see their children and grandchildren on Mother’s Day it was a feeling of joy when our Premier announced we could now have 5 members of our family or friends come around. So even though we are not fully there yet there is this sense of comfort knowing we are on our way back. It was a difficult time with families being effectively cut off from their loved ones. But knowing there was a hope of seeing them again kept us strong.

 

The Ascension would have had similar emotions for Jesus’ disciples as they learn that Jesus’ time on earth was coming to an end. For 40 days since the resurrection Jesus has been walking the earth, establishing eyewitnesses and encouraging his disciples to prepare them as he must now ascend to his Father in Heaven.

To them it will seem like he is leaving them. Still feeling the emotions of having seen Jesus put to death they now, again, feel that emotional drain of watching him leave. But saying goodbye this time will be different for them than the time they said farewell at his death. Despite what Jesus had told them about rising from the dead they did not believe that Jesus would do so. Even though Jesus had previously told them that he must be put to death and on the 3rd day rise again, they really didn’t understand what he meant. Was it a symbolic rising like keeping a person’s memory alive? At the Transfiguration Jesus told Peter, James and John not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Mark’s gospel says, they kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. Even in Matthew’s account of the ascension it says the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

 

In today’s first reading the disciples are grieving for Jesus as he departs. But 2 angels say to them - why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." The Book of Revelation also states his return in such a way: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”;  The ascension is not about Jesus leaving but about Jesus ascending to rule from the right hand of God the Father. And that rule of Jesus’ now continues through us as we continue doing God’s work until he returns. And in our Gospel reading Jesus tells us what that work is that he wants us to do. He says: repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

 

While it was important for the church to establish eyewitnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they are meaningless if they stand alone without any purpose. It’s a lovely story of good news for Jesus to hear that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven – but what does that good news mean for us and the rest of the world? We hear that good news in the message Jesus sends us to proclaim - that God’s work of forgiveness has been completed. Let’s connect the dots.First, Jesus came for a purpose – At his birth: God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but receive eternal life. That’s the purpose; Throughout his ministry we see that purpose unfold: Jesus exampled the work God sent him to do among the people and we hear the Pharisees grumble about it – who can forgive sins but God alone. And then at his death we hear those very words of forgiveness that create an eyewitness for us – forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing – and he cries out in his last dying breath – It is finished. The work of reconciling God and his children on earth is finished. And now Jesus says - repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed, by us, in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Jerusalem was their home town.

 

Our forgiveness begins in our homes – in our family homes – in our church homes.

You are witnesses of experiencing God’s forgiveness in your lives – now YOU go and proclaim that same forgiveness to others. And that’s why I and all other Pastors are saying – our church buildings may be physically closed at present but the work of God continues – it never stops. We are not to be discouraged at this time – like the disciples who kept looking up to heaven wondering when Jesus was coming back.

The angels said – stop looking up to heaven. Look at the world around you. Jesus will return the same way he left – don’t worry about it. And that’s the same message to the church today. Don’t stop doing the work of God while our physical worship together has stopped. Don’t get discouraged looking at the dates and stages feeling defeated wondering when things will return to normal. Remember the 2 Emmaus disciples whose faces were downcast – we had hoped he would be the one!

 

Physical church services will return – and even though we are missing our worship together and sharing Holy Communion together, Jesus reminds us that we are not alone. No, he says: I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. He is speaking about the Holy Spirit. Jesus said the same to his disciples in our first reading: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses It’s easy to become discouraged as the weeks roll into months and there’s still no clear indication about what and when things will get back to normal – and the uncertainty of what this “new normal” that everyone is talking about will look like. But let us listen again to Paul and be encouraged by his words as he speaks about the Ascension and the work of the church:

He says: God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 

This passage by Paul brings us such great comfort and encouragement during times like these or any other time when I’m feeling powerless – when I’m feeling the church is powerless. Because I remember that Jesus has not left us but ascended.  And there’s a big difference between the two. Leaving means a physical absence. I’m leaving you. But remember Jesus’ promise last week – I will not leave you as orphans. Jesus didn’t leave – he ascended – as a king ascending to the throne to take power and control. And that’s what we must always remember. There is no war going on.  Jesus has won and will always win.

 

But there is a struggle that continues to go on but as Paul reminds us in the end of Ephesians: Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. But at the beginning of Ephesians, in our 2nd reading he assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Jesus is seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. Jesus has won – he will always win. And he will win this struggle. Our call is to keep being the children of God. To keep being the eyewitnesses of everything that God has achieved for us. And to keep proclaiming God’s forgiveness in the world. Jesus has ascended to rule and has won the victory. We are to proclaim that victory as we proclaim his forgiveness to all.

 

 

 


Monday, 11 May 2020

Sermon 17th May 2020 – 6th Sunday of Easter Text: Acts17:22-31 – The Known God

Sermon 17th May 2020 – 6th Sunday of Easter

Text: Acts17:22-31 – The Known God

 

Have you ever had that situation where you come across someone you should know? You’re 100% sure you’ve met them before but you can’t remember their name. When that happens to me I start to run through the alphabet in my head and attribute names to the letter to see if that works – 9 times out of 10 it does. Alan, Anthony, Arthur, Barry, Brian, Benjamin.

Names are important. That’s why when Moses was sent to free Israel from slavery he asked God – what if they ask your name. Even in society the old saying goes – it’s not what you know but WHO you know. God himself knew the importance of names and enshrined his own name as one of the commandments – you shall not take  the name of the Lord your God in vain. And in response to his humility by dying on the cross, God gave to Jesus the name that is above all names. And at the name of Jesus every knee would bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And this is the situation that Paul is facing as he is visiting Athens.

 

Paul says to the people – as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ So it’s a case of they knew WHAT they were worshipping – god- but they didn’t know WHO they were worshipping. And the problem with that is that if you don’t know WHO you are worshipping then you don’t know WHAT it is that they can do for you. They are just an inanimate object. It’s what God warned Israel about when they were about to enter the Promised Land and the dangers of worshiping foreign Gods: “There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell”. (Deuteronomy 4:28) Very impersonal.

 

So many people in society today say that they are spiritual but not religious. Or they say that they believe in God but they don’t believe in institutionalised religion. In other words, they don’t believe you need to go to church to worship God. Many people will say that they are not atheist but they are agnostic. An atheist doesn't believe in a god or divine being. However, an agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in a god or religious doctrine. We would tend to say that the Athenians fell more into the line of agnostic rather than atheism. They don’t reject God – they don’t know who he is. More and more we are going to discover people in our lives who fall into that category. I believe in a higher power – I just don’t know who he is.

I believe there has to be something more than this – I just don’t know what it is. I don’t want to believe that when I die, that’s it. I’m a good person – surely there has to be something after I die.

 

Paul explains to the Athenians who this God is these are the points he believes are important: He is: The God who made the world and everything in it,  He is: Lord of heaven and earth, He does not live in shrines made by human hands

He is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. So in that description there is no initial mention of sin or judgment – that will come later on when he calls on them to repent. But first Paul is wanting to establish a relation between them and God. Paul’s focus is in getting them to know the God who created them. The God who provides for them. The God who is a personal God. Because God created everything then he has a personal interest in everything. And that helps us to cope in times like these when we wonder whether God is aware of the pain and suffering we are going through. Of course he is – we are his creation – we are his children.

 

This is the world God created. And God is a personal God. He doesn’t live in human made shrines. He doesn’t live in human made churches. He dwells in the people who gather there. He lives in us. He has made his home in us. And he is a God who doesn’t need us to sacrifice to him. He sacrificed for us. How often don’t we hear people who have rejected God because all he wants is our money. He just wants us to give and give and give. But our God is a God who gives to us and HE gives and gives and gives. I always like that passage in the Old Testament when the prophet Nathan rebukes King David for taking Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. God say, through Nathan, “I gave your master’s house to you, I gave your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

God is a God who gives. It’s at the heart of the Gospel in John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

But that doesn’t mean people are automatically going to jump for joy and believe. No, there will always be a level of doubt – a level of rejection. That’s why Peter says to be patient: But in your hearts revere Christ as your Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

In this pandemic we’ve had the perfect opportunity to do such – although because of isolation we probably haven’t had the opportunity to be seen. But we have had the opportunity to stay strong in our faith. To continue to trust God in all this and not fear. And to be obedient to the restrictions. We could have looked for loopholes or maybe taken a risk – who would find out if we had a small church gathering? Maybe we’ve disagreed with the actions being taken. But that’s part of living under authority – which is always God’s authority. HE created the heavens and the earth. Again, that’s what Peter said: it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. And as I’ve said on a few occasions – they have closed our church buildings but we’ve been able to keep worshipping.  Because only the human made shrines have been shut.

 

I was speaking to a resident in one of our nursing homes about the restrictions.  She was telling me about her days during World War 2 in the Ukraine when Stalin sent officers from house to house to remove bibles. And any mention of God or Jesus would see you removed from your home. That’s not what is happening to us as we have been able to keep worshipping in new ways. And who knows, maybe this new way may be an opportunity to continue in the future to reach out to people who can’t or won’t come to church. In this pandemic it might have felt at times like God was being silenced.

But God cannot be silenced. Nor has God abandon us through this. No, Jesus himself said in our Gospel reading: I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. God has been right by our side in all this. He has been our Advocate, to be with us forever.

 

To the world our churches look shut and that’s a shame because they are wide open. And that’s because much of the world sees the church as a physical human made building. And sadly they see God that way too – a human made impersonal   object. But Jesus described the church in a different way: In our Creed we confess that the Holy Spirit creates the one holy Christian church on earth. And Jesus says, this is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he lives with you, and he will be in you. Paul wants us to understand that God is not a “what” but a “who”. God is a personal God – not an unknown god. So as we continue to go through this time of isolation, of church shutdowns, of uncertainty – remember that God created the heavens and the earth – and even more important – God created you and he loves you so much that he gave his one and only Son to die for you. And even more than that, he gave his Holy Spirit, the advocate to dwell in you. And that means, God is dwelling in you. So may you know that presence of God and may you always be prepared to give the reason for the hope you have to anyone who asks.