SERMONS

SERMON 12TH AUGUST 2018 PENTECOST 12 – John 6:35, 41-51
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

TODAY WE REVISIT THE STORY OF JESUS FEEDING FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE FROM A FEW MEAGRE LOAVES AND A COUPLE OF FISH – OR RATHER THIS IS JOHN’S CONTINUATION OF HIS STORY.
WE USE THIS WORD “MANNA’ VERY EASILY AND I MUST SAY WITHOUT KNOWING ANYTHING ABOUT IT – SADLY MANY PEOPLE READ THE SCRIPTURES IN THIS WAY – READING WORDS THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND AND FAILING TO TAKE THE EFFORT TO DISCOVER THEIR MEANING OR EVEN THEIR PURPOSE.
IF YOU THOUGHT THAT HUMOUR AND ‘TONGUE IN CHEEK’ STATEMENTS ONLY EVOLVED IN OUR LATER TIME, THINK AGAIN. THIS WORD ‘MANNA’ IS ACTUALLY A PUN IN THE HEBREW LANGUAGE. SO THOSE OLD PRIESTS DID ACTUALLY HAVE A TWINKLE IN THEIR EYE WHEN THEY WROTE THIS. ‘MANNA’ IS COMPRISED OF TWO HEBREW WORDS ‘MAN’MEANING ‘WHAT’ AND ‘HU” MEANING ‘IS IT’. SO MANNA IS REALLY “WHAT IS IT?” – LOGICAL I THINK. BUT AT THE SAME TIME ‘HU’ CAN ALSO BE TRANSLATED AS “IT IS’ – SO THE WORD MEANS “WHAT IS IT?” BUT ALSO “IT IS MANNA”. MANNA IS ONE OF THE MANY BIBLICAL WORDS WHICH HAVE FOUND THEIR WAY INTO MODERN LANGUAGES – WE STILL SPEAK OF THE RECIEPT OF SOME GREAT BENEFIT AS “MANNA FROM HEAVEN”.
SOME PEOPLE READ THIS STORY AS “JESUS TRUMPS MOSES” AND I REFRAIN FROM ANY HUMEROUS REFERENCES TO THE CURRENT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. THAT INTERPRETATION ONLY AMPLIFIES THE DIVISION BETWEEN WHAT WE CAN CALL THE CONTINUING JEWS AND JOHN’S BREAKAWAY CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY – ALSO SADLY TO DAY THAT HAS BEEN USED BY SOME WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY TO JUSTIFY THE SUPERIORITY OF JESUS AND THEREFORE THE SUPERIORITY AND INDEED EXCLUSIVENSS OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION – A FUTHER EXCUSE TO BRING DIVISION AND ANIMOSITY INTO OUR COMMUNITIES.
THE INTERPRETATION IS SIMPLE REALLY. JOHN IS COMPARING THE LIFE GIVING MANNA IN THE ANCIENT STORY TO THE LIFE GIVING BREAD BEING OFFERED BY JESUS. IN EXODUS GOD FEEDS THE PEOPLE AND IN THE GOSPELS JESUS ALSO FEEDS THE PEOPLE IN A MIRACULOUS WAY. FOR JOHN JESUS WAS A MANIFESTATION OF GOD – HE CALLS HIM THE ‘LOGOS’ OR ‘THE WORD’ OF GOD. FOR JOHN JESUS WAS NOT MERELY ANOTHER PROPHET OR HEALER WITH AMAZING POWERS BUT WAS REALLY A PART OF GOD IN THE FLESH. SO FOR JOHN IT’S NOT A MATTER OF ‘JESUS TRUMPS MOSES’ BUT A MATTER OF “JESUS IS A MANIFESTATION – A PART OF GOD”. THAT’S WHAT HE IS SAYING.
THESE WORDS COME AS A GREAT SHOCK TO THE CROWD OF COURSE BECAUSE THEY SIMPLY WERE LOOKING FOR MORE BREAD TO FILL THEIR STOMACHS WHILST JESUS WAS OFFERING BREAD TO FILL THEIR SOULS. HOW OFTEN WE ALL SIMPLY LOOK FOR THE OBVIOUS LITERAL MEANINGS AND OVERLOOK THE DEPTH OF TRUTH IN THESE WRITINGS.
IN EXODUS GOD SAVES THE PEOPLE’S LIVES BY PROVIDING THEIR PHYSICAL NECESSITIES AND IN JOHN JESUS ALSO OFFERS THE PEOPLE FOOD TO ASSUAGE THEIR PHYSICAL HUNGER BUT IN A WORLD WHERE IT WAS OFTEN DIFFICULT TO FIND REGULAR FOOD AND LIFE WAS NOT EASY – CERTAINLY BY OUR CONTEMPORARY WESTERN STANDARDS – THERE WAS ALWAYS ROOM FOR MORE.
IT IS PERFECTLY PLAIN THAT JOHN IS COMPARING THE GRUMBLING JEWS OF HIS DAY WITH THE GRUMBLERS OF ANCIENT TIMES.
HE USES THE SAME WORD TO DESCRIBE THEM – THE GREEK GONGUZO, WHICH IS THE SAME WORD USED IN THE SEPTUANGINT TO DESCRIBE ISRAEL’S GRUMBLING AGAINST GOD AND MOSES. THE GRUMBLING CROWD WE READ ABOUT THIS MORNING ARE REPRESENTED BY JOHN AS THE GRUMBLING CROWN IN EXODUS. THEY HAVE SEEN AND EXPERIENCED GOD’S SALVATION BUT STILL DO NOT TRUST GOD. YOU MIGHT REMEMBER THAT THE MANNA IN EXODUS CAME WITH SOME RULES. A PERSON COULD ONLY GATHER WHAT WAS REQUIRED TO A MAXIMUM OF ABOUT 2 LITRES EACH DAY. IT COULD NOT BE STORED ETC. SO THE OLD STORY IS NOT SIMPLY ABOUT PEOPLE BEING FED BY GOD – IT IS REALLY ABOUT PEOPLE LEARNING TO TRUST GOD, TO SEE GOD’S WISDOM AND TO LIVE BY GOD’S LAW. IT WAS INTENDED TO BUILD A TRUSTING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE PEOPLE AND THEIR GOD.
THERE IS ANOTHER GREEK WORD WE NEED TO KNOW HERE. IT IS PISTEUO WHICH IS TRANSLATED AS BELIEVE BUT WAS MORE COMMONLY USED TO CONVEY A TRUSTING RELATIONSHIP AND IS USED THROUGHOUT JOHN’S GOSPEL TO MEAN THAT. SO IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER TO TRANSLATE PISTEUO AS TRUST. JOHN IS TRYING TO STRESS THAT HIS AUDIENCE SHOULD COME TO HAVE TRUST IN JESUS BY SEEING AND HEARING THEN BELEIVING IN HIM FOR THE THINGS HE DID AND SAID.
JESUS FEEDS JUST AS GOD FED IN EXODUS – THIS IS GOD’S TRUE CHARACTER AND IT IS ILLUSTRATED VERY CLEARLY IN THIS STORY. “I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE” SAYS JESUS. THUS HE BECOMES THE LIFE GIVING MANNA – BUT SPIRITUAL MANNA RATHER THAN PHYSICAL BREAD – BUT STILL THE GIFT OF A CONSTANT AND TRUSTWORTHY LOVING GOD. THE ASSURANCE IS THAT WE WILL ALWAYS BE PROVIDED FOR, CARED FOR, AND FED IN WAYS THAT NOT JUST SATISFY OUR BASIC NEED FOR FOOD BUT ALSO OUR HUNGER FOR TRUST, FOR RELATIONSHIP, FOR BELONGING, FOR COMMUNITY. AND ISN’T THIS SOMETHING WE ALL HUNGER FOR? I HAVE HEARD PEOPLE SAY, “OH, I BELIEVE IN GOD, I UNDERSTAND MYSELF TO BE A CHRISTIAN BUT I DON’T GO TO CHURCH BECAUSE I KNOW SOME WHO DO AND THEY ARE HYPOCRITES”. WHAT THESE PEOPLE MISS IS THAT INCLUSION WITHIN A CARING AND LOVING COMMUNITY APART FROM FAMILY – A PLACE OF BELONGING – A PLACE OF TRUST – CAN BE OF IMMENSE COMFORT IN TIMES OF DIFFICULTY AND STRESS.
SADLY I HAVE TO ADMIT THAT NOT ALL CHURCHES LIVE UP TO THIS HIGH IDEAL AND THAT IS A TRAGEDY – BUT THERE ARE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES WHICH ARE INCLUSIVE, NON JUDGEMENTAL AND TRULY LOVING. IT IS WITH GRATITUDE THAT I INCLUDE THIS LITTLE COMMUNITY OF St JOHN’S AMONGST THEM.
THE GIFT OF MANNA IS EXACTLY THAT- A GIFT. THE GIFT OF CHRIST IS EXACTLY THAT – A GIFT – AND SO WHEN OTHERS ATTEMPT TO THWART THE GIVING, WHEN OTHERS TRY TO CLAIM THE GIFT AS EXCLUSIVELY THEIR OWN, WHEN OTHERS INSIST THAT THE GIFT SHOULD BE SELECTIVE AND DISCRIMITORY THEY ONLY SHOW THAT THEY HAVE NO UNDERSTANDING OR EXPERIENCE OF GOD AND THE INCLUSIVE LOVE, COMFORT AND SUPPORT THAT IS OURS. HERE IS MANNA AGAIN, AND MANNA FOR THE WHOLE WORLD.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON 29TH JULY 2018 – ST JOHN’S CATHEDRAL HONG KONG – John 6:1-21
1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
2 Kings 4:42-44
42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.’ ” 44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
Ephesians 3:18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
I REMEMBER MY MOTHER TELLING A STORY OF AN ACQUAINTANCE OF HERS WHO WAS KNOWN FOR HER HONESTY AND FORTHRIGHTNESS. WHAT YOU SAW WAS WHAT YOU GOT. SHE WAS NOT AFRAID TO – SOMETIMES PERHAPS NAIVELY – SAY EXACTLY WHAT WAS IN HER MIND. ON ONE OCCASION SHE WAS ENTERTAINING SOME GUESTS TO DINNER AND AS THE MEAL PROGRESSED THE MAIN COURSE WAS PRESENTED AND DULY CONSUMED WITH A HIGH DEGREE OF ENJOYMENT. AS A MATTER OF POLITENESS AND IN THE SPIRIT OF HOSPITALITY THE HOSTESS ASKED “WOULD YOU LIKE SOME MORE”? TO WHICH A GUEST REPLIED, “THAT WAS SO DELICIOUS, YES PLEASE I WOULD LIKE A LITTLE MORE”. THE HOSTESS WAS SILENT FOR A BRIEF MOMENT AND THEN – SEEMINGLY WITHOUT ANY SIGN OF EMBARRASSMENT – ABRUPTLY REPLIED, “WELL, THERE ISN’T ANY”.
MY MOTHER CONSIDERED THAT STORY A HUGE JOKE AND DELIGHTED TO TELL IT. NO DOUBT THERE WAS MIRTH AROUND THE TABLE ON THAT OCCASION AS WELL – IF ONLY TO COVER THE HOSTESS’S EMBARRASSMENT.
ON THE OTHER HAND THIS GOSPEL STORY OF JESUS PROVIDING FOOD FOR A LARGE GROUP OF PEOPLE REVEALS NO EMBARRASSMENT AT ALL BUT A VERY CLEAR INSIGHT INTO THE GENEROSITY AND LOVE OF GOD AS REVEALED BY JESUS OF NAZARETH. THE STORY IS NOT ONLY ABOUT FOOD OF COURSE.
WITHIN JEWISH CULTURE – AND TO BE SURE ALSO MANY CULTURES AROUND THE WORLD FOR THAT MATTER – HOSPITALITY IS OF PRIME IMPORTANCE IN THE LIFE OF THE PEOPLE. THE JEWISH TORAH – THE LAW – IS VERY CLEAR THAT ONE IS OBLIGED TO PROVIDE FOR THE VISITOR – THE STRANGER – WHO COMES TO YOUR DOOR AND THERE ARE MANY STORIES ILLUSTRATING AND TEACHING THIS IN THE HEBREW BIBLE – OUR OLD TESTAMENT.
SO IN THIS STORY – WHICH IS THE ONLY SO CALLED MIRACLE STORY TO BE FOUND IN ALL FOUR GOSPELS – JESUS IS PRESENTED AS REVEALING SOMETHING OF THE VERY NATURE OF THE JEWISH GOD AND THEREBY ALSO REVEALING SOMETHING OF THE TRUE IDENTITY OF THIS PROPHET AND TEACHER FROM THE BACKBLOCKS OF GALILEE. FOR JOHN JESUS WAS UNQUESTIONABLY THE VERY INCARNATION OF A MANIFESTATION OF HIS AND HIS COMMUNITY’S GOD.
FOR THEIR INSPIRATION THE GOSPEL WRITERS – BEGINNING WITH MARK THE EARLIEST – HAVE DRAWN ON ONE OF THE PINNACLE STORIES OF THEIR TRADITION – THAT IS THE PROVISION BY GOD TO THE PEOPLE AS THEY WANDERED THROUGH THE DESERTS OF SINAI FOLLOWING THEIR FLIGHT FROM EGYPT. YOU MIGHT RECALL HOW THE STORY GOES IN EXODUS? THE PEOPLE WERE COMPLAINING TO MOSES THAT THEY HAD BEEN DRAGGED AWAY BY THEIR GOD AND HIM FROM THEIR REGULAR FOOD IN EGYPT ONLY TO STARVE IN THE DESERT. THE STORY GOES THAT GOD PROVIDED THE MANNA WHICH APPEARED DURING THE NIGHT AND WHICH THE PEOPLE HARVESTED EACH MORNING. THERE WAS ALWAYS SUFFICIENT FOR THE NEEDS OF EACH PERSON. GOD WAS REVEALED AS THE LOVER AND SAVIOUR OF THE PEOPLE OFFERING MAGNANIMOUS SUSTENANCE.
THEN AGAIN IN SECOND KINGS CHAPTER 4 WE READ OF THE MAN WHO BROUGHT A THANK OFFERING OF TWENTY LOAVES OF BARLEY BREAD AND FRESH EARS OF GRAIN TO THE PROPHET ELISHA. ELISHA SAID, “GIVE IT TO THE PEOPLE AND LET THEM EAT.” BUT HIS SERVANT SAID, “HOW CAN I SET THIS BEFORE A HUNDRED PEOPLE?” SO HE REPEATED, “GIVE IT TO THE PEOPLE AND LET THEM EAT, FOR THUS SAYS THE LORD, “THEY SHALL EAT AND HAVE SOME LEFT.’ “HE SET IT BEFORE THEM, THEY ATE, AND HAD SOME LEFT, ACCORDING TO THE WORD OF THE LORD”.
IN THESE TWO TALES FROM THE HEBREW BIBLE WE CLEARLY SEE WHERE THE GOSPEL WRITERS DERIVED THEIR INSPIRATION FOR THIS STORY. SO IN A NUTSHELL WHAT WERE THEY TRYING TO SAY – WHAT IMPORTANT TRUTH WERE THEY WANTING TO CONVEY TO THEIR COMMUNITIES – AND EVENTUALLY TO US SOME 2000 YEARS LATER?
QUITE SIMPLY THEIR INTENT IS TO REVEAL TO US THEIR EXPERIENCE OF JESUS AND WHAT THAT EXPERIENCE HAD TOLD THEM – THAT HE WAS A MAN WHO REVEALED TO THEM SOMETHING – SOME GLIMPSE – OF THE TRUE NATURE OF GOD. MORE THAN THAT – FOR JOHN, JESUS WAS A MANFESTATION OF GOD IN THE FLESH SHOWING US SOMETHING OF THE NATURE OF THE CREATOR. THAT NATURE IS REVEALED AS ABUNDANT AND MUNIFICENT LOVE FOR ALL PEOPLE – A PROVISION SO ABUNDANT THAT THERE IS ALWAYS A GREAT DEAL TO SPARE – LEFTOVER. AND LOOK AT WHAT HAPPENS TO THE LEFT OVERS – IT IS GATHERED UP AND KEPT – ALL 12 BASKETS OF IT. NOTHING IS WASTED.
IN CONTRAST I READ A REPORT IN THE STANDARD THIS WEEK THAT REVEALED THAT 450 TONS OF INGREDIENTS FROM THE MAKING OF CHINESE SOUPS WERE THROWN OUT INTO THE RUBBISH IN HONG KONG EVERY SINGLE DAY. THE REPORT SAID THAT THIS PRACTICE COULD BE WORSE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT THAN ALL THE PAPER AND PLASTIC WASTE PUT TOGETHER. THESE PRACTICES ARE THE TOTAL OPPOSITE OF OUR OBLIGATIONS TO GOD AND THIS CREATION WHEN WE RECEIVE SUCH ABUNDANT GENEROSITY. THERE’S ANOTHER LESSON THERE WHICH WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN RELEVANT IN THE FIRST CENTURY – CARE FOR OUR ENVIRONMENT – BE MORE AWARE OF OUR PRIVILEGED LIVES – STOP WASTING.
IN THIS STORY WE ALSO FIND THE DISCIPLES TIRED ON THE VERGE OF EXHAUSTION AFTER THEIR ARDUOUS TREKKING AROUND GALILEE PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE IMMANENT KINGDOM OF GOD. IN MARK, THE EARLIEST TELLER OF THIS STORY, JESUS SAYS TO THEM.”I KNOW YOUR ARE EXHAUSTED. LET’S GO AWAY TO A QUIET PLACE BY OURSELVES FOR A WHILE AND REST”. BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THEY FIND THEIR PLACE OF SECLUDED REST? THE CROWD, SEEKING HEALING FROM JESUS, BEATS THEM TO IT AND IS THERE WAITING FOR THEM. PUT YOURSELF IN THAT SITUATION. WHAT WOULD YOU THINK? HOW WOULD YOU FEEL? TEMPTED TO TELL THEM ALL TO JUST GO AWAY I IMAGINE – AND IN FAIRLY PLAIN LANGUAGE? BUT WHAT DOES JESUS DO? HE, AS MARK TELLS US, “…HAD COMPASSION ON THEM, BECAUSE THEY WERE LIKE SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD”.
HE KNEW THEY WERE ONLY THERE HOPING TO GAIN A BENEFIT FROM HIM. HE KNEW THEY REALLY HAD NO IDEA OF WHO HE REALLY WAS OR WHAT HE WAS REALLY TRYING TO CONVEY TO THEM – THAT WAS ALL SOME SORT OF ‘PIE IN THE SKY’ DREAM TO THEM. THEY WERE LOOKING FOR A PRACTICAL RESULT. THEY WANTED THEIR AILMENTS CURED – SIMPLE. MANY, WHO HAD LISTENED HOWEVER, STILL GOT IT WRONG – THEY STILL MISSED THE POINT – THEY STILL WERE THINKING IN PURELY PHYSICAL AND MATERIAL WAYS. THEY WERE SEEING HIM AS THE SAVIOUR OF THEIR NATION – THE LONG PROMISED KING OF ISRAEL WHO WOULD REMOVE THE BURDEN OF THE ROMAN OCCUPATION AND RESTORE THEM AND THEIR LAND TO FREEDOM. OBVIOUSLY THEY WERE SHORT ON DETAIL AS TO EXACTLY HOW HE WOULD ACHIEVE THIS WITHOUT A VERY POWERFUL ARMY. BUT – HOW WRONG CAN YOU BE? THIS WAS NEVER ON JESUS’ AGENDA AS HE STRUGGLES TO MAKE PLAIN.
DID YOU ALSO NOTICE THAT NO ONE APPROACHED JESUS AND SAID, “WE ARE HUNGRY – CAN YOU GIVE US SOMETHING TO EAT?” IT WAS JESUS WHO WHEN HE LOOKED UP AND SAW A LARGE CROWD COMING TOWARDS HIM, SAID TO PHILIP, “WHERE ARE WE GOING TO BUY FOOD FOR THESE PEOPLE TO EAT?” LOOK, THEY MUST BE HUNGRY – WE MUST FEED THEM – THEY ARE HERE NOW AS OUR GUESTS. WE MUST EXTEND HOSPITALITY – WE MUST CARE FOR THEM. SO HIS COMPANIONS JOIN THE CROWD IN THEIR MISUNDERSTANDING AND LACK OF FAITH. WE CAN’T POSSIBLY DO THAT, SAYS PHILIP, TO SIMPLY GIVE THEM A MORSEL EACH WOULD SEND US BROKE – IT’S HOPELESS.
BUT WHAT SEEMS HOPELESS TO US IS A SIMPLE THING FOR GOD. WE MUST ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT. WHEN WE FIND OURSELVES IN SOME SEEMINGLY HOPELESS SITUATION REMEMBER THAT IT IS SIMPLE FOR GOD TO RESCUE US – ALL WE NEED TO DO IS TO TRUST – TO HAVE FAITH. THIS IS THE OTHER LESSON THAT THE GOSPEL OFFERS US – ANYTHING CAN BE ACHIEVED IF WE HAVE FAITH IN GOD – AND WE FIND THE FAITH WE NEED BY TURNING TO CHRIST.
SO WE HAVE THE IDEA OF MOST GENEROUS HOSPITALITY BEING A FEATURE OF GOD. WE DON’T INVITE GOD – GOD INVITES US – AND ALL WE NEED DO IS TO RESPOND – TO RSVP AS IT WERE. BY WHOM ARE WE INVITED? CHRIST IS THE BEARER OF THE INVITATION.
IT IS SOMEHOW INGRAINED WITHIN US TO DOUBT – WE HAVE MANY DOUBTS – AND WHEN DEALING WITH OTHERS IN OUR DAILY LIVES DOUBT IS PROBABLY NOT SUCH A BAD THING BUT WE SEE OVER AND OVER AGAIN THAT WE NEED NOT DOUBT THE INVITATION FROM GOD AS EXTENDED THROUGH CHRIST. WE ARE THE VEHICLES FOR GOD’S LOVE. SOMETIMES WE DOUBT AND QUESTION. SOMETIMES THE COMMANDS SEEM NONSENSICAL. BUT OBEDIENCE IS STILL OBEDIENCE. AND IN THE END, GOD SUPPLIES ABUNDANTLY.
IN CONCLUSION LET ME AGAIN READ TO YOU THOSE VERSES FROM EPHESIANS FOR THEY REINFORCE WHAT IS THE LOVE OF CHRIST AND THE ABUNDANT GENEROSITY OF GOD.
“I PRAY THAT YOU MAY HAVE THE POWER TO COMPREHEND WHAT IS THE BREADTH AND LENGTH AND HEIGHT AND DEPTH, AND TO KNOW THE LOVE OF CHRIST THAT SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE, SO THAT YOU MAY BE FILLED WITH ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD. NOW TO HIM WHO BY THE POWER AT WORK WITHIN US IS ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH ABUNDANTLY FAR MORE THAN ALL WE CAN ASK OR IMAGINE, TO HIM BE GLORY IN THE CHURCH AND IN CHRIST JESUS TO ALL GENERATIONS, FOREVER AND EVER.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

SERMON 24TH JUNE 2018 – FESTIVAL FOR ST PAUL
2 CORINTHIANS 6. 1-13 ‘THE MESSAGE’ TRANSLATION
Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvellous life God has given us. God reminds us, I heard your call in the nick of time; the day you needed me, I was there to help. Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honoured; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumoured to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all. Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
TODAY WE ARE CELBRATING THE SELF APPOINTED APOSTLE SAUL OF TARSUS – OR PAUL FOLLOWING HIS CONVERSION FROM JUDAISM TO FOLLOWING THE WAY OF JESUS. I WILL REFER TO HIM TODAY AS PAUL – FIRST A FEW FACTS THAT HISTORY HAS RECORDED OF HIS LIFE. PAUL WAS BORN SAUL – A POWERFUL JEWISH NAME HONOURING THE ANCIENT KING OF ISRAEL WHO REIGNED SOME 1000 YEARS BEFORE THE TIME OF JESUS. PAUL WAS BORN ABOUT 4 B.C.E. IN A TOWN NAMED TARSUS IN THE AREA OF EASTERN CILICIA IN WHAT IS NOW THE COUNTRY OF TURKEY. OF THE 27 BOOKS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, 13 ARE ATTRIBUTED TO PAUL, AND APPROXIMATELY HALF OF ACTS DEALS WITH PAUL’S LIFE AND WORKS. THUS, ABOUT HALF OF THE NEW TESTAMENT STEMS FROM PAUL AND THE PEOPLE WHOM HE INFLUENCED. ONLY 7 OF THE 13 LETTERS, HOWEVER, CAN BE ACCEPTED AS BEING ENTIRELY DICTATED BY PAUL HIMSELF. THE OTHERS COME FROM FOLLOWERS WRITING IN HIS NAME, WHO OFTEN USED MATERIAL FROM HIS SURVIVING LETTERS AND WHO MAY HAVE HAD ACCESS TO LETTERS WRITTEN BY PAUL THAT NO LONGER SURVIVE. ALTHOUGH FREQUENTLY USEFUL, THE INFORMATION IN ACTS IS SECONDHAND, AND IT IS SOMETIMES IN DIRECT CONFLICT WITH THE LETTERS.
THE SEVEN UNDOUBTED LETTERS CONSTITUTE THE BEST SOURCE OF INFORMATION ON PAUL’S LIFE AND ESPECIALLY HIS THOUGHT; ARE, IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER (LEAVING ASIDE PHILEMON, WHICH CANNOT BE DATED) IS 1 THESSALONIANS, 1 CORINTHIANS, 2 CORINTHIANS, GALATIANS, PHILIPPIANS, AND ROMANS. LETTERS CONSIDERED “DEUTERO-PAULINE” (PROBABLY WRITTEN BY PAUL’S FOLLOWERS AFTER HIS DEATH) ARE EPHESIANS, COLOSSIANS, AND 2 THESSALONIANS; 1 AND 2 TIMOTHY AND TITUS ARE “TRITO-PAULINE” (PROBABLY WRITTEN BY MEMBERS OF THE PAULINE SCHOOL A GENERATION AFTER HIS DEATH). HE WAS CONVERTED TO FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST ABOUT 33 CE, AND HE DIED IN ROME, IN 64 CE.
IN HIS CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH, PAUL LEARNED HOW TO “WORK WITH [HIS] OWN HANDS” (1 CORINTHIANS 4:12). HIS TRADE, TENT MAKING, WHICH HE CONTINUED TO PRACTICE AFTER HIS CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY, HELPS TO EXPLAIN IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF HIS APOSTLESHIP. HE COULD TRAVEL WITH A FEW LEATHER-WORKING TOOLS AND SET UP SHOP ANYWHERE. IT IS DOUBTFUL THAT HIS FAMILY WAS WEALTHY OR ARISTOCRATIC, BUT, SINCE HE FOUND IT NOTEWORTHY THAT HE SOMETIMES WORKED WITH HIS OWN HANDS, IT MAY BE ASSUMED THAT HE WAS NOT A COMMON LABOURER. HIS LETTERS ARE WRITTEN IN KOINE, OR “COMMON” GREEK, RATHER THAN IN THE ELEGANT LITERARY GREEK OF HIS WEALTHY CONTEMPORARY THE JEWISH PHILOSOPHER PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA, AND THIS TOO ARGUES AGAINST THE VIEW THAT PAUL WAS AN ARISTOCRAT. MOREOVER, HE KNEW HOW TO DICTATE, AND HE COULD WRITE WITH HIS OWN HAND IN LARGE LETTERS (GALATIANS 6:11), THOUGH NOT IN THE SMALL, NEAT LETTERS OF THE PROFESSIONAL SCRIBE.
UNTIL ABOUT THE MIDPOINT OF HIS LIFE, PAUL WAS A MEMBER OF THE PHARISEES, A RELIGIOUS PARTY THAT EMERGED DURING THE LATER SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD. PHARISEES BELIEVED IN LIFE AFTER DEATH, WHICH WAS ONE OF PAUL’S DEEPEST CONVICTIONS. PHARISEES WERE VERY CAREFUL STUDENTS OF THE HEBREW BIBLE, AND PAUL WAS ABLE TO QUOTE EXTENSIVELY FROM THE GREEK TRANSLATION.
BY HIS OWN ACCOUNT, PAUL WAS THE BEST JEW AND THE BEST PHARISEE OF HIS GENERATION AS LATER HE CLAIMED TO BE THE BEST APOSTLE OF CHRIST—THOUGH HE ATTRIBUTED HIS EXCELLENCE TO THE GRACE OF GOD.
PAUL SPENT MUCH OF THE FIRST HALF OF HIS LIFE PERSECUTING THE NASCENT CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT, AN ACTIVITY TO WHICH HE REFERS SEVERAL TIMES. IT IS POSSIBLE THAT PAUL BELIEVED THAT JEWISH CONVERTS TO THE NEW MOVEMENT WERE NOT SUFFICIENTLY OBSERVANT OF THE JEWISH LAW, THAT JEWISH CONVERTS MINGLED TOO FREELY WITH NON-JEWISH CONVERTS, THUS ASSOCIATING THEMSELVES WITH IDOLATROUS PRACTICES, OR THAT THE NOTION OF A CRUCIFIED MESSIAH WAS OBJECTIONABLE. THE YOUNG PAUL CERTAINLY WOULD HAVE REJECTED THE VIEW THAT JESUS HAD BEEN RAISED AFTER HIS DEATH—NOT BECAUSE HE DOUBTED RESURRECTION AS SUCH BUT BECAUSE HE WOULD NOT HAVE BELIEVED THAT GOD CHOSE TO FAVOUR JESUS BY RAISING HIM BEFORE THE TIME OF THE JUDGMENT OF THE WORLD.
WHATEVER HIS REASONS, PAUL’S PERSECUTIONS PROBABLY INVOLVED TRAVELING FROM SYNAGOGUE TO SYNAGOGUE AND URGING THE PUNISHMENT OF JEWS WHO ACCEPTED JESUS AS THE MESSIAH. DISOBEDIENT MEMBERS OF SYNAGOGUES WERE PUNISHED BY SOME FORM OF OSTRACISM OR BY LIGHT FLOGGING, WHICH PAUL HIMSELF LATER SUFFERED AT LEAST FIVE TIMES.
PAUL WAS ON HIS WAY TO DAMASCUS WHEN HE HAD A VISION THAT CHANGED HIS LIFE: ACCORDING TO GALATIANS 1:16, GOD REVEALED HIS SON TO HIM. MORE SPECIFICALLY, PAUL STATES THAT HE SAW THE LORD (1 CORINTHIANS 9:1), THOUGH ACTS CLAIMS THAT NEAR DAMASCUS HE SAW A BLINDING BRIGHT LIGHT. THREE YEARS LATER HE WENT TO JERUSALEM TO BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH THE LEADING APOSTLES THERE. AFTER THIS MEETING HE BEGAN HIS FAMOUS MISSIONS TO THE WEST, PREACHING FIRST IN HIS NATIVE SYRIA AND CILICIA (GALATIANS 1:17–24). DURING THE NEXT 20 YEARS OR SO (C.MID-30S TO MID-50S), HE ESTABLISHED SEVERAL CHURCHES IN ASIA MINOR AND AT LEAST THREE IN EUROPE, INCLUDING THE CHURCH AT CORINTH.
IT IS OBVIOUS FROM READING HIS LETTERS TO THE GROUPS IN CORINTH THAT THEY WERE ENGAGED IN INFIGHTING AND DIVISION. ALREADY VARIOUS INTERPRETATIONS OF THE JESUS STORY WERE BEING BANDIED ABOUT. SOME PEOPLE WITH CHARISMATIC PERSONALITIES AROSE AND AS OTHERS GROUPED AROUND THEM, BROUGHT DIVISION INTO THE NEWLY FORMED CHRSITIAN COMMUNITY – PAUL RAILS AGAINST THEM IN THE BEST TRADITIONS OF HIS GREEK TRAINING IN RHETORIC. PAUL IS A DEDICATED, PASSIONATE, ENTHUSIASTIC, AND CHARISMATIC MAN. PHYSICALLY SMALL OF STATURE AND NO MR. UNIVERSE IN PHYSICAL APPEARANCE HE NONETHELESS COMMENDED GREAT RESPECT FROM MANY – HE ALSO COMMANDED GREAT OPPOSITION AND CRITICISM FROM OTHERS. THIS WAS A TIME OF PASSION FOR THINGS RELIGIOUS – QUITE THE OPPOSITE FROM OUR PRESENT AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY.
THERE ARE A NUMBER OF ANCIENT TEXTS APART FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT THAT EMPLOY THE PHRASE OPEN MOUTH AS A SYNONYM FOR FREE OR FRANK SPEECH. THE GREEK WORD USED IS PARRESIA.
PLUTARCH, IN HIS WONDERFUL ESSAY, HOW TO TELL A FLATTERER FROM A FRIEND, SAID THAT PARRESIA IS “THE NATURAL LANGUAGE OF FRIENDSHIP.” IN OTHER WORDS A TRUE FRIEND WILL TELL YOU WHAT YOU NEED TO HEAR, EVEN IF IT IS HARD TO HEAR IT. AND THAT IS THE ROLE PAUL IS CREATING FOR HIMSELF IN 2 CORINTHIANS 6:11-13: A FRIEND WHO SAYS TOUGH THINGS. IT IS ANOTHER QUESTION ENTIRELY WHETHER THE CORINTHIANS BELIEVED HIM, NO ONE KNOWS BUT FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE ANCIENT WORLD THE MOST IMPORTANT TRAIT FOR A PUBLIC ORATOR OR LEADER WAS THAT BLUNT UNADORNED SPEECH WAS SAID REGARDLESS OF WHOSE FEELINGS MIGHT BE HURT OR WHAT THE CONSEQUENCES MIGHT BE FOR THE SPEAKER. IT WAS PROOF OF AN INDEPENDENT AND COURAGEOUS MIND. THIS IS WHERE PAUL IS COMING FROM IN THE 2ND LETTER TO THE CORINTIANS. A TRUE FRIEND, HE IS SAYING, WILL TELL YOU NOT WHAT YOU MIGHT WANT TO HEAR BUT WHAT YOU NEED TO HEAR.
THIS TRAIT IS ONE WHICH SEEMS TO OFTEN BE ASSIDUOUSLY AVOIDED TODAY. SEEMINGLY NOONE SPEAKS OPENLY OR HONESTLY. ONE HAS TO OFTEN READ BETWEEN THE LINES BOTH IN WRITTEN AND ORAL COMMUNICATIONS IF ONE WANTS TO GLEAN THE TRUTH AND INTENTIONS OF THE OTHER PERSON. OVER POLITENESS HAS BECOME ENDEMIC. I AM NOT CONDONING RUDENESS, FAR FROM IT, BUT I AM CONDONING HONESTY. CAN WE HAVE SUFFICIENT PASSION AND LOVE FOR CHRIST AND OUR FELLOWS TO SPEAK OPENLY AND HONESTLY? DO WE SHOW IN OUR DEMEANOUR, WORDS AND ACTIONSTHE RESULTS OF LIVING A CHRISTIAN LIFE? DO WE FIGURATIVELY GLOW WITH LOVE FOR OTHERS AND FOR LIFE ITSELF – WHAT A GIFT WE ALL HAVE – LIFE!
THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITERS SPEAK OF SOMETHING THEY CALL ‘ETERNAL LIFE’. COULD IT BE THAT THIS IS NOT SOME PIE IN THE SKY HOPE TO LIVE FOREVER BUT IS A STATE OF MIND WHERE WE CAN LIVE OUT THIS MIRACLE WE HAVE ALL BEEN GIVEN FULL OF LOVE – FOR THE GIVER, FOR OTHER PEOPLE AND FOR THIS AMAZING WORLD WHERE WE LIVE OUT THAT LIFE. IS IT A STATE WHERE WE CAN BECOME FULLY HUMAN WITH ALL THAT OFFERS US AND LIVE OUR LIVES TO THE ABSOLUTE MAX? NOT SIMPLY DOING NO HARM BUT BRINGING THE PEACE, JOY AND THE LOVE WE FIND IN GOD TO EVERYONE WE MEET.
PAUL WAS FIXATED ON ONE PARTICULAR OUTCOME – TO SPREAD THE STORY OF JESUS TO ANYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN. AS A RESULT HE LED A HARD AND DIFFICULT LIFE BUT HAD HE NOT BEEN SO SINGLEMINDED AND PASSIONATE WE WOULD NOT BE SITTING IN THIS CHURCH TODAY – THERE WOULD BE NO CHRISTIAN CHURCH. SO AS PAULS WROTE, “PLEASE DON’T SQUANDER ONE BIT OF THIS MARVELLOUS LIFE GOD HAS GIVEN US.”

AMEN. THE LORD BE WITH YOU.

SERMON 17TH JUNE 2018 Mark 4:26-34
JESUS also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Then Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time! “How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.” With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
STORIES! THEY ARE WONDERFUL THINGS. THEY SERVE SO MANY PURPOSES. LET’S THINK BACK TO THE DREAMTIME OF THE FIRST AUSTRALIANS. THEIR WHOLE CULTURE WAS ENCAPSULATED IN THEIR WONDERFUL STORIES – FROM THE EXPLANATION OF THE FORMATION OF THEIR LAND RIGHT THROUGH TO THEIR CODE OF LAWS.
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO REMEMBER A LOT OF FACTS? IT’S DIFFICULT – TO SAY THE LEAST – ESPECIALLY WHEN ONE NEEDS TO REGURGITATE THEM IN AN ORAL OR WRITTEN EXAM. BUT ENTWINE THE FACTS INTO A STORY AND THEY ARE REMEMBERED ALONG WITH THE STORY. MANY “CHILDREN’ NOW OF A CERTAIN AGE WILL RECALL BEING READ THE FABLES OF AESOP OR HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSON AS A CHILD. THE FIRST KNOWN COLLECTION ASCRIBED TO THE ANCIENT GREEK SLAVE AESOP APPEARED IN THE 4TH CENTURY BCE.
PERHAPS THE WORLD’S MOST TALENTED STORYTELLER WAS THE LEGENDARY PERSIAN QUEEN SCHEHERAZADE, OF ARABIAN NIGHTS FAME.
AFTER MARRYING A KING WITH AN UNPLEASANT HABIT OF MARRYING AND KILLING A NEW WIFE EVERY NIGHT, SHE BEGAN TO TELL HER HUSBAND FANTASTIC STORIES, ENDING EACH ONE ON A CLIFFHANGER SO HE WOULD NOT KILL HER TILL HE HAD HEARD THE NEXT INSTALLMENT. BY THE TIME SHE FINALLY FINISHED HER TALES, THE KING HAD FALLEN IN LOVE WITH HER AND SPARED HER LIFE – AND SO WE HAVE TALES OF THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS.
GREECE’S MOST FAMOUS STORYTELLER IS HOMER, WHO WROTE THE EPICS THE ILIAD AND THE ODYSSEY. OFTEN CALLED THE FATHER OF ENGLISH LITERATURE, GEOFFREY CHAUCER WAS THE MIDDLE AGES POET WHO PENNED THE CANTERBURY TALES. EIGHTY-THREE KNOWN MANUSCRIPTS OF THIS COLLECTION OF STORIES SURVIVE TODAY, A TESTAMENT TO ITS POPULARITY. AND OF COURSE WE CANNOT FORGET THE MAN WHO CREATED THE WONDERFUL DRAMAS AND STAGE PLAYS STILL RE-ENACTED TODAY – ONE WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
WE COULD CONTINUE WITH THE GREAT LIST OF FAMILIAR NAMES – DICKENS, DANTE, AND THE MYRIAD OF GREAT AUTHORS OF FICTION THROUGHOUT THE CENTURIES – THE LIST IS ALMOST ENDLESS. SURELY WE WOULD ALSO NEED TO INCLUDE JESUS OF NAZARETH IN THAT LIST. HE WAS FAMOUS FOR HIS STORIES ALL OF WHICH TAUGHT THEIR HEARERS A LESSON – WE CALL THEM PARABLES. JESUS USED THE STORY FORM TO GET HIS MESSAGE ACROSS. MANY PEOPLE, ACCORDING TO THE GOSPELS, SAT ENTRANCED AT HIS FEET LISTENING TO HIS TALES AND LEARNING OF LIVING A LIFE OF LOVE AND FORGIVENESS WITHIN THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THE ARRIVAL OF WHICH HE WAS ANNOUNCING AND REVEALING TO THEM. WHAT HE SAID WAS A RADICAL IDEA IN THAT IT SEEMED TO TURN THEIR LAW – THE TORAH – ON ITS HEAD – NO LONGER IS IT NECESSARY TO LIVE YOUR LIFE FOLLOWING THE RULES AND THE LAWS – INSTEAD LIFE IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD AS REVEALED BY JESUS IS A LIFE OF FREEDOM, LOVE AND JOY – THAT WAS RADICAL INDEED.
ALSO I SUGGEST THAT IT IS LARGELY BECAUSE OF JESUS’ STORIES THAT WORKED THEIR WAY INTO THE ORAL TRADITIONS OF FIRST CENTURY PALESTINE AND RETOLD BY THE GOSPEL WRITERS THAT WE CAN SENSE SO MUCH ABOUT HIM.
BEFORE THE TIME OF FILM, VIDEO, TAPE AND DIGITAL RECORDING AND THE PRINTED WORD THE ONLY WAY THE BASIC STRUCTURES – THE LAWS AND THE ORGANISATION OF A SOCIETY COULD BE STORED AND THEIR LONGEVITY ASSURRED WAS BY STORY TELLING.
WELL, THINKING OF THE STORIES OF JESUS – JUST HOW DOES ONE CAPTURE THE CONCEPT OF A KINGDOM WHICH IS NOT PHYSICAL – IN CONTRAST TO THE EMPIRE WITHIN WHICH HE LIVED?
MARK ASKS THAT VERY QUESTION AND WRITES IN HIS GOSPEL,” HOW CAN WE PICTURE GOD’S KINGDOM? WHAT KIND OF STORY CAN WE USE? IT’S LIKE A PINE NUT. WHEN IT LANDS ON THE GROUND IT IS QUITE SMALL AS SEEDS GO, YET ONCE IT IS PLANTED IT GROWS INTO A HUGE PINE TREE WITH THICK BRANCHES – EAGLES NEST IN IT.” WITH MANY STORIES LIKE THESE, JESUS PRESENTED HIS MESSAGE TO THOSE WHO WOULD LISTEN, FITTING THE STORIES TO THEIR EXPERIENCE AND MATURITY. HE WAS NEVER WITHOUT A STORY WHEN HE SPOKE.”
IT IS INTERESTING THAT WHEN I FIRST WENT TO THE SUMMERHILL AGED CARE HOME TO TAKE THE SERVICE IT TOOK ME VERY LITTLE TIME TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE RESIDENTS ALWAYS WANTED A STORY – NO HIGH FALUTING THEOLOGY OR EVANGELICAL CLAPTRAP – THEY SIMPLY WANTED A STORY THAT THEY COULD REMEMBER AND THINK ABOUT – A STORY FROM LIFE THAT CONTAINED A SIMPLE LESSON IN LIFE AND POINTED THEM TOWARDS THE KINGDOM OF GOD – A STORY THAT SPOKE OF LOVE, FORGIVENESS AND COURAGE TO FACE THE FUTURE. NOTHING HAS CHANGED IN 2000 YEARS.
THERE WAS A LADY MINISTER WHO TOLD A GROUP OF COLLEAGUES THAT SHE WAS “LIVING OUT OF MY CALL, NOT MY CAN”. WHAT? WHAT ON EARTH DID SHE MEAN? IT WAS VERY PROFOUND AND MEANINGFUL ACTUALLY.
SO MUCH OF OUR LIVES IS ABOUT DEMONSTRATING WHAT WE CAN DO RATHER THAN WHAT WE ARE CALLED TO DO. IT MAKES SENSE. OUR DEFAULT IS DOING RATHER THAN BEING – LISTS RATHER THAN LIVING – AND QUANTIFIABLE MEASUREMENTS RATHER THAN QUALIFIABLE MOMENTS. THE QUESTION COULD BE ASKED, “DO YOU YEARN FOR A LIFE FILLED WITH QUANTITY OR QUALITY”? MANY PEOPLE IN OUR WESTERN EUROPEAN CAPITALIST SOCIETY LIVE LIVES CRAMMED WITH BUSYNESS – AMPLY AIDED BY TECHNOLOGICAL DEVICES – IN OTHER WORDS QUANTITY – NO TIME FOR ANYTHING OUTSIDE OF THEIR OWN SELF-CONSTRUCTED FRAMEWORK – CERTAINLY NO TIME TO STOP AND HELP OTHERS LESS FORTUNATE THAN THEMSELVES. THIS IS THE DESCRIPTION OF A LIFE SPED UP BY BUSYNESS RATHER THAN A LIFE BEING A TIME OF QUALITY – ENJOYMENT. IT IS A LIFE LIVED WITH AN INNER FOCUSSED PERSPECTIVE – SELF CENTRED.
THIS LITTLE PARABLE OF THE SMALL SEED IS UNIQUE TO MARK BUT IT PACKS A VERY POWERFUL MESSAGE FOR ALL OF US. HE WRITES,”THE EARTH DOES IT ALL WITHOUT HIS HELP”. IT IS SO EASY, SO NATURAL.
THIS STORY IS VERY RELEVANT TO ME – I DO WORRY ABOUT THE LONGER TERM FUTURE OF THIS PARISH- THIS IS TELLING ME TO STOP WORRYING – DON’T STOP WORKING BUT STOP WORRYING. THE SOIL OF THE PARABLE BEING GOD, THE FARMER PLANTS THE SEED AND TRUSTSTHE SOIL TO DO THE REST – TO BRING THE SEED TO LIFE AND THE RESULTANT PLANT TO HARVEST.
SOME MIGHT SAY THIS STORY IN MARK IS BORING – IT’S SO SIMPLE. SO A SEED IS PLANTED AND IT GROWS OF ITS OWN ACCORD – WHAT IS SPECTACULAR ABOUT THAT? IT HAPPENS MILLIONS OF TIMES OVER EVERY DAY. THE READER DOESN’T NEED ANY SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE IN SCIENCE OR PLANT BIOLOGY TO UNDERSTAND.
BUT MARK IS SAYING – IN OTHER WORDS, THE REIGN OF GOD WILL TAKE ROOT — WHETHER IN THE WORLD, IN IMPERIAL SOCIETY, OR IN SOMEONE’S HEART – WHERE IS NOT SPECIFIED.
IT WILL GROW GRADUALLY AND AUTOMATICALLY. IT WILL GROW PERHAPS SO SUBTLY THAT YOU WON’T EVEN NOTICE, UNTIL AT LAST IT PRODUCES ITS INTENDED FRUIT. IT IS THE NATURE OF GOD’S REIGN TO GROW AND TO MANIFEST ITSELF – THAT’S WHAT IT DOES. AS A LAMP BELONGS ON A LAMPSTAND, GOD’S REIGN, LIKE A SEED, MUST GROW, EVEN IF UNTENDED AND EVEN IF ITS GRADUAL EXPANSION IS NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO DETECT.
I FOUND MYSELF THINKING, “THIS IS A PRETTY NICE DEAL, A KINGDOM OF GOD THAT COMES INTO BEING INEVITABLY, WITHOUT OUR HAVING TO DO ANYTHING.” BUT THEN PROFESSOR SKINNER SAYS, “NOT SO FAST.” OUR ACTION AND OUR INVOLVEMENT ARE REQUIRED FOR THERE IS LITTLE POINT IN THE SEED BEING PLANTED IF IT IS NOT CARED FOR AND ATTENDED. WEEDS WILL OVERTAKE IT AND STRANGLE IT
COMPARED TO THE PREVIOUS PARABLE’S MATTER-OF-FACTNESS, THE STORY OF THE MUSTARD SEED READS LIKE A DENSE NOVELLA. AT FIRST GLANCE, IT REAFFIRMS THINGS PEOPLE HAVE ALREADY LEARNED ABOUT GOD’S REIGN: SOMETHING VERY SMALL WILL EVENTUALLY MORPH INTO SOMETHING MUCH LARGER; ALSO, SOMETHING THAT APPEARS OBSCURE AND INSIGNIFICANT WILL TURN INTO SOMETHING PUBLIC AND GRAND. YET THERE IS MORE: THE REIGN OF GOD WON’T JUST GROW FOR THE SAKE OF LOOKING PRETTY, BUT CREATURES WILL FIND THAT IT PROVIDES THEM SHELTER AND SECURITY.
THOSE ARE ALL IMPORTANT POINTS, BUT THEY CANNOT CAPTURE THE REAL ENERGY IN THIS PARABLE. THE PARABLE’S PUNCH COMES IN AT LEAST TWO STRANGE THINGS JESUS SAYS.
FIRST, GOD’S REIGN ISN’T LIKE ANY ORDINARY SEED. IN SOME WAYS IT RESEMBLES A MUSTARD SEED. THIS IS NOT THE KIND OF CROP MOST PEOPLE WOULD SOW. WHERE JESUS LIVED, MUSTARD WAS PROLIFIC LIKE A COMMON AND STURDY WEED. IT COULD POP UP ALMOST ANYWHERE AND START MULTIPLYING. SOME OF JESUS’ LISTENERS MUST HAVE GROANED OR CHUCKLED. IMAGINE HIM SPEAKING TODAY OF PLANTING SALVATION JANE.
SECOND, JESUS DESCRIBES THE FULLY GROWN MUSTARD PLANT AS “THE GREATEST OF ALL SHRUBS.”1 AT THIS POINT, SOME OF HIS AUDITORS PROBABLY CHOKED. IT CAN GROW DENSE, BUT IT IS HARDLY MAGNIFICENT. THE HUMOUR AND THE ABSURDITY ARE PART OF THE MAIN POINT. JESUS COULD HAVE LIKENED GOD’S REIGN TO THE CEDARS OF LEBANON IF HE WANTED TO DESCRIBE AN IN-BREAKING STATE OF AFFAIRS THAT WOULD CAUSE PEOPLE TO DROP EVERYTHING AND BE IMPRESSED. INSTEAD HE DESCRIBES SOMETHING MORE ORDINARY, AND YET ALSO SOMETHING MORE ABLE TO SHOW UP, TO TAKE OVER INCH BY INCH, AND EVENTUALLY TO TRANSFORM A WHOLE LANDSCAPE. FUSSY PEOPLE MIGHT DEEM THIS UNINVITED PLANT TO BE TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING. OTHERS MIGHT CONSIDER IT A NUISANCE, BUT WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO, LIKE THE BIRDS, NEED A HOME WHERE THEY CAN BE SAFE? THEY WILL BE HAPPY.
THE PARABLE THEREFORE DEPENDS ON SATIRE. IT PROMISES TO UPEND A SOCIETY’S WAYS OF ENFORCING STABILITY AND RELEGATING EVERYONE TO THEIR “PROPER” PLACES. THE REIGN OF GOD WILL MESS WITH ESTABLISHED BOUNDARIES AND CONVENTIONAL VALUES. LIKE A FAST-REPLICATING PLANT, IT WILL GET INTO EVERYTHING. IT WILL BRING LIFE AND COLOUR TO DESOLATE PLACES. IT WILL CROWD OUT OTHER CONCERNS. IT WILL RESIST OUR MANIPULATIONS. ITS HUMBLE APPEARANCE WILL EXPOSE AND MOCK PRIDE AND PRETENTIOUSNESS. AS A RESULT, SOME PEOPLE WILL WANT TO BURN IT ALL DOWN IN A POINTLESS ATTEMPT TO RESTORE THEIR FIELDS.
IT BEARS MENTIONING THAT MARK’S OUTLOOK ON THE REIGN OF GOD WILL NOT ENDORSE A PASSIVE STANCE ON OUR PART. WHILE THERE IS SOMETHING INEVITABLE ABOUT GOD’S DELIVERANCE, STILL OTHER PASSAGES IN MARK CALL WOULD-BE DISCIPLES TO PARTICIPATE IN ITS NURTURING.
THE REIGN OF GOD DOES NOT CARVE OUT A SEPARATE SACRED SPACE; IT CLAIMS ALL ASPECTS OF OUR HUMAN EXISTENCE. THERE IS NO SUCH THING, NOT IN CHRISTIANITY AT LEAST, AS AN APOLITICAL GOSPEL. THERE IS NO ECONOMICALLY NEUTRAL GOSPEL.
THERE IS NO GOSPEL THAT DISMISSES THE IMPORTANCE OF EMBODIED EXISTENCE AND INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS. IF CHRISTIANITY – THE CHURCH – THAT’S US FRIENDS – DOESN’T PROVIDE SANCTUARY, HOSPITALITY, SUSTENANCE, AND RENEWAL TO THOSE WHO NEED IT, THEN IT ISN’T THE GOSPEL WE ARE LIVING.
IN SHORT, THERE IS NO GOSPEL IN WHICH JESUS REMAINS BURIED IN THE GROUND LIKE A DORMANT SEED.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

SERMON 10TH JUNE 2018 – Mark 3:20-35
20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people THEY were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
YOU’RE OUT OF YOUR MIND!
HERE WE HAVE AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE OF POOR TRANSLATION AND APPARENTLY NOT NOTING AN INSERTION INTO THE STORY. HERE THERE ARE TWO STORIES MINGLED TOGETHER WITH THE PART INVOLVING THE SCRIBES SET AS A SORT OF FLASHBACK WITHIN THE STORY OF JESUS’ INTERACTION WITH HIS FAMILY. IN VERSE 21 THE BETTER TRANSLATION FROM THE ORIGINAL GREEK SHOULD READ “…FOR THEY [NOT PEOPLE] WERE SAYING “HE HAS GONE OUT OF HIS MIND”.
THEN THE SENTENCE MAKES SENSE AS IT READS,”WHEN HIS FAMILY HEARD IT, THEY WENT OUT TO RESCUE HIM [FROM THE CROWD] FOR THEY WERE SAYING; ‘HE HAS GONE OUT OF HIS MIND” – IT’S THE FAMILY WHO THINKS HE HAS GONE OUT OF HIS MIND – EXISTEMI – LITERALLY “BESIDE HIMSELF”. SO THEY TURN UP TO TAKE HIM OUT OF THIS CRAZY CROWD AND TAKE HIM BACK TO THE PEACE AND QUIET OF HOME. THEY COME TO CARE FOR HIM – HE IS FAMILY AND LOVED AS SUCH!
NOW JUMP TO VERSE 31 AND IT CONTINUES, “THEN HIS MOTHER AND BROTHERS CAME; AND, STANDING OUTSIDE THEY SENT TO HIM AND CALLED HIM”. IT’S A SAD SITUATION WHEN YOUR OWN FAMILY MISTAKENLY THINKS YOU ARE NUTS EVEN IF THEY DO REALLY LOVE YOU!
VERSES 28-30 ARE THE CRUNCH HERE WHERE JESUS IS ADDRESSING THE DEROGATORY RELIGIOUS SCHOLARS.
“LISTEN TO THIS CAREFULLY. I AM WARNING YOU. THERE’S NOTHING DONE OR SAID THAT CAN’T BE FORGIVEN. BUT IF YOU PERSIST IN YOUR SLANDERS AGAINST GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT, YOU ARE REPUDIATING THE VERY ONE WHO FORGIVES, SAWING OFF THE BRANCH ON WHICH YOU ARE SITTING, SEVERING BY YOUR OWN PERVERSITY ALL CONNECTION WITH THE ONE WHO FORGIVES”. HE GAVE THIS WARNING BECAUSE THEY WERE ACCUSING HIM OF BEING IN LEAGUE WITH THE DEVIL”.
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO POPE FRANCIS SAID THAT THERE WAS NO SIN THAT COULD NOT BE FORGIVEN. WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT THAT IT HAS THE ABILITY TO GREATLY TEST ONE’S FAITH AND SELF ASSURANCE AS A CHRISTIAN – IN FACT I CAN SAY THAT IT IS ONE OF, IF NOT THE, GREATEST CHALLENGE TO BEING A CHRISTIAN IN THIS SOCIETY. WHEN ONE THINKS OF SOME OF THE MOST HEINOUS ACTS OF VIOLENCE AND EVIL PERPETRATED AGAINST INNOCENT PEOPLE – PARTICULARLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN – FINDING FORGIVENESS IS A VERY DIFFICULT – IN OPPOSITION TO EVERYTHING WE WANT TO FEEL AND DO. IT IS A WELL NIGH IMPOSSSIBLE THING. THE VERB COMMONLY TRANSLATED “FORGIVEN” (APHIEMI – AS IN VERSE 28) MEANS BEING HANDED A SENSE OF “RELEASE” OR “FREEDOM.” WHATEVER WE UNDERSTAND “FORGIVENESS” TO ENTAIL – IN ANY CONTEXT – HAS TO INVOLVE MORE THAN SIMPLY ELUDING PUNISHMENT OR ESCAPING RESPONSIBILITY FOR A MISDEED.
IT IS ONLY TRUE AND COMPLETELY SINCERE FORGIVENESS FROM THE PERSON WRONGED THAT CAN BRING SUCH RELEASE AND SENSE OF FREEDOM FROM GUILT TO THE PERPETRATOR.
JESUS APPARENTLY THOUGHT THE SAME THING WITH THE EXCEPTION OF A CONTINUING DENIGRATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT – OF GOD. THE KEY IS STILL OF COURSE, PERSISTANCE IN THAT POSITION. BUT MARK SAYS, TURN AWAY, REPENT AND YES, FORGIVENESS CAN BE GIVEN – EVEN IN THAT CASE. JESUS’ COMMENTS ABOUT BLASPHEMY APPEAR TO BE DESCRIBING A PERSON WHO HAS UTTERLY SURRENDERED TO A DISDAINFUL EXISTENCE THAT HAS RENOUNCED ALL OPENNESS TO GOD.

THOSE SCRIBES WERE THEOLOGICAL HEAVYWEIGHTS. THEY REPRESENT THE AUTHORITY AND THEOLOGICAL WISDOM OF THE TEMPLE ESTABLISHMENT — THE SAME ESTABLISHMENT WHOSE LEADERS WILL ENSURE THAT PILATE CRUSHES JESUS AT THE END OF THE BOOK. WE SHOULD UNDERSTAND THOSE SCRIBES’ CREDENTIALS AS IMPECCABLE. THEIR PRONOUNCEMENT, THAT JESUS IS A SATANIC AGENT AND NOT A DIVINE ONE, RECOGNIZES THAT THERE IS POWER AT WORK IN HIM. HE IS NO CHARLATAN OR ILLUSIONIST. BUT THEY DECIDE THE POWER IS PERVERSE. THEY OFFER THE MOST DAMNING ASSESSMENT THEY CAN.
THE JERUSALEM SCRIBES’ PRONOUNCEMENT OFFERS A PLAIN ILLUSTRATION OF WHAT JESUS MEANS WHEN HE MENTIONS, LATER IN THE SCENE, THE VERY SPECIFIC INSTANCE OF BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT. THOSE SCRIBES HAVE DISMISSED THE POSSIBILITY OF GOD’S RESTORATION, FOR THEY WRITE IT OFF AS A SATANIC DECEPTION. THEY SHOW THEMSELVES DEVOID OF HOPE AND OPENLY CONTEMPTUOUS OF GOD’S WORK. AROUND THEM, PEOPLE ARE BEING SET FREE FROM THEIR DEMONS. PEOPLE ARE EXPERIENCING WHOLENESS AND LIFE. PEOPLE’S DIGNITY IS ACKNOWLEDGED. JESUS PROMISES THAT SINS AND “WHATEVER BLASPHEMIES” MAY OCCUR WILL PROVE NO OBSTACLE TO PEOPLE’S RENEWAL (MARK 3:28)! AND YET THE SCRIBES SCOFF AND DENOUNCE ALL OF THIS AS FALSE OR DANGEROUS.
HOW CAN PEOPLE – RELIGIOUS ELITES, EVEN! – WHO HAVE GROWN SO CYNICAL AND SCORNFUL OF REAL, LIVED BLESSINGS EVER BE ABLE TO EXPERIENCE DELIVERANCE FROM THEIR OWN SPITE AND NASTINESS, TO SAY NOTHING OF FREEDOM FROM THE PAINS THEY HAVE ENDURED? THE EXTRAORDINARY KIND OF BLASPHEMY OF WHICH JESUS SPEAKS (AND WHICH HE DISTINGUISHES FROM OTHER, FORGIVABLE BLASPHEMIES) IS AN “ETERNAL SIN” ONLY BECAUSE IT REVEALS AN ENTIRELY CALCIFIED MIND; SUCH PEOPLE HAVE SEEN THE WORKS OF GOD UP CLOSE IN JESUS HIMSELF AND YET REPUDIATED THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF GOD’S GRACE.
OF COURSE A REAR VIEW MIRROR IS A WONDERFUL THING. TRY TO IMAGINE YOURSELF SUDDENLY TRANSPORTED BACK IN TIME TO STAND THERE AND HEAR JESUS HIMSELF SPEAK. WHAT MIGHT YOU THINK? HOW MANY PEOPLE OVER THE CENTURIES HAVE SHARED THE DENIGRATION METED OUT TO JESUS BY THESE PROFESSIONAL THEOLOGIANS? PERHAPS, LIKE THE CHARACTER IN MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN, YOU ONLY HALF HEAR WHAT IS SAID AND GO OUT TO HAPPILY “BLESS THE CHEESEMAKERS”.
BUT HERE WE ARE FIRMLY ROOTED IN THE 21ST CENTURY. THERE IS NO GOING BACK. THERE IS NO CHANCE TO SIT AT THE FEET OF JESUS. WE CAN ONLY TRY TO DISCERN HIS MESSGE THROUGH THE FOG AND MISTS OF 2000 YEARS OF HUMAN HISTORY – THROUGH THE CONVOLUTIONS AND MACHINATIONS OF THE LEARNED THEOLOGIANS WHO HAVE QUITE OFTEN POINTED US ALL DOWN A DEAD END PATH ENDING IN CONFUSION AND RELINGUISHMENT OF THE WAY OF JESUS BECAUSE IT ALL SEEMS TOO HARD, TOO COMPLICATED AND TOO CONFUSING WHEN WE TRY TO NAVIGATE OUR WAY THROUGH THE LABYRINTH OF DOCTRINE, DOGMA AND RULES.
HERE WE ARE IN A CHURCH – IN FACT WE ARE THE CHURCH – AND TO BE CHURCH SHOULD MEAN THAT PEOPLE IN THE BROADER POPULATION CAN ACTUALLY IDENTIFY THE VALUES AND BELIEFS WHICH WE CAN DISCERN WERE ORIGINALLY ESPOUSED BY JESUS. THOSE VALUES WERE WITHOUT DOUBT, LOVE AND FORGIVENESS IN THE SENSE JUST DISCUSSED.
TO BE CHURCH MEANS THAT THERE ARE DISCERNIBLE CHARACTERISTICS THAT ARE PERCEIVABLY DIFFERENT. THAT TO BE CHURCH MEANS THAT WE DON’T GO AROUND LOOKING FOR WAYS TO CRITICIZE THE WORLD, CERTAIN THAT WE ARE INNATELY DIFFERENT FROM THE WORLD, BUT THAT PERHAPS WE CHOOSE A DIFFERENT STARTING POINT — WE DECIDE TO BE IN THE WORLD, TO SERVE THE WORLD, EVEN VIEW THE WORLD GROUNDED IN MERCY, COMPASSION, AND JUSTICE — NOT FEAR OR CONDEMNATION OR JUDGMENT – WHERE YOU START MATTERS. LAST WEEK I MET A LADY WHO EXEMPLIFIES ALL OF THIS. WHEN I TOOK OUR GIFTS DOWN TO PAULETTE CAIRNS WHO HEADS UP THE RAHAB MINISTRY – TAKING NOT JUDGEMENT BUT SMALL GIFTS AND LOVE – DARE I SAY OFFERING THE FORGIVENESS THAT RADIATES FROM CHRIST HIMSELF TO THE FEMALE SEX WORKERS IN ADELAIDE.
AND TO SOME PEOPLE FOR US TO BE SEEN TO FOLLOW AND EXHIBIT THOSE SORTS OF VALUES CAN ONLY MEAN THAT WE ARE EXISTEMI – BESIDE OURSELVES.
TOO BAD! AT LEAST WE ARE IN GOOD COMPANY. AMEN. THE LORD BE WITH YOU.

SERMON 3RD JUNE 2018 – 1ST AFTER TRINITY
Mark 2:23–3:6
23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
DID ANYONE WATCH Q AND A ON THE ABC LAST WEEK? PRESENT ON THE PANEL WAS THE VENERABLE ROD BOWER, ARCHDEACON AND PARISH PRIEST IN THE PARISH OF GOSFORD NEW SOUTH WALES – SYDNEY’S NORTHERN BEACHES REGION. I CONFESS I USUALLY AVOID THAT PROGRAMME AS I FIND IT NON PRODUCTIVE AND MOSTLY QUITE IRRITATING. I OFTEN FIND MYSELF WANTING TO SHOUT AT THE TV. THE FEW TIMES I HAVE TUNED IN I LEAVE IT FEELING I HAVE JUST LOST A PRECIOUS AND IRRETRIEVABLE PERIOD OF TIME OUT OF MY LIFE. I MUST ALSO CONFESS I LEFT IT LAST WEEK BEARING THE SAME REVELATION. I WATCHED IT – WELL MOST OF IT ANYWAY – TO SEE WHAT THE REV’D ROD BOWER HAD TO SAY. I ADMIRE FATHER ROD. I ADMIRE HIM FOR HIS COURAGEOUS STAND AGAINST THE PERCEIVED HEARTLESS TREATMENT OF REFUGEES BY OUR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND ALSO HIS CONTROVERSIAL STAND AGAINST THE SOCIAL EXCLUSION AND MARGINALISATION OF GAY PEOPLE WITHIN SOME QUARTERS OF OUR AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY. IN SHORT, BOWER IS A CONTROVERSIAL PRIEST AND REAPS THE CONSEQUENCES OF PUBLICLY STANDING UP FOR THE OUTCAST AND THE MARGINALISED IN OUR SOCIETY. HE HAS BEEN SUBJECTED TO MULTIPLE ATTEMPTS TO HUMILIATE AND EVEN PHYSICALLY THREATEN HIM. ON LAST WEEK’S PROGRAMME HE EMERGED AS A VERY CLEAR AND STRAIGHT TALKER, BEREFT OF THE OVERT POLITICAL SPIN BEING ATTEMPTED BY A COUPLE OF THE OTHER PANELISTS.
HIS BASIC MESSAGE IS SIMPLY ONE OF INCLUSIVE LOVE FOR EVERYONE – REGARDLESS OF SOCIAL POSITION, POLITICAL LEANINGS OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION. HE IS OUTSPOKEN ABOUT THOSE WHO USE THEIR POSITIONS OF POWER TO SUBJUGATE OTHERS WHO ARE POWERLESS. DOES THIS DESCRIPTION REMIND YOU OF ANYONE?
TODAY WE RETURN TO THE GOSPEL OF MARK – THE EARLIEST GOSPEL OF THE FOUR WE HAVE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. LET ME READ VERSES 1-6 IN CHAPTER 3 FOR YOU FROM A NEW INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE – IT’S CALLED THE MESSAGE AND IS WRITTEN IN VERY CONTEMPORARY CONVERSATIONAL LANGUAGE.
“THEN HE WENT BACK IN THE MEETING PLACE WHERE HE FOUND A MAN WITH A CRIPPLED HAND. THE PHARISEES HAD THEIR EYES ON JESUS TO SEE IF HE WOULD HEAL HIM, HOPING TO CATCH HIM IN A SABBATH INFRACTION. HE SAID TO THE MAN WITH THE CRIPPLED HAND,”STAND HERE WHERE WE CAN SEE YOU”. THEN HE SPOKE TO THE PEOPLE, “WHAT KIND OF ACTION SUITS THE SABBATH BEST? DOING GOOD OR DOING EVIL? HELPING PEOPLE OR LEAVING THEM HELPLESS?” NO ONE SAID A WORD, HE LOOKED THEM IN THE EYE, ONE AFTER ANOTHER, ANGRY NOW, FURIOUS AT THEIR HARD-NOSED RELIGION. HE SAID TO THE MAN, “HOLD OUT YOUR HAND”. HE HELD IT OUT – IT WAS AS GOOD AS NEW! THE PHARISSES GOT OUT AS FAST AS THEY COULD, SPUTTERING ABOUT HOW THEY WOULD JOIN FORCES WITH HEROD’S FOLLOWERS AND RUIN HIM.”
IN THE GOSPELS – WHICH IS THE CLOSEST WE CAN GET TO SOME SENSE OF THE PERSON OF JESUS OF NAZARETH. HE COMES ACROSS AS THE RADICAL – THE PERSON WHO BREAKS RULES THAT ARE A HINDRANCE AND UNHELPFUL TO THE STORY OF THE GOOD NEWS – THE GOSPEL – OF CHRIST. THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE WITHIN THE ANGLICAN CHURCH WHO ONLY FEEL COMFORTABLE WHEN WORSHIPPING USING THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER FROM 1662. I UNDERSTAND THAT AND CONSIDER THAT THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO CONTINUE IN THAT WAY BUT I ALSO CONSIDER THE CURRENT GENERATIONS OF YOUNGER MEN AND WOMEN WHO PERHAPS FEEL DRAWN TO THE CHURCH AND WOULD LIKE TO SEARCH OUT EXACTLY WHAT IT IS THAT HAS KEPT THIS INSTITUTION – FOR THAT IS CERTAINLY WHAT IT IS – ALIVE OVER TWO MILLENIA. TO ATTEMPT TO REGALE THEM WITH WORDS – BEAUTIFUL THOUGH THEY ARE – FROM ABOUT 350 YEARS AGO WOULD BE – I’M SURE YOU WILL AGREE – QUITE UN-PRODUCTIVE AND WILL APPEAR AS A BARRIER OF EXCLUSION. THE RESULT WILL BE THAT THEY WILL WALK AWAY SHAKING THEIR HEADS IN DISBELIEF. NOW I’M NOT SUGGESTING THAT THE NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION IS IN THAT CATEGORY AT ALL FOR I USE IT ON A REGULAR BASIS AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO BUT I CAN ALSO CLEARLY SEE THE GREAT BENEFIT OF USING THE MOST CONTEMPORARY WORDING POSSIBLE ESPECIALLY WHEN CONFRONTING YOUNG PEOPLE WITH THE GOSPEL. I WILL CONTINUE TO USE THE NRSV AS THE ARCHBISHOP REQUIRES BUT WILL REFER TO THE NEW WORDING WHEN I FEEL IT IS HELPFUL.
IT IS CERTAIN THAT JESUS WAS A RADICAL PROPHET AND PREACHER. THAT IS WHY HE TROD ON SO MANY TOES WITHIN THE RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY OF HIS TIME. HE WAS SCRUPULOUSLY HONEST AND OUTSPOKEN – AND THAT IS WHAT GOT THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS IN SUCH A TIZ.
FINALLY LET’S LOOK AT THEIR CRITICISMS IN THIS READING.
IF SOMEONE IS HUNGRY AND IN NEED OF FOOD OR ANY OTHER BASIC HUMAN LIFE SAVING REQUIREMENT – AND A RULE SAYS YOU CAN’T HELP – WHAT DO YOU DO? .
WHEN 90-YEAR-OLD FLORIDA RESIDENT ARNOLD ABBOTT SAID FOLLOWING HIS ARREST ON SUNDAY THAT POLICE COULDN’T STOP HIM FROM FEEDING THE HOMELESS, HE APPARENTLY MEANT IT.
ABBOTT WAS CHARGED AGAIN ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT FOR VIOLATING A NEW CITY LAW IN FT. LAUDERDALE THAT ESSENTIALLY PREVENTS PEOPLE FROM FEEDING THE HOMELESS.
“I EXPECTED IT” HE SAID IN A NEWSPAPER REPORT. “AT LEAST THIS TIME THEY LET US FEED PEOPLE FIRST.” POLICE OFFICERS LINGERED IN THE AREA FOR ABOUT 45 MINUTES DURING WHICH TIME ABBOTT AND VOLUNTEERS WITH THE LOVE THY NEIGHBOR CHARITY HE FOUNDED HANDED OUT MORE THAN 100 PLATES OF HOT CHICKEN STEW, PASTA, CHEESY POTATOES AND FRUIT SALAD TO HOMELESS MEN AND WOMEN.
IF HE’S FOUND GUILTY OF VIOLATING CITY ORDINANCE LAWS — HIS SECOND IN A WEEK — HE FACES 60 DAYS IN JAIL OR A $500 FINE. ABBOTT SAID HE’S PREPARED TO GO TO JAIL OVER HIS EFFORTS. “WHY DO I KEEP DOING THIS?” HE ASKED RHETORICALLY. “BECAUSE THESE ARE MY PEOPLE AND THEY DESERVE TO BE FED.” IN A SLIGHTLY MORE CONFRONTATIONAL INCIDENT ON SUNDAY, FOUR POLICE CRUISERS AND APPROXIMATELY A HALF DOZEN OFFICERS WITH THE FT. LAUDERDALE POLICE DEPARTMENT DESCENDED UPON AN AREA IN THE CITY WHERE ABBOTT, CHARITY REPRESENTATIVES AND CHURCH MEMBERS WERE HANDING OUT HOT MEALS TO LOCAL HOMELESS PEOPLE. ONE OFFICER DEMANDED THAT HE “DROP THAT PLATE RIGHT NOW” AS OTHERS PICKED UP THE TRAYS OF FOOD AND INSERTED THEM DIRECTLY INTO THE GARBAGE WITH LINES OF HOMELESS PEOPLE LOOKING ON. ABOTT AND REPRESENTATIVES FROM HIS CHARITY HANDED OUT MORE THAN 100 PLATES TO HOMELESS PEOPLE ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT BEFORE BEING TAKEN IN CUSTODY BY FT. LAUDERDALE POLICE. THE NEW LAW IN FT. LAUDERDALE COMES AFTER THE CITY ANNOUNCED IN JANUARY THAT PEOPLE ARE RESTRICTED FROM CAMPING, BEGGING, FOOD SHARING AND ENGAGING IN OTHER “LIFE SUSTAINING ACTIVITIES.” SO WHAT DO YOU DO – WHAT WOULD YOU DO – THE LAW OF MEN (SIC) OR THE LAW OF LOVE?

WHAT IF SOMENONE IS SUFFERING AND A LAW SAYS YOU CAN’T HELP? THE MAN WITH THE CRIPPLED HAND IN THIS STORY WAS SUFFERING – NO MEDICARE – NO DISABILITY ALLOWANCES – NO UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS – WORK OR STARVE WAS THE ORDER OF THE DAY. THAT THEN IS MUCH MORE THAN A CRIPPLED HAND.

IN MANY WAYS, THE ENTIRE GOSPEL OF MARK TELLS A STORY OF RECURRING CONTROVERSY. PASSAGES LIKE THIS ONE HELP US INTERPRET THE CONTROVERSIES AND ALSO THE EVENTS AT THE END OF THE NARRATIVE. AS DONALD JUEL PUT IT: “FOR US — AS FOR MARK — THE CROSS OUGHT TO BE A SOBER REMINDER OF HOW EASILY THE MOST NOBLE OF MOTIVES CAN BE PERVERTED. IT POINTS OUT HOW QUICKLY AN INSTITUTION CAN BECOME AN END IN ITSELF, STIFLING LEGITIMATE CONCERNS OF THOSE OUTSIDE THAT MAY SEEM TO THREATEN STABILITY. IT ILLUSTRATES HOW FREQUENTLY INSIDIOUS FORCES WE SCARCELY NOTICE CAN TRANSFORM THE BEST-EDUCATED, BEST-INTENTIONED AMONG US INTO INSENSITIVE LEADERS, DESPERATELY OUT OF TOUCH WITH WHAT’S REAL.”
SUCH INSENSITIVITY AND BROKENNESS MOVE JESUS TO GRIEF IN THE SYNAGOGUE WHEN HE CONSIDERS THE STONY, PHARAOH-LIKE HEARTS THAT REGARD SOME RULE AS MORE VALUABLE THAN REMOVING SUFFERING AND DISADVANTAGE. BUT MARK ALSO HAS GOOD NEWS TO ANNOUNCE. THIS STORY OF THE IN-BREAKING REIGN OF GOD WILL ALSO TELL OF COMPASSION AND TRANSFORMATION. JESUS, LIKE THE GOD WHO INSTITUTED THE SABBATH, IS COMMITTED TO PRESERVING LIFE. HIS MINISTRY WILL EXPOSE THE OPPRESSIVE AND CORROSIVE TYRANNIES OF FEAR, IMPERIAL PRETENSE, AND RELIGIOUS HYPOCRISY, WHEREVER THEY RESIDE. BUT, FINALLY, HE WILL DELIVER US FROM THEM.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON 27TH MAY 2018 – TRINITY SUNDAY – 1ST AFTER PENTECOST – John 3:1-17
1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
IN THE NAME OF GOD – CREATOR PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
WE NEED TO ASK OURSELVES, “WHO IS THIS MAN NAMED NIKODEMUS WHO TAKES CENTRE STAGE IN THIS STORY OF JOHN’S GOSPEL?” DID HE REALLY EXIST? I’LL BEGIN BY AGAIN SHOCKING YOU – MANY SCHOLARS BELIEVE NOT.
AGAIN, IF THE LECTIONARY WOULD ALLOW US TO READ A LITTLE FURTHER WE FIND IN VERSES 19-21 THAT JOHN RESUMES HIS FOCUS ON THE CONTRASTS BETWEEN LIGHT AND DARKNESS. JOHN’S GOSPEL IS ALL ABOUT THE LIGHT – FOR JOHN JESUS WAS THE LIGHT OF GOD WHO CAME INTO THE WORLD TO DISPERSE THE DARKNESS OF EVIL AND SIN. JOHN WAS A JEW, NOT A GREEK AND HE WAS A MYSTIC NOT A RATIONAL THEOLOGIAN. WHAT HE UNDERSTOOD ABOUT JESUS WAS THAT HE EMBODIED A NEW DIMENSION OF HUMANITY, A NEW INSIGHT, A NEW CONSCIOUSNESS, A NEW WAY OF RELATING TO THE HOLY AND HE PLACED ALL OF THIS INTO HIS RECORD OF THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN JESUS AND HIS CHARACTER NICODEMUS.
EVEN THE NAME NICODEMUS IS INTRIGUING. FOR STARTERS IT IS A GREEK NAME – IT IS GREEK NOT HEBREW.
IT IS A COMBINATION OF TWO GREEK WORDS – NIKE AND DEMOS WHICH TOGETHER TRANSLATE TO ENGLISH AS “VICTORY OF THE PEOPLE”. THINK OF THE FAMOUS NIKE RUNNING SHOES WITH THE DISTICTIVE “SWOOSH” LOGO. NIKE IS THE WINGED GODDESS OF VICTORY ACCORDING TO GREEK MYTHOLOGY – AND DEMOS HAS ITS CONTINUATION IN OUR WORD DEMOCRACY – GOVERNMENT BY THE PEOPLE. SO WHY WOULD A MAN BEARING A GREEK NAME – APPARENTLY A GREEK – BECOME A JEWISH PHARISEE AND A LEADER IN THE TEMPLE? THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN QUITE IMPOSSIBLE. SOMETHING TO PONDER – COULD IT BE JOHN’S JEWISH MYSTICISM COMING TO THE FORE RATHER THAN RATIONAL THEOLOGY AND HISTORICAL ACCURACY?
THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT PERICOPE IN JOHN’S GOSPEL. IT IS EXCLUSIVE TO JOHN – IT DOES NOT APPEAR IN ANY OF THE OTHER THREE GOSPELS. NEITHER FOR THAT MATTER DO ANY OF THE OTHER GOSPELS EVEN MENTION THE NAME NICODEMUS – HE IS EXCLUSIVE TO JOHN – WHICH MAYBE LENDS WEIGHT TO THE THEORY THAT HE IS A LITERARY DEVICE – A CHARACTER INTRODUCED BY JOHN AS AN INTEGRAL PART OF HIS STORY. AGAIN I SAY, PLEASE REMEMBER THAT THESE GOSPELS – ESPECIALLY JOHN’S ARE NOT HISTORICAL RECORDS – THEY WERE NEVER INTENDED TO BE.
THAT STATEMENT LEADS US NEATLY INTO WHAT JOHN IS TRYING TO SAY HERE IN THIS STORY. REMEMBER THE REACTION OF NICODEMUS TO JESUS’ STATEMENT THAT ONE NEEDS TO BE “BORN AGAIN”. HE TAKES JESUS LITERALLY – “, “HOW CAN ANYONE BE BORN AFTER HAVING GROWN OLD? CAN ONE ENTER A SECOND TIME INTO THE MOTHER’S WOMB AND BE BORN?” THIS IS OBVIOUSLY A STUPID RESPONSE TO A STATEMENT WHICH, IF TAKEN LITERALLY, IS PATENTLY RIDICULOUS. THIS PHRASE “BORN AGAIN” WHICH MANY BELIEVE TO BE A LITERAL SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE WHICH MUST HAPPEN IF ONE IS TO BE A ‘TRUE CHRISTIAN’ HAS BEEN AGAIN TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT AND USED AS AN INSTRUMENT OF EXCLUSION. THE EXPRESSIONS “BORN AGAIN”, “BORN ANEW” POINT, IN EVANGELICAL CIRCLES, TO A DEFINITIVE SPIRITUAL, EMOTIONAL AND SOMETIMES PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE – THE SO-CALLED “CONVERSION EXPERIENCE”.
THESE EXPRESSIONS HAVE, AS I UNDERSTAND THEM, BEEN USED TO ENCOURAGE DEPENDANCY, AS THE TERMS REEK OF IMMATURITY. IT SEEMS THAT IF ONE IS ‘BORN AGAIN’ ONE FIGURATIVELY REVERTS TO CHILDHOOD AND DEPENDANCY. IT REEKS OF POWER SYSTEMS – THE SENIOR TEACHERS – PARENTS – IN AUTHORITY AND THE NEWBORN. THERE WAS A CHEEKY SIGN ON ONE PARTICULAR RATHER PROGRESSIVE CHURCH WHICH READ,” THIS CHURCH WELCOMES YOU, NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU HAVE BEEN BORN”.
I’M NOT SAYING THE DEFINITIVE SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE THAT SOME PEOPLE HAVE IS NONSENSE – FAR FROM IT. WHAT I AM SAYING IS THAT, CONTRARY TO WHAT SOME WOULD HAVE US BELIEVE, IT IS NOT THE DEFINITIVE MARK OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN. MANY PEOPLE MUST BE IDENTIFIED AS REAL GENUINE CHRISTIANS WHOSE LIVES ABSOLUTLEY REFLECT THE LIGHT OF CHRIST, BUT THEY HAVE NEVER BEEN “BORN AGAIN” IN THAT FLOOD OF EMOTION SUCH AS SOME WOULD SAY IS A NECESSARY PART OF THEIR ‘TRANSITION’ FROM THE DARKNESS OF THE WORLD TO THE LIGHT OF CHRIST.
SO, IF NICODEMUS’ PERCEPTION IS PARTIAL AND INCOMPLETE – TO SAY THE LEAST – AND HE HAS A LACK OF SPIRITUAL PERCEPTION – WELL, WHAT THEN? HE SHOWED UP – ALBEIT IN THE DARKNESS OF NIGHT – AND IS FOUND TO BE LACKING BY THIS PART OF THE JOHANNINE TEXT. NICODEMUS COULD HAVE STAYED HOME – BUT HE DIDN’T. IN FACT HE RE-ENTERS JOHN’S STORY TWICE MORE. IN CHAPTER 7 HE IS SEEN TO BE DEFENDING JESUS IN THE ARGUMENTS SURROUNDING HIM BETWEEN THE CHIEF PRIESTS AND THE PHARISEES. THEN IN CHAPTER 19 HE COMES WITH “…A MIXTURE OF MYRRH AND ALOES, WEIGHING ABOUT A HUNDRED POUNDS” AND ASSISTS JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA TO EMBALM JEUS’ BODY AND TO PLACE IT IN THE TOMB. SO OBVIOUSLY THIS MAN HAS BEEN SO INFLUENCED BY MEETING JESUS THAT HE HAS BECOME A FOLLOWER – ALBEIT A SOMEWHAT COVERT ONE. REMEMBER – HE FIRST CAME TO JESUS “AT NIGHT” – FROM THE DARKNESS. IT IS APPARENT THAT HIS EXPERIENCE OF MEETING THE CHRIST HAS BROUGHT HIM – AT LEAST PARTIALLY – INTO THE LIGHT – THAT’S JOHN’S WHOLE POINT. MEETING JESUS CHANGES YOU – BELIEVE IN HIM AND YOU ARE TRANSFORMED FROM LIVING IN DARKNESS OF EVIL AND SIN TO LIVING IN THE GLORIOUS TRANSFORMING LIGHT OF GOD. WE NOW NEED TO ASK, “WHY HAS JOHN INCLUDED THIS NICE LITTLE STORY AND INTRODUCED HIS CHARACTER?” IT WOULD SEEM APPARENT THAT HE WAS ADDRESSING SOME WITHIN HIS COMMUNITY WHO WERE STRUGGLING WITH DOUBTS ABOUT THE CHRIST. WHEN JOHN WROTE SOME 60 OR 70 YEARS HAD PASSED SINCE JESUS HAD BEEN CRUCIFIED – 2 GENERATIONS IN THAT TIME. PEOPLE WITHIN HIS COMMUNITY MUST HAVE BEEN ASKING, “ARE YOU SURE ALL THIS IS TRUE?” THE CHARACTER OF NICODEMUS ADDRESSES THOSE CONCERNS AND IS REASSURRING THAT ONE CAN PROGRESS FROM NAÏVE LITERALISM TO SOLID FAITH AND UNDERSTANDING. BECAUSE IN THIS STORY NICODEMUS SORT OF ‘GETS IT’ AND GOES AWAY THINKING ABOUT WHAT JESUS HAS SAID BUT THERE HAS OBVIOUSLY BEEN SOME TRANSFORMING INFLUENCE BECAUSE OF HIS LATER POSITIVE CONNECTIONS TO JESUS. HIS PERCEPTION IS PARTIAL, INCOMPLETE AND UNSPIRITUAL. WHAT THEN? ISN’T THAT TRUE OF ALL OF US? WHO UNDERSTANDS GOD COMPLETELY – OR EVEN PARTIALLY? THAT IS THE GREATEST QUESTION. IT WAS IN THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE MAN JESUS OF NAZARETH THAT WE WERE SHOWN A GLIMPSE – AND JOHN NOT JUST RECOGNISED THAT BUT IN HIS MYSTICISM TOOK IT MUCH FURTHER – FOR HIM JESUS THE MAN WAS GOD IN THE FLESH. JOHN’S GOSPEL SUGGESTS THAT NICODEMUS GROWS IN UNDERSTANDING AND FAITH THROUGH ENCOUNTERING JESUS, WRESTLING WITH HIS QUESTIONS, AND STAKING HIS LIFE ON THE CHRIST. THE JOHANNINE TEXT INVITES US ALL TO GROW IN THE SAME WAY.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON 20TH MAY 2018 – PENTECOST – Acts 2. 1-21 and John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. 4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
THIS MORNING WE HAVE BEFORE US TWO DIFFERING VERSIONS OF THE FIRST CENTURY CONCEPT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. FIRST LUKE – LUKE LIKES DRAMA. LUKE WAS NOT BORN A JEW BUT WAS A CONVERT TO THE JEWISH FAITH AND SO WE SEE IN HIS WRITING A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE OF THE EARLY CHURCH. LUKE’S DESCRIPTION IN HIS BOOK OF ACTS REMINDS ME OF 1957 – MAYBE A FEW OF US CAN REMEMBER 1957 AND THE MUSIC OF THE 50’S. A GUY CALLED JERRY LEE LEWIS MADE A RECORDING CALLED “GREAT BALLS OF FIRE”. WHEN READING LUKE I COULDN’T HELP BRING THAT TO MIND – SOME WOULD SAY SACRILIGIOUS – I KNOW!
BUT IT’S LUKE’S DESCRIPTION OF THE EVENTS THAT TOOK PLACE SOME 4O OR SO YEARS EARLIER THAT HAS GRASPED THE IMAGINATIONS OF PEOPLE DOWN THROUGH THE CENTURIES. IT’S A VERY VIVID SCENE HE DRAWS. THE GREAT WIND FOLLOWED BY THE TONGUES OF FIRE SITTING ON THE DISCIPLES’ HEADS – A BIT FRIGHTENING TO SAY THE LEAST. HIS STORY IS ALL ABOUT FIRE – ONE OF THE BASIC ANCIENT ELEMENTS. THE FOUR ELEMENTS OF WESTERN CULTURE ARE: EARTH, AIR, FIRE, AND WATER. THESE FOUR ELEMENTS WERE BELIEVED TO BE ESSENTIAL TO LIFE. THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HAS BAPTISED WITH WATER SINCE ITS BEGINNINGS – A VERY FAMILIAR PART OF CHRISITANITY – NOW LUKE TURNS TO FIRE TO DESCRIBE THE HOLY SPIRIT. FOR LUKE THIS FIRE REPRESENTS THE VERY ESSENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD. IF WE WANT TO FIND HIS INSPIRATION WE NEED LOOK NO FURTHER THAN THE STORY IN EXODUS OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL BEING LED THROUGH THE DESERT BY THE PILLAR OF FIRE. THEN SEE THE STORY OF ABRAHAM MEETING GOD IN THE BURNING BUSH. LATER WE READ ABOUT THE PROPHET ELIJAH BEING CARRIED UP INTO HEAVEN ON A CHARIOT OF FIRE – AND WE READ THE FAMILIAR STORY OF DANIEL SURVIVING IN THE FIERY FURNACE DESIGNED TO ELIMINATE HIM AND HIS FRIENDS. THESE ARE ONLY A FEW EXAMPLES OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN FIRE IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES AND ARE KNOWN AS THEOPHANIES. OF COURSE FIRE WAS ALSO ALWAYS USED IN THE SACRIFICIAL TRADITIONS OF THE ISRAELITES – IT WAS BY FIRE THAT THE BURNT OFFERINGS WERE PRESENTED TO GOD IN THE TEMPLE. THE SCENE DESCRIBED BY LUKE IN ACTS WAS ANOTHER THEOPHANY.
THINKING ABOUT FIRE ALSO BROUGHT TO MIND THE SO CALLED ETERNAL FLAME WE SEE AT WAR MEMORIALS SUCH AS CANBERRA, MELBOURNE AND ARLINGTON IN THE US –AND MANY MORE. HERE THE FLAME IS USED AS A REPRESENTATION OF SPIRIT.
THINK ABOUT THE PROPERTIES OF FIRE. IT’S HOT – IT CONSUMES AND HAS THE POTENTIAL TO DESTROY AS WE AUSTRALIANS ALL KNOW TOO WELL – IT IS IMPOSSSIBLE TO HOLD OR TO CAPTURE. ON THE OTHER HAND FIRE BRINGS NEW LIFE – THINK OF THE AUSTRALIAN BUSH – MANY PLANTS IN WHICH NEED FIRE TO REPRODUCE – IT BRINGS WARMTH AND COMFORT – AND BY PRODUCING STEAM IT CREATES POWER.
IT IS ALSO ABLE TO BE QUENCHED – TO BE SMOTHERED AND KILLED WHEN DEPRIVED OF OXYGEN. THE PARALLELS WITH THE CONCEPT OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD ARE CLEAR. THINK ABOUT THAT. THE SPIRIT BRINGS NEW LIFE – COMFORT AND ENABLING POWER TO ANYONE WHO TRULY ACCEPTS IT INTO THEIR HEART AND LIFE. BUT IT CAN ALSO BE SMOTHERED AND QUENCHED.
REMEMBER LAST WEEK I SAID HOW LUKE SEARCHING AROUND TO FIND WORDS AND A STORY TO DESCRIBE THE INDESCRIBABLE CAME UP WITH THE CONCEPT OF THE ASCENSION? WELL, HERE HE IS AGAIN ATTEMPTING TO DESCRIBE THE INDESCRIBABLE. HOW DO YOU POSSIBLE DESCRIBE AN EVENT OR A TIME THAT RADICALLY CHANGED PEOPLE’S LIVES? THE EFFECT IS CERTAINLY SELF-EVIDENT BUT THE PROCESS? … MUCH MORE DIFFICULT TO PUT INTO WORDS – ESPECIALLY THE WRITTEN WORD.
NOW LET’S LOOK AT THE READING FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN. IN JOHN, THE PREFERRED TERM FOR THE SPIRIT IS THE PARACLETE. BECAUSE THIS WORD IS NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO TRANSLATE WITHOUT LOSING KEY COMPONENTS OF ITS MEANING, MANY COMMENTATORS AVOID THE PROBLEM ALTOGETHER AND SIMPLY TRANSLITERATE THE GREEK. THE GREEK NOUN PARACLETE IS RELATED TO A VERB THAT MEANS “I CALL ALONGSIDE.” THE PARACLETE, THEN, IS THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH WHICH IS LITERALLY, “THE ONE ALONGSIDE” – THE ONE ACCOMPANYING CHRIST’S FOLLOWERS AS HELPER, COUNSELOR, ADVOCATE, AND GUIDE. WHAT A DELIGHTFUL IMAGE THAT CONJURES UP? IT REMINDED ME OF THE 23RD PSALM WHERE THE IMAGE IS OF GOD SURROUNDING ONE – GOING BEFORE, ALONGSIDE, ABOVE, BELOW AND BEHIND. HERE IS JOHN USING A VERY SIMILAR IMAGE. IT’S NOT THE DRAMATIC IMAGE LIKE LUKE PORTRAYS BUT IT IS A VERY BEAUTIFUL IMAGE OF GENTLENESS AND REASSURRANCE.
A FEW YEARS AGO THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN WRITER THOMAS KENNEALY WROTE A WONDERFUL NOVEL WHICH WON HIM ANOTHER MILES FRANKLIN AWARD.

IT WAS CALLED THREE CHEERS FOR THE PARACLETE AND RELATED HOW FATHER MAITLAND CAUSES RAISED EYEBROWS AND DARK MUTTERINGS AMONGST THE BROTHERS AT ST PETER’S WHEN HE ALLOWS HIS YOUNG COUSIN AND BRIDE TO SPEND THE NIGHT IN HIS ROOM. TIME AND AGAIN HIS EFFORTS TO DO THE RIGHT THING FOR HIS FELLOW MEN LEAD HIM INTO CONFLICT WITH HIS SUPERIORS AND THE IMMUTABLE LAWS OF THE CHURCH – A CONFLICT WHICH ULTIMATELY THREATENS TO DESTROY HIM BOTH AS A PRIEST AND AS A MAN. KENNEALY WELL UNDERSTOOD THE MEANING OF THIS WORD PARACLETE – THE ONE ALONGSIDE. THAT BOOK IS WELL WORTH THE READ.
I HAVE RECENTLY DISCOVERED A NEW TRANSLATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT INTO VERY CONTEMPORARY VERNACULAR. HERE THE WORD ADVOCATE/ PARACLETE IS TRANSLATED SIMPLY AS “FRIEND”. I REALLY LIKE THAT IDEA. HERE THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS SPOKEN OF AS A FRIEND – A TRUE LOVING FRIEND – LOVELY.

JOHN ALSO DESCRIBES THE PARACLETE AS THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH. THIS IS NOT TALKING ABOUT PROPOSITIONAL, DOGMATIC TRUTH – IT’S NOT ABOUT WHO IS THEOLOGICALLY IN THE RIGHT AND WHO IS WRONG. JESUS DOES NOT SEND THE SPIRIT TO ENSURE THAT THE COMMUNITY MAKES NO ERRORS IN ITS THEOLOGICAL DESCRIPTIONS OF THE TRINITY OR OF THE PRECISE NATURE OF CHRIST’S PRESENCE IN THE CONSECRATED BREAD AND WINE. NO, JESUS SENDS THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH TO HELP HIS FOLLOWERS LIVE IN THE WAY OF JESUS. THE PARACLETE LEADS JESUS’ FOLLOWERS IN THE WAY OF ALL TRUTH, AND OF COURSE JOHN’S COMMUNITY KNOWS THAT JESUS HIMSELF IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE (JOHN 14:6). THOSE WHO KNOW JESUS’ CHARACTER AS REVEALED IN HIS DEEDS AND WORDS WILL LEAD LIVES SHAPED BY THOSE WORDS AND DEEDS. HOW CAN ANYONE WHO TRULY KNOWS JESUS – THE BELOVED SON – WHO SAYS, “THIS IS MY COMMANDMENT, THAT YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU” – USE SUPPOSED DOCTRINAL ERROR TO JUSTIFY VIOLENT OR HATEFUL TREATMENT OF ANOTHER HUMAN BEING? THOSE WHO USE FAITH AS AN EXCUSE FOR VIOLENCE DO SO BECAUSE THEY DO NOT TRULY KNOW GOD.
ONLY THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD AS REVEALED IN JESUS COULD CONCLUDE THAT KILLING PEOPLE IS OFFERING WORSHIP TO GOD.
BY CONTRAST, THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH LEADS JESUS’ FOLLOWERS IN THE WAY OF JESUS, WHOSE LOVE FOR THE WORLD LED HIM TO LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR IT. AS THE LIVING DIVINE PRESENCE IN THE COMMUNITY, THE PARACLETE CONTINUES THE WORK OF JESUS. AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THE SPIRIT’S TASK IS TO BRING TO MIND THE WORDS THAT JESUS HAS ALREADY TAUGHT THE DISCIPLES AND TO TEACH THEM THE WORDS THAT THEY WERE NOT YET ABLE TO BEAR WHEN JESUS WAS PHYSICALLY PRESENT AMONG THEM.
THERE CAN BE NO CLEARER INDICTMENT OF THE WORLD THAN ITS CHOICE TO WALK THE PATH OF DARKNESS, VIOLENCE, AND HATE INSTEAD OF WALKING IN THE WAY OF JESUS, WHO IS LIGHT AND LOVE INCARNATE. AS JESUS HIMSELF SAID, “BY THIS EVERYONE WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES, IF YOU HAVE LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER” (JOHN 13:35). THE MOST COMPELLING WITNESS THAT ANY DISCIPLE CAN BEAR IS TO LOVE OTHERS AS JESUS DID, IN DEED AND IN TRUTH. MAY THAT TRUTH BE SO IN ALL OUR LIVES HERE THIS MORNING.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON 13TH MAY 2018 – CELEBRATING ASCENSION DAY.
MARK 16. 15-20
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE

WHEN YOU ARE ASKED A QUESTION THAT YOU ARE UNABLE OR INCAPABLE OF ANSWERING, WOULD YOU EVER ADMIT IT? WHEN YOU’RE ASKED TO EXPLAIN THE INEXPLICABLE, WHAT IS YOUR REACTION? WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH OR RESPONSE?
AMERICAN AUTHOR AND TEACHER DAVE URSILLO WRITES,”I RECALL A QUESTION THAT CAME FROM MY 7-YEAR-OLD GOD DAUGHTER ONE AFTERNOON, WHICH LEFT ME FUMBLING FOR THE “RIGHT” RESPONSE. ON MY DESK AT HOME SAT A THIN GOLD CHAIN WITH A CIRCULAR EMBLEM DEPICTING JESUS CHRIST. SHE ASKED WHAT IT WAS AND WHY I HAD IT. I EXPLAINED THAT IT HAD BELONGED TO MY GRANDMOTHER WHO LEFT IT FOR ME AS A GIFT. AS THE DISCUSSION UNFOLDED, SHE ASKED, “WHY DID SHE HAVE TO DIE?”
WHEN MY GOD DAUGHTER ASKED THIS TOUGH QUESTION, A SLEW OF CONCERNS AND WORRIES CROSSED MY MIND IN THE FLASH OF A FEW MILLISECONDS. DO I EXPLAIN THAT MY GRANDMOTHER GOT SICK FROM CANCER? DO I DARE MENTION THAT I WAS HER AGE WHEN MY GRANDMOTHER PASSED AWAY AND RISK UPSETTING HER? IN THE MOMENT, I ULTIMATELY DECIDED TO ADMIT THAT I DIDN’T KNOW WHY, AND THAT THERE IS A LOT IN LIFE THAT WE WILL NEVER REALLY KNOW FOR SURE. WHETHER OR NOT SHE UNDERSTOOD MY CANDID RESPONSE ABOUT THE UNKNOWN NATURE OF LIFE, I CANNOT SAY DEFINITIVELY. BUT, HER RESPONSE WAS SUCH THAT SHE SEEMED TO BE CALMED AND REASSURED BY AN ADULT FIGURE’S ADMISSION OF THE UNKNOWN — AND THAT THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH NOT KNOWING IT.
PSYCHOLOGIST DR GARY SMITH SAID, “WE ARE HARDWIRED TO MAKE SENSE OF THE WORLD—TO CONCOCT EXPLANATIONS FOR ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING.”
AND SO WE COME TO THIS VEXED SCENARIO OF THE ASCENSION INTO THE SKY OF A RESURRECTED JESUS.
IT SEEMSTO ME THAT THE PEOPLE WHO SET THE READINGS IN OUR LECTIONARY ARE HELLBENT ON US INTERPRETING THE WORDS LITERALLY AS WE WOULD A CONTEMPORARY HISTORICAL TREATISE. PIECES ARE SIMPLY LIFTED OUT OF THE ANCIENT WRITINGS WITHOUT MUCH IF ANY CONSIDERATION FOR THEIR REALITY IN HISTORY OR THEIR CONTEXT. THIS IS WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO OUR SET GOSPEL READING THIS MORNING. AS I HAVE PREVIOUSLY MENTIONED, THE ORIGINAL GOSPEL OF MARK CONCLUDED WITH THE DISCIPLES IN DISARRAY, FEAR AND DISTRESS WHEN THEY FLED FROM THE TOMB. SOMETIME IN THE 3RD CENTURY THIS ENDING WAS DEEMED UNSATISFACTORY AND TOO BLEAK SO A FURTHER PARAGRAPH WAS ADDED. AROUND THE SAME TIME SOMEONE DECIDED TO FURTHER EMBELLISH THE STORY BY ADDING A FURTHER 12 VERSES – THESE ARE THE VERSES WE READ THIS MORNING – NOT WRITTEN BY THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR OF THE GOSPEL. WHOEVER DID THIS LATER EMBELLISHMENT INCORPORATED THE FINAL VERSES OF MATTHEW WHICH WE REFER TO AS “THE GREAT COMMISSION” BUT ALSO STOLE FROM LUKE – BUT CONDENSED IT GREATLY BY SIMPLY SAYING “ SO THEN THE LORD JESUS, AFTER HE HAD SPOKEN TO THEM, WAS TAKEN UP INTO HEAVEN AND SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD”. THIS CONCEPT IS OBVIOUSLY MYTH AND THE PRODUCT OF IMAGINATION. IF WE ARE TO FIND THE STORY OF THE ASCENSION OF JESUS WE NEED TO READ THE GOSPEL OF LUKE FOR IT WAS LUKE WHO INVENTED THE STORY. FROM THE EARLIEST WRITINGS WE HAVE FROM THAT PERIOD THERE IS NO MENTION OF ANY ASCENSION NOR FOR THAT MATTER OF A PHYSICAL RESURRECTION UNTIL WE GET TO LUKE AND HIS GOSPEL WRITTEN ONLY POST MARK AND IN THE LATE 70’S OR THE 80’S. PAUL MAKES NO MENTION OF A PHYSICALLY RESUCITATED JESUS, NEITHER DOES THE ORIGINAL MARK. IT WAS LUKE THE LATEST OF THE THREE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS WHO DECIDED THAT THE RESURRECTION STORY REQUIRED SOME MORE “BODY” – IF YOU WILL PARDON THE PUN. FOR IT WAS LUKE WHO FIRST WROTE DESCRIBING A RESURRECTED JESUS APPEARING IN PHYSICAL FORM. JOHN LATER TOOK THIS TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL WHEN HE RELATES HOW JESUS MET THE DISCIPLES, WHO HAD RETURNED TO FISHING, ON THE SHORES OF THE LAKE, TOLD THEM WHERE TO CAST THE NET TO CATCH FISH AND THEN PREPARED A MEAL OF FISH FOR THEM TO EAT.
BUT IT WAS LUKE WHO STRONGLY INTRODUCED THE IDEA OF A BODILY RESUCITATED JESUS. ONCE HAVING INVENTED THIS TURN IN THE STORY LUKE THEN HAD TO FIND A WAY OF WRITING THE PHYSICAL JESUS OUT OF HIS STORY. SO HE INVENTED THE STORY WE REMEMBER TODAY – THE STORY OF JESUS BEING PHYSICALLY LIFTED UP INTO THE AIR AND RETURNED TO HEAVEN. NOTE THAT THIS IS ALMOST A TOTAL RETELLING OF 2KINGS 2.11 WHERE THE PROPHET ELIJAH IS SIMILARLY “LIFTED UP” INTO HEAVEN. AGAIN, THE INSPIRATION FOR THE STORY IS TO BE FOUND IN THE HEBREW BIBLE – LUKE’S SCRIPTURES. HOW OFTEN DO WE READ IN THE GOSPELS THAT SOMETHING HAPPENED “IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SCRIPTURES” … OR… “THAT THE SCRIPTURES MIGHT BE FULFILLED”?
LUKE, AS WITH MOST OF THE ANCIENT WORLD UNDERSTOOD THE EARTH TO BE THE CENTRE OF A THREE TIERED UNIVERSE – SANDWICHED BETWEEN THE UNDERWORLD (PLACE OF THE DEAD) AND GOD’S ABODE –HEAVEN. THERE WAS NO UNDERSTANDING OF THE REALITY OF OUR SOLAR SYSTEM, MUCH LESS THE BROADER GALAXY AND UNIVERSE. SO IF JESUS WAS TO RETURN WHENCE HE CAME – FROM HEAVEN – HE WOULD NEED TO RISE ABOVE THE CLOUDS INTO HEAVEN. AS THE LATE GREAT SCIENTIST CARL SAGAN SAID A FEW DECADES AGO AND WITH TONGUE IN CHEEK, “IF JESUS HAD RISEN AS WE READ IN THE GOSPEL STORY HE WOULD ABOUT NOW BE REACHING THE OUTER EDGES OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM. “
SO TO PUT IT FRANLY AND SUCCINCTLY, LUKE REALISED THAT HE HAD PAINTED HIMSELF INTO A CORNER BY DESCRIBING A PHYSICALLY RESUCITATED JESUS RATHER THAN A SPIRITUALLY RESURRECTED JESUS – HE NEEDED TO FIND A WAY OUT OF THIS DILEMNA AND SO INVENTED THE STORY OF THE ASCENSION.
SO, UNDERSTANDING THAT WHAT WE HAVE READ IS MYTH RATHER THAN HISTORICAL REALITY WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US IN ALL THIS? AS A THINKING CHRISTIAN I BELIEVE IT POINTS US TO PENTECOST WHICH WE WILL CELEBRATE NEXT SUNDAY – 20TH MAY. IN THE LITURGICAL CALENDAR THE SEASON OF EASTER SUITABLY CONCLUDES WITH PENTECOST OR WHITSUNDAY – BY THE WAY, THE NAME OF WHITSUNDAY ORIGINATES IN THE TIME WHEN THE DAY WAS A TIME OF BAPTISMS AND THE CANDIDATES DRESSED IN WHITE.
AUSTRALIAN ANGLICANISM TENDS TO USE THE TERM PENTECOST – THE SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER. ON ASCENSION DAY WE THINK OF CHRIST LEAVING THE WORLD WHILST ON PENTECOST WE CAN IMAGINE HIM RETURNING AS HE HAD PROMISED – NOT IN ANY PHYSICAL FORM BUT AS A SPIRIT – A SPIRIT WHICH I FIRMLY BELIEVE REMAINS ABROAD IN THE WORLD TODAY. IT IS A SPIRIT WHICH REFLECTS THE EARTHLY LIFE OF THE CHRIST – A TOTALLY INCLUSIVE SPIRIT OF ABSOLUTE FORGIVENESS AND BOUNDLESS, WASTEFUL LOVE. THAT IS WHY I FIND THE SO CALLED ‘PROCLAMATION OF THE MYSTERY OF FAITH” USED IN OUR EUCHARIST POTENTIALLY MISLEADING. “CHRIST HAS DIED. CHRIST IS RISEN (FINE) – CHRIST WILL COME AGAIN – HMM, I WONDER WHETHER WE ARE PROCLAIMING SOMETHING THAT HAS ALREADY OCCURRED? PERHAPS THAT IS SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT AND WE CAN CONSIDER FURTHER NEXT WEEK? I ONLY PRAY THAT WE CAN ALL BECOME SENSITIVE TO THAT SPIRIT OF THE RISEN CHRIST IN OUR HEARTS AND LIVES TODAY!
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

SERMON 6TH MAY 2018 – PATRONAL FESTIVAL OF ST JOHN
John 20.1-9 – The disciple whom Jesus loved
In the name of God: creator, pain bearer and Spirit of life
JOHN IS A PARTICULARLY COMMON NAME. IT IS FOUND IN MANY COUNTRIES. IT HAS ITS ORIGINS IN THE HEBREW CULTURE AND MEANS JAHWEH HAS BEEN GRACIOUS AND SHOWN FAVOUR. IT HAS BEEN ADAPTED IN MANY IF NOT MOST LANGUAGES ACROSS THE WORLD – JUST TO NAME A FEW – JUAN, JEAN, IAN, JOHAN, JOHANNES, EVAN, GIOVANNI, SEAN AND IOANNIS IN GREEK. OF COURSE IT HAS GAINED ITS FAVOUR FROM THE MAN WE SEEK TO HONOUR TODAY AND WHOSE NAME HAS BEEN ADOPTED FOR THE NAMES OF MANY CHURCHES ACROSS THE WORLD – I CAN THINK OF 3 OR 4 THAT I KNOW PERSONALLY – ST JOHN’S HALIFAX STREET AND SALISBURY IN ADELAIDE, ST JOHNS CATHEDRAL IN HONG KONG AND OF COURSE THIS LOVELY CHURCH IN WHICH WE ARE GATHERED THIS MORNING. NOT TO OVERLOOK THE FACT THAT MY OWN PARENTS CHOSE THAT NAME FOR ME. I SUSPECT I WAS NAMED AFTER ONE OF MY FATHER’S BROTHERS WHO WAS ALSO NAMED JOHN BUT THE NAME GOES BACK A LONG WAY IN OUR FAMILY. THERE WAS ANOTHER JOHN VENUS WHO WAS MY GREAT-GREAT – GREAT GRANDFATHER AND WHO LIVED IN ENGLAND IN 1723. THERE WERE NO MORE UNTIL MY UNCLE AND I CAME ALONG A COUPLE OF CENTURIES LATER.
THERE ARE A NUMBER OF JOHNS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT – AT LEAST 4. THERE WAS THE JOHN WHO WAS A DISCIPLE OF JESUS, JOHN THE EVANGELIST WHO WROTE THE GOSPEL WE READ FROM THIS MORNING, THE JOHN WHO’S NAME HAS BEEN ATTACHED TO THE 3 LETTERS BEARING THE NAME AND JOHN WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF REVELATION.
LET’S START FROM THE BEGINNING. THE DISCIPLE OF JESUS WHO CARRIES THE NAME OF JOHN WAS REPUTEDLY THE YOUNGER SON OF ZEBEDEE AND JOANNA. HIS ELDER BROTHER WAS JAMES AND THEY WERE KNOWN AS “THE SONS OF THUNDER”. THERE IS UNCERTAINTY DUE TO THE LACK OF WRITTEN RECORDS SUCH AS WE HAVE TODAY BUT THE AVERAGE LIFE EXPECTANCY IN FIRST CENTURY PALESTINE WAS ABOUT 35 TO 42 YEARS WHICH MAKES IT HIGHLY UNLIKELY THAT JOHN THE DISCIPLE OF JESUS WROTE THE GOSPEL BEARING THE NAME OF JOHN SOME SEVENTY OR EIGHTY YEARS LATER. IT HAS ALSO BEEN SUGGESTED THAT THE FOURTH GOSPEL WAS NOT THE WORK OF A SINGLE AUTHOR BUT A COMBINATION OF PARTS MADE OVER TIME OF A NUMBER OF WRITINGS FROM THE JOHANINE COMMUNITY. BE THAT AS IT MAY, THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY OR GROUP OF COMMUNITIES WORSHIPPING JESUS AS LORD WAS LED BY AND BASED ON THE THEOLOGY AND CHRISTOLOGY OF A MAN NAMED JOHN – IT IS KNOWN AS THE JOHANNINE COMMUNITY.
THE COMMUNITY WAS SITUATED IN ASIA MINOR – OR MODERN DAY TURKEY – AND THERE APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN MORE THAN ONE GROUP FORMING THE COMMUNITY.
THE THREE LETTERS ORIGINATING FROM WITHIN THIS COMMUNITY CONVEY A PICTURE OF INCREASING DISUNITY. THERE WERE HIERARCHICAL STRUGGLES WITH OTHER CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES, AS IS EVIDENCED BY THEIR REJECTION BY A CHURCH LEADER NAMED DIOTREPHES, WHO “LOVED TO BE FIRST” (3 JOHN 1:9-10). WHATEVER TENSIONS THE JOHANNINE COMMUNITY MIGHT HAVE FACED, THE GOSPEL OF JOHN IN CHAPTER 17 PRESENTS JESUS AS PRAYING FOR UNITY AMONG HIS FOLLOWERS AND AS INSISTING THAT THEY LOVE ONE ANOTHER – JOHN 13:34-35. THIS “NEW COMMANDMENT” IN THE GOSPEL BECOMES AN OLD COMMANDMENT IN THE JOHANNINE LETTERS – 1 JOHN 3:11-4:12; 2 JOHN 1:5 – THESE WORDS ARE A PASSIONATE PLEA FROM THE HEART FOR DISUNITY TO CEASE AND LOVE TO BE THE UNIFYING FACTOR. THESE WORDS ARE INDICATING THAT CONCERN FOR INTERNAL COHESION WAS A PARTICULARLY PROMINENT MARK OF THIS COMMUNITY FROM ITS FOUNDING TO THE END OF THE FIRST CENTURY, WHEN THE GOSPEL WAS FINALIZED.
FINALLY THE BOOK OF REVELATION. ALTHOUGH THE AUTHOR IDENTIFIES HIMSELF AS JOHN HE MAKES NO ATTEMPT TO BE AN APOSTLE OR PERSONAL DISCIPLE OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS. HE REFERS TO HIMSELF SIMPLY AS “JOHN” AND A “BROTHER” – THAT IS A FELLOW CHRISTIAN, A SERVANT / SLAVE OF CHRIST WHO WRITES PROPHECY. HE IS A CHRISTIAN PROPHET. SCHOLARS HAVE DETERMINED FROM THE GREEK TEXTUAL STYLE THAT HE WAS A PALESTINIAN CHRISTIAN. ONCE AGAIN TRADITION HAS STEPPED IN TO MISLEAD BY INCORRECTLY IDENTIFY HIM WITH JESUS’ DISCIPLE AS A MEANS OF AFFIRMING HIS WRITING AS BEING AUTHORITATIVE. HE WROTE FROM THE ISLAND OF PATMOS DURING THE FINAL DAYS OF THE EMPEROR DOMITIAN (81 – 96C.E.) WHO HAD APPARENTLY EXILED HIM THERE FROM THE MAINLAND.
ONE MUST ASK THE CONTROVERSIAL QUESTION – DID JESUS EVER SET OUT TO FORM A MOVEMENT – A CHURCH – SEPARATE FROM HIS JEWISH FAITH? WE CAN NEVER REALLY KNOW OF COURSE BECAUSE MOST OF WHAT WE KNOW OF THE CARPENTER FROM NAZARETH HAS COME FROM THE GOSPEL WRITINGS, AND THEY ARE HIGHLY COLOURED BY THE AUTHORS’ OWN IDEAS AND THE IDEAS OF THEIR COMMUNITIES. NO GOSPEL SHOWS THIS AS MUCH AS THE GOSPEL OF JOHN. ONE CAN SEE THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE IDEAS SURROUNDING THE MEMORIES AND THE ORAL HISTORIES SURROUNDING THE HISTORICAL JESUS. JOHN TAKES THESE TO NEW LEVELS WHEN HE ATTRIBUTES JESUS AS BEING LITERALLY AN ATTRIBUTE OF GOD – OF YAHWEH HIMSELF.HE IDENTIFIES HIM AS THE ”LOGOS” – THE WORD – IMPLYING THAT JESUS WAS THE ACTUAL EXTENSION OF THE FATHER AND WHO CARRIED THE FATHER’S WILL AND WHO IDENTIFIED THE FATHER TO HUMANITY.
AS ONE READS THE WRITINGS OF PAUL THEN THE GOSPELS FROM THE EARLIEST – MARK – THROUGH MATTHEW AND THEN THE LUKAN WRITINGS – THE GOSPEL AND ACTS – ONE CAN SEE THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHRISTOLOGY – THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE PERSON AND DIDENTITY OF JESUS – FROM THE SIMPLE ACCOUNT OF A SPIRITUAL RESURRECTION BY PAUL TO CULMINATE IN JOHN’S CONCEPT OF JESUS AS LITERALLY A PART OF GOD.
IT IS TRAGIC TO SEE ANY COMMUNITY – PARTICULARLY ONE SET UP TO SERVE AND WORSHIP GOD – TO SUCCUMB TO EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL PRESSURES AND TO FIND ITS DEMISE IN CONTROVERSY AND DISUNITY. RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES OF THE EARLY CENTURIES SEEM TO HAVE BEEN PARTICULARLY SUSCEPTIBLE TO THIS. IT IS WIDELY KNOWN THAT THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH FACED PARTICULALRY DIFFICULT TIMES DUE TO THE DIFFERENCES OF OPINION THAT EMERGED REGARDING THE IDENTITY AND REALITY OF JESUS PLUS OF COURSE THE OFTEN INTENSE PRESSURES FROM THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
THE DEAN OF ST JOHN’S CATHEDRAL IN HONG KONG, MATTHIAS DER, WAS RECENTLY IN AUSTRALIA TO ATTEND A CONFERENCE OF CATHEDRAL DEANS IN BENDIGO. HE THEN VISITED MELBOURNE AND SYDNEY, PREACHING IN SYDNEY AT ST JAMES, KING STREET AND CHRIST CHURCH ST LAURENCE, GEORGE STREET. HE IS AN OBSERVANT AND DISCERNING MAN AND COMMENTED TO ME THAT HE HAD OBSERVED THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA TO BE A DIVIDED CHURCH. HE WAS REFERRING TO THE DIVISION BETWEEN THE LIKES OF THE SYDNEY EVANGELICALS AND THE MAINSTREAM CHURCH. THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA HAS MOSTLY BEEN A BROAD CHURCH HAPPILY ALLOWING A FAIRLY WIDE DIVERSITY OF OPINION. IN RECENT YEARS HOWEVER THE FUNDAMENTALIST AND LITERALIST DIOCESE OF SYDNEY HAS TAKEN EVANGELICANISM TO NEW LOWS. THEY HAVE BECOME DIVISIVE AND SEPARATIST INSISTING THAT THEIR CONCEPT OF LITERAL BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION IS THE ONLY ONE – ANY OTHER VIEW IS ANATHEMA. I SEE THIS AS A REAL REFLECTION OF THE EARLY JOHANNINE COMMUNITY WHERE THE DENIGRATED DIOTREPHES “…REFUSES TO WELCOME THE BROTHERS, AND PREVENTS THOSE WHO WANT TO DO SO AND EXPELS THEM FROM THE CHURCH” (3 JOHN 1. 9-10). SADLY HUMANITY HAS LEARNED LITTLE OVER THE CENTURIES AND JUST AS THE AUTHORS OF THE GOSPEL AND THE LETTERS BEARING THE NAME OF JOHN PLEADED AND BEGGED THEIR COMMUNITIES TO ALLOW LOVE AND PEACE TO PREVAIL SO WE DO NOW WITHIN OUR OWN DENOMINATION. THE SITUATION COULD POSSIBLY LEAD – AS IT HAS SO OFTEN DONE IN THE PAST – TO FURTHER DIVISION – IRRESEPECTIVE OF JOHN’S PLEA THAT “THEY ALL MAY BE ONE”.
LET US IN THIS COMMUNITY OF ST JOHN FIRMLY RESOLVE TO NEVER ALLOW DIVISION TO REAR ITS EVIL HEAD IN OUR MIDST. MAY WE INDEED ALWAYS BE ONE TOGETHER IN LOVE AND IN CHRIST. THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

SERMON – 29TH APRIL 2018. EASTER 5. John 15:1-8
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
VERSE 6 – “WHOEVER DOES NOT ABIDE IN ME IS THROWN AWAY LIKE A BRANCH AND WITHERS; SUCH BRANCHES ARE GATHERED, THROWN INTO THE FIRE, AND BURNED”. WOW! THAT’S TELLING THEM – BELIEVE IN JESUS OR GO TO HELL! HOW MANY TIMES HAS THAT BEEN SAID – FROM PULPITS EVEN AND FROM PEOPLE WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER? COUPLED WITH JOHN 14:6 (“NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME”), IT APPEARS THAT THE GOSPEL OF JOHN IS HELL-BENT ON MAKING SURE THAT THOSE WHO DO NOT BELIEVE IN JESUS ARE DESTINED FOR THE FIERY FURNACES OF HELL.
THAT’S SAD – BECAUSE NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. SPIRITUAL SALVATION – WHAT EVER THAT IS – ONLY THROUGH JESUS IS THE USUAL READING OF THIS PIECE OF JOHN’S GOSPEL. PREACHING IN THIS VEIN IS NOT PROCLAIMING THE SO CALLED “WORD OF GOD” – IT IS THE PREACHER PROCLAIMING HIS OR HER OWN IGNORANCE AND BIAS. WHEN I HEAR THIS SORT OF COMMENT I REALLY FEEL THE URGE TO ASK THE PERSON IF THEY HAVE REALLY READ THE GOSPELS – HAVE THEY STUDIED THE TIMES IN WHICH THESE DOCUMENTS WERE WRITTEN AND DO THEY UNDERSTAND OUT OF WHICH SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES THEY COME. FOR JOHN THESE WORDS REFLECT THE STRESS AND STRAIN AND THE CONFLICT OF SEPARATION. THESE WORDS TALK TO US ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES OF SEPARATION – NOT THE DECIDING OF WHO IS IN AND WHO IS OUT. SEPARATION CAN TAKE MANY FORMS. I KNOW PEOPLE WHO HAVE LONG AGO SEPARATED FROM THEIR SPOUSE –
CHILDREN ARE INVOLVED AND THE REVERBERATIONS FROM THOSE PAST EVENTS ARE STILL CAUSING MUCH ANGST AND STRESS. A FRIEND OF MINE DIED RECENTLY AND I HAVE JUST ATTENDED THE FUNERAL. HIS WIDOW IS FEELING THE PANGS OF SEPARATION VERY KEENLY. THERE YOU HAVE TWO FORMS OF SEPARATION – ONE MIGHT SAY – ONE POSSIBLY AVOIDABLE THE OTHER REALLY INEVITABLE. WE DON’T WANT TO THINK ABOUT IT – PARTICULARLY AS WE GET OLDER – BUT SEPARATION THROUGH DEATH IS ONE OF THE FACTORS TO BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT AND EVEN ANTICIPATED AS WE REACH OUR OLDER YEARS. THERE IS ALSO SEPARATION THROUGH DISTANCE AS CHILDREN LEAVE THE HOME AND SPREAD THEIR WINGS WHILST PURSUING CAREERS IN DISTANT CITIES OR OVERSEAS. NONE OF US WANT TO LET GO OF THOSE WE CHERISH AND LOVE BUT LIFE OFTEN DETERMINES THAT SEPARATION IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER MUST BE FACED.
FOR JOHN THESE STATEMENTS ATTRIBUTED TO JESUS ARE NOT JUDGEMENTAL STATEMENTS REFLECTING A LACK OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE DISCIPLE, THEY ARE RATHER DESCRIBING THE REALITY OF DISCONNECTION – OF SEPARATION. WHAT JOHN IS TELLING HIS COMMUNITY IS NOT TO INSTIL FEAR OF THE THREAT OF JUDGEMENT AND DOOM – IT IS RATHER TO REINFORCE THE TRUTH THAT WITHOUT HOLDING ON TO THEIR ATTACHMENT TO THE VINE – THEY WILL SPIRITUALLY WITHER AND PERISH. HE IS SAYING TO THEM, “FALL AWAY FROM THE WAY OF JESUS AND YOU WILL BECOME DISCONNECTED FROM THE COMMUNITY AND FROM THE SPIRIT OF JESUS HIMSELF – THIS SITUATION CAN ONLY RESULT IN A WITHERING OF YOUR ONCE FLOURISHING SPIRITUAL LIFE WITH A WITHERING AND ULTIMATELY SPIRITUAL DEATH. THE JOY OF KNOWING JESUS IN YOUR LIFE WILL FADE AWAY AND YOU WILL BECOME EMPTY AND WITHERED”. THAT’S WHAT JOHN IS SAYING TO HIS AUDIENCE. THIS IMAGE OF THE VINE USED BY JOHN IS PURE GENIUS – IT’S RELEVANT FOR ALL TIME.
ESPECIALLY FOR THE PEOPLE OF HIS DAY – AND DARE I SAY – ALSO PARTICULARLY WE OF THE ADELAIDE HILLS – BECAUSE BOTH THEY AND WE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT HE IS SAYING. WE SEE THAT IMAGE CLEARLY OF THE BROKEN BRANCH WITH THE WITHERED AND DRY LEAVES PERHAPS STILL PARTIALLY ATTACHED TO THE VINE TRUNK BUT SO BROKEN THAT THE NOURISHING SAP CANNOT FEED IT.
THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE LIKE THAT IN THE CHURCH TODAY – NOTHING HAS REALLY CHANGED IN 2000 YEARS. THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE REALLY ONLY HALF-HEARTED ABOUT CHURCH. THEY COME A FEW TIMES A YEAR PERHAPS – MAYBE CHRISTMAS AND EASTER – PERHAPS TO A COMMUNITY DINNER – BUT REALLY HAVE NO DEEPER CONNECTION WITH THE CHURCH COMMUNITY AND THEREFORE WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD. THEY GRADUALLY WITHER AND END UP – LIKE MRS HYACINTH BUCKET – ONLY KEEPING UP APPEARANCES – UNTIL THEY DROP OFF ALTOGETHER AND ARE LOST. JOHN’S IMAGE OF THE VINE ON THE OTHER HAND IS AN IMAGE OF ABSOLUTE DEPENDENCE, CERTAIN RELIANCE, AND A BINDING RELATIONSHIP THAT IS SEVERED ONLY WHEN WE CHOOSE TO WALK AWAY. THE ONLY JUDGMENT HERE IS ON US – WHEN WE DECIDE TO ABSCOND FROM ABIDING IN JESUS. AND SO, HERE IS WHERE I SIT IN ALL OF THIS – HOW POIGNANTLY AND POWERFULLY JOHN THE GOSPEL WRITER NAMES WHAT IT FEELS LIKE WHEN A RELATIONSHIP MIGHT BE DIFFERENT – MIGHT BE CUT OFF. IMAGINING A SEPARATION FROM A RELATIONSHIP IS INDEED A WITHERING FEELING. IN OTHER WORDS, IF WE DECIDE THAT THESE WORDS OF JESUS TO HIS DISCIPLES ARE ONLY CLAIMS THAT ARE INTENDED TO EXCLUDE AND DISSEMINATE DREAD AND TO INSIST ON EXCLUSIVE INSIDER STATUS, WE WILL MISS A LOT — A LOT ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A DISCIPLE, A BELIEVER AND A COMPLETE HUMAN BEING.
BECAUSE HERE IS JESUS, BEING A HUMAN BEING AND RECOGNIZING THAT SAYING GOODBYE TO SOMEONE YOU REALLY LOVE IS DAMN HARD.
THAT HAVING A SOON-TO-BE SEVERED RELATIONSHIP BRINGS ABOUT A KIND OF ACUTE ATROPHY. THAT LOOKING AHEAD TOWARD SAYING GOODBYE BRINGS ABOUT ITS OWN KIND OF FEAR – OF CHANGE – OF A LOSS OF BELONGING – A LOSS OF BEING NEEDED – A LOSS OF THOSE WHO CENTRE US AND ANCHOR US. WITHOUT THAT CONNECTION OF THE VINE WITH THE BRANCHES – OF THE BRANCHES WITH THE VINE, THERE IS A WILTING – A WANING – A WANTING. I HAVE KNOWN THAT WITHERING – AS MANY HAVE WHEN WE LOSE A LOVED ONE. CAN YOU SENSE THAT FEELING OF DRYNESS AND EMPTYNESS THAT JOHN IS TRYING TO CONVEY IN THESE WORDS?
SO – HEAR THESE WORDS THAT ARE COMFORT – NOT CONDEMNATION – THAT ARE REASSURANCE AND NOT REJECTION – THAT ARE INVITATION AND NOT ABNEGATION – THAT ARE INCLUSIVE NOT EXCLUSIVE. WITHOUT JESUS AND BEING CONNECTED TO JESUS – THAT IS TO THE VINE – A LIFE FILLED WITH THE COMPLETE JOY AND PEACE BROUGHT THROUGH THE RESURRECTION IS JUST NOT POSSIBLE.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

Here is my homily given at Norton Summit dawn service on ANZAC Day.
WE ARE HERE THIS MORNING – ALONG WITH MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE THROUGHOUT AUSTRALIA -TO REMEMBER – TO AGAIN RECALL TO THE FOREFRONT OF OUR MEMORIES – THOSE WHOM WE KNEW AND LOVED AS WELL AS THOSE MANY THOUSANDS WE NEVER KNEW – WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES THAT WE MIGHT ENJOY THE FREEDOMS WE TOO OFTEN JUST TAKE FOR GRANTED. LEST WE FORGET INDEED!
BUT WE DO FORGET – WHO NOW THINKS OF CRETE FOR INSTANCE. I READ RECENTLY OF THE INVOLVEMENT OF AUSTRALIAN TROOPS IN THE ISLAND OF CRETE IN APRIL 1941 WHEN THEY WERE RETREATING FROM AN OVERWHELMING FORCE OF NAZIS IN GREECE. ON THE 20TH MAY THE GERMAN ARMY INVADED CRETE IN GREAT NUMBERS – 35,000 TROOPS LANDED. ABOUT 33,000 ALLIED SOLDIERS WAITED TO DEFEND THE ISLAND. AFTER AN INTENSE SERIES OF BATTLES THE ALLIES WERE FORCED TO AGAIN RETREAT – 16,000 MADE IT ONTO THE SHIPS LEAVING ALMOST THE SAME NUMBER BEHIND – DEAD, WOUNDED, CAPTURED OR HIDING IN THE HILLS. ABOUT 3,500 ALLIED SOLDIERS, SAILORS AND AIRMEN DIED IN THAT BATTLE – AND ABOUT 4000 NAZIS IN ONE DAY. CRETE IS ONLY ONE OF HUNDREDS OF PLACES WE COULD FOCUS ON OF COURSE.
WE COULD JOURNEY FROM WESTERN AND EASTERN EUROPE THROUGH THE SUBCONTINENT AND THE ASIAN NATIONS TO THE ISLANDS OF THE PACIFIC – EVEN AUSTRALIA ITSELF – WE ARE HONOURED HERE TODAY WITH THE COLOURS OF THE 10TH/ 48TH BATTALION – LATER KOREA, MALAYSIA, VIETNAM – AND WE WOULD FIND THE SAME TRAGIC STORIES – THE INCREDIBLE SACRIFICES THAT WERE MADE DURING THAT MOST BLOODY 20TH CENTURY. OF COURSE IT HASN’T STOPPED THERE – WE MUST THINK OF THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO HAVE MOST RECENTLY SERVED AND DIED IN THE MIDDLE EAST – IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN. ALSO IT IS NOT JUST THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE LOST THEIR LIVES – REMEMBER THE ONES WHO HAVE RETURNED. MANY WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AFTER THE HORRIFIC EXPERIENCES THEY HAVE ENDURED. IT IS NOW VERY MUCH OUR TURN TO STEP UP, FRIENDS. DO WE KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS SUFFERING FROM THE TRAUMA OF WAR? IF SO IT IS TIME FOR US TO DO OUR PART – BECAUSE WE HAVE A DUTY AS WELL – A DUTY TO CARE AND SUPPORT – DIFFICULT THOUGH THAT MIGHT BE – BUT REMEMBER – NOWHERE NEAR AS DIFFICULT AS WHAT THEY HAVE GONE THROUGH..
IT HAS OFTEN BEEN SAID THAT AUSTRALIA WAS BORN AS A NATION IN ITS OWN RIGHT ON THAT DREADFUL DAY – 2TH APRIL 1915 – WHEN OUR TROOPS LANDED ON THE SHORES OF THE GALLIPOLI PENINSULA. THAT MASSIVE SACRIFICE ENDED IN DEFEAT AS WE ALL KNOW. PAUL KELLY OF THE AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER WROTE “GALLIPOLI CANNOT BE SURPASSED IN AUSTRALIAN MEMORY. IT WAS A BAPTISM IN AN AGE WHEN BLOOD SACRIFICE WAS THE TEST OF NATIONHOOD. OVER A CENTURY GALLIPOLI HAS EVOLVED – IT IS NO LONGER ABOUT EMPIRE OR RACE BUT ABOUT SELF-SACRIFICE, FAMILY HONOUR AND NATIONAL RESPECT“.
BUT HE ALSO WROTE, “IN TERMS OF AUSTRALIAN SACRIFICE AND STRATEGIC SIGNIFICANCE, THE WESTERN FRONT DWARFS GALLIPOLI”.
SO TODAY IN NORTHERN FRANCE AT THE VILLAGE OF VILLERS-BRET0NNEUX THE AUSTRALIANS ARE BEING AGAIN HONOURED. IN A FEW HOURS TIME THE $100M SIR JOHN MONASH CENTRE IN VILLERS-BRETTONEUX WILL BE OPENED BY OUR PRIME MINISTER MR MALCOLM TURNBULL – EXACTLY 100 YEARS TO THE DAY AFTER THAT TERRIBLE BUT DECISIVE BATTLE. IT TELLS AUSTRALIA’S STORY OF THE WESTERN FRONT, IN THE WORDS OF THOSE WHO SERVED.
IT WAS 100 YEARS AGO TODAY – 25TH APRIL 1918 – THAT THE AUSTRALIAN TROOPS RETOOK THE VILLAGE FROM THE GERMAN ARMY AFTER IT HAD BEEN LOST BY THE BRITISH THE DAY BEFORE – THE 24TH.
THIS VICTORY WAS THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR THE GERMANS HERALDING THE END OF WW1. AFTER THE BATTLE MONASH SAID,” THIS COUNTER ATTACK AT NIGHT WITHOUT ARTILLERY SUPPORT IS THE FINEST THING YET DONE IN THE WAR BY AUSTRALIANS OR ANY OTHER TROOPS”. WHAT A COMPLIMENT TO OUR MEN THAT WAS. 2473 OF OUR MEN DIED – GERMAN LOSSES WERE MUCH GREATER. THE VILLAGE MAYOR SAID, “SOLDIERS OF AUSTRALIA, WHOSE BROTHERS LIE HERE IN FRENCH SOIL, BE ASSURRED THAT YOUR MEMORY WILL ALWAYS BE KEPT ALIVE’. THE FRENCH HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN – NEITHER SHOULD WE. RUSSELL MAGEE IS THE CHIEF DESIGNER OF THE CENTRE AND SAID, “WAR IS AWFUL, IT’S UGLY, IT’S CONFRONTING”. AND CONCERNING THE IMAGES IN THE NEW CENTRE, “IT’S LIKE A MIRROR OF THE WAR CEMETERY ON THE SAME SITE: THERE THEY LIE IN PEACE, BUT HERE TOO THEY LIVE FOREVER”. THE EXPERIENCE FOR THE VISITOR IS SOMETIMES HARROWING, OFTEN VERY MOVING.
IT WAS ALSO SAID THAT WITHOUT ALL THOSE WE SEEK TO HONOUR TODAY WE WOULD NOT BE HERE – THINK ABOUT THAT!
LEST WE FORGET!
AMEN

SERMON 22ND APRIL 2018 – EASTER 4 – John 10:11-18
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE.
WHEN MY SONS WERE WORKING UP NORTH IN THE AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK – “THE BUSH” – ON SHEEP STATIONS WE HEARD A COMMENT FROM SOME OF THE OLD FELLAS WHO HAD SPENT A LONG TIME – PERHAPS TOO LONG – IN THE BUSH AND CHASING SHEEP. THE COMMENT WAS,”THERE’S ONLY ONE THING MORE STUPID THAN A SHEEP AND THAT’S THE BLOKE WHO RUNS ‘EM”. WELL, THAT IS NOT TRUE. SHEEP ARE NOT STUPID (AND MOSTLY NEITHER IS THE BLOKE WHO RUNS THEM). IT IS PROVEN THAT SHEEP CAN CARRY THE MENTAL IMAGE OF ANOTHER SHEEP OR PERSON FOR TWO YEARS. ALSO I HAVE PERSONALLY DISCOVERED THAT SHEEP ARE NOTHING LIKE STUPID. WHEN OUT MUSTERING OR HANDLING THEM IN YARDS THEY CAN PROVE TO BE EXTREMELY SMART. OBVIOUSLY BEING A GRAZING ANIMAL THEY HAVE INBUILT INSTINCTS ABOUT SHELTERING FROM THE WEATHER, DIRECTION OF WIND, LOCATION OF WATER AND OTHER FACTORS THAT DETERMINE THEIR SURVIVAL IN A RELATIVELY HARSH COUNTRY. BUSH SHEEP SEEM VERY DIFFERENT FROM THEIR “SOFTER” AGRICULTURAL AREA COUSINS. SHEEP AREN’T DUMB. IN FACT, WE WOULD DO MUCH BETTER IF WE THOUGHT OF SHEEP THE WAY THE 17TH CENTURY PURITAN THOMAS WATSON DESCRIBED THEM IN HIS SERMON, “THE GOOD SHEPHERD.” HE SAID, “SHEEP ARE INNOCENT CREATURES. SHEEP AREN’T HARMFUL CREATURES; THEY’RE HARMLESS AND PEACEFUL. [TRUE] CHRISTIANS ARE, BY THEIR NEW NATURE, PEACEFUL AND PEACEMAKERS.
AS WATSON OBSERVES, “THEY WOULD RATHER SUFFER WRONG THAN DO WRONG. THOSE WHO ARE SET UPON [MAKING] MISCHIEF ARE NOT CHRIST’S SHEEP BUT ARE RAVENOUS BIRDS OF PREY.”
THERE ARE AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN THOSE WITHIN THE CHURCH WHO ARE “SET UPON MAKING MISCHIEF” AS WATSON PUT IT. THEY SOMETIMES DO THIS WITH THE VERY BEST OF INTENTIONS. THEY THINK THEY ARE DOING THE RIGHT THING. THEY EXCLUDE PEOPLE, THEY JUDGE AND CLASSIFY PEOPLE. THEY, OFTEN IN IGNORANCE, THINK THAT THEIR IDEAS OF THE GOSPEL AND THEOLOGY ARE RIGHT – TO THE EXCLUSION OF ANY OTHER OPINION. THE PEOPLE WITH WHOM JESUS IS SPEAKING IN THIS EXERPT FROM JOHN’S GOSPEL WERE JUST LIKE THAT. THAT IS WHY REFERENCE IS MADE TO THE HIRED HAND, WHO IS NOT THE SHEPHERD AND DOES NOT OWN THE SHEEP, SEES THE WOLF COMING AND LEAVES THE SHEEP AND RUNS AWAY—AND THE WOLF SNATCHES THEM AND SCATTERS THEM. THE HIRED HAND RUNS AWAY BECAUSE A HIRED HAND DOESN’T CARE FOR THE SHEEP. OF COURSE JOHN IS WRITING WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF HIS TIME – IN THE 10TH DECADE OF THE FIRST CENTURY WHEN POWERFUL ANIMOSITY EXISTED BETWEEN THE FOLLOWERS OF THE WAY OF JESUS AND THE SYNAGOGUE AUTHORITIES. ADDITIONALLY OF COURSE PALESTINE WAS STILL WELL UNDER THE RULE OF THE OCCUPYING ROMANS. REAL DANGER EXISTED FOR JOHN’S SHEEP.
THIS WAS A TIME WHEN THE JOHANNINE COMMUNITY WAS FACING HARASSMENT FROM THE LEADERS OF THE SYNAGOGUE – THE PHARISEES WHO HAD ABANDONED THEIR PEOPLE DURING THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM BACK IN 70 CE AND HAD GONE TO THE VILLAGE OF JAMNIA WHERE THEY STARTED THE PROCESS OF RECONSTRUCTING JUDAISM. THEY ARE LIKENED TO THESE BAD SHEPHERDS AND THIS MAY WELL BE A DIRECT REFERENCE TO THAT EVENT. IN CONTRAST, JESUS IS PRESENTED AS THE GOOD SHEPHERD, THE SUFFERING MESSIAH WHO LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THE FLOCK.
IN THE EYES OF THIS FLEDGING CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, THERE IS NO COMPARISON BETWEEN THESE TWO KINDS OF LEADERSHIP. ONE, POSTULATED BY THE POST-WAR PHARISEES, WAS FELT AS EXCLUSIVE AND SELF-SERVING. THE OTHER, MODELLED BY JESUS THE CHRIST, WAS A READING OF THE OLD TESTAMENT SHEPHERD TRADITION THAT CONVEYED ITS TRUE MEANING: TO BE A SHEPHERD MEANS TO SACRIFICE YOURSELF FOR THE WELFARE OF THE COMMUNITY, TO GIVE ONE’S LIFE SO THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE. THAT IS WHY HE CALLS HIMSELF “THE GOOD SHEPHERD.”
WHEN THE JOHANNINE COMMUNITY AFFIRMED THAT JESUS WAS THE SHEPHERD, THEY WERE NOT ONLY MAKING A CHRISTOLOGICAL AFFIRMATION – THAT IS, WHO THEY THOUGHT JESUS WAS – BUT THEY WERE ALSO AFFIRMING WHAT KIND OF LEADERSHIP WAS EXPECTED IN THEIR MIDST. JESUS WAS NOT ONLY A LIVING, SPIRITUAL PRESENCE WHO WAS WORSHIPPED AS GOD IN THE LITURGICAL ASSEMBLY OF THE COMMUNITY BUT HE WAS ALSO THE MODEL FOR CHURCH LEADERSHIP. THIS “GOOD-SHEPHERD” MODEL WAS THEREFORE ONE THAT THE LEADERS OF THE COMMUNITY WERE ENCOURAGED TO FOLLOW.
MANY PEOPLE IN LEADERSHIP POSITIONS WITHIN THE BROADER CHURCH HAVE PERHAPS THOUGHT OF MINISTRY AS A PROFESSION. BUT MINISTRY IS NOT A PROFESSION – IT IS A VOCATION, A CALL BY GOD INTO SERVICE. THE MINISTRY IS NOT ABOUT OURSELVES – AS A PROFESSION – BUT ABOUT THE PEOPLE WE SERVE. WHEN WE UNDERSTAND MINISTRY AS A PROFESSION, THEN WE ONLY CARE ABOUT OURSELVES – OUR CAREER, OUR SUCCESS, OUR RETIREMENT, ETC. – NOT NECESSARILY ABOUT THE PEOPLE WE SERVE. WE BECOME THE HIRED HANDS, THOSE WHO DO NOT CARE FOR THE SHEEP BUT WHEN WE UNDERSTAND MINISTRY AS A VOCATION THEN WE CARE FOR OTHERS TO THE POINT OF FIGURATIVELY GIVING OUR LIVES FOR THEM.
WE, AFTER ALL, ARE EASTER PEOPLE. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
IT MEANS THAT, FOLLOWING JESUS’ EXAMPLE, WE INVEST OUR LIVES IN OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES TO THE POINT WHERE WE DON’T MATTER ANYMORE, ONLY THEM. HOW ARE WE AS MINISTERS GIVING OUR LIVES OR – TO PUT IT IN MORE CONTEMPORARY TERMS – INVESTING OUR LIVES IN THE PEOPLE WE SERVE? HOW ARE WE BEING “GOOD SHEPHERDS” INSTEAD OF “HIRED HANDS?” THE ANSWER TO THIS CRUCIAL QUESTION CAN ONLY BE FOUND WHEN WE HONESTLY FACE OUR OWN FAILURES AND RECOMMIT OURSELVES TO THE CALL WE RECEIVED WHEN WE STARTED THIS JOURNEY WE CALL MINISTRY – WHEN WE CONSCIOUSLY BECAME AND IDENTIFIED OURSELVES AS CHRISTIANS. BECAUSE DON’T BE MISLED INTO THINKING THESE COMMENTS ARE JUST ABOUT THE PRIESTS AND MINISTERS IN THE CHURCH – FAR FROM IT. JOHN IS ADAMANT – WE ARE IN A SENSE ALL PRIESTS AND MINISTERS. WE ARE THE FACE OF THE CHURCH IN THE BROADER COMMUNITY. WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO NEWCOMERS FIRST MEET. WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE REALLY OBSERVED – OFTEN QUITE CLOSELY – AS WE GO ABOUT OUR DAY BY DAY LIVES WITHIN OUR COMMUNITIES. SO LET US BE VERY AWARE OF THIS AND AGAIN TO RESOLVE TO BE THE GOOD SHEPHERDS RATHER THAN THE HIRED HANDS. IT’S A GREAT CHALLENGE AS WE MOVE THROUGH THIS EASTER SEASON.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

SERMON 22ND APRIL 2018 – EASTER 4 – John 10:11-18
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE.
WHEN MY SONS WERE WORKING UP NORTH IN THE AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK – “THE BUSH” – ON SHEEP STATIONS WE HEARD A COMMENT FROM SOME OF THE OLD FELLAS WHO HAD SPENT A LONG TIME – PERHAPS TOO LONG – IN THE BUSH AND CHASING SHEEP. THE COMMENT WAS,”THERE’S ONLY ONE THING MORE STUPID THAN A SHEEP AND THAT’S THE BLOKE WHO RUNS ‘EM”. WELL, THAT IS NOT TRUE. SHEEP ARE NOT STUPID (AND MOSTLY NEITHER IS THE BLOKE WHO RUNS THEM). IT IS PROVEN THAT SHEEP CAN CARRY THE MENTAL IMAGE OF ANOTHER SHEEP OR PERSON FOR TWO YEARS. ALSO I HAVE PERSONALLY DISCOVERED THAT SHEEP ARE NOTHING LIKE STUPID. WHEN OUT MUSTERING OR HANDLING THEM IN YARDS THEY CAN PROVE TO BE EXTREMELY SMART. OBVIOUSLY BEING A GRAZING ANIMAL THEY HAVE INBUILT INSTINCTS ABOUT SHELTERING FROM THE WEATHER, DIRECTION OF WIND, LOCATION OF WATER AND OTHER FACTORS THAT DETERMINE THEIR SURVIVAL IN A RELATIVELY HARSH COUNTRY. BUSH SHEEP SEEM VERY DIFFERENT FROM THEIR “SOFTER” AGRICULTURAL AREA COUSINS. SHEEP AREN’T DUMB. IN FACT, WE WOULD DO MUCH BETTER IF WE THOUGHT OF SHEEP THE WAY THE 17TH CENTURY PURITAN THOMAS WATSON DESCRIBED THEM IN HIS SERMON, “THE GOOD SHEPHERD.” HE SAID, “SHEEP ARE INNOCENT CREATURES. SHEEP AREN’T HARMFUL CREATURES; THEY’RE HARMLESS AND PEACEFUL. [TRUE] CHRISTIANS ARE, BY THEIR NEW NATURE, PEACEFUL AND PEACEMAKERS.
AS WATSON OBSERVES, “THEY WOULD RATHER SUFFER WRONG THAN DO WRONG. THOSE WHO ARE SET UPON [MAKING] MISCHIEF ARE NOT CHRIST’S SHEEP BUT ARE RAVENOUS BIRDS OF PREY.”
THERE ARE AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN THOSE WITHIN THE CHURCH WHO ARE “SET UPON MAKING MISCHIEF” AS WATSON PUT IT. THEY SOMETIMES DO THIS WITH THE VERY BEST OF INTENTIONS. THEY THINK THEY ARE DOING THE RIGHT THING. THEY EXCLUDE PEOPLE, THEY JUDGE AND CLASSIFY PEOPLE. THEY, OFTEN IN IGNORANCE, THINK THAT THEIR IDEAS OF THE GOSPEL AND THEOLOGY ARE RIGHT – TO THE EXCLUSION OF ANY OTHER OPINION. THE PEOPLE WITH WHOM JESUS IS SPEAKING IN THIS EXERPT FROM JOHN’S GOSPEL WERE JUST LIKE THAT. THAT IS WHY REFERENCE IS MADE TO THE HIRED HAND, WHO IS NOT THE SHEPHERD AND DOES NOT OWN THE SHEEP, SEES THE WOLF COMING AND LEAVES THE SHEEP AND RUNS AWAY—AND THE WOLF SNATCHES THEM AND SCATTERS THEM. THE HIRED HAND RUNS AWAY BECAUSE A HIRED HAND DOESN’T CARE FOR THE SHEEP. OF COURSE JOHN IS WRITING WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF HIS TIME – IN THE 10TH DECADE OF THE FIRST CENTURY WHEN POWERFUL ANIMOSITY EXISTED BETWEEN THE FOLLOWERS OF THE WAY OF JESUS AND THE SYNAGOGUE AUTHORITIES. ADDITIONALLY OF COURSE PALESTINE WAS STILL WELL UNDER THE RULE OF THE OCCUPYING ROMANS. REAL DANGER EXISTED FOR JOHN’S SHEEP.
THIS WAS A TIME WHEN THE JOHANNINE COMMUNITY WAS FACING HARASSMENT FROM THE LEADERS OF THE SYNAGOGUE – THE PHARISEES WHO HAD ABANDONED THEIR PEOPLE DURING THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM BACK IN 70 CE AND HAD GONE TO THE VILLAGE OF JAMNIA WHERE THEY STARTED THE PROCESS OF RECONSTRUCTING JUDAISM. THEY ARE LIKENED TO THESE BAD SHEPHERDS AND THIS MAY WELL BE A DIRECT REFERENCE TO THAT EVENT. IN CONTRAST, JESUS IS PRESENTED AS THE GOOD SHEPHERD, THE SUFFERING MESSIAH WHO LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THE FLOCK.
IN THE EYES OF THIS FLEDGING CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, THERE IS NO COMPARISON BETWEEN THESE TWO KINDS OF LEADERSHIP. ONE, POSTULATED BY THE POST-WAR PHARISEES, WAS FELT AS EXCLUSIVE AND SELF-SERVING. THE OTHER, MODELLED BY JESUS THE CHRIST, WAS A READING OF THE OLD TESTAMENT SHEPHERD TRADITION THAT CONVEYED ITS TRUE MEANING: TO BE A SHEPHERD MEANS TO SACRIFICE YOURSELF FOR THE WELFARE OF THE COMMUNITY, TO GIVE ONE’S LIFE SO THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE. THAT IS WHY HE CALLS HIMSELF “THE GOOD SHEPHERD.”
WHEN THE JOHANNINE COMMUNITY AFFIRMED THAT JESUS WAS THE SHEPHERD, THEY WERE NOT ONLY MAKING A CHRISTOLOGICAL AFFIRMATION – THAT IS, WHO THEY THOUGHT JESUS WAS – BUT THEY WERE ALSO AFFIRMING WHAT KIND OF LEADERSHIP WAS EXPECTED IN THEIR MIDST. JESUS WAS NOT ONLY A LIVING, SPIRITUAL PRESENCE WHO WAS WORSHIPPED AS GOD IN THE LITURGICAL ASSEMBLY OF THE COMMUNITY BUT HE WAS ALSO THE MODEL FOR CHURCH LEADERSHIP. THIS “GOOD-SHEPHERD” MODEL WAS THEREFORE ONE THAT THE LEADERS OF THE COMMUNITY WERE ENCOURAGED TO FOLLOW.
MANY PEOPLE IN LEADERSHIP POSITIONS WITHIN THE BROADER CHURCH HAVE PERHAPS THOUGHT OF MINISTRY AS A PROFESSION. BUT MINISTRY IS NOT A PROFESSION – IT IS A VOCATION, A CALL BY GOD INTO SERVICE. THE MINISTRY IS NOT ABOUT OURSELVES – AS A PROFESSION – BUT ABOUT THE PEOPLE WE SERVE. WHEN WE UNDERSTAND MINISTRY AS A PROFESSION, THEN WE ONLY CARE ABOUT OURSELVES – OUR CAREER, OUR SUCCESS, OUR RETIREMENT, ETC. – NOT NECESSARILY ABOUT THE PEOPLE WE SERVE. WE BECOME THE HIRED HANDS, THOSE WHO DO NOT CARE FOR THE SHEEP BUT WHEN WE UNDERSTAND MINISTRY AS A VOCATION THEN WE CARE FOR OTHERS TO THE POINT OF FIGURATIVELY GIVING OUR LIVES FOR THEM.
WE, AFTER ALL, ARE EASTER PEOPLE. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
IT MEANS THAT, FOLLOWING JESUS’ EXAMPLE, WE INVEST OUR LIVES IN OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES TO THE POINT WHERE WE DON’T MATTER ANYMORE, ONLY THEM. HOW ARE WE AS MINISTERS GIVING OUR LIVES OR – TO PUT IT IN MORE CONTEMPORARY TERMS – INVESTING OUR LIVES IN THE PEOPLE WE SERVE? HOW ARE WE BEING “GOOD SHEPHERDS” INSTEAD OF “HIRED HANDS?” THE ANSWER TO THIS CRUCIAL QUESTION CAN ONLY BE FOUND WHEN WE HONESTLY FACE OUR OWN FAILURES AND RECOMMIT OURSELVES TO THE CALL WE RECEIVED WHEN WE STARTED THIS JOURNEY WE CALL MINISTRY – WHEN WE CONSCIOUSLY BECAME AND IDENTIFIED OURSELVES AS CHRISTIANS. BECAUSE DON’T BE MISLED INTO THINKING THESE COMMENTS ARE JUST ABOUT THE PRIESTS AND MINISTERS IN THE CHURCH – FAR FROM IT. JOHN IS ADAMANT – WE ARE IN A SENSE ALL PRIESTS AND MINISTERS. WE ARE THE FACE OF THE CHURCH IN THE BROADER COMMUNITY. WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO NEWCOMERS FIRST MEET. WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE REALLY OBSERVED – OFTEN QUITE CLOSELY – AS WE GO ABOUT OUR DAY BY DAY LIVES WITHIN OUR COMMUNITIES. SO LET US BE VERY AWARE OF THIS AND AGAIN TO RESOLVE TO BE THE GOOD SHEPHERDS RATHER THAN THE HIRED HANDS. IT’S A GREAT CHALLENGE AS WE MOVE THROUGH THIS EASTER SEASON.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

SERMON 22ND APRIL 2018 – EASTER 4 – John 10:11-18
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE.
WHEN MY SONS WERE WORKING UP NORTH IN THE AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK – “THE BUSH” – ON SHEEP STATIONS WE HEARD A COMMENT FROM SOME OF THE OLD FELLAS WHO HAD SPENT A LONG TIME – PERHAPS TOO LONG – IN THE BUSH AND CHASING SHEEP. THE COMMENT WAS,”THERE’S ONLY ONE THING MORE STUPID THAN A SHEEP AND THAT’S THE BLOKE WHO RUNS ‘EM”. WELL, THAT IS NOT TRUE. SHEEP ARE NOT STUPID (AND MOSTLY NEITHER IS THE BLOKE WHO RUNS THEM). IT IS PROVEN THAT SHEEP CAN CARRY THE MENTAL IMAGE OF ANOTHER SHEEP OR PERSON FOR TWO YEARS. ALSO I HAVE PERSONALLY DISCOVERED THAT SHEEP ARE NOTHING LIKE STUPID. WHEN OUT MUSTERING OR HANDLING THEM IN YARDS THEY CAN PROVE TO BE EXTREMELY SMART. OBVIOUSLY BEING A GRAZING ANIMAL THEY HAVE INBUILT INSTINCTS ABOUT SHELTERING FROM THE WEATHER, DIRECTION OF WIND, LOCATION OF WATER AND OTHER FACTORS THAT DETERMINE THEIR SURVIVAL IN A RELATIVELY HARSH COUNTRY. BUSH SHEEP SEEM VERY DIFFERENT FROM THEIR “SOFTER” AGRICULTURAL AREA COUSINS. SHEEP AREN’T DUMB. IN FACT, WE WOULD DO MUCH BETTER IF WE THOUGHT OF SHEEP THE WAY THE 17TH CENTURY PURITAN THOMAS WATSON DESCRIBED THEM IN HIS SERMON, “THE GOOD SHEPHERD.” HE SAID, “SHEEP ARE INNOCENT CREATURES. SHEEP AREN’T HARMFUL CREATURES; THEY’RE HARMLESS AND PEACEFUL. [TRUE] CHRISTIANS ARE, BY THEIR NEW NATURE, PEACEFUL AND PEACEMAKERS.
AS WATSON OBSERVES, “THEY WOULD RATHER SUFFER WRONG THAN DO WRONG. THOSE WHO ARE SET UPON [MAKING] MISCHIEF ARE NOT CHRIST’S SHEEP BUT ARE RAVENOUS BIRDS OF PREY.”
THERE ARE AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN THOSE WITHIN THE CHURCH WHO ARE “SET UPON MAKING MISCHIEF” AS WATSON PUT IT. THEY SOMETIMES DO THIS WITH THE VERY BEST OF INTENTIONS. THEY THINK THEY ARE DOING THE RIGHT THING. THEY EXCLUDE PEOPLE, THEY JUDGE AND CLASSIFY PEOPLE. THEY, OFTEN IN IGNORANCE, THINK THAT THEIR IDEAS OF THE GOSPEL AND THEOLOGY ARE RIGHT – TO THE EXCLUSION OF ANY OTHER OPINION. THE PEOPLE WITH WHOM JESUS IS SPEAKING IN THIS EXERPT FROM JOHN’S GOSPEL WERE JUST LIKE THAT. THAT IS WHY REFERENCE IS MADE TO THE HIRED HAND, WHO IS NOT THE SHEPHERD AND DOES NOT OWN THE SHEEP, SEES THE WOLF COMING AND LEAVES THE SHEEP AND RUNS AWAY—AND THE WOLF SNATCHES THEM AND SCATTERS THEM. THE HIRED HAND RUNS AWAY BECAUSE A HIRED HAND DOESN’T CARE FOR THE SHEEP. OF COURSE JOHN IS WRITING WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF HIS TIME – IN THE 10TH DECADE OF THE FIRST CENTURY WHEN POWERFUL ANIMOSITY EXISTED BETWEEN THE FOLLOWERS OF THE WAY OF JESUS AND THE SYNAGOGUE AUTHORITIES. ADDITIONALLY OF COURSE PALESTINE WAS STILL WELL UNDER THE RULE OF THE OCCUPYING ROMANS. REAL DANGER EXISTED FOR JOHN’S SHEEP.
THIS WAS A TIME WHEN THE JOHANNINE COMMUNITY WAS FACING HARASSMENT FROM THE LEADERS OF THE SYNAGOGUE – THE PHARISEES WHO HAD ABANDONED THEIR PEOPLE DURING THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM BACK IN 70 CE AND HAD GONE TO THE VILLAGE OF JAMNIA WHERE THEY STARTED THE PROCESS OF RECONSTRUCTING JUDAISM. THEY ARE LIKENED TO THESE BAD SHEPHERDS AND THIS MAY WELL BE A DIRECT REFERENCE TO THAT EVENT. IN CONTRAST, JESUS IS PRESENTED AS THE GOOD SHEPHERD, THE SUFFERING MESSIAH WHO LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THE FLOCK.
IN THE EYES OF THIS FLEDGING CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, THERE IS NO COMPARISON BETWEEN THESE TWO KINDS OF LEADERSHIP. ONE, POSTULATED BY THE POST-WAR PHARISEES, WAS FELT AS EXCLUSIVE AND SELF-SERVING. THE OTHER, MODELLED BY JESUS THE CHRIST, WAS A READING OF THE OLD TESTAMENT SHEPHERD TRADITION THAT CONVEYED ITS TRUE MEANING: TO BE A SHEPHERD MEANS TO SACRIFICE YOURSELF FOR THE WELFARE OF THE COMMUNITY, TO GIVE ONE’S LIFE SO THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE. THAT IS WHY HE CALLS HIMSELF “THE GOOD SHEPHERD.”
WHEN THE JOHANNINE COMMUNITY AFFIRMED THAT JESUS WAS THE SHEPHERD, THEY WERE NOT ONLY MAKING A CHRISTOLOGICAL AFFIRMATION – THAT IS, WHO THEY THOUGHT JESUS WAS – BUT THEY WERE ALSO AFFIRMING WHAT KIND OF LEADERSHIP WAS EXPECTED IN THEIR MIDST. JESUS WAS NOT ONLY A LIVING, SPIRITUAL PRESENCE WHO WAS WORSHIPPED AS GOD IN THE LITURGICAL ASSEMBLY OF THE COMMUNITY BUT HE WAS ALSO THE MODEL FOR CHURCH LEADERSHIP. THIS “GOOD-SHEPHERD” MODEL WAS THEREFORE ONE THAT THE LEADERS OF THE COMMUNITY WERE ENCOURAGED TO FOLLOW.
MANY PEOPLE IN LEADERSHIP POSITIONS WITHIN THE BROADER CHURCH HAVE PERHAPS THOUGHT OF MINISTRY AS A PROFESSION. BUT MINISTRY IS NOT A PROFESSION – IT IS A VOCATION, A CALL BY GOD INTO SERVICE. THE MINISTRY IS NOT ABOUT OURSELVES – AS A PROFESSION – BUT ABOUT THE PEOPLE WE SERVE. WHEN WE UNDERSTAND MINISTRY AS A PROFESSION, THEN WE ONLY CARE ABOUT OURSELVES – OUR CAREER, OUR SUCCESS, OUR RETIREMENT, ETC. – NOT NECESSARILY ABOUT THE PEOPLE WE SERVE. WE BECOME THE HIRED HANDS, THOSE WHO DO NOT CARE FOR THE SHEEP BUT WHEN WE UNDERSTAND MINISTRY AS A VOCATION THEN WE CARE FOR OTHERS TO THE POINT OF FIGURATIVELY GIVING OUR LIVES FOR THEM.
WE, AFTER ALL, ARE EASTER PEOPLE. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
IT MEANS THAT, FOLLOWING JESUS’ EXAMPLE, WE INVEST OUR LIVES IN OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES TO THE POINT WHERE WE DON’T MATTER ANYMORE, ONLY THEM. HOW ARE WE AS MINISTERS GIVING OUR LIVES OR – TO PUT IT IN MORE CONTEMPORARY TERMS – INVESTING OUR LIVES IN THE PEOPLE WE SERVE? HOW ARE WE BEING “GOOD SHEPHERDS” INSTEAD OF “HIRED HANDS?” THE ANSWER TO THIS CRUCIAL QUESTION CAN ONLY BE FOUND WHEN WE HONESTLY FACE OUR OWN FAILURES AND RECOMMIT OURSELVES TO THE CALL WE RECEIVED WHEN WE STARTED THIS JOURNEY WE CALL MINISTRY – WHEN WE CONSCIOUSLY BECAME AND IDENTIFIED OURSELVES AS CHRISTIANS. BECAUSE DON’T BE MISLED INTO THINKING THESE COMMENTS ARE JUST ABOUT THE PRIESTS AND MINISTERS IN THE CHURCH – FAR FROM IT. JOHN IS ADAMANT – WE ARE IN A SENSE ALL PRIESTS AND MINISTERS. WE ARE THE FACE OF THE CHURCH IN THE BROADER COMMUNITY. WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO NEWCOMERS FIRST MEET. WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO ARE REALLY OBSERVED – OFTEN QUITE CLOSELY – AS WE GO ABOUT OUR DAY BY DAY LIVES WITHIN OUR COMMUNITIES. SO LET US BE VERY AWARE OF THIS AND AGAIN TO RESOLVE TO BE THE GOOD SHEPHERDS RATHER THAN THE HIRED HANDS. IT’S A GREAT CHALLENGE AS WE MOVE THROUGH THIS EASTER SEASON.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

SERMON 15TH APRIL 2018 LUKE 24: 36B-48
36 Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE IT’S ALL ABOUT PEACE
LET’S TRY TO GET THIS READING INTO SOME SORT OF PERSPECTIVE. THE “THEM “AND “THEY” OF WHOM LUKE WRITES ARE OF COURSE THE DISCIPLES BUT PARTICULARLY THE GROUP MEETING FOLLOWING THE RETURN OF THE TWO FROM EMMAUS WHERE, WHILST WALKING ON THE ROAD, THEY MET JESUS.
IT IS QUITE FASCINATING TO FOLLOW THE DEVELOPMENT OF THIS RESURRECTION STORY. FROM PAUL – WHO ALSO MET JESUS BUT SOME 25 TO 30 YEARS BEFORE THE GOSPEL WRITERS – THROUGH TO THE NEXT STEP ON THE NEW TESTAMENT TIMELINE – MARK – THEN LUKE, MATTHEW, THEN LATER JOHN. THE WRITTEN STORY OF THE PHYSICAL RESURRECTION DID NOT DEVELOP UNTIL THIS DETAILED ACCOUNT IN LUKE’S GOSPEL. PAUL NEVER EVER MENTIONED MEETING JESUS PHYSICALLY AND THE NEXT ACCOUNT WE HAVE – MARK – LEAVES US UP IN THE AIR WITH NO STORY OF A PHYSICAL ENCOUNTER – JUST THAT THE DISCIPLES WERE SO FRIGHTENED AND FEARFUL FOR THEIR OWN LIVES THEY “…FLED FROM THE TOMB FOR TERROR AND AMAZEMENT HAD SEIZED THEM”. NOW WE COME TO LUKE. THERE IS AN INTERESTING COMMENT MADE BY THE NOTATORS IN THE NRSV BIBLE REGARDING CHAPTER 1 VERSE 4 “…SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW THE TRUTH CONCERNING THE THINGS ABOUT WHICH YOU HAVE BEEN INSTRUCTED”. THEY WRITE,” FOR THE GOSPEL WRITER, NARRATIVE IS NOT “FACTS” BUT PROCLAMATION. LUKE’S CONCERN THEN IS TO PROVIDE A FAITHFUL ACCOUNTING OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WHAT HAS TAKEN PLACE, NOT TO PROVE THAT THESE THINGS ACTUALLY HAPPENED”. SO IT IS LUKE WHO PICKS UP THE PREVAILING STORIES CIRCULATING WITHIN THE SYNAGOGUES – REMEMBER THE SPLIT BETWEEN THE “ORTHODOX” JEWS AND THE BREAKAWAY FOLLOWERS OF THE WAY OF JESUS HAD NOT YET OCCURRED, ALTHOUGH TENSIONS WERE BEGINNING TO BE FELT. THE QUESTION OBVIOUSLY WAS, “HOW DO WE EXPLAIN THE FACT AND EXPERIENCE OF THE RESURRECTION TO THOSE PEOPLE WHO WERE NOT WITNESSES?” ALSO REMEMBER THAT WHEN LUKE WROTE, THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS HAD TAKEN PLACE SOME 40 OR MORE YEARS PRIOR. ALL THOSE INVOLVED WERE NOW DEAD – THERE WAS ONLY THE ORAL TRADITION TO EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED AND AS WITH MANY ORAL TRADITIONS – THE STORY DEVELOPED AS THE YEARS PASSED. SO NOW LUKE TAKES THOSE STORIES AND MOULDS THEM INTO A PROCLAMATION NARRATIVE – NOT HISTORY AS WE THINK OF IT.
AGAIN, IT ALL GOES BACK TO THE PHRASE “…THAT THE SCRIPTURES MIGHT BE FULFILLED”. REMEMBER VERSE 44 “…EVERYTHING WRITTEN ABOUT ME IN THE LAW OF MOSES (THE TORAH), THE PROPHETS AND THE PSALMS MUST BE FULFILLED” – LUKE SET OUT TO ENSURE THAT IT WAS.
“PEACE BE WITH YOU”, SAYS JESUS. THERE IS MUCH ABOUT PEACE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS. IT SEEMS ODD – RADICAL EVEN – AS THE FIRST CENTURY WAS CERTAINLY NOT A TIME OF PEACE – AT LEAST FOR THE PEOPLE LIVING IN PALESTINE – ANY MORE THAN IT IS NOW IN THIS 21ST. MOST OF US CANNOT IMAGINE WHAT IT MUST BE LIKE TO LIVE IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY UNDER THE POWER OF A BRUTAL OCCUPYING ARMY PLUS BEING SUBJECTED TO PUNISHING TAXATION WHICH LEFT ONE WITH ONLY JUST ENOUGH TO BARELY LIVE ON – “AND YOU SPEAK TO US OF PEACE?”, THEY SAY, “WE HAVE FORGOTTEN WHAT THAT IS.”
THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT IN OUR STORY THE DISCIPLES HAD NO PEACE – IN FACT THEY WERE IN TURMOIL – THAT IS UNTIL JESUS BECAME PRESENT WITH THEM. INITIALLY STARTLED AND FRIGHTENED (“TERRIFIED” AS LUKE PUTS IT) – WHO WOULDN’T BE IF YOU WERE IN A GROUP EACH TRYING TO ALLAY THE FEAR YOU ALL FELT WHEN SUDDENLY WITHOUT ANY WARNING THE PERSON YOU HAD LEAST EXPECTED TO EVER SEE AGAIN STANDS IN YOUR MIDST. ONCE OVER THEIR SHOCK THEIR FEELING IS ONE OF JOY – BUT THERE ARE STILL RESERVATIONS – “WHILE IN THEIR JOY THEY WERE DISBELIEVING AND STILL WONDERING”. ONE HAS TO ASK, “JUST WHAT DOES IT TAKE FOR A PERSON TO ACCEPT THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THEIR LIFE?” THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT IF JESUS WERE TO APPEAR AS IN THIS STORY TODAY PEOPLE WOULD PROBABLY REACT IN A SIMILAR FASHION. SHOCK, INCREDULITY AND DOUBT – YES STILL DOUBT – WOULD BE THE ORDER OF THE DAY.
THERE IS A GREAT WORD IN THE HEBREW LANGUAGE – SHALOM –WHICH CONTAINS THE DEEPER SENSE BEHIND THE GREEK USED HERE IN VERSE 36. PROFESSOR GLENN SCHAEFER, OLD TESTAMENT SCHOLAR IN THE U.S. WRITES ABOUT THE MEANING OF PEACE. “IN ENGLISH, THE WORD “PEACE” CONJURES UP A PASSIVE PICTURE, ONE SHOWING AN ABSENCE OF CIVIL DISTURBANCE OR HOSTILITIES. [THIS IS THE MEANING OF THE PAX ROMANA (THE PEACE OF ROME) – THE STRICT CODE THAT JESUS WAS DEEMED TO HAVE BREACHED AND WAS CRUCIFIED AS A RESULT]. PEACE IS ALSO USED IN AN INTERNAL PERSONAL SENSE MEANING A PERSONALITY FREE FROM INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL STRIFE. THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF PEACE IS LARGER THAN THAT AND RESTS HEAVILY ON THE HEBREW ROOT SLM, WHICH MEANS “TO BE COMPLETE” OR “TO BE SOUND.” THE VERB CONVEYS BOTH A DYNAMIC AND A STATIC MEANING”TO BE COMPLETE OR WHOLE” OR “TO LIVE WELL.” THE NOUN HAD MANY NUANCES, BUT CAN BE GROUPED INTO FOUR CATEGORIES: (1) SHALOM AS WHOLENESS OF LIFE OR BODY (I.E., HEALTH); (2) SHALOM AS RIGHT RELATIONSHIP OR HARMONY BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE, (3) SHALOM AS PROSPERITY, SUCCESS, OR FULFILLMENT (SEE LEV 26:3-9); AND (4) SHALOM AS VICTORY OVER ONE’S ENEMIES OR ABSENCE OF WAR.
SHALOM WAS USED IN BOTH GREETINGS AND FAREWELLS. IT WAS MEANT TO ACT AS A BLESSING ON THE ONE TO WHOM IT WAS SPOKEN: “MAY YOUR LIFE BE FILLED WITH HEALTH, PROSPERITY, AND VICTORY.” AS AN ADJECTIVE, IT EXPRESSED COMPLETENESS AND SAFETY. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, THE GREEK WORD EIRENE IS THE WORD MOST OFTEN TRANSLATED BY THE WORD “PEACE.” FOR THE JEWISH PEOPLE GOD ALONE IS THE SOURCE OF PEACE, FOR HE IS “YAHWEH SHALOM” (SEE JUDGES 6:24 ).
PAUL DESCRIBED PEACE AS FOLLOWS: “THERE WILL BE TROUBLE AND DISTRESS FOR EVERY HUMAN BEING WHO DOES EVIL …BUT GLORY, HONOUR AND PEACE FOR EVERYONE WHO DOES GOOD: ” (ROM 2:9-10).
I THINK WE WILL ALL AGREE THAT WHAT THIS WORLD MOST NEEDS NOW IS PEACE BOTH INTERNATIONALLY AND ALSO PERSONALLY. PEACE IS ELUSIVE TO SAY THE LEAST. HISTORY TELLS US THAT TIMES OF PEACE ARE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN. IT IS A SAD INDICTMENT ON HUMANITY THAT WE CANNOT LIVE IN PEACE. BUT PEACE IS THERE FOR US IF WE WANT IT. IT SEEMS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE SOMETIMES TO CONVINCE PEOPLE THAT THE PEACE TO BE FOUND IN THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE IS REAL. PEOPLE ARE JUST TOO BUSY AND PREOCCUPIED WITH DOING “STUFF” – MOST OF WHICH IS JUST A FILLING IN OF THEIR TIME – AND ULTIMATELY THE FILLING IN OF THEIR LIFE. THE GOSPEL WRITER IS ASKING US HIS READERS TO STOP THIS ULTIMATELY POINTLESS BUSYNESS AND TO EXPERIENCE THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST – DAUNTING THOUGH THAT IDEA MIGHT BE. WHAT A WONDERFUL THING IT WOULD BE TO HEAR JESUS SAY TO US, “PEACE BE WITH YOU”. NO DOUBT WE WOULD SHARE THE UNBRIDLED JOY OF THE DISCIPLES AND FIND A NEW ENEat being a a Christian should be like in this 21st century. A good opportunity to reflect on Easter and one’s own way of life.
SERMON 8TH APRIL 2018 – EASTER 2 -John 20:19-31
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE
HOW ARE CHRISTIANS CALLED TO LIVE EASTER?
JEAN VANIER WAS BORN IN 1928. HE IS A CANADIAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHER, THEOLOGIAN, AND HUMANITARIAN. IN 1964 HE FOUNDED L’ARCHE, (PRONOUNCE APPROX LARSH- MEANING ARK) AN INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF COMMUNITIES SPREAD OVER 37 COUNTRIES – INCLUDING HERE IN ADELAIDE. THE ORGANISATION HELPS PEOPLE WITH DEVELOPMENTAL AND INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES AND THOSE WHO ASSIST THEM. SUBSEQUENTLY, IN 1971, HE CO-FOUNDED FAITH AND LIGHT WITH MARIE-HÉLÈNE MATHIEU, WHICH ALSO WORKS FOR PEOPLE WITH DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES, THEIR FAMILIES, AND FRIENDS IN OVER 80 COUNTRIES. HE CONTINUES TO LIVE AS A MEMBER OF THE ORIGINAL L’ARCHE COMMUNITY IN TROSLY-BREUIL, FRANCE. OVER THE YEARS, HE HAS AUTHORED 30 BOOKS ON RELIGION, DISABILITY, NORMALITY, SUCCESS, AND TOLERANCE. HE HAS RECEIVED MANY INTERNATIONAL HONOURS. THIS WEEK I WILL SHARE WITH YOU A REFLECTION ON EASTER WRITTEN BY JEAN VANIER AND WHICH I THINK NOT JUST SUMS UP WHAT EASTER IS ABOUT BUT CHRISTIANITY AS WELL.
“MOST CHRISTIANS THINK OF THE RESURRECTION AS A VICTORY OF LIFE OVER DEATH. FINALLY, JESUS HAS WON. BUT HOW DID THE FIRST DISCIPLES LIVE THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS? REFLECTING ON THIS CAN HELP US TO SEE HOW WE ARE CALLED TO LIVE EASTER.
FOR THE JEWS, THE PASSOVER IS THE FEAST OF LIBERATION, THE ANNIVERSARY OF GOD’S FREEING OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE FROM THE YOKE OF THE EGYPTIANS. SO EASTER IS ALSO THE FEAST OF LIBERATION. LET’S COME BACK TO THE GOSPEL SCENE. THE GALILEANS TO WHOM JESUS PREACHED WERE TERRIBLY PERSECUTED BY THE ROMANS, BY HEROD AND ALL HIS FOLLOWERS, BY THE OLIGARCHS WHO FORCED THE ALREADY IMPOVERISHED TO PAY MORE TAXES, AND EVEN BY THE PRIESTS OF THE TEMPLE.
THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS WERE CERTAIN THAT HE WAS THE MESSIAH; HE SPOKE WITH GREAT AUTHORITY, HE PERFORMED AMAZING MIRACLES. THE LAST OF THESE MIRACLES WAS THE RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS. THEY WERE SURE THAT SOMETHING GREAT WOULD HAPPEN ON THE FEAST OF THE PASSOVER, THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE GREAT LIBERATION, SOMETHING WHICH WOULD SHOW CLEARLY THAT JESUS WAS THE MESSIAH, THE ONE WHO HAD BEEN ANNOUNCED IN THE PSALMS AS A VICTORIOUS KING.BUT WHAT IN FACT HAPPENS? THERE IS NO VICTORY. JESUS IS CONDEMNED TO A HORRIBLE DEATH. HE IS STRIPPED OF HIS CLOTHES AND OF HIS DIGNITY. HE IS CRUCIFIED. HIS DISCIPLES ARE SHATTERED. JESUS WAS NOT THE MESSIAH AFTER ALL – HE COULDN’T BE, BECAUSE THE MESSIAH WAS ONE WHO WOULD BE TRIUMPHANT, WHO WOULD WIN. SO, AS MARK TELLS US IN HIS AUTHENTIC GOSPEL, THEY RUN AWAY; THEY FALL INTO A WORLD OF DEPRESSION. THEY HAD GIVEN EVERYTHING FOR JESUS; NOW THEY ARE COMPLETELY LOST. THEY HAD BEEN MISTAKEN ABOUT HIM ALL ALONG. SOME, NO DOUBT, EVEN FELT ANGRY WITH JESUS.
ON EASTER MORNING THEY FIND IT DIFFICULT TO BELIEVE THE WOMEN WHO TELL THEM THAT THEY HAVE SEEN JESUS ALIVE. IT CAN’T BE TRUE. THE WOMEN MUST BE IMAGINING THINGS. TWO OF THE DISCIPLES LEAVE THE GROUP FOR EMMAUS. OTHERS REMAIN BEHIND LOCKED DOORS. THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. THEN, SUDDENLY, JESUS IS AMONG THEM, EVEN THOUGH THE DOORS HAVE NOT BEEN UNLOCKED. AND ALL HE SAYS IS, “PEACE TO YOU”. HE LOOKS AT EACH ONE OF THEM WITH EYES OF LOVE AND OF FORGIVENESS.
AND, IN THIS MOMENT, THESE DISCIPLES, ONE BY ONE, SHIFT FROM A FEELING OF TERRIBLE GUILT AND OF SHAME BECAUSE THEY HAD NOT BELIEVED, TO JOY AND AMAZEMENT IN HIS PRESENCE. JESUS JUST SAYS, “PEACE” – NOTHING MORE. HE SHARES WITH EACH ONE A MOMENT OF COMMUNION, WHICH IS FORGIVENESS. SO THE FEAST OF EASTER, THE FEAST OF LIBERATION, IS ESSENTIALLY THE FEAST OF THE FORGIVENESS OF GOD. HIS FOLLOWERS, WHO HAD LOST FAITH IN HIM, ARE LIBERATED FROM THEIR GUILT AND SHAME.
JESUS LOVES EACH ONE OF THEM – AND HE LOVES EACH ONE OF US. HE WANTS US ALL TO BE ALIVE, TO BE FULLY LOVED AND FULLY LOVING. HE WANTS US TO BE “EASTER PEOPLE”, PEOPLE OF THE RESURRECTION, PEOPLE WHO ACCEPT FORGIVENESS, AND WHO FORGIVE OTHERS. SO OFTEN WE FORGET THE MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL. WE ARE TAKEN UP BY THE THINGS OF THE WORLD. WE WANT TO WIN MORE MONEY AND MORE POWER – PERHAPS IN ORDER TO DO GOOD BUT JESUS COMES SIMPLY TO FORGIVE, TO GIVE HIS PEACE.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? JESUS SAYS TO THE DISCIPLES, “AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME, I SEND YOU”. HE BREATHES ON THEM AND SAYS, “RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT”. THEN HE SENDS THEM OUT TO BE MESSENGERS OF PEACE AND OF FORGIVENESS, TO GO INTO THE WORLD TO FORGIVE ALL THOSE ENSLAVED IN GUILT. THIS IS THE MESSAGE OF EASTER. JESUS LIBERATES US FROM GUILT – AND HE CALLS US TO LIBERATE OTHERS.
MANY OF US LIVE IN A STATE OF UNEASE. WE MAY NOT BE FULLY AWARE OF IT, BUT WE OFTEN CARRY A HIDDEN BURDEN THAT IS CLOSE TO GUILT. WE ALL KNOW THE GOSPEL MESSAGE EXEMPLIFIED BY THE STORY OF THE POOR MAN COVERED IN SORES WHO LIVES IN THE STREETS NEAR THE HOME OF A VERY RICH MAN WHO FEASTS SUMPTUOUSLY EVERY DAY (LUKE 16:19-31). THE END OF THE PARABLE IS PAINFUL TO READ. IS JESUS ASKING US TO SELL EVERYTHING WE HAVE AND GIVE ALL TO THE POOR? SURELY THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE. DON’T WE HAVE A FAMILY? WHAT ABOUT OUR CHILDREN, WHO NEED FEEDING AND CLOTHING?
JESUS ON THE FEAST OF THE RESURRECTION LOOKS AT EACH ONE OF US WITH MORE LOVE THAN WE CAN DARE BELIEVE. HE FORGIVES US OUR SHORTCOMINGS; HE FREES US FROM OUR GUILT. HE THEN SENDS US OFF TO FORGIVE OTHERS, SO THAT THEY CAN BE FREE FROM GUILT. EACH ONE OF US IS CALLED TO BRING PEACE WHERE THERE IS CONFLICT. WE ARE NOT ALL CALLED TO SELL EVERYTHING WE HAVE BUT WE ARE ALL CALLED TO BE COMMITTED TO THE ONE PERSON WHO IS IN PAIN, WHO IS LONELY AND LOST AND WHO NEEDS A FRIEND.”
THIS IS THE RESURRECTION FOR ME – THIS IS EASTER – THIS IS CHRISTIANITY – AS IT WAS MEANT TO BE. THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON 11TH MARCH 2018 – CHORAL MATTINS – ST JOHN’S CATHEDRAL HONG KONG
JOHN 9:1-25
A Man Born Blind Receives Sight
9 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We[a]must work the works of him who sent me[b] while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus[c] to be the Messiah[d] would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
IN 1897 THE FAMOUS NOVELIST H G WELLS PUBLISHED A MASTERPIECE OF SCIENCE FICTION ENTITLED “THE INVISIBLE MAN”. IT’S THE FASCINATING STORY OF ‘GRIFFIN’ – A SCIENTIST WHO CREATES A SERUM TO RENDER HIMSELF INVISIBLE – AND HIS DESCENT INTO MADNESS THAT FOLLOWS. SINCE THEN THERE HAVE APPEARED MANY BOOKS AND SUBSEQUENT FILMS IN THE 1930’S AND EVEN A TV SERIES IN 2000 FEATURING AN “INVISIBLE MAN”. THE IDEA OF INVISIBILITY HAS INTRIGUED PEOPLE FOR AGES – I REMEMBER ALSO HARRY POTTER AND HIS INVISIBILITY CLOAK – IT CAME AS A MYSTERIOUS CHRISTMAS PRESENT IN THE STORY OF ‘THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE’ – AND A VERY HANDY THING TO HAVE – AS IT WAS LATER TO PROVE!
THIS POOR BLIND BEGGAR WHO IS CENTRAL TO THE STORY IN JOHN’S GOSPEL IS AN INVISIBLE MAN. HE IS NOT EVEN IDENTIFIED IN THE STORY AND GIVEN THE DIGNITY OF A NAME. WHEN HE REGAINS HIS SIGHT PEOPLE ARE ASKING – “WHO ARE YOU?” – IT’S JESUS’ DISCIPLES WHO FIRST NOTICE HIM SQUATTING BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD BEGGING FOR ALMS – EVERYONE JUST PASSES BY – HE MIGHT AS WELL NOT BE THERE. HE WAS CERTAINLY KNOWN BY EVERYONE – BUT NOT AS A PERSON – NOT AS SOMEONE TO WHOM THEY COULD RELATE – HE WAS JUST THAT “OBJECT” – THAT THING – THAT WAS THERE IN THE DIRT BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD – A BIT OF A NUISANCE PROBABLY. OF COURSE JESUS SEES HIM AS SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT – TO JESUS HE IS VERY MUCH HUMAN – VERY MUCH A PERSON – ALBEIT WITH GREAT NEED – A PERSON TO BE REACHED OUT TO AND HELPED – A PERSON TO BE LOVED.
BUT BEING INVISIBLE IS NOT ALWAYS ABOUT CLEVER SCIENCE OR HAVING FUN. THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE TODAY WHO LIVE IN OUR CITIES WHO LIVE INVISIBLE LIVES. TODAY HOMELESS PEOPLE ARE KNOWN AS “THE INVISIBLE PEOPLE “– THEY DO NOT FEATURE AS BEING IDENTIFIABLE, OBVIOUS OR EVEN PRESENT IN OUR SOCIETY. THIS GOSPEL STORY TELLS US THAT DURING THE WHOLE OF HIS LIFE THE UN-NAMED BLIND MAN WAS ONE OF THE “INVISBLE PEOPLE” – AN ‘INVISIBLE MAN’.
HERE IN THIS WONDERFUL, VIBRANT AND AMAZING CITY OF HONG KONG FIGURES FROM THE SOCIAL WELFARE DEPARTMENT SHOW THE NUMBER OF REGISTERED STREET SLEEPERS HAS GONE UP BY 16 PER CENT OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS.
AS OF SEPTEMBER 2017, THERE WERE MORE THAN 1,000 REGISTERED PEOPLE SLEEPING ON THE STREETS RIGHT HERE IN HONG KONG– AN INCREASE OF 12 PER CENT COMPARED WITH THE SAME PERIOD THE YEAR BEFORE. IN 2015, THE NUMBER STOOD AT 882. THE PROBLEM IS GETTING WORSE.
THIS IS A PROBLEM NOT LIMITED TO HONG KONG OF COURSE. IN MY OWN COUNTRY OF AUSTRALIA THERE WERE ACCORDING TO OFFICIAL STATISTICS MORE THAN 105,000 PEOPLE HOMELESS LAST YEAR – THAT’S ABOUT 0.5% OF THE POPULATION. HABITAT FOR HUMANITY – A CHRISTIAN NON-PROFIT ORGANISATION FOUNDED IN THE US IN 1976 – ESTIMATED THAT IN 2015 THERE WERE 1.6 BILLION PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD WHO “LIVE IN INADEQUATE SHELTER”. AUSTRALIA, LIKE HONG KONG IS A FIRST WORLD WEALTHY COUNTRY WITH A VERY HIGH STANDARD OF LIVING – THIS IS A TRAGIC SITUATION WHEN WEALTHY CITIES WITH OVERFLOWING AFFLUENCE AND A VERY HIGH STANDARD OF LIVING ARE UNABLE TO CARE FOR THE MOST MARGINALISED AND THE MOST VULNERABLE WITHIN THEIR MIDST.
OF COURSE INVISIBILITY IS NOT LIMITED TO THE PEOPLE WITHOUT PROPER HOMES TO LIVE IN. FOR A VERY LONG TIME IN MANY COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD WOMEN HAVE BEEN COUNTED AMONGST THE INVISIBLE. IT IS ONLY VERY RECENTLY THAT THEY HAVE BEGUN TO GAIN THEIR RIGHTFUL PLACE OF EQUALITY WITHIN WESTERN SOCIETIES. TIMES ARE CHANGING – PROGRESS IS BEING MADE – LAST THURSDAY WAS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY WHICH AGAIN DREW ATTENTION TO THE INEQUALITY STILL EXISTING BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN AND TODAY WE IN THE ANGLICAN COMMUNITY CELEBRATE MOTHERING SUNDAY – WHERE WE PAUSE TO GIVE THANKS AND EXPRESS OUR LOVE AND APPRECIATION FOR ALL THAT OUR MOTHERS HAVE DONE FOR US – ACTUALLY WITHOUT THEM NONE OF US WOULD EVEN BE HERE.
THERE IS A LOVELY STORY IN 1 SAMUEL IN THE OLD TESTAMENT ABOUT ANOTHER “INVISIBLE MAN”. THE PROPHET SAMUEL WAS TOLD BY THE LORD TO ANOINT A NEW KING OF JUDAH TO REPLACE SAUL. HE WAS TO SELECT THE PERSON FROM AMONGST THE SONS OF JESSE. WHEN THE PATRIARCH JESSE PARADED HIS SONS BEFORE THE PROPHET NOT ONE WAS CHOSEN – ALL WERE REJECTED. SAMUEL SAID “IS THIS ALL YOU HAVE?” THEN JESSE SAID, “OH YES, I DO HAVE ANOTHER – HE’S THE YOUNGEST – I DIDN’T THINK ABOUT HIM AS BEING KING MATERIAL BECAUSE HE’S JUST A KID REALLY AND HE’S OUT WITH THE SHEEP”. OF COURSE THIS IS THE BOY WHO WAS CHOSEN TO BE THE GREAT KING OF JUDAH AND ISRAEL – HIS NAME WAS DAVID – THE REST IS HISTORY. BUT WHEN IT CAME TO CONSIDERING HIM FOR A MASSIVELY IMPORTANT ROLE IN HEBREW SOCIETY – HE WAS NOT ON THE RADAR – HE WAS “JUST A KID” – INVISIBLE. GOD SAW HIM DIFFERENTLY!
ANOTHER STORY – MORE OF OUR TIME. NOT TOO MANY YEARS AGO IN SOUTH AFRICA THE BLACK AND COLOURED PEOPLE WERE THE INVISIBLE ONES IN SOCIETY – THEY WERE THE UNDERDOGS AND SOCIALLY IGNORED BY THE WHITE POPULATION. ASKED BY THE BBC TO IDENTIFY THE DEFINING MOMENT IN HIS LIFE ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU SPOKE OF THE DAY HE AND HIS MOTHER WERE WALKING DOWN THE STREET. TUTU WAS NINE YEARS OLD. A TALL WHITE MAN DRESSED IN A BLACK SUIT CAME TOWARDS THEM. IN THE DAYS OF APARTHEID IN SOUTH AFRICA, WHEN A BLACK PERSON AND A WHITE PERSON MET WHILE WALKING ON A FOOTPATH, THE BLACK PERSON WAS EXPECTED TO STEP INTO THE GUTTER TO ALLOW THE WHITE PERSON TO PASS AND NOD THEIR HEAD AS A GESTURE OF RESPECT. BUT THIS DAY, BEFORE A YOUNG TUTU AND HIS MOTHER COULD STEP OFF THE SIDEWALK THE WHITE MAN STEPPED OFF THE SIDEWALK – AND – AS THEY PASSED, HE TIPPED HIS HAT IN A GESTURE OF RESPECT TO HER!
THE WHITE MAN WAS TREVOR HUDDLESTON, AN ANGLICAN PRIEST WHO WAS BITTERLY OPPOSED TO APARTHEID. IT CHANGED TUTU’S LIFE. WHEN HIS MOTHER TOLD HIM THAT TREVOR HUDDLESTON HAD STEPPED OFF THE SIDEWALK BECAUSE HE WAS A “MAN OF GOD,” TUTU FOUND HIS CALLING. “WHEN SHE TOLD ME THAT HE WAS AN ANGLICAN PRIEST I DECIDED THERE AND THEN THAT I WANTED TO BE AN ANGLICAN PRIEST TOO. AND WHAT IS MORE, I WANTED TO BE A MAN OF GOD” SAID TUTU. HUDDLESTON LATER BECAME A MENTOR TO DESMOND TUTU AND HIS COMMITMENT TO THE EQUALITY OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS DUE TO THEIR CREATION IN GOD’S IMAGE WAS A KEY DRIVER IN TUTU’S OPPOSITION TO APARTHEID.”
BUT I HAVE TO SAY THAT WE ALL – EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US – IS IN A SENSE – INVISIBLE. NO OF COURSE I DON’T MEAN PHYSICALLY BUT WE ARE ALL OFTEN VERY ADEPT AT KEEPING OUR REAL SELVES WELL HIDDEN – INVISIBLE TO OTHERS. WHAT DO WE CONCEAL? WE HIDE OUR RESENTMENTS, OUR JUDGEMENTS – DARE I SAY OUR DISLIKES AND EVEN HATREDS – AND OUR OWN SHORTCOMINGS AND MISTAKES WHICH ARE ONLY TOO OBVIOUS AND WELL KNOWN TO OURSELVES – BUT AS THOUGH COVERED BY HARRY POTTER’S INVISIBILITY CLOAK – THESE ELEMENTS THAT ACTUALLY FORM US REMAIN INVISIBLE TO THOSE AROUND US.
THIS IS THE 4TH SUNDAY OF LENT – WE ARE HALFWAY THROUGH THE SEASON THAT WOULD DRAW OUR ATTENTION TO OUR OWN INNER BEING AND GIVES US THE OPPORTUNITY TO FACE UP TO THE THINGS IN OUR HEARTS THAT ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE EITHER TO GOD NOR – IF WE ARE HONEST – OURSELVES.
THIS GOSPEL STORY TELLS US THAT WE HAVE NO NEED TO BERATE OURSELVES – THAT CAN BE QUITE UNPRODUCTIVE. NOTICE HOW IN LOVE JESUS REACHES OUT TO THE BLIND MAN AND OFFERS HIM HELP AND A CURE FOR HIS DISABILITY – ALL THE MAN HAS TO DO IS TO FOLLOW JESUS’ DIRECTIONS – “GO, WASH IN THE POOL OF SILOAM”. WE HAVE NO NEED TO EVEN WASH. WE SIMPLY NEED TO FIND HONEST REPENTANCE AND – AS THE BLIND MAN DID – TRUST THE WORDS AND THE DIRECTIONS OF THAT SPIRIT OF LIFE WE CALL GOD.
AT HOME I HAVE CONDENSED THE WORDS OF THE ABSOLUTION TO SIMPLY SAY: GOD FORGIVES YOU. FORGIVE OTHERS. FORGIVE YOURSELF.
REMOVE THE INVISIBILITY CLOAK FROM YOUR HEART – REVEAL YOUR HEART AND LIFE TO AN ALL LOVING AND ALL FORGIVING GOD AND ALSO – IMPORTANTLY – TO THOSE AROUND YOU – AT WORK AND AT HOME. I THINK THAT IS THE VERY HEART OF LENT AND IF YOU REMEMBER NOTHING MORE OF WHAT I HAVE SAID THIS MORNING REMEMBER THIS: GOD FORGIVES YOU. FORGIVE OTHERS. FORGIVE YOURSELF.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON 25TH FEBRUARY 2018 – LENT 2 – Mark 8:31-38
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
I AM SHOWING YOU A COVER OF A RECENT EDITION OF THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN MAGAZINE. I REALLY RESPECT THE WOMAN DEPICTED HERE. WHY? BECAUSE SHE HAS THE REPUTATION OF BEING A STRAIGHT TALKER – WHAT YOU SEE (OR HEAR) IS EXACTLY WHAT SHE THINKS AND SAYS. YOU MAY NOT AGREE WITH EVERYTHING SHE SAYS – YOU MAY EVEN BE TURNED OFF BY HER MANNER – PARTICULARLY HER LANGUAGE WHICH QUITE OFTEN CAN BE CONFRONTING – BUT LIKE HER OR HATE HER – SHE IS STRAIGHT AND HONEST – AND FOR ME THAT’S THE PRIMARY FACTOR. YES, SHE IS A POLITICIAN – RARE AMONGST THAT GROUP – HER NAME IS JACQUI LAMBIE. SHE COMES FROM NORTHERN TASMANIA AND HAS HAD A HARD LIFE – SHE WAS RECENTLY FORCED TO RESIGN FROM THE SENATE BECAUSE OF HER FATHER’S SCOTTISH BACKGROUND. SHE SAYS SHE WILL BE BACK – AND I HOPE SHE IS BECAUSE SHE WAS A BREATH OF FRESH AIR IN THAT PLACE OF DEALS AND INSINCERITY. OPEN DIRECT SPEECH IS NOT POPULAR SPEECH. OPEN SPEECH IS FREQUENTLY OFFENSIVE SPEECH – AND SHE HAS OFFENDED MANY. OPEN SPEECH IS MORE OFTEN THAN NOT MET WITH OPPOSITION. THIS IS THE TRUTH OF THIS MORNING’S READING FROM MARK’S GOSPEL.
I THINK THAT SOMETIMES WE ARE JUST TOO POLITE. WE DON’T SPEAK UP BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID OF CAUSING OFFENCE.
WE, LIKE THE CHARACTERS IN THE STORY OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN – CHOOSE TO “PASS BY ON THE OTHER SIDE” – RATHER THAN CAUSE DISRUPTION AND UNPLEASANTNESS. WE CARRY THIS SENSIBILITY TO OUR TRANSLATIONS AND READING OF THE GOSPEL. IN MARK 8:29 SIMON PETER HAS TUMBLED TO THE TRUTH ABOUT HIS TEACHER: “YOU ARE THE MESSIAH.” NOW, HOWEVER THAT WORD WAS INTERPRETED – MARK’S PETER PROBABLY MEANT IT IN THE SENSE OF THE SAVIOUR OF ISRAEL – THE ONE WHO WAS TO BRING THE NATION RELIEF FROM THE YOKE OF THE OCCUPYING ROMAN FORCES. OBVIOUSLY WE KNOW THIS IS NOT WHAT JESUS WAS ON ABOUT AND SO WE READ IN 8:30 “…HE STERNLY ORDERED THEM NOT TO TELL ANYONE ABOUT HIM” THE GREEK WORD USED IS EPITEMESEN, A VERB USED ELSEWHERE IN MARK FOR SILENCING UNCLEAN SPIRITS AND SAVAGE FORCES (1:23; 3:12; 4:39). IN 8:31 JESUS SHIFTS TO WHAT THE SON OF THE MAN MUST ENDURE BY THE HANDS OF “THE ELDERS” (SENIOR LAY LEADERS), “THE CHIEF PRIESTS” (CULTIC OFFICIALS), AND “THE SCRIBES” (AUTHORITIES ON SCRIPTURAL TRADITION). THEIR MODERN COUNTERPARTS ARE THE CHURCH’S OWN LAY LEADERS, HIGH PROFILE PREACHERS, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLARS. TO WHAT WILL THE ESTABLISHMENT SUBJECT JESUS? REJECTION, SUFFERING, AND DEATH. AFTER THE FULL MEASURE OF THIS FATAL DISGRACE HAS BEEN EXACTED, HE WILL RISE AGAIN AFTER THREE DAYS. NONE OF THIS IS ACCIDENTAL: THE SON OF MAN MUST UNDERGO IT BY GOD’S DESIGN – SO WRITES MARK.
PETER WILL HAVE NONE OF IT (V.32) – THIS IS SOEMTHING THAT WENT IN OPPOSITION TO EVERYTHING HE HAD BEEN LED TO BELIEVE ABOUT JESUS – HIS PRIOR UNDERSTANDINGS AND COMFORTABLE ASSUMPTIONS HAD JUST BEEN UNCEREMONIOUSLY DEMOLISHED. TAKING JESUS ASIDE, PETER REBUKES HIM WITH THE WORD EPITIMAN (“SHUT UP!”), THE SAME HARSH VERB AS IN 8:30.THIS IS A BIT DIFFERENT – A HECK OF A LOT STRONGER THAN THE WORDS “…TOOK HIM ASIDE AND BEGAN TO REBUKE HIM”.
THEN LOOKING AT ALL HIS DISCIPLES, JESUS LASHES BACK (EPITEMESEN) AGAINST PETER (“YOU SHUT UP!”). JESUS PUTS HIM AND ALL HIS FOLLOWERS BACK IN THEIR PROPER PLACE: “GET BEHIND ME!”
THE STAKES ARE SO HIGH THAT HE ADDRESSES PETER AS “SATAN,” THE TEMPTER AND THIEF OF THE PREACHED WORD (4:15). PETER IS THE ONLY FIGURE IN MARK WHOM JESUS ADDRESSES SO VEHEMENTLY. WHY? “YOU ARE SETTING YOUR MIND NOT ON DIVINE THINGS BUT ON HUMAN THINGS” (8:33B). PETER HAS ABROGATED TO HIMSELF AN AUTHORITY THAT IS NOT HIS TO WIELD AND IS, IN FACT, DEVILISH. THIS IS NO GENTLEMANLY DISAGREEMENT. MARK DRAMATIZES A LIFE-AND-DEATH CLASH BETWEEN THE DIVINE AND THE DIABOLICAL. IT IS A SHAME THE TRANSLATORS CHOSE TO BE SO GENTLE WITH US – IT’S BLATANTLY MISLEADING – “GENTLE JESUS MEEK AND MILD” – HARDLY!
ADDITIONALLY THE TRANSLATORS OF THE NRSV HAVE BEEN FORCED INTO ENSURING THAT THE WRITINGS ARE GENDER NEUTRAL – SO THEY GENERALIZE JESUS’ BLUNT ADMONITIONS IN MARK 8:35-38 INTO THIRD-PERSON PLURALS: “THOSE,” “THEIR,” “THEM.” BUT THE EARLIER RSV TRANSLATION KEPT CLOSER TO THE ORIGINAL GREEK – BEFORE POLITICAL CORRECTNESS SWAMPED US- AND SHARPENS THE GRAVITY OF INDIVIDUAL DECISIONS: “FOR WHOEVER WOULD SAVE HIS LIFE [OR ‘SELF’: PSYCHE] WILL LOSE IT; AND WHOEVER LOSES HIS LIFE FOR MY SAKE AND THE GOSPEL’S WILL SAVE IT” (8:35). IT’S CERTAINLY A BIT MORE PERSONAL.
WE NEED TO BE AWARE OF AND ON OUR GUARD AGAINST WHAT HAS BEEN CALLED “RELIGIOUS VENEER”. PROFESSOR CLIFTON BLACK OF PRINCETON UNIVERSITY WROTE, “CHRISTIAN FAITH IS NOT A LIFE-STYLE CHOICE; IT IS A VOCATION TO NEVER-ENDING STRUGGLE. BY LYING ABOUT JESUS AND THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL, WE DENY THE TRUTH ABOUT OURSELVES. REJECTING THE SON OF MAN, DESPERATELY TRYING TO SAVE OUR OWN LIVES, WE LOSE OURSELVES — JUST AS HE ASSURED US WE WOULD (8:35-37). ONLY BY GIVING OURSELVES TO OTHERS AS JESUS GAVE HIMSELF FOR US (10:45) WILL WE EVER FIND OURSELVES.” WHAT AN INSIGHTFUL STATEMENT? IT IS “…ONLY BY GIVING OURSELVES TO OTHERS AS JESUS GAVE HIMSELF FOR US WILL WE EVER FIND OURSELVES” – THERE’S THE CENTRE OF THE GOSPEL IN ONE PHRASE.
THIS IS A VERY PERSONALLY CHALLENGING PIECE OF THE GOSPEL. IT’S AS RELEVANT TO US TODAY AS IT WAS IN THE DIFFERENT CONTEXT OF THE FIRST CENTURY. WE ,THE AUSTRALIAN PEOPLE LARGELY ALL GO ABOUT OUR COMFORTABLE LIVES HERE IN THIS MOST FAVOURED COUNTRY HARDLY GIVING A THOUGHT TO THOSE OF OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF VARYING FAITHS IN OTHER COUNTRIES – AND SOMETIMES SADLY OUR OWN – WHO LIVE DEPLETED LIVES OF SUFFERING, POVERTY AND IN MANY CASES UNDER THE CONSTANT SHADOW OF INJURY AND DEATH. THERE ARE CHRISTIANS AROUND THE WORLD WHO HAVE TAKEN THIS TEXT LITERALLY AND SERIOUSLY – THEY LIVE IN COUNTRIES SUCH AS NORTH KOREA, EGYPT, AFGHANISTAN AND SOMALIA TO NAME A FEW WHERE SIMPLY TO BE IDENTIFIED AS A CHRISTIAN CAN BRING CRIMINAL CHARGES AND RESULT IN INCARCERATION OR DEATH.
ON THIS 2ND SUNDAY OF LENT THIS IS “THE REMINDER WE HAD TO HAVE” – TO PARAPHRASE PAUL KEATING. OTHERWISE LENT IS NOTHING MORE THAN BEING LEFT WITH OUR OWN DEVICES OF DENIAL AND OUR OWN PERSONAL CONCEPTS OF SELF-SACRIFICE. OTHERWISE, BEING A CHRISTIAN IS NOTHING MORE THAN THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS THAT NEVER ACTUALLY ANTICIPATE ANY ACTION.
ANOTHER SCHOOL SHOOTING IN THE UNITED STATES – THE EIGHTH SCHOOL SHOOTING TO HAVE RESULTED IN DEATH OR INJURY DURING THE FIRST SEVEN WEEKS OF THIS YEAR. THEIR PRESIDENT OFFEREDTHOUGHTS AND PRAYERS? WELL, THAT’S NOT WHAT JESUS SUGGESTS AS AN ANSWER. THEY HAVE THEIR PLACE AND TIME. I HAVE NO DOUBT WHEN IT COMES TO THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS, AND THE POWER OF THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS THEY CAN WORK.
AT THE SAME TIME CROATIAN THEOLOGIAN MIROSLAV VOLF HAS WRITTEN,”THERE IS SOMETHING DEEPLY HYPOCRITICAL ABOUT PRAYING FOR A PROBLEM YOU’RE UNWILLING TO RESOLVE”. THINK ABOUT THAT! AND NOT JUST WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE UNITED STATES GUN DEBATE.
IF WE CHRISTIANS DON’T SPEAK OPENLY WHO WILL? WILL YOU ALLOW THOSE WHO HAVE THE LOUDEST VOICES TO DETERMINE THE DIRECTION OF CHRISTIANITY AND THE ANGLICAN CHURCH HERE IN ADELAIDE? OR WILL YOU TRULY TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND EMBODY GOD’S PRESENCE IN THE WORLD?
AS CHRISTIANS WE OBVIOUSLY NEED TO OPENLY SPEAK OUT AGAINST RACISM AND VIOLENCE ACROSS THE WORLD BUT WE ALSO NEED TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED WHEN FACED WITH THOSE WHO HOLD TO RADICAL LITERALIST BELIEFS OF JUDGEMENT AND EXCLUSION AND HAVE THE ATTITUDE THAT THEY ALONE HOLD THE TRUTH – THEY ALONE ARE THE PATHWAY TO GOD. THEY, LIKE THE DISCIPLES ARE SO OFTEN PORTRAYED, HAVE ENTIRELY MISSED THE POINT OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST- WHICH IS NON-JUDGEMENT, INCLUSION, FORGIVENESS AND LOVE. MAY GOD BLESS YOU THIS LENTEN TIME AS WE ALL TAKE TIME OUT TO REFLECT ON OUR OWN LIVES AND OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS AND THE SPIRIT OF LIFE.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU

SERMON 18TH FEBRUARY 2018

BAPTISM – A FEW THOUGHTS.

TODAY WE ARE BAPTISING REGINALD AND WELCOMING HIM INTO THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY OF FAITH WE CALL THE CHURCH SO I THOUGHT IT APPROPRIATE THAT I TAKE A MOMENT TO EXPLAIN SOMETHING OF THIS ANCIENT RITE.
THE RITE OF BAPTISM EXISTED LONG BEFORE THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH FORMED OUT OF THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUES IN THE FIRST CENTURY. THEN IT WAS SEEN AS A RITE OF PURIFICATION – A SYMBOLIC WASHING AWAY OF SIN.
IT PROBABLY EVOLVED FROM A MORE PRACTICAL ACTION BECAUSE IN ANCIENT TIMES TRAVEL WAS BY FOOT OR RIDING ON AN ANIMAL AND SO FEET AND BODIES BECAME DUSTY HENCE THE RITUAL OF EASTERN HOSPITALITY OF WASHING THE GUEST’S FEET. THIS PRACTICAL WASHING AWAY OF BODILY DIRT BECAME THE SYMBOLIC WASHING AWAY OF SPIRITUAL DIRT. ALSO WATER REPRESENTS LIFE, BECAUSE WITHOUT WATER THERE CAN BE NO LIFE AS WE KNOW IT. WITHOUT WATER THIS PLANET WE CALL EARTH WOULD BE NOTHING MORE THAN A LUMP OF ROCK TURNING IN THE VOID OF SPACE – LIFELESS. SO TO USE WATER IN THIS RITE WE ARE IN EFFECT RE-AFFIRMING OUR LIFE, BOTH PHYSICAL BUT ALSO SPIRITUAL – BECAUSE WE HUMANS ARE SPIRITUAL BEINGS WITH AN INHERENT AWARENESS OF AND A SEEKING AFTER THE PRESENCE OF SOMETHING BEYOND OUR PURELY DAILY PHYSICAL LIFE EXPERIENCE – A SPIRITUAL PRESENCE THAT WE CALL GOD.
ONE OF THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN WRITINGS WE CAN STILL READ FROM THE FIRST CENTURY – CALLED THE DIDACHE – SETS OUT THE METHOD TO BE USED FOR BAPTISM IN THAT EARLY CHURCH. THE WORDS USED HAVE NEVER CHANGED: THE WATER IS POURED ON THE CANDIDATE “IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”.
CONTEMPORARY THEOLOGY HAS REJECTED THE EARLIER IDEA OF SO CALLED “ORIGINAL SIN” WHICH COMES FROM A LITERAL INTERPRETATION OF THE STORY OF THE SO CALLED “FALL” OF THE MYTHICAL ADAM AND EVE IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN. WE NOW RECOGNISE THAT A LITTLE CHILD CARRIES NO GUILT OF SIN THEREFORE THE PARENTS AND GODPARENTS SPEAK ON THE CHILD’S BEHALF WHEN THEY MAKE SERIOUS PROMISES TO LOVE AND NURTURE THE CHILD INTO RECOGNISING AND ACCEPTING THE LOVE THAT THE SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE THAT WE CALL GOD OFFERS TO EVERY PERSON – YOUNG OR OLD. IN BAPTISM WE RECOGNISE THAT LOVE AND SYMBOLICALLY OFFER THE FAMILY THE LOVE, ACCEPTANCE AND SUPPORT OF THE CHURCH COMMUNITY – WHICH IS WHY WE CELEBRATE THE BAPTISM WITHIN THE CHURCH SERVICE AND IN THE MIDST OF THAT CHURCH COMMUNITY.
IT THEREFORE BEHOVES YOU AS THE PARENTS, GOD-PARENTS, FAMILY AND FRIENDS TO UNDERSTAND THIS AND REMEMBER YOUR COMMITMENTS MADE TO REGINALD TODAY. PEACE AND BLESSING BE UPON YOU ALL.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU.

SERMON 11TH FEBRUARY – TRANSFIGURATION – Mark 9:2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE
TODAY IS THE LAST DAY OF THE CHURCH’S SEASON OF EPIPHANY. WE ARE ABOUT TO TAKE OUR ANNUAL PLUNGE INTO THE COLD WATERS OF ASH WEDNESDAY AND LENT. PLEASE BE ASSURRED THAT YOU ARE NOT MEANT TO TAKE THAT STATEMENT LITERALLY AND START TAKING COLD SHOWERS FROM NEXT WEDNESDAY- BUT ON THE OTHER HAND IF YOU ARE FEELING PARTICULARLY PIOUS AND BRAVE …??
IN READING TODAY’S GOSPEL IT OCCURRED TO ME THAT THE WORDS MARK ATTRIBUTES TO GOD IN HIS STORY OF THE TRANSFIGURATION SEEMED SOMETHING OF A REPEAT OF THE WORDS USED IN THE READING THAT OPENED THIS SEASON OF EPIPHANY – SORT OF BOOKENDS TO THE SEASON. TODAY IN VERSE 7 WE READ,”THIS IS MY SON, THE BELOVED; LISTEN TO HIM!” WHILST BACK IN JANUARY WE READ WITHIN THE STORY OF JESUS’ BAPTISM, “YOU ARE MY BELOVED. IN YOU I AM WELL PLEASED”. HERE GOD IS SPEAKING TO JESUS, WHILST IN OUR READING TODAY IT IS THE DISCIPLES WHO ARE ADDRESSED. I DON’T THINK IT IS MUCH OF A STRETCH OF IMAGINATION TO SAY THAT WE, AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST – CHRISTIANS – HAVE SUCCEEDED THE ORIGINAL DISCIPLES, SO IN A WAY, THE DISCIPLES REPRESENT US, OR VICE VERSA IF YOU LIKE – “LISTEN TO HIM” – “LISTEN TO JESUS”!, SAYS MARK.
IT IS TIMES LIKE THESE THAT WE NEED SCHOLARS LIKE Dr MATTHEW ANSTEY, THE IMMEDIATE PAST PRINCIPAL OF ST BARNABAS THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE AND AN EMINENT HEBREW SCHOLAR, BECAUSE I HAVE A LESS THAN ADEQUATE KNOWLEDGE OF THAT LANGUAGE. BUT I HAVE DISCOVEREDTHAT THERE IS A HEBREW PHRASE THAT DESCRIBES THIS PHENOMENOM OF THE VOICE OF GOD; IT IS “BAT COLE”. LOOKING BACK INTO 1KINGS 18 WE READ THE STORY OF ISAIAH MEETING GOD ON MOUNT HOREB. IT IS A GREAT STORY. LET ME READ PART OF IT TO YOU.”…GO OUT AND STAND ON THE MOUNTAIN BEFORE THE LORD, FOR THE LORD IS ABOUT TO PASS BY”. NOW THERE WAS A GREAT WIND SO STRONG THAT IT WAS SPLITTING MOUNTAINS AND BREAKING ROCKS IN PIECES BEFORE THE LORD, BUT THE LORD WAS NOT IN THE WIND; AND AFTER THE WIND AN EARTHQUAKE, BUT THE LORD WAS NOT IN THE EARTHQUAKE; AND AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE A FIRE, BUT THE LORD WAS NOT IN THE FIRE; AND AFTER THE FIRE THE SOUND OF A SOFT WHISPER” – THAT’S THE “BAT COLE” – LITERALLY TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH – “THE DAUGHTER OF A SOUND”. ELIJAH HEARD “THE SOUND OF THINNEST SILENCE, A STILL SMALL VOICE “. THESE ARE ALL QUITE INADEQUATE WAYS OF TRYING TO EXPRESS AN EXPERIENCE THAT IS BEYOND EXPLANATION.
HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED SOMETHING LIKE THIS? NOT SO LONG AGO A CHURCH STUDY GROUP WAS ASKED THIS QUESTION – SEVERAL PEOPLE SAID THEY HAD. ONE LADY TOLD OF WHEN SHE WAS A YOUNG GIRL ABOUT 7 YEARS OLD AND ALONE IN HER ROOM SHE HEARD A VOICE SPEAK TO HER AS CLEARLY AS IF SOMEONE WAS IN THE ROOM WITH HER. “YOU BELONG TO ME”. SHE SAID, “I DIDN’T HEAR IT WITH MY EAR. BUT I HEARD IT.” ANOTHER PERSON RELATED HOW SHE HAD BEEN EXPERIENCING A PERIOD OF STRUGGLE AND SUDDENLY ONE EVENING SHE HAD AN EXTRAORDINARILLY STRONG SENSE OF THE PRESENCE OF JESUS IN THE ROOM AND SHE SAID,” WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” AND SHE HEARD A VOICE REPLY,”I NEVER LEFT YOU”. AGAIN SHE SAID, “I DIDN’T HEAR IT WITH MY EARS, BUT I HEARD THE VOICE”.
I CONFESS THAT I HAVE NEVER HAD THIS EXPERIENCE BUT I WONDER IF ANYONE HERE HAS – BUT I RESPECT YOUR PRIVACY SO WON’T ASK YOU TO PUBLICLY SAY. MY EXPERIENCE HAS SHOWN ME THAT GOD DOES SPEAK TO US BUT IN A MULTITUDE OF WAYS – MOSTLY LESS DRAMATIC THAN A VOICE IN ONE’S HEAD.
WE CAN HEAR THE VOICE OF GOD IN OUR DREAMS OR SOMETIMES AS “NUDGES AND CLOBBERS” AS THE QUAKERS SAY. PEOPLE HAVE ASKED ME WHY I ARRIVED AT THE DECISION TO STUDY AND BECOME ORDAINED IN LATER LIFE. MY REPLY, HAVING THOUGHT THIS VERY QUESTION OF “WHY” MYSELF – IS THAT, LOOKING BACK OVER THE YEARS, I WAS PUSHED RATHER THAN THE COMMONLY USED “CALLED”. NO VOICE IN MY HEAD BUT A POSITIVE INFLUENCE AND A CLEARING OF THE PATH – NO DOUBT ABOUT IT!
THE CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN WRITER FREDERICK BUECHNER NAILED IT WHEN HE WROTE:
LISTEN TO YOUR LIFE. LISTEN TO WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU, BECAUSE IT IS THROUGH WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU THAT GOD SPEAKS. IT IS IN LANGUAGE THAT IS NOT ALWAYS EASY TO DESCIPHER, BUT IT IS THERE, POWERFULLY, MEMORABLY, UNFORGETTABLY. (BEUCHNER F; LISTENING TO YOUR LIFE)
THERE SEEMS TO BE LITTLE DOUBT THAT THERE IS A PART DEEP WITHIN ALL OF US THAT YEARNS FOR THAT CONNECTION AND COMMUNICATION WITH THE SPIRIT OF LIFE. THERE SEEMS TO BE SOME EVIDENCE THAT WE HAVE ONCE EXPERIENCED THIS BUT ONCE WE FIND OURSELVES WITHIN THE WORLD WITH ALL ITS PHYSICALITY, STRESSES AND INTRUSIONS WE LOSE THE MEMORY. HERE IS A STORY ABOUT A THREE-YEAR-OLD GIRL WHO WAS THE ONLY CHILD IN HER FAMILY. BUT NOW HER MOTHER IS PREGNANT, AND THIS THREE-YEAR-OLD GIRL IS VERY EXCITED ABOUT HAVING A BABY IN THE HOUSE. THE DAY COMES WHEN THE BABY IS DUE, AND THE PARENTS GO OFF TO THE HOSPITAL – A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER THEY COME HOME WITH A NEW BABY BROTHER – AND THE LITTLE GIRL IS JUST DELIGHTED.
BUT AFTER THEY’VE BEEN HOME FOR A COUPLE OF HOURS, THE LITTLE GIRL TELLS HER PARENTS THAT SHE WANTS TO BE WITH THE BABY IN THE BABY’S ROOM, ALONE, WITH THE DOOR SHUT. SHE’S ABSOLUTELY INSISTENT ABOUT THE DOOR BEING SHUT. THIS MOST UNUSUAL REQUEST UNSETTLES HER PARENTS – THEY KNOW SHE’S A GOOD LITTLE GIRL, BUT THEY’VE HEARD ABOUT SIBLING RIVALRY AND ALL OF THAT. THEN THEY REMEMBER THAT THEY’VE RECENTLY INSTALLED AN INTERCOM SYSTEM IN PREPARATION FOR THE ARRIVAL OF THE NEW BABY, AND THEY REALIZE THAT THEY CAN LET THEIR LITTLE GIRL DO THIS, AND IF THEY HEAR THE SLIGHTEST WEIRD THING HAPPENING, THEY CAN BE IN THERE IN A FLASH.
SO THEY LET THEIR LITTLE GIRL GO INTO THE ROOM. THEY CLOSE THE DOOR BEHIND HER. THEY RACE TO THE LISTENING POST. THEY HEAR HER FOOTSTEPS MOVE ACROSS THE ROOM. THEY IMAGINE HER NOW STANDING OVER THE BABY’S CRIB, ANDTHEN THEY HEAR HER SAY TO HER TWO-DAY-OLD BABY BROTHER, “TELL ME ABOUT GOD. I’VE ALMOST FORGOTTEN.”
I FIND THAT TO BE A HAUNTING AND EVOCATIVE STORY, BECAUSE IT SUGGESTS THAT WE COME FROM GOD, AND WHEN WE ARE VERY, VERY YOUNG, WE STILL REMEMBER THAT. WE STILL KNOW THAT. BUT THE PROCESS OF GROWING UP, OF LEARNING THE LANGUAGE OF THIS WORLD, IS A PROCESS OF PROGRESSIVE FORGETTING; IN A SENSE, EVEN A PROCESS OF PROGRESSIVE OBLITERATING OF THAT MEMORY.
BECAUSE AS WE LEARN THE LANGUAGE OF THIS WORLD, THE CATEGORIES OF THIS WORLD GET IMPRINTED UPON OUR PSYCHES, AND OUR SENSE OF BEING A SEPARATED SELF GROWS STRONGER AND STRONGER. THAT SENSE OF DISCONNECTION CONTINUES THROUGHOUT CHILDHOOD, UNTIL, BY THE END OF CHILDHOOD, WE MAY HAVE LOST THAT SENSE OF CONNECTION ALTOGETHER.
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT THE VERY PROCESS OF GROWING UP THAT WOUNDS US. WE ALL GROW UP WOUNDED. OUR SENSE OF SEPARATION INCREASES THROUGH OUR ADOLESCENCE AS WE CONTINUE TO INTERNALISE ALL OF THESE MESSAGES THAT WE GET FROM OUR CULTURE ABOUT WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE OUGHT TO BE LIKE.
OUR SENSE OF BEING A SEPARATED SELF WITH AN IDENTITY CONFERRED PRIMARILY BY THE IDENTITY-CONFERRING VALUES OF CULTURE GROWS AND GROWS. I HAVE A SENSE OF BEING OKAY OR NOT OKAY TO THE EXTENT THAT I MEASURE UP TO THESE MESSAGES AND WE FALL FURTHER INTO THAT WORLD OF SEPARATION AND ALIENATION, OF COMPARISON AND JUDGMENT, OF SELF AND OTHERS.
THE RESULT IS WHAT THE CONTEMPORARY BENEDICTINE TEACHER, THOMAS KEATING, CALLS “THE FALSE SELF,” – THE SELF CONFERRED BY CULTURE. OUR IDENTITY IS WRAPPED UP IN THAT FALSE SELF – OR TO REFER TO FREDERICK BUECKNER AGAIN,
INCREASINGLY, WE LIVE OUR LIVES FROM THE OUTSIDE IN RATHER THAN FROM THE INSIDE OUT, TAKING OUR CUES FROM THE WORLD, TAKING OUR CUES FROM OTHERS, TAKING OUR CUES FROM CULTURE.
IT IS THAT WAY OF BEING AND THAT KIND OF IDENTITY THAT THE LENTEN JOURNEY UPON WHICH WE ARE ABOUT TO EMBARK CALLS US TO DIE TO. LISTENING TO JESUS MEANS UNDERTAKING THIS JOURNEY, EMBARKING ON THAT PATH OF DYING TO THE FALSE SELF, TO THAT IDENTITY, TO THAT WAY OF BEING, AND TO BE BORN INTO AN IDENTITY CENTRED IN THIS SPIRIT, IN CHRIST, IN GOD. IT IS THE PROCESS OF INTERNAL REDEFINITION OF THE SELF SO THAT A REAL PERSON CAN BE BORN WITHIN US.
WE ALL KNOW THAT LENT HISTORICALLY IS A SEASON OF REPENTANCE. THE BIBLICAL MEANINGS OF REPENTANCE ARE BOTH RICH AND IMPORTANT.
TO BEGIN WITH, THE GREEK WORD FOR REPENTANCE THAT WE FIND IN THE GOSPELS IS – METANOYA . IN TERMS OF ITS GREEK ROOTS, TO REPENT THEN MEANS “TO GO BEYOND THE MIND THAT YOU HAVE,” AND THE MIND THAT YOU HAVE RECEIVED FROM CULTURE. FROM ALL OF THOSE MESSAGES, THE IDENTITY YOU HAVE IS ONE THAT YOU’VE RECEIVED FROM CULTURE. TO REPENT MEANS TO GO BEYOND THE MIND THAT YOU HAVE – TO A MIND IN CHRIST.
THE MEANING OF THE HEBREW WORD FOR REPENTANCE IS ALSO VERY RICH. IT’S SHOO-VOG, AND THE HOME OF THIS WORD IN THE HEBREW BIBLE IS THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE OF EXILE. TO REPENT IS TO RETURN. THAT’S THE MEANING OF THE WORD. TO RETURN FROM EXILE, TO RETURN FROM THAT STATE OF SEPARATION, TO BEGIN THAT JOURNEY OF RETURN FROM THE SEPARATED SELF TO A NEW SELF IN GOD.
TO REPENT IS TO RECONNECT WITH THE ONE FROM WHOM WE CAME AND IN WHOM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING. AND WE DO BOTH — RETURN AND GO BEYOND THE MIND THAT WE HAVE BY HEARING THE VOICE OF GOD WHICH SAYS TO US: “LISTEN TO HIM. LISTEN TO JESUS”. LISTEN TO THE WAY THAT HE TEACHES AND FOLLOW HIM ON THIS JOURNEY OF LENT, WITH ITS CLIMAX IN OUR PARTICIPATION IN GOOD FRIDAY AND EASTER, WITH ITS CLIMAX IN OUR DYING WITH CHRIST AND BEING BORN AGAIN INTO LIFE IN GOD.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

SERMON 4TH FEBRUARY 2018 – Mark 1:29-39
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND GRACE
THERE ARE A NUMBER OF POINTS WITHIN THIS GOSPEL READING THAT COULD BE DISCUSSED, SOME HAVE BEEN RAISED AND CAUSED NO SMALL CONTROVERSY. I REFER PARTICULARLY TO THE STORY OF SIMON’S MOTHER-IN-LAW WHO, WHEN HEALED “…BEGAN TO SERVE THEM”. THIS TEXT HAS BEEN USED BY MISOGYNISTS TO SUPPORT THEIR POINT OF VIEW THAT WOMEN SHOULD CONFINE THEMSELVES TO DOMESTIC MATTERS AND LEAVE THE THINKING AND THE “REAL WORK” TO MEN. I DID NOT INTEND TO DISCUSS THIS BUT IT IS SO OBVIOUS I THOUGHT IT APPROPRIATE THAT I OFFER A BRIEF EXPLANANTION.
THE WORD, TRANSLATED BY THE NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION AS “LIFTED HER UP” IS THE WORD, “RAISED” — “HE RAISED HER UP.” LATER, IN MARK 16:7 THE YOUNG MEN TELL THE WOMEN, “BUT GO, TELL HIS DISCIPLES AND PETER THAT HE IS GOING AHEAD OF YOU TO GALILEE; THERE YOU WILL SEE HIM, JUST AS HE TOLD YOU.” THE ORIGINAL ENDING OF THIS GOSPEL SENDS THE DISCIPLES (AND THE READERS) BACK TO GALILEE WHERE JESUS PERFORMED HIS POWERFUL DEEDS OF HEALING AND FEEDING. READERS OF THE ORIGINAL MARK ARE NOT TOLD OF JESUS’ APPEARANCES AFTER HIS RESURRECTION. RATHER, THEY ARE SENT BACK TO GALILEE WHERE THEY WILL REMEMBER JESUS’ MINISTRY OF RESURRECTION. THE VERB TO “RAISE UP” IS USED IN HEALING STORIES ALL THROUGH MARK.
THE HEALING OF PETER’S MOTHER IN LAW IS THE FIRST RESURRECTION STORY IN THE GOSPEL. JUST AS THE DEMONS DO IN THE PREVIOUS SCENE, THE FEVER “LEAVES HER.” HAVING BEEN “RAISED,” SHE “SERVES” THEM. ON THE MOST LITERAL LEVEL IT MAY MEAN THAT SHE GETS UP AND PREPARES AND SERVES FOOD. BUT THE VERB “TO SERVE” IS ANOTHER KEY TERM IN MARK’S GOSPEL. ITS PRESENCE HERE SHOWS THAT HER SERVICE IS TO BE INTERPRETED AS A RESPONSE OF FAITH. MEANING BOTH TO SERVE AT A TABLE AND TO DO MINISTRY, THE VERB DIAKONEIN (DEACON/ DIACONATE) IS USED OF THE ANGELS IN THE WILDERNESS WHO “SERVE” -TRANSLATED IN THE NRSV “WAITED ON” (MARK 1:14) AND OF THE WOMEN WHO FOLLOWED JESUS AND SERVED HIM -TRANSLATED IN THE NRSV “PROVIDED FOR” (MARK 15:41) SERVING EPITOMIZES JESUS’ OWN MINISTRY: “FOR THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE SERVED BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE A RANSOM FOR MANY.” (MARK 10:45). THIS LADY IS NO DOWNTRODDEN “MERE WOMAN” BUT AN ICON OF RESURRECTION AND A PARADIGM OF CHRISTIAN MINISTRY. SO, MYSOGYNISTS BEWARE OF IGNORANCE WHEN QUOTING THESE WONDERFUL WRITINGS!
NOW, I REALLY WANTED TO EXPAND UPON VERSE 35, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” I WANTED TO SPEAK ABOUT PRAYER. IN THE GOSPEL STORIES JESUS PRAYS OFTEN AND YOU WILL NOTE THAT IT IS ALWAYS IN A PRIVATE MANNER AND PLACE. IN THIS STORY HE RISES BEFORE ANYONE ELSE IS AWAKE “WHILE IT WAS STILL VERY DARK” AND LEAVES THE HOUSE TO SIT QUIETLY BY HIMSELF WHERE NOONE ELSE IS AROUND.
DR MARCUS BORG WAS ONCE ASKED, “WHAT DOES JESUS TEACH US ABOUT PRAYER?” HE RESPONDED: “WE KNOW FROM THE GOSPELS THAT JESUS PRACTICED A FORM OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER. WE ARE NOT TOLD EXACTLY WHAT KIND, BUT WE KNOW THERE WAS CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER IN THE JEWISH TRADITION … THE REASON WE KNOW JESUS PRACTICED CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER IS THAT THE GOSPELS REFER SEVERAL TIMES TO HIM GOING TO A SOLITARY PLACE AND PRAYING ALL NIGHT LONG OR PRAYING FOR A FEW HOURS AT A TIME, AND UNLESS WE IMAGINE THAT HIS PRAYER LIST HAD BECOME ENORMOUSLY LONG, IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO IMAGINE THAT HE WAS DOING VERBAL PRAYER ALL THAT TIME.THIS CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER IS THE PRAYER OF INTERNAL SILENCE WHERE YOU JUST SIT SILENTLY IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.” (BORG,M THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY) .
JEWISH MEDITATION MAY REFER TO SEVERAL TRADITIONAL PRACTICES ALL OF WHICH LEAD TO WHAT IS CALLED DVEIKUS – OR LITERALLY “CLEAVING TO GOD”. THE HEBREW WORD FOR MEDITATION IS HISBODEDUS – LITERALLY “SELF SECLUSION”.
SO, IN PRACTICING CONTEMPLATION OR SELF SECLUSION WE CAN FIND OURSELVES LITERALLY “CLEAVING TO GOD”- WHAT A LOVELY IMAGE THAT EVOKES? IT SPEAKS OF COMFORT AND REASSURANCE IN TIMES OF CONFLICT AND NEED, WHEN WE FEEL WE ARE DEEP IN A TROUGH OF ADVERSITY WE CAN BY OPENING OUR HEARTS AND MINDS TO THE SPIRIT OF LOVE COME TO THE REALISATION THAT WE LIVE WITHIN THE GOD OF FORGIVENESS AND COMFORT AND THAT GOD LIVES WITHIN US – WE CAN’T HAVE A CLOSER RELATIONSHIP..
ST FRANCIS OF ASSISI HAS BEEN ATTRIBUTED WITH SAYING, “PREACH THE GOSPEL, AND IF NECESSARY, USE WORDS”. MAY I HIJACK THAT PIECE OF BRILLIANCE AND SAY “PRAY ALWAYS, AND IF NECESSARY, USE WORDS”.
CHARLES SPURGEON, THE EMINENT 19TH CENTURY ENGLISH BAPTIST MINISTER SAID,” “TRUE PRAYER IS NEITHER A MERE MENTAL EXERCISE NOR A VOCAL PERFORMANCE. IT IS FAR DEEPER THAN THAT – IT IS SPIRITUAL TRANSACTION WITH THE CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.”
“A MERE MENTAL EXERCISE” – THAT’S INTERESTING. I THINK IT IS VERY EASY FOR OUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS TO BECOME JUST THAT – A MERE MENTAL EXERCISE. THERE IS A DANGER TO BEWARE OF.
ONE FINAL THING I NEED TO TOUCH ON – TO WHOM OR WHAT DO YOU PRAY? THAT’S A PRETTY PROVOKATIVE QUESTION, I KNOW BUT I THINK IT NEEDS TO BE ASKED. LAST YEAR I HAD A SENIOR CHURCHMAN SAY TO ME, “BUT GOD IS A BEING”. I WAS QUITE TAKEN ABACK THAT HE WOULD SAY THAT. I WAS UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT THE BIBLICAL WRITINGS WHICH UNDERLY THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH CLEARLY STATE THAT GOD IS A SPIRIT AND WE SHOULD WORSHIP IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH (JOHN 4). I KNOW THIS STATEMENT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO STIR UP A VERITABLE HORNET’S NEST – AND TO MIX METAPHORS – OPEN A VERY LARGE CAN OF WORMS – SO I WON’T PURSUE IT HERE BUT SUFFICE TO SAY THAT MY EXPERIENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF CREATION, LIFE AND LOVE THAT PERMEATES THE UNIVERSE AND BEYOND AS WELL AS LIVING WITHIN ME AND YOU LEADS ME TO KNOW THAT PRESENCE WHICH WE CALL GOD IS MOSTLY FOUND WHEN WE FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS AND LET OUR MINDS DRIFT IN SILENCE. “…HE WENT OUT TO A DESERTED PLACE AND THERE HE PRAYED”. THE LORD BE WITH YOU.

SERMON 7TH JANUARY 2018 – BAPTISM OF THE LORD – MARK 1: 4-11
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE
2018 IS A VERY CONFUSING YEAR IF WE ARE TO FAITHFULLY FOLLOW THE LECTIONARY AS, DUE TO THE WAY THE DAYS FALL AND AS WE ONLY HAVE OUR SERVICES ON SUNDAYS, TODAY IT TELLS US TO CELEBRATE THE GOSPEL STORY OF THE BAPTISM OF THE ADULT JESUS. I FELT THAT THIS WAS TAKING A LONG STRIDE FROM LAST SUNDAY WHEN WE SPOKE ABOUT THE VISIT OF THE MAGI SO I THOUGHT WE SHOULD TAKE A STEP BACK TO THE ACCOUNT OF JESUS’ PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE ACCORDING TO THE JEWISH LAW BEFORE WE LEAVE HIS CHILDHOOD. AS I HAVE PREVIOUSLY COMMENTED – THERE IS NO BIRTH NARRATIVE IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK WHO BEGINS HIS STORY BY BRIEFLY INTRODUCING JOHN THE BAPTIST AND THEN IMMEDIATELY RELATES HIS STORY OF THE BAPTISM OF JESUS AS AN ADULT. SO I THINK IT IS BETTER TODAY TO REVERT TO LUKE’S ACCOUNT OF THE NAMING AND PRESENTATION OF THE CHILD. THERE IS TOO MUCH TO SAY JUST TO PASS IT OVER. BASICALLY LUKE TELLS US THAT JESUS, AT 8 DAYS OF AGE WAS BROUGHT BY HIS PARENTS TO THE TEMPLE IN ORDER TO BE “PRESENTED TO THE LORD”. LUKE WRITES THIS:”AFTER 8 DAYS HAD PASSED IT WAS TIME TO CIRCUMCISE TH ECHILD; AND HE WAS NAMED JESUS…” WHEN THE TIME CAME FOR THEIR PURIFICATION ACCORDING OT THE LAW OF MOSES, THEY BROUGHT HIM UP TO JERUSALEM TO PRESENT HIM TO THE LORD. (AS IT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW OF THE LORD, “EVERY FIRSTBORN MALE SHALL BE DESIGNATED AS HOLY TO THE LORD”) AND THEY OFFERED A SACRIFICE ACCORDING TO WHAT IS STATED IN THE LAW OF THE LORD,”A PAIR OF TURTLE DOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS”. LUKE 2:21FF).
THIS STORY OF JESUS’ PARENTS ACTING FAITHFULLY TO FOLLOW THE LAW GOT ME THINKING ABOUT HOW THE TORANIC LAW GOVERNED – AND STILL GOVERNS – THE DAILY LIFE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. OBVIOUSLY SACRIFICES WERE DONE AWAY WITH WHEN THE TEMPLE WAS DESTROYED IN 70 C.E. BUT THE ANCIENT CEREMONIES AND LEGAL REQUIREMENTS CONTINUE TO THIS DAY. THINKING ABOUT LAW LED ME INEVITABLY TO THE CONSIDERATION OF JUSTICE. FOR SURELY LAW – NO MATTER WHERE IT HAS BEEN DEVELOPED AND IS APPLIED IN HUMAN SOCIETY – IS ABOUT THE ADMINISTRATION AND APPLICATION OF JUSTICE. I HAVE DISCERNED THAT THERE ARE TWO BASIC TYPES OF JUSTICE: RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE AND DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE. UNFORTUNATELY IN MANY COUNTRIES THE SOLE EMPHASIS IS ON RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE. THIS IS WHERE A BREACH OF THE LAW ATTRACTS PUNISHMENT – FROM A MONETARY FINE TO – STILL IN SOME COUNTRIES – THE DEATH PENALTY. THE WORD JUSTICE IS BANDIED AROUND LARGELY IN THAT CONTEXT. THE CRY “I DEMAND JUSTICE” IS REALLY SAYING, “I DEMAND RETRIBUTION – REVENGE – I WANT TO SEE THE PERPETRATOR OF THE CRIME WHEREBY I HAVE SUFFERED LOSS PUNISHED AND COMPENSATION MADE FOR MY LOSS.” I HAVE READ THAT IN AMERICA THE FAMILY OF MURDER VICTIMS ARE INVITED TO BE PRESENT WHEN THE PERSON CONVICTED OF THE CRIME IS PUT TO DEATH. THIS IS INTENDED TO BRING “CLOSURE” AND THE SATISFACTION OF WITNESSING THE DEATH OF THE ONE WHO HAS BROUGHT THEM SUCH GRIEF AND PAIN. IT IS SAID THAT “JUSTICE HAS BEEN DONE” – THE VICTIMS HAVE ”RECEIVED JUSTICE”. IN REALITY OF COURSE IT IS SIMPLY REVENGE – RETRIBUTION. WHEN IT IS CAREFULLY CONSIDERED THERE IS REALLY NOTHING POSITIVE ABOUT THE EXERCISE. IN REALITY NO ONE HAS GAINED ANYTHING – THERE IS ONLY FURTHER AND CONTINUING LOSS. RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE IS SIMPLY VIOLENCE UNDER THE GUISE OF FAIRNESS AND EQUALITY. ON THE OTHER HAND DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE IS QUITE THE OPPOSITE.
THE TERM DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE REFERS TO FAIRNESS IN THE WAY THINGS ARE DISTRIBUTED, CARING MORE ABOUT HOW IT IS DECIDED WHO GETS WHAT, RATHER THAN WHAT IS DISTRIBUTED. IN MODERN SOCIETY, THIS IS AN IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE, AS IT IS GENERALLY EXPECTED THAT ALL GOODS WILL BE DISTRIBUTED THROUGHOUT SOCIETY IN SOME MANNER. IN A SOCIETY WITH A LIMITED AMOUNT OF RESOURCES AND WEALTH, THE QUESTION OF FAIR ALLOCATION IS OFTEN A SOURCE OF DEBATE AND CONTENTION. THIS IS CALLED DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE.
MUCH IS SPOKEN OF BY LITERALIST INTERPRETERS OF THE BIBLICAL WRITINGS OF “GOD’S JUSTICE”. THIS IS INTERPRETED AS RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE –”SIN, AND YOU WILL BE JUDGED AND GO TO HELL”. THIS IS NOT THE GOD WHOM THE PSALMIST SPEAKS OF IN PSALM 82. LISTEN TO THIS: “GOD HAS TAKEN HIS PLACE IN THE DIVINE COUNCIL; IN THE MIDST OF THE GODS HE HOLDS JUDGEMENT: “HOW LONG WILL YOU JUDGE UNJUSTLY AND SHOW PARTIALITY TO THE WICKED? GIVE JUSTICE TO THE WEAK AND THE NEEDY; DELIVER THEM FROM THE HAND OF THE WICKED”. THIS IS THE JUSTICE OF GOD – IT’S DISTRIBUTIVE – NOT RETRIBUTIVE. THIS IS THE JUSTICE SPOKEN OF BY THE ANCIENT PROPHET MICAH WHEN HE WRITES: “HE HAS TOLD YOU, O MORTAL, WHAT IS GOOD: AND WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU BUT TO DO JUSTICE, AND TO LOVE KINDNESS, AND TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD”. THAT’S THE SAME JUSTICE THE PSALMIST WROTE OF – DISTRIBUTIVE NOT RETRIBUTIVE. THAT’S THE JUSTICE OF GOD – ENSURING THAT EVERY THING AND EVERYONE IS TREATED FAIRLY AND EQUALLY. IF OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE NATURE OF GOD AS SHOWN TO US BY JESUS IS LOVE – HOW CAN GOD’S JUSTICE BE ANYTHING ELSE – IT IS JUSTICE EMERGING FROM LOVE – NOT SELF-SATISFYING REVENGE. JOHN DOMINIC CROSSAN SAID, “THE HEART OF GOD’S JUSTICE IS TO MAKE SURE THAT THE “WEAK AND THE ORPHAN” HAVE RECEIVED THEIR SHARE OF GOD’S RESOURCES FOR THEM TO LIVE AND THRIVE. RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE COMES IN ONLY WHEN THAT IDEAL IS VIOLATED.”
HE ALSO SAID,” COVENANT WITH A GOD OF DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE WHO OWNS THE EARTH – NECESSARILY INVOLVES, THE PROPHETS INSIST, THE EXERCISE OF DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE IN GOD’S WORLD AND ON GOD’S EARTH. ALL GOD’S PEOPLE MUST RECEIVE A FAIR SHARE OF GOD’S EARTH.” “GOD … WHO OWNS THE EARTH” – ISN’T THAT AN INTERESTING COMMENT? CROSSAN IS SAYING THAT MINDLESS PEOPLE EXPLOIT THE EARTH FOR MERE PROFIT – WHEN IT REALLY DOESN’T EVEN BELONG TO THEM – IN ADDITION TO EXPLOITING THEIR FELLOWS.
AS WE LAUNCH ONCE AGAIN INTO A NEW YEAR I LEAVE YOU TO PONDER UPON WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO CLAIM TO BE A CHRISTIAN – IE, ONE WHO FOLLOWS THE TEACHINGS OF CHRIST – THE MAN WHO REVEALED TO HUMANITY SO MUCH OF THE TRUE NATURE OF THE CREATOR GOD. THINK UPON THE CONCEPT OF JUSTICE AS IT IS ESPOUSED IN THE BIBLICAL WRITINGS – IT IS DISTRIBUTIVE NOT RETRIBUTIVE – THERE IS A VAST DIFFERENCE. OUR SOCIETY THINKS ONLY OF RETRIBUTION WHICH IS PURELY SELF-SERVING. IN THIS YEAR OF 2018 IT IS TIME TO CHANGE OUR DIRECTION AND ADOPT THE JUSTICE OF EQUALITY WHICH HAS AS ITS FOUNDATION LOVE. THIS CHANGE HAS THE POTENTIAL TO HAVE HUGE RAMIFICATIONS. WE WILL FIND OURSELVES ACTIVELY SEEKING TO HELP THE POOR AND NEEDY, THE REFUGEE AND SPEAKING OUT WHEN WE SEE INJUSTICE BEING DISHED OUT BY ANYONE – INCLUDING OUR OWN GOVERNMENT.
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON – CHRISTMAS 2017- Luke 2:1-14

1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

The Challenge of Familiarity

I HAVE HEADED THIS CHRISTMAS SERMON – THE CHALLENGE OF FAMILIARITY – BECAUSE I THINK IF WE ARE HONEST WITH OURSELVES – CHRISTMAS IS A VERY FAMILIAR TIME. WE THINK – “OK, HERE WE GO AGAIN, THE PARTIES, THE CAROL SERVICES, AND THE FAMILIAR TRADITIONAL FOODS – THE GREAT FAMILY CELEBRATION” AND – DARE I SAY – THE SHOPPING. THE CHRISTMAS TREE, THE SANTA HATS AND REINDEER HEAD DECORATIONS – NOW ALSO THE ANTLERS ON OUR CARS –DELUSIONS OF FLYING THROUGH THE SKY IMMERSED IN THE BONHOMIE OF THE SEASON –INSTEAD OF PROBABLY STATIONARY IN A LINE OF TRAFFIC SOMEWHERE IN A GRIDLOCKED AND ROASTING HOT CITY.

BUT THERE IS ALSO ANOTHER PART OF CHRISTMAS WITH WHICH WE ARE FAMILIAR – PERHAPS TOO FAMILIAR. WE ALL KNOW THE BEAUTIFUL STORIES ORIGINATING IN TWO OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS – MATTHEW AND LUKE. NEITHER MARK NOR JOHN INCLUDES THE CHRISTMAS STORY AND THE OTHER MAIN WRITER OF THE NEW TESTAMENT – PAUL – CERTAINLY MAKES NO MENTION OF IT.

THIS FAMILIARITY POSES A GREAT PROBLEM BECAUSE IF WE ARE BRUTALLY HONEST WITH OURSELVES – WHILST WE SING THE CAROLS THAT ECHO THE STORY AND WATCH THE LIVE “RE-ENACTMENTS” SO POPULAR NOWDAYS – WE DON’T BELIEVE A WORD OF IT.

WE HAVE HEARD THIS STORY SINCE OUR CHILDHOOD AND REMAIN WRAPPED IN THE SOFT AND GENTLE COTTON WOOL OF COMFORT AND CHEER OBLIVIOUS OF THE REALITY OF THE TIME OF THE GOSPEL WRITERS. FAMILIARITY MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO CONVEY THE SIMPLE IRONIES, AS WE HOLD TO THE LEGENDS CONVEYED IN CHURCH RE-ENACTMENTS THAT WEAVE TOGETHER THE PRESENCE OF MATTHEW’S KINGS WITH LUKE’S SHEPHERDS; GALLIVANT THE YOUNG COUPLE THROUGH BETHLEHEM COUNTING NO-VACANCY SIGNS ON NON-EXISTENT HOTELS; AND DISMISS THE POLITICAL CRITIQUE – THAT’S RIGHT – THE POLITICAL CRITIQUE (AAH, POLITICS AGAIN) THAT IS INHERENT IN THE WRITER’S HISTORICAL SETTING. THE TEXT’S SURPRISE IS ITS RELEVANCE IN POLITICAL MAYHEM RATHER THAN THE MERE RITUAL OF MYTH.

FOR EARLY READERS OF LUKE, THIS REFERENCE TO A PARTICULAR CENSUS ACKNOWLEDGED, NOT A CALENDAR DATE, BUT CULTURAL DISCRIMINATIONS AND PREJUDICES. LUKE WAS NOT TRYING TO PLACE THE BIRTH OF JESUS IN AN HISTORICAL TIME CONTEXT. HIS FIRST-CENTURY HEARERS WOULD HAVE NOTICED THE POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS INHERENT IN THIS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE GOVERNOR OF SYRIA AND CAESAR AUGUSTUS – THE RULER OF THE EMPIRE. THE CENSUS, ITSELF A PENETRATING SYMBOL OF ROMAN POWER, SERVES AS A REMINDER OF THE SUBORDINATION REQUIRED OF ISRAEL AS A CONQUERED PEOPLE.

MORE THAN AN IMPOSED INCONVENIENCE, THE CENSUS SIGNIFIES THE ALIEN RULE COMPROMISING FAITHFULNESS TO YAHWEH AND BY THE TIME LUKE WAS WRITING THAT WAS A FRIGHTENING REALITY. HISTORICALLY THIS CENSUS NEVER HAPPENED. IT IS A LITERARY DEVICE USED BY LUKE TO BUILD HIS STORY. WE ARE TOLD THAT JESUS WAS BORN WHEN HEROD WAS STILL KING – HISTORY TELLS US THAT HEROD DIED IN 4BCE IN JERICHO – NO QUESTION ABOUT THAT.

ON THE OTHER HAND PUBLIUS SOLPICIUS QUIRINIUS, A ROMAN ARISTOCRAT, BECAME GOVERNOR OF SYRIA IN THE WINTER OF 6 – 7 CE. IF WE TAKE LUKE’S TALE LITERALLY – AS MANY HAVE SADLY DONE FOR CENTURIES – WE MISS THIS FACT OF HISTORY THAT JESUS WOULD HAVE BEEN 10 OR 11 YEARS OLD WHEN QUIRINIUS BECAME THE GOVERNOR OF SYRIA. SO WHAT IS PAINFULLY OBVIOUS IS THAT LUKE’S STORY IS NOT HISTORICAL FACT AS WE HAVE BEEN LED TO BELIEVE. ALSO TO CAP IT OFF THERE IS NO HISTORICAL RECORD OF A CENSUS BEING UNDERTAKEN AT THAT TIME. THERE WERE NEVER ANY RECORDS TAKEN OF THE COMMON PEOPLE ANYWAY. THE ONLY REASON THAT A ROUGH COUNT OF THE POPULATION WAS UNDERTAKEN WAS TO CHECK ON THE AMOUNTS OF TAX BEING COLLECTED – THERE WAS NEVER ANY REQUIREMENT FOR PEOPLE TO RETURN TO THEIR ANCESTRAL TOWNS – THERE WAS NO BUREAU OF STATISTICS IN THE FIRST CENTURY. WHAT I HAVE TOLD YOU IS ONLY ONE OF A NUMBER OF ANOMALIES CONTAINED IN THESE CHRISTMAS STORIES – BEAUTIFUL AND EVOCATIVE AS THEY ARE. THE WHOLE POINT IS – THEY WERE NEVER WRITTEN TO EVEN PRETEND TO BE HISTORY. UNLIKE MATTHEW’S GOSPEL LUKE’S GOSPEL IS NOT SO MUCH INTERESTED IN THE PITHY SAYINGS OF JESUS BUT, ON THE DRAMATIC ENCOUNTERS THAT ARE LATER TO BE HAD WITH MARY’S FIRSTBORN. THE GOSPEL WRITER HERE IS TELLING OF THE LIFE OF AN HISTORICAL PERSON – JESUS OF NAZARETH – WHOSE LIFE MOST CERTAINLY HAD HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE. LUKE IS NOT POSITIONING HIS NARRATIVE TO PROVIDE A SPECIFIC DATE IN HISTORY, BUT TO REGISTER THE DISCRIMINATION EXPERIENCED BY JEWS UNDER ROMAN RULE IN THE LATE FIRST CENTURY. THIS IS A COUNTERCULTURAL MESSAGE – A RADICAL PROCLAMATION IF EVER THERE WAS ONE. FOR LUKE THE DIVINE SON IS NOT AUGUSTUS AS THE POPULATION HAD BEEN FORCED TO ACKNOWLEDGE, BUT JESUS. THE PEACE OF GOD PRESUPPOSES THE PEACE OF ROME, CONDEMING THE GOVERNMENT’S PROGRAMS OF FREEDOM, SECURITY, AND WELFARE WOEFULLY DEFICIENT. FAMILIAR ANTICIPATION PARALLELED WITH POLITICAL CRITIQUE AND SIMPLE HOSPITALITY – THE HOSPITALITY OF THE FICTIONAL INN-KEEPER. BECAUSE HOSPITALITY – NO MATTER HOW MEAGRE AND UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES – IS PARAMOUNT IN JEWISH CULTURE. SADLY, WE ANGLO PEOPLE SEEM TO HAVE LOST THAT AS OUR SOCIETY HAS BECOME MORE AND MORE INTROVERTED AND SELFISH. OF COURSE THERE ARE MANY EXCEPTIONS – PEOPLE DO GIVE GENEROUSLY WHEN THEY BECOME AWARE OF A GREAT NEED.

HAVE YOU EVER ASKED YOURSELF WHY THAT FIRST NOVEL OF DAN BROWN – THE DA VINCI CODE – WAS SO SUCCESSFUL AND CONTROVERSIAL? IT WAS BECAUSE HE INCLUDED ACTUAL HISTORICAL EVENTS AND REAL LOCATIONS AND PEOPLE – BOTH HISTORICAL AND EVEN 20TH CENTURY PEOPLE. THESE INCLUSIONS WITHIN A FICTIONAL WORK GAVE IT AN AIR OF HISTORICAL AUTHORITY AND MANY PEOPLE ASSUMED IT MUST BE TRUE. IT UPSET THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AT THE TIME ANYWAY!

WELL, IF THE GOSPEL WRITER’S INTENTION WAS NOT TO PASS DOWN AN HISTORICAL RECORD – WE NEED TO ASK – WHAT WAS HIS INTENTION? QUITE SIMPLY IT WAS TO BUILD A CASE FOR THE IDENTIFICATION OF JESUS AS THE MESSIAH OF ISRAEL AND THE HEIR TO THE REVERED KING DAVID. THAT’S WHY THE WRITERS HAVE GONE TO GREAT PAINS TO PLACE HIS BIRTH IN BETHLEHEM RATHER THAN NAZARETH AND TO “PROVE” HIS DIRECT LINEAGE TO KING DAVID. THAT IS ALSO WHY THEY SEARCHED DILIGENTLY IN THEIR SACRED WRITINGS – OUR OLD TESTAMENT – TO FIND ANYTHING THAT COULD BE INTERPRETED AS PROPHECY THAT MIGHT SUPPORT THEIR CASE.

HAVE I DESTROYED THE BEAUTY OF CHRISTMAS FOR YOU? I SINCERELY HOPE NOT. THAT IS NOT MY INTENTION. THERE IS AMAZING TRUTH UNDERLYING THESE STORIES – NOT JUST A “FEEL GOOD’ EXPERIENCE OF COMING TO CHURCH WHICH WEARS OFF WITHIN A FEW HOURS – BUT AN EXPERIENCE OF THE PRESENCE OF A SPIRIT THAT IS INDEFINABLE AND THAT WAS EXPERIENCED BY THE EARLY CHRISTIANS. THESE STORIES SOMEHOW DRAW US INTO A PRESENCE OF AGELESS BEAUTY, REAL PEACE AND DEEP LOVE. WE CAN STILL STAND IN AWE AND WONDER AT THE BIRTH OF A NEW LIFE – WHETHER IT IS THE HATCHING OF A TINY FLUFFY CHICKEN, THE FIRST STAGGERING STEPS OF A BABY COLT, LAMB OR CALF – OR THE BIRTH OF A HUMAN CHILD. IT’S SOMETHING SPECIAL – A SPECIAL MOMENT – LIKE CHRISTMAS. SO AS WE CONTEMPLATE THIS LOVELY STORY – LET’S TREAT IT AS A BEAUTIFUL POEM AND LET THE LOVE THAT RADIATES FROM IT ENTER OUR HEARTS AND MINDS – AND LET THAT LOVE CHANGE OUR LIVES – NOT JUST FOR A FEW HOURS – BUT FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES.

MEISTER ECKHART WAS A THIRTEENTH-FOURTEENTH CENTURY PHILOSOPHER, THEOLOGIAN, AND MYSTIC WHO LIVED AND WORKED IN THE DOMINICAN ORDER. HE SAID, “WHAT GOOD IS IT IF MARY GAVE BIRTH TO JESUS IF HE IS NOT BORN IN ME?” THAT’S MY POINT EXACTLY AND THAT’S THE CHALLENGE OF FAMILIARITY – WE MIGHT BE FAMILIAR WITH THE STORY BUT ARE WE FAMILIAR WITH THE BABY – WHOSE STORY IT TELLS.

MAY YOUWHO VENTURE TO HEAR AGAIN THIS FAMILIAR STORY, EXPERIENCE THE ASTONISHMENT OF KNOWING ITS PERSONAL PROMISE OF JOY, COMFORT AND PEACE – NOT JUST TONIGHT BUT FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

 

SERMON 24TH DECEMBER – ADVENT 4 – Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

I WONDER HOW MANY HAVE HEARD OF ALL OR AT LEAST SOME OF THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE OF ANCIENT TIMES: SARGON OF AKKAD (BABYLONIAN KING CIRCE 2200B.C.E.), ZOROASTER (PERSIAN PROPHET CIRCA 1000B.C.E.), ALEXANDER (THE GREAT 356B.C.E.), THE PTOLEMIES (RULED EGYPT FROM 305 UNTIL THE ROMANS INVADED IN 30B.C.E.), THE ROMAN CAESARS – PARTICULARLY AUGUSTUS (FIRST ROMAN EMPEROR RULED FROM 27B.C.E. UNTIL 14C.E.), THE BUDDHA, AND THE EMPERORS OF CHINA.

WELL, THESE PEOPLE WERE ALL UNDERSTOOD TO HAVE BEEN BORN MIRACULOUSLY – ALL WERE THE RESULT OF A VIRGIN BIRTH. SO THE FACT THAT JESUS WAS SAID TO HAVE BEEN BORN OF A VIRGIN IS NO GREAT DEAL – IT APPEARS HE WAS ONE OF MANY IN ANCIENT TIMES TO HAVE ENTERED THIS WORLD IN THAT MANNER. THE IDEA IS FIRST MOOTED IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW IN CHAPTER 1 VERSE 18, “NOW THE BIRTH OF JESUS THE MESSIAH TOOK PLACE IN THIS WAY. WHEN HIS MOTHER MARY HAD BEEN ENGAGED TO JOSEPH, BUT BEFORE THEY LIVED TOGETHER, SHE WAS FOUND TO BE WITH CHILD FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT.” THIS GOSPEL WAS NOT WRITTEN UNTIL AT LEAST THE 80’S – SOME 50 OR MORE YEARS AFTER JESUS’ DEATH –INTO THE SECOND GENERATION AT LEAST. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION OF ANY VIRGIN BIRTH IN PAUL’S WRITINGS, WHICH ARE THE EARLIEST WE HAVE FROM THAT FIRST CENTURY, NOR IN THE EARLIEST GOSPEL OF MARK. BUT THE MATTHEAN STORY WAS LATER LARGELY CONTRADICTED BY LUKE ABOUT A DECADE LATER –

CONTRADICTIONS SUCH AS MATTHEW STATING THAT THE FAMILY LIVED IN BETHLEHEM WHILST LUKE HAS THEM RESIDING IN NAZARETH – WHICH OF COURSE IS CLOSER TO THE HISTORICAL TRUTH.

IT IS NOW WIDELY ACKNOWLEDGED THAT THIS MYTH OF VIRGIN BIRTH IS NOT HISTORY BUT WAS VEHEMENTLY DEFENDED BY SUCH EARLY CHURCH FATHERS AND MARTYRS AS IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH AND JUSTIN MARTYR IN THE LATE FIRST AND EARLY SECOND CENTURIES. THEY WERE SO SUCCESSFUL IN THEIR DEFENCE THAT THE DOCTRINE FOUND ITS WAY INTO THE EARLY 4TH CENTURY CREEDS AND HELD SWAY FOR MANY CENTURIES. IN HEBREW THE TEXT IN ISAIAH 7:14 WHICH MATTHEW QUOTES DOES NOT READ: “BEHOLD A VIRGIN WILL CONCEIVE,” BUT “BEHOLD A YOUNG WOMAN IS WITH CHILD.” THE TWO ARE NOT THE SAME! THIS PART OF ISAIAH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH A PROPHESY OF SOME FUTURE BIRTH EVENT, IT IS ALL ABOUT ISAIAH TELLING AHAZ THE KING OF JUDAH (THE SOUTHERN KINGDOM INCLUDING JERUSALEM) THAT GOD IS ON HIS SIDE SO THEREFORE THERE IS NO NEED TO ENTER INTO AN ALLIANCE WITH ASSYRIA AGAINST THE NORTHERN KINGDOM OF ISRAEL – IT’S ALL ABOUT ANCIENT POLITICS – BUT THE GOSPEL WRITER HAS ADAPTED IT FOR HIS OWN PURPOSES – WHICH ARE TO DEFINE JESUS AS BEING THE LONG AWAITED MESSIAH.

THIS MIGHT SOUND A LITTLE CONFUSING BUT IF WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND THESE WRITINGS IT IS NECESSARY WE ATTEMPT TO DISCERN THEM AND THEIR AUTHORS’ INTENTIONS AND MOTIVATIONS BECAUSE, AS THE DEAN OF CHRIST CHURCH OXFORD, THE REVEREND DOCTOR MARTYN PERCY HAS OBSERVED, “THE BIBLE DID NOT COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN ON A FAX” BUT WAS WRITTEN BY MEN – VEHEMENT MEN WITH AN AGENDA TO PROVE THAT JESUS WAS NO ORDINARY PERSON BUT THE SON OF GOD. THE DOCTRINE OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH, WITHOUT WHICH NO PROPHET OR SAVIOUR-GOD COULD BE A DIVINE INCARNATION, WAS SO COMMON AMONG ANCIENT CULTS THAT IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANY RELIGIOUS FOUNDER TO ACHIEVE ACCEPTANCE WITHOUT IT.

OUR CELEBRATIONS TODAY ARE STILL QUITE CONFUSING.

I WAS LOOKING AT THE “CHRISTMAS CARDS” I WAS PREPARING AND POSTING OUT LAST WEEK AND REALIZED THAT THE WAY WE CELEBRATE THE BIRTH OF JESUS TODAY HAS LITTLE CONNECTION WITH REALITY. FOR INSTANCE I HAVE SENT OUT CARDS DEPICTING THE MAJI OBSERVING A STAR OUTSIDE THE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM. OF COURSE THIS SCENE HAS NOTHING OT DO WITH CHRISTMAS; IT IS ALL ABOUT WHAT WE REFER TO AS THE EPIPHANY. BUT BECAUSE OF THE BUSY AND IMAGE-RICH CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS FULL OF NATIVITY PLAYS MANY OF WHICH COMBINE MATTHEW’S WISE MEN WITH LUKE’S SHEPHERDS – IT IS EASY TO MISS LUKE’S DISTINCTIVE THEOLOGICAL VOICE AND CONTRIBUTION TO THE SEASON OF ADVENT. HARMONIZING THE STORIES INTO A SINGLE, EASILY DIGESTIBLE ACCOUNT REFLECTS A LONG INTERPRETATIVE TRADITION IN CHRISTIANITY.

THERE IS MUCH THE GOSPEL OF LUKE CAN OFFER TO CONSIDERATIONS ABOUT THE THEOLOGICAL, RELIGIOUS, AND ETHICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF ADVENT FOR THE CHURCH TODAY. INTERPRETERS OFTEN PAY ATTENTION TO MARY’S COMMISSION TO CARRY THE SON OF GOD OR TO THE PROPHECY OF JESUS’ BIRTH AND THE EXPECTATION THAT ENSUES, ESPECIALLY WHEN MARY SAYS, “HERE AM I, THE SERVANT OF THE LORD, LET IT BE WITH ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD”. THE STORY RINGS WITH ANTICIPATION, LEAVING ITS READERS PRIMED FOR THE BIG EVENT – JESUS’ BIRTH AND SUBSEQUENT MINISTRY IN THE WORLD AND BEYOND.

PERHAPS ONE HELPFUL WAY OF GIVING LUKE’S MESSAGE A FRESH HEARING IS BY PAYING ATTENTION TO AN OFTEN-OVERLOOKED DETAIL IN THE ACCOUNT. ACCORDING TO VERSES 26-27, GABRIEL, THE ANGEL OF GOD, WAS SENT TO GIVE MARY A MESSAGE. GABRIEL TELLS MARY, “DO NOT BE AFRAID, MARY”. HIS APPEARANCE TO MARY IS HIS SECOND APPEARANCE IN THE GOSPEL FOLLOWING HIS APPEARANCE TO ZECHARIAH IN THE TEMPLE EARLIER IN LUKE 1:13, WHERE HE SAYS, “DO NOT BE AFRAID, ZECHARIAH.” THE SAME WORDS IN WHICH GABRIEL ASSURES BOTH ZECHARIAH AND MARY IN THE SAME MANNER LINKS THESE TWO CHARACTERS TOGETHER.

IN ADDITION TO LINKING MARY AND ZECHARIAH TOGETHER, GABRIEL’S STATEMENT “DO NOT BE AFRAID” REVERBERATES THROUGHOUT THE REST OF LUKE’S STORY. IT FORESHADOWS THE WORDS OFFERED BY THE UNNAMED ANGEL OF THE LORD TO THE SHEPHERDS WHEN HE SAYS, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.” EACH WORD OF ASSURANCE OFFERED BY THE ANGEL IS NOT WITHOUT CAUSE. INDEED, EACH INSTANCE IS ACCOMPANIED BY AN AWE-INSPIRING, EVEN UNUSUAL MOMENT IN THE STORY THAT REASONABLY SPARKS WONDER AND EVEN FEAR.

THE SIMPLE PHRASE, “DO NOT BE AFRAID,” OFFERS COMFORT AND HOPE TO THOSE WITHOUT HOPE, AS IN THE CASE OF ZECHARIAH AND ELIZABETH – MIRACLES TO THOSE NOT LOOKING FOR MIRACLES, AS IN THE CASE OF MARY AND EVEN DISRUPTION TO THOSE GOING ABOUT THEIR DAILY ROUTINES, AS IN THE CASE OF THE SHEPHERDS; SUCH ASSURANCE CUTS ACROSS SOCIAL STATUS AND FUNCTION. ZECHARIAH IS ONE WHO IS OF THE PRIESTLY CLASS, SERVING IN THE TEMPLE AND OVERSEEING THE RITUAL LIFE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. HE REPRESENTS ONE WITH RESOURCES AND ONE WITH ACCESS TO POWER AND INFLUENCE.

IN CONTRAST, MARY IS A YOUNG WOMAN WHO LACKS ALL OF THE POWER, POSITIONING, AND PRESTIGE ASSOCIATED WITH ZECHARIAH’S POSITION. MARY IS ONLY A YOUNG WOMAN OF MARRIAGEABLE AGE (12-14 YEARS), WHEREAS ZECHARIAH IS AN ELDER, HEAD OF A HOUSEHOLD, AND POWERFUL – MARY IS ONE WHO IS YOUNG, INEXPERIENCED AND VULNERABLE.

FURTHERMORE, THE SHEPHERDS ARE A GROUP OF WORKING CLASS WHO “RANK LOW ON THE SCALE OF POWER AND PRIVILEGE” WHEN COMPARED TO TEMPLE PRIESTS AND THE ROMAN EMPEROR. FROM ZECHARIAH, THE OLDER MAN WHO IS PART OF THE ESTABLISHMENT, TO MARY THE VULNERABLE YOUNG WOMAN WITH HOPES FOR A SECURE FUTURE, TO THE SHEPHERDS WORKING THE FIELDS AND OVERSEEING LIVESTOCK – REASSURANCE IS OFFERED AT THE VERY MOMENT WE AS READERS EXPECT CELEBRATION.

IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, WORDS OF ASSURANCE HAVE PURPOSE. THEY OFFER COMFORT WHEN THE STATUS QUO IS ABOUT TO BE ALTERED AND THE RHYTHMS OF THE EVERYDAY ARE ABOUT TO BE DISRUPTED. MOREOVER, WORDS OF ASSURANCE OFFER COMFORT WHEN A COMMUNITY IS UNDER DURESS AND SUFFERING ATTACK AND PERSECUTION PRESENTLY OR IN THE NEAR FUTURE. WORDS OF ASSURANCE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT ALSO CREATE THE SPACE FOR COURAGEOUS ACTION TO TAKE PLACE, AS IS THE CASE FOR PAUL AS PORTRAYED IN LUKE’S BOOK OF ACTS.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE STORY OF MARY DURING THIS SEASON OF ADVENT IF WE SEE THE WORD OF ASSURANCE AS FUNCTIONING AS MORE THAN A SIMPLE COURTESY OR GREETING? IT CAN SERVE AS A DIFFERENT SORT OF INTERPRETATIVE INVITATION – ONE THAT WE DO NOT OFTEN ENTERTAIN DURING ADVENT, BUT PERHAPS WE SHOULD. IN LUKE’S ACCOUNT OF THE VIRGINAL CONCEPTION, A WORD OF ASSURANCE AND COMFORT FUNCTIONS AS AN INVITATION FOR MARY TO DO THE UNUSUAL AND THE BOLD THING FOR THE SAKE OF THE ENTIRE WORLD BECAUSE “NOTHING WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD”. AS WE LOOK AROUND OUR OWN COMMUNITY IT IS EASY TO SEE PEOPLE WHO ARE IN NEED OF COMFORT AND THE WORDS”DO NOT BE AFRAID”. WE NEED TO BE MINDFUL OF PEOPLE EXPERIENCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, A SHAKY FINANCIAL POSITION OR JUST SIMPLE LONELINESS, AND ASK OURSELVES, “WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP”? MAYBE ALSO IT IS YOU OR I WHO NEEDS THESE WORDS AS MUCH AS ANYONE ELSE – “DO NOT BE AFRAID”.

ALSO WHAT DOES ADVENT LOOK LIKE IF INSTEAD OF STARTING WITH WORDS OF CELEBRATION AND THANKSGIVING WE BEGIN WITH WORDS THAT REMIND OURSELVES AS CHRISTIANS THAT WE CAN STAND BOLDLY AND NOT BE AFRAID? PERHAPS, HEREIN, LIES ONE OF THE GEMS THAT MARY TREASURED IN HER HEART.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON 17TH DECEMBER 2017 – ADVENT 3

John 1:6-8, 19-28

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

IN THE NAME OF GOD – CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE.

“WHO ARE YOU?” THEY ASKED THE BAPTIST. THIS WAS NO FRIENDLY INQUIRY. THE QUESTION CAME FROM A STRONG SENSE OF SUSPICION – IT CAME ALSO WITH A STRONG SENSE OF FOREBODING. WITH NO MEDIA BEING PRESENT IN THAT FIRST CENTURY – THE JERUSALEM DAILY HERALD HAD NOT YET APPEARED SO THE ONLY WAY NEWS WAS SPREAD WAS BY WORD OF MOUTH – AND WE ALL KNOW WHAT CAN HAPPEN WHEN THAT IS THE CARRIER.

TWO LADIES OF SENIOR YEARS WERE SITTING TOGETHER IN CHURCH – ON THE EDGE OF THEIR PEW – LISTENING AVIDLY TO A FIERY PREACHER DELIVERING A SERMON ON BAD BEHAVIOUR. WHEN THE PREACHER CONDEMNED THE SIN OF STEALING, THE TWO LADIES CALLED OUT, “AMEN TO THAT”, WHEN THE PREACHER CONDEMNED LUST, THEY SPOKE UP AGAIN WITH, “YOU PREACH IT, REVEREND!” AND WHEN THE PREACHER CONDEMNED THE RISE OF LYING AND SPEAKING UNTRUTHFULLY IN SOCIETY, THEY JUMPED TO THEIR FEET AND CALLED OUT, “TOO RIGHT, YOU ARE TELLING IT LIKE IT IS PREACHER!”

BUT WHEN THE PREACHER CONDEMNED THE ACT OF GOSSIPPING THE TWO WENT VERY QUIET. THEN ONE TURNED TO THE OTHER AND SAID,” HE’S FINISHED PREACHING AND NOW HE’S JUST MEDDLING!”

SO, IN JOHN’S DAY, NO JERUSALEM DAILY HERALD, NO RADIO OR TV NEWS, NO INTERNET – SO THE TEMPLE AUTHORITIES HAD HEARD THE VERBAL RUMOURS THAT THERE WAS THIS FELLOW DOWN BY THE JORDAN RIVER DRAWING LARGE CROWDS- SO THE QUESTION – “WHAT’S GOING ON OUT THERE?” IT HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH RELIGION SO IT IS DEFINITELY OF INTEREST TO US.

IT’S JUST LIKE THE ARCHBISHOP GETTING TO HEAR RUMOURS OF SOME NEW PRIEST DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT AND UNAUTHORISED UP THERE IN THE HILLS – “LET’S FIND OUT WHAT’S GOING ON AND WE’LL SOON PUT A STOP TO THAT!”THAT ATTITUDE HAS DOGGED THE CHURCH THROUGHOUT THE CENTURIES.

SO, WHAT A GREAT QUESTION, “WHO ARE YOU?” – AND HIS ANSWER – “I AM NOT WHO YOU MIGHT THINK I AM.” “I AM ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS”.

HERE IS ANOTHER STORY OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS AND WHO IS NOT WHAT PEOPLE THINK HE IS! ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS!

BEYROUZ BOOCHANI IS AN ETHNIC KURD FROM ILAM CITY IN THE WEST OF IRAN, BORDERING IRAQ. HE WAS A FREELANCE JOURNALIST IN HIS HOMELAND, AND BEGAN HIS CAREER WRITING FOR THE STUDENT NEWSPAPER AT TARBIAT MODARES UNIVERSITY IN TEHRAN WHERE HE STUDIED GEOPOLITICS. HE WROTE FOR SEVERAL NEWSPAPERS IN IRAN, INCLUDING THE KURDISH A LANGUAGE MAGAZINE. BOOCHANI SPENT SEVERAL YEARS UNDER SURVEILLANCE BECAUSE OF THE MAGAZINE’S PROMOTION OF KURDISH LANGUAGE, CULTURE AND POLITICS.

HIS MEMBERSHIP OF THE KURDISH DEMOCRATIC PARTY, OUTLAWED IN IRAN, AND THE NATIONAL UNION OF KURDISH STUDENTS, BROUGHT HIM EVEN CLOSER ATTENTION. IN 2011, BOOCHANI WAS ARRESTED AND INTERROGATED BY IRAN’S SEPAH – THE COUNTRY’S PARAMILITARY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY. IN 2013, THE MAGAZINE’S OFFICES WERE RAIDED AND HIS COLLEAGUES ARRESTED. ESCAPING ARREST, BOOCHANI FLED THE COUNTRY. IN TRYING TO REACH WHAT HE BELIEVED TO BE THE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION THAT AUSTRALIA OFFERED HE INSTEAD ENDED UP ON MANUS ISLAND.

LAST MONTH BOOCHANI WAS AWARDED AN AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AUSTRALIA MEDIA AWARD FOR HIS BODY OF JOURNALISTIC WORK REPORTING FROM MANUS. THE AWARD’S JUDGES SAID HIS WORK “DELIVERED UNDER VERY DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES, IS POWERFUL, COURAGEOUS AND EXTRAORDINARY. ITS CURRENCY, ITS EMOTION, ITS CREDIBILITY ALL COMBINE TO MAKE IT REALLY SPECIAL”.

BOOCHANI HAS BEEN HELD ON PNG MANUS FOR FOUR YEARS, WITHOUT CHARGE OR TRIAL. HE HAS BEEN GRANTED REFUGEE STATUS: THAT IS HE HAS A WELL-FOUNDED FEAR OF PERSECUTION IN HIS HOMELAND, AND IS LEGALLY OWED PROTECTION. HE CANNOT BE RETURNED TO IRAN. SINCE THE CLOSURE OF THE AUSTRALIAN RUN DETENTION CENTRE HE HAS BEEN ARRESTED BY THE PNG AUTHORITIES, BEATEN AND HAD HIS BELONGINGS SMASHED. BOOCHANI MADE A FILM – CHAUKA, PLEASE TELL US THE TIME, WHICH DEBUTED AT THE SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL LAST JUNE TO WIDESPREAD ACCLAIM. THE FILM WAS PRODUCED IN COLLABORATION WITH IRANIAN-DUTCH FILM-MAKER ARASH KAMALI SARVESTANI, WHO TOOK FOOTAGE SECRETLY SHOT BY BOOCHANI ON CAMERA PHONE WITHIN THE DETENTION CENTRE TO CREATE A FULL-LENGTH FEATURE NARRATIVE. THE NAME IS INSPIRED BY THE CHAUKA BIRD, A HONEYEATER INDIGENOUS TO MANUS ISLAND, WHICH IS ALSO AN UNOFFICIAL TIMEKEEPER ON THE ISLAND, MAKING A DISTINCTIVE CALL AT THE BEGINNING AND END OF THE DAY. BUT THE NAME WAS ALSO USED FOR THE SOLITARY CONFINEMENT CELL OF MANUS DETENTION CENTRE, WHERE REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS WERE TAKEN FOR “NONCOMPLIANCE” AND REPORTEDLY BEATEN AND TORTURED. WHEN CHAUKA WAS ACCEPTED TO SCREEN AT THE SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL, BOOCHANI REQUESTED A VISA TO AUSTRALIA IN ORDER TO BE PRESENT WHEN HIS FILM WAS PRESENTED.

AN ANONYMOUS DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION OFFICIAL, WHO GAVE ONLY THEIR POSITION NUMBER, REJECTED HIS APPLICATION. “YOU ARE NOT ELIGIBLE TO TRAVEL TO AUSTRALIA … YOUR TRAVEL DOES NOT SATISFY THE CONDITIONS.”HERE, WITHIN OUR OWN TIME AND PLACE, A VOICE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS BUT STUDIOUSLY IGNORED BY OUR POLITICIANS AND GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES.

THIS COUNTRY OF AUSTRALIA IS PRESENTLY DEEPLY IMMERSED IN THE PREPARATIONS TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS. PEOPLE ARE SHOPPING TO EXHAUSTION – OF SELF AND ALSO OFTEN OF THEIR CREDIT CARDS. THIS IS A TIME OF JOY, FUN, PARTIES AND FAMILIES. MANY OF US ALSO REACH OUT TO THOSE LESS FORTUNATE AND WE GIVE FOOD ITEMS AND TOYS TO OUR CHARITIES FOR DISTRIBUTION. SO WE REMEMBER OUR OWN DISADVANTAGED AND MARGINALISED AT THIS TIME. OUR THOUGHTFULNESS AND OUR LIVES EXPAND TO INCLUDE THOSE WHO ARE NOT GENERALLY INCLUDED. MANY OF US ALSO LET OUR THOUGHTS AND SYMPATHIES REACH FURTHER THAN OUR OWN COMMUNITIES – WE CONTRIBUTE TO OVERSEAS MISSIONS AND CHARITIES TO HELP THOSE SUFFERING FROM FAMINE, NATURAL DISASTER AND HUMAN MADE TRAGEDIES BUT FOR SOME REASON WITHIN THE WARM GLOW OF OUR GENEROSITY WE CHOOSE TO TURN OUR BACKS ON THOSE REFUGEES LIKE BEYROUZ BOOCHANI. WE HEAR THE CRY FROM THE WILDERNESS AND NOW WE EVEN SEE THE SITUATION FIRST HAND ON OUR TELEVISION NEWS AND THROUGH BOOCHANI’S FILM – BUT WE REMAIN UNMOVED. WE DON’T EVEN GO OUT AND ASK THE QUESTION, “WHO ARE YOU?” MUCH LESS PUT THE SAME QUESTION TO OUR POLITICAL REPRESENTATIVES. “WHO ARE YOU – TO ALLOW THIS VIOLATION OF AUSTRALIA’S INTERNATIONAL OBLIGATIONS TO CONTINUE?” WE COULD ASK.

PERHAPS WE COULD THINK ABOUT ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING LIKE THAT THIS VERY WEEK. COULD WE TAKE A FEW MINUTES AWAY FROM OUR PREPARATIONS AND SEND OFF AN EMAIL TO OUR LOCAL POLITICIAN? THAT WOULD BE A VERY GOOD THING TO DO. THE VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS OF MANUS ISLAND WOULD BE MOST GRATEFUL I AM SURE.

SO THAT’S MY STORY FOR YOU THIS WEEK. IT IS A SAD STORY AND ONE THAT SHOULD BRING A SENSE OF GUILT AND SHAME TO THIS NATION. IN CLOSING I CAN ONLY QUOTE HARVARD PROFESSOR MARSHALL GANZ WHO SAYS, “STORIES NOT ONLY TEACH US HOW TO ACT — THEY INSPIRE US TO ACT. STORIES COMMUNICATE OUR VALUES THROUGH THE LANGUAGE OF THE HEART, OUR EMOTIONS. AND IT IS WHAT WE FEEL — OUR HOPES, OUR CARES, OUR OBLIGATIONS — NOT SIMPLY WHAT WE KNOW, THAT CAN INSPIRE US WITH THE COURAGE TO ACT.”

MAY WE AS A COMMUNITY LIVING IN THE LOVE OF CHRIST CATCH THAT INSPIRATION AND COURAGE.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON – 10TH DECEMBER 2017 – ADVENT 2 – MARK 1:1-8 AND ISAIAH 40.1-11

MARK 1.1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Isaiah 40.1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

9Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

 

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE OLD ENOUGH – NOT MANY I REALIZE – MIGHT REMEMBER THAT IN 1959 THE AMERICAN EVANGELIST BILLY GRAHAM STORMED INTO AUSTRALIA AND HELD MASSIVE RALLIES – CALLED CRUSADES – IN OUR CITIES. I WELL REMEMBER ATTENDING ONE AT THE WAYVILLE SHOWGROUNDS AND BEING CAUGHT UP IN THE RELIGIOUS EVANGELISTIC FERVOUR THAT WAS GENERATED. CROWDS OF PEOPLE “CAME FORWARD” AT THE END OF GRAHAM’S SERMON AT HIS INVITATION TO “MAKE A DECISION” AND TO “ACCEPT JESUS INTO THEIR HEART”. IT WOULD BE REALLY INTERESTING TO NOW SURVEY THOSE PEOPLE – AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK I REALIZE – AND DISCOVER THEIR ATTITUDE TO THE CHURCH TODAY. NO DOUBT MANY WHO ARE STILL WITH US HAVE STAYED THE COURSE AND STILL REGULARLY ATTEND CHURCH BUT THERE WOULD BE A LOT WHO HAVE FALLEN AWAY AND ONCE THE NOVELTY WORE OFF HAVE SUCCUMBED TO THE PRESSURES EXERTED BY THE SECULAR SOCIETY IN WHICH WE NOW LIVE AND REVERTED TO THEIR OLD WAYS.

THE PICTURE WE GET FROM THIS GOSPEL STORY OF MARK REMINDED ME OF THAT PAST TIME OF RELIGIOUS REVIVAL IN AUSTRALIA – “5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. I PONDER ON THE QUESTION OF WHERE THESE REPENTANT SOULS WERE WHEN ONLY ABOUT 3 YEARS LATER THE ROMANS WERE NAILING JESUS TO THE CROSS.

PERHAPS SOME FORMED PART OF THE CROWD WHICH CHEERED HIM INTO JERUSALEM AND THEN LATER YELLED “CRUCIFY HIM” – A POWERFUL EXAMPLE OF HUMAN FRAILTY.

THE FACT IS THAT THE PEOPLE OF THAT TIME HAD JESUS ALL WRONG. THEY IDOLIZED HIM AT FIRST BECAUSE HE APPEARED TO HAVE AMAZING GIFTS OF HEALING AND THROUGH HIS STORIES AND PARABLES REVEALED SOMETHING OF THE VERY NATURE OF GOD TO THEM – THEY WERE CAUGHT UP IN THE BUZZ OF RELIGIOUS AND NATIONALISTIC FERVOUR. THEY LOOKED BACK INTO THEIR SCRIPTURES AND FOUND THOSE WONDERFUL WORDS NOW MOST FAMILIAR TO US THAT WE READ THIS MORNING FROM ISAIAH – WORDS THAT GEORG FREDERIK HANDEL UTILIZED IN HIS MAGNIFICENT ORATORIO “MESSIAH” – AND APPLIED THEM TO JESUS OF NAZARETH. DESPITE HIS DENIALS AND HIS PREACHING OF PEACE THE PEOPLE SAW HIM AS THEIR LONG PROMISED KING WHO WAS TO LEAD THEM IN THE GREAT REVOLT AND RID THEM OF THE HATED ROMAN OCCUPATION. BASED ON THEIR MISINTERPRETATION OF THEIR ANCIENT SCRIPTURES THEY VIEWED HIM AS A POLITICAL AND POTENTIAL MILTARY LEADER – NOT AS A MAN WHO WOULD TEACH THEM FORGIVENESS AND LOVE AND BY DOING THAT REVEAL SOMETHING OF THE TRUE NATURE OF THE GOD THEY HAD WORSHIPPED FOR CENTURIES. THIS ALL MAKES SENSE WHEN WE SEE THE WORLD IN WHICH MARK LIVED. WHEN HE WROTE HIS GOSPEL THE SO CALLED “JEWISH WAR” HAD ENDED, THE TEMPLE AND THE CITY OF JERUSALEM HAD BEEN DESTROYED AND THE HATED ROMANS RULED WITH EVEN GREATER SEVERITY. BIBLICAL SCHOLAR EUGENE BORING POINTS OUT THAT THE WORD GOSPEL IN A HELLENISTIC CONTEXT CAN MEAN GOOD NEWS “FROM THE BATTLEFIELD.”

TO BE SURE, THE GOSPEL IN OUR STORY IS NOT ABOUT THE CHIRPINESS OF HALLMARK CARDS; IT IS RATHER GOOD NEWS FROM THE PLACE OF STRUGGLE – FOR MARK STRUGGLED WITH BOTH RELIGIOUS CONFLICTS WITHIN THE SYNAGOGUE WITH THE “REGULAR” RABBIS AND WITHOUT THE SYNAGOGUE WITH THE ROMAN EMPIRE.

THE WORDS OF ISAIAH ARE REALLY A SONG – A POEM – OF HOPE AND JOY AND GRATITUDE TO GOD FOR THE RELEASE OF THE CAPTIVES IN BABYLON AND THEIR ABILITY – UNDER THE NEW RULE OF THE PERSIAN RULER CYRUS THE GREAT – TO RETURN HOME TO THEIR RUINED BUT STILL REVERED JERUSALEM. CORRINE CARVALHO, PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ST THOMAS IN THE US HAS MADE VERY USEFUL COMMENT ON THIS WRITING FROM ISAIAH. ISAIAH 40:1-11 PROVIDES A JOYFUL REFRAIN THAT INTRODUCES THIS UNEXPECTED REVERSAL OF FORTUNES. TO BE SURE, PERSIA MAINTAINED COLONIAL CONTROL OVER THE PEOPLES IN THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST, BUT PEOPLE WERE ALLOWED TO LIVE IN THEIR NATIVE LANDS AS LONG AS THEY REMAINED LOYAL TO THE PERSIAN GOVERNMENT. THE WRITER OF ISAIAH ATTRIBUTES THIS FOREIGN POLICY TO THE WORKINGS OF THEIR GOD, YAHWEH, WHO NOW CHOOSES TO CHANGE THE STATUS OF THE DISPLACED JEWS. THE POEM OPENS WITH A MESSENGER CRYING OUT THE UNEXPECTED MESSAGE. “COMFORT! COMFORT!”THIS RINGS NOT AS A COMMAND BUT RATHER AS JOYFUL ASTONISHMENT. THE PATH HOME BECOMES A LEVEL HIGHWAY AT THE SOUND OF THE MESSENGER. THIS WILL BE NO FORTY YEARS TRUDGING THROUGH A DESERT. THE RETURN WILL BE A PILGRIMAGE ALONG A WELL-KEPT THOROUGHFARE. THE FOCUS OF THE POEM QUICKLY TURNS TO THE GOD WHO DELIVERS. GOD COMMANDS THE QUERULOUS MESSENGER TO PROCLAIM GOD’S ENTRANCE ONTO THE SCENE IN VERSES 6-9. THE CONTRASTING IMAGES SERVE TO HIGHLIGHT THE CHASM BETWEEN YAHWEH AND THE PEOPLE. THEY HAVE SINNED, BUT GOD HAS STAYED TRUE. THEY ARE FRAGILE, BUT GOD IS POWERFUL. THE POEM FOCUSES ON THE DECLARATION OF THE HUMAN CONDITION: GRASS WITHERS, FLOWERS FALL, A REALITY TOO WELL KNOWN BY THE ANCIENT AUDIENCE.

THEIR OWN INTER-GENERATIONAL EXPERIENCE OF EXILE HAS DEMONSTRATED THAT GOD DOES NOT CARE WHETHER THEY LIVE OR DIE. THEY ARE NO MORE THAN BLADES OF GRASS CRUSHED BY THE WARRIOR RUSHING TO GLORY. BUT NO – COMFORT – THAT’S WHAT THIS POEM IS ABOUT. THAT DIVINE WARRIOR, WITH ARM OUTSTRETCHED TO SLAY AN ENEMY, INSTEAD BENDS DOWN AND SCOOPS THE LITTLE LAMBS INTO THE DIVINE BOSOM.

THIS POEM IS READ IN THE SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT IN PART BECAUSE THE GOSPEL WRITERS USED IT TO CONVEY WHAT WAS IN THEIR TIME A SIMILAR INSTANCE OF WHOLLY UNEXPECTED, UNEARNED AND UNPRECEDENTED DIVINE COMPASSION: THE ENTRANCE OF JESUS ONTO THE WORLD STAGE. THE EVANGELISTS IDENTIFY JOHN THE BAPTIST AS THE MESSENGER, AND JESUS AS THE ONE WHO COMES WITH POWER AND TENDERNESS. IN TRYING TO DESCRIBE THE INDESCRIBABLE, THEY TURNED TO THIS PASSAGE FROM ISAIAH AS A WAY TO ILLUSTRATE THEIR EXPERIENCE.

WHAT DOES STARTLING COMFORT LOOK LIKE TODAY? CAN WE STILL EXPERIENCE THIS OVERWHELMING FLOOD OF LOVE AND FORGIVENESS AND HOPE WHICH THOSE ANCIENT PEOPLE FOUND? THE POEM OF ISAIAH DOES NOT PROMISE THAT ALL SUFFERING WILL CEASE. IT DOES NOT DENY OR CHANGE THE BROKENNESS OF THE HUMAN CONDITION. IT SUGGESTS THAT SOME OF US MAY BE CALLED TO BE MESSENGERS OF A DECLARATION, WHICH OTHERS MAY FIND HARD TO FATHOM. BUT NO MATTER WHERE WE LOCATE OURSELVES IN THIS POEM, IT ULTIMATELY REMINDS US THAT THE UNEXPECTED CAN HAPPEN: GOD STILL SENDS COMFORT INTO OUR SHORT AND FRAIL LIVES. THAT’S A GREAT MESSAGE OF HOPE FOR ADVENT.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON – 26TH NOVEMBER 2017 – CHRIST THE KING –Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

BACK IN THE MIDDLE AGES WHEN THE MAGNIFICENT CATHEDRALS WERE BEING BUILT THROUGHOUT EUROPE IT WAS THE PRACTICE TO CARVE IN THE STONE A SCENE OF THE LAST JUDGEMENT ABOVE THE GREAT WESTERN ENTRANCE DOORS. PEOPLE WERE MOSTLY ILLITERATE AND SO THE LESSON – AND WARNING – OF THIS GRAPHIC IMAGERY WAS OBVIOUS TO EVERY PEASANT WHO ENTERED THAT CHURCH. IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO ENTER AND NOT LOOK UP – IMPOSSIBLE TO NOT SEE THE IMAGES WHICH SO POWERFULLY TOLD THEIR STORY. THE IMAGES OF THOSE BEING CONSIGNED TO HELL ARE QUITE HORRIFIC – THERE IS NO ROOM FOR SENSIBILTIES OR SHRINKING FROM THE FACT THAT TERRIBLE TORTURES AWAITED ALL WHO FAILED TO HONOUR CHRIST – WHO IS DEPICTED AS SITTING ON A THRONE – A KING SITTING IN JUDGEMENT. WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH THE INSPIRATION FOR THESE SCENES OF DIVISION AND JUDGEMENT ORIGINATES HERE IN MATTHEW’S DEPICTION OF WHAT IS REFERRED TO AS “THE LAST JUDGEMENT” WITH CHRIST SITTING ON A THRONE AS A JUDGE AND KING. THESE SCENES ARE ESCHATOLOGICAL AND APOCALYPTIC – THAT IS THEY ARE ACCOUNTS OF THE AUTHOR’S VISIONS CENTRED ON THE END OF TIME. A PRIME EXAMPLE OF THIS GENRE OF LITERATURE IS THE BOOK OF REVELATION BUT QUITE SOME YEARS EARLIER THAN THAT WAS WRITTEN. WE HERE READ MATTHEW’S CONCEPT OF THAT DAY.

ARE WE MEANT TO READ THIS AS A LITERAL PROJECTION OF THE FUTURE EVENTS WHICH WILL TAKE PLACE AT THE END OF THE WORLD? IF NOT, JUST WHAT IS IT THAT MATTHEW IS TRYING TO SAY HERE? AS USUAL WE NEED TO GO BACK TO THE CLOSING DECADES OF THE FIRST CENTURY AND SEE THE VARIOUS DIVISIONS AND TENSIONS TAKING PLACE BOTH BETWEEN THE CHRISTIANS, THE ROMAN OCCUPATIONAL FORCES AND THE CONTINUING JEWISH LEADERS WHICH AT THIS TIME WERE THE PHARISEES. THIS STORY IS PRIMARILY DIRECTED AT THE PHARISEES.

I FEEL SO SAD THAT PEOPLE HAVE READ THIS STORY AND HAVE VIEWED THIS SCENE AS SOME SORT OF FUTURE IMAGE OF THE REALITY OF AN AFTERLIFE. THE CHURCH HAS TAKEN THIS IMAGE OF JUDGEMENT AND PUNISHMENT AND HAS FOR CENTURIES USED IT AS A WEAPON OF FEAR TO EXERT POWER AND AUTHORITY OVER AN IGNORANT POPULATION. IT IS INTERESTING TO OBSERVE THAT THE RAPID GROWTH OF THE EARLY CHURCH CAN BE ASCRIBED IN PART TO THE FACT THAT IT PROMISED A LIFE AFTER DEATH FOLLOWING ON FROM THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS. THE APOSTLES HAD CONSISTENTLY TAUGHT THAT DEATH IS A SLEEP, TO BE FOLLOWED BY RESURRECTION. THE EARLY CHURCH LEADERS – CLEMENT, IGNATIUS, HERMAS, POLYCARP, AND OTHERS WHO ALSO BELIEVED THAT DEATH IS A SLEEP, TAUGHT THAT THE WICKED ARE DESTROYED FOREVER BY FIRE – THEIR PUNISHMENT WAS TO BE ANNIHILATION. THESE LEADERS DID NOT TEACH OF AN IMMORTAL SOUL TO BE TORTURED BY FIRE IN HELL FOR ETERNITY. IN THE 4TH CENTURY – A PERIOD THAT HAS A LOT TO ANSWER FOR – UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF AUGUSTINE – IN AD430, THE CONCEPT OF ENDLESS CONSCIOUS TORMENT WAS BROUGHT INTO GENERAL ACCEPTANCE BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE WESTERN WORLD. HE TAUGHT THAT ALL SOULS WERE DEATHLESS AND CONSEQUENTLY THE LOST WOULD EXPERIENCE ENDLESS FIRES OF PUNISHMENT, IMMEDIATELY UPON THE END OF THIS LIFE. SO THIS PROMISE OF AN AFTERLIFE THEN GAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO PRESENT THE PEOPLE WITH A SCENE OF FUTURE JUDGEMENT AND AN ETERNITY IN EITHER HEAVEN OR HELL. AS USUAL THERE ARE A NUMBER OF LESSONS WE CAN TAKE FROM THIS.

PUTTING ASIDE THE OBVIOUS LITERALIST INTERPRETATION WHICH IS ABSOLUTELY NON PRODUCTIVE, AND CERTAINLY IN THIS 21ST CENTURY DESTRUCTIVE, BOTH TO THE INDIVIDUAL AND ALSO THE CHURCH, WE CAN SEE THE EXHORTATION TO LIVE AN EMPATHETIC, HUMBLE AND GENEROUS LIFE, GIVING HOSPITALITY AND HELP TO ALL IN NEED WITH WHOM WE COME INTO CONTACT. THIS STORY SEEMS TO SUGGEST WE ARE BROUGHT TO LIVE WITHIN THE CIRCLE OF CHRIST ON THE BASIS OF OUR COMPASSION AND GENEROSITY TOWARD OTHERS.

RETIRED NEWCASTLE PASTOR SCOTT HIGGINS WROTE ABOUT THIS PASSAGE: “I THINK THE SOLUTION IS FAR SIMPLER. IN HIS BOOK MEETING JESUS AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME MARCUS BORG POINTS OUT THAT JESUS AND THE PHARISEES HAD RADICALLY DIFFERENT IDEAS ABOUT HOW THEIR COMMUNITIES SHOULD BE SHAPED. THE PHARISEES INTERPRETED GOD’S CALL TO “BE HOLY AS I AM HOLY” IN TERMS OF PURITY. PURITY SYSTEMS IDENTIFY WHAT BELONGS AND DOESN’T BELONG TO ANY GIVEN SPACE.

FOR EXAMPLE, WE TEND TO THINK DIRT BELONGS IN THE GARDEN AND NOT ON THE CARPET OR THAT SWIMSUITS ARE APPROPRIATE ATTIRE AT THE BEACH BUT NOT AT THE OFFICE. THE PHARISEES HAD CRAFTED AN EXTENSIVE PURITY SYSTEM THAT NOT ONLY IDENTIFIED WHAT BELONGED, BUT WHO BELONGED, JUSTIFYING THE EXCLUSION OF THE POOR, THE DISABLED, THE SINFUL, WOMEN, ETC. JESUS, BORG ARGUES, UNDERSTOOD “BE HOLY AS I AM HOLY” IN TERMS OF COMPASSION – AND UNDERSTOOD THROUGH THIS LENS THAT COMMUNITY WAS TO BE CONSTRUCTED AROUND INCLUSION, SERVICE AND LOVE. THE STORY OF THE SHEEP AND GOATS THEN IS A CONTRAST BETWEEN A PURITY CENTRED APPROACH TO LIFE AND A COMPASSION CENTRED APPROACH. THE SHEEP ARE THOSE WHO ARE FOLLOWING THE WAY OF JESUS, THE GOATS ARE THE WAY OF THE PHARISEES. FEEDING THE HUNGRY, WELCOMING THE STRANGER AND VISITING THE OPPRESSED ARE THE SIGNS THAT WE HAVE PLACED OUR FAITH IN JESUS. AS JESUS SAYS IN MATTHEW 7, “BY THEIR FRUIT YOU WILL KNOW THEM.” (scottjhiggins.com/ 2012)

 

SO THE “FRUIT” IS THE OBSERVABLE EVIDENCE OF AN INNER COMPASSION CENTRED LIFE – A LIFE LIVED WITHIN THE SO CALLED “KINGDOM OF GOD” – A LIFE LIVED WITHIN THE LOVE, FORGIVENESS AND GENEROSITY OF CHRIST.

NO ONE IS PERFECT. IN THIS STORY CONFUSION SEEMS TO ABOUND. “WHEN WAS IT THAT I FAILED TO DO WHAT WAS REQUIRED OF ME?” – GLANCING UP FROM THEIR NEW IPHONE X THE RESPONSE IS “WHAT, YOU TALKING TO ME?” IT WOULD SEEM THAT IN THE CASE OF THOSE WHO ARE FOCUSSED ON THEIR OWN LIVES AND PURITY THAT THEY ARE SO SELF ABSORBED IN THE MINUTAE OF CEREMONY AND FEEDING THEIR OWN SENSE OF WORTH AND OWN PERSONAL SPIRITUALITY THAT THEY ARE OBLIVIOUS TO ALL ELSE. FOR THEM THE POOR, MARGINALISED AND REFUGEE HAVE NO SIGNIFICANCE – THEY DO NOT EXIST BECAUSE “MY LIFE IS ALL ABOUT ME”. I SURELY DON’T NEED TO POINT OUT THAT WE NOW LIVE IN A NARCISSITIC GENERATION WHERE MOSTLY EVEN THE THOUGHT OF PURITY HAS FADED INTO INSIGNIFICANCE – BUT NOT THE PURSUIT OF SELFSATISFACTION. BUT THERE EXIST WITHIN OUR MIDST COMMUNITIES WHICH HOLD THEMSELVES OUT TO BE CHRISTIAN BUT FAIL MISERABLY TO LOOK, LET ALONE REACH, OUTSIDE THEIR OWN CIRCLE WITHIN WHICH THEY, LIKE THE ANCIENT PHARISEES, SEEK THEIR OWN SELF-RIGHTEOSNESS AND SELF PURITY.

WHAT OF THOSE IN THIS SCENE OF JUDGEMENT WHO ARE THE ACCEPTED ONES? THEY ALSO ASK “WHEN WAS IT…”. THIS INDICATES TO ME THAT THEIR EMPATHY AND GENEROSITY WAS GIVEN WITHOUT ANY THOUGHT FOR THE COST TO THEMSELVES. THEY JUST ACTED IN LOVE AND JUST GOT ON WITH IT.

IT IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND THE WORDS TO CONVEY THE LIFE BENEFITS OF A COMPASSION CENTRED LIFE – A LIFE LIVED WITHIN THE CIRCLE OF CHRIST – A LIFE LIVED WITHIN WHAT THE WRITERS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CALLED “THE KINGDOM OF GOD”. I PRAY THAT YOU MIGHT PONDER ON THIS DIFFERENT WAY OF LIVING AND RESOLVE TO LIVE YOUR LIFE AS ONE OF THE SHEEP RATHER THAN ONE OF THE GOATS – NOT BECAUSE OF ANY FEAR OF A FUTURE JUDGEMENT BUT BECAUSE YOU COME TO KNOW THE PRESENCE OF THE COMPASSIONATE CHRIST IN YOUR LIFE. THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

 

SERMON 19TH NOVEMBER 2017 – PENTECOST 24 – Matthew 25:14-30

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

FIRST I WOULD LIKE TO SAY THAT THIS LAST WEEK HAS PROVEN TO BE VERY POSITIVE IN THAT THE RESULT OF THE SURVEY RELATING TO MARRIAGE EQUALITY REFLECTS WHAT I HAD HOPED HAD NOT BEEN FORSAKEN DESPITE WHAT OUR GOVERNMENT AND MEDIA SEEM TO PROMULGATE – THAT IS THE FAIR GO AND SENSE OF EQUALITY HELD BY THE AUSTRALIAN PEOPLE. I STILL FEEL ANGRY THAT THE ANGLICAN DIOCESE OF SYDNEY POURED ONE MILLION DOLLARS DOWN THE DRAIN IN A FUTILE EFFORT TO DRAG PEOPLE DOWN WITH THEM RATHER THAN USE THAT MONEY TO EASE THE PLIGHT OF THE POOR AND MARGINALISED IN THEIR OWN CITY.

NOW TO MATTHEW AND HIS STORY FOR TODAY – IT IS DIFFICULT – MAYBE IMPOSSIBLE – FOR US TO IMAGINE WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A SLAVE. SLAVERY HAS EXISTED FROM THE MOST ANCIENT OF TIMES AND BEGAN AS SOME SORT OF STRATIFICATION WITHIN HUMAN HUNTER GATHERER SOCIETY.

IT IS PATENTLY OBVIOUS – WHEN WE READ THE NEW TESTAMENT THAT THE PRACTICE WAS NORMAL AND AN ACCEPTED PART OF SOCIETY IN THE FIRST CENTURY TIME OF JESUS. IN FACT IT WAS NOT UNTIL THE 19TH CENTURY THAT SLAVERY WAS OFFICIALLY ABOLISHED BY LAW IN MOST COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD. I SAID ABOLISHED BY LAW AS TODAY THERE ARE ESTIMATED TO STILL BE BETWEEN 25 AND 40 MILLION PEOPLE WHO CAN BE CONSIDERED AS SLAVES. THERE ARE PEOPLE BORN INTO SUCH POVERTY THAT THERE IS NO WAY THEY CAN EVER ESCAPE FROM THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES – SO THEY SELL THEIR CHILDREN TO SURVIVE. IT IS ABHORENT TO US OF COURSE BUT TRUE – EVEN AS WE SIT HERE IN THE PEACE AND COMFORT OF THIS CHURCH.

WE HAVE BEEN ENDOWED WITH MUCH; WEALTH, COMFORT, LIFE IN A STRONG DEMOCRATIC, PEACEFUL SOCIETY. WE ARE LIKE THE SLAVE WHO HAS BEEN GIVEN THE MOST. THE QUESTION IS – WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH THE GIFT? ENERGETICALLY INVESTING IT TO GET THE MOST RETURN FOR THE GIVER OR BURYING IT IN THE GROUND IN ORDER TO NOT LOSE ANY OF IT – TO RETAIN IT ALL FOR OUR OWN SAFETY AND COMFORT – ARE WE TO BE CONSIDERED PART OF THIS NARCISSISTIC GENERATION?

THE WRITER OF MATTHEW IS VERY INTERESTED IN WHAT WE CALL ESCHATOLOGY – THE STUDY OF THE END TIMES. FOR MATTHEW HE AND HIS COMMUNITY WERE FOCUSSED ON THE IMMINENT RETURN OF THE RESURRECTED JESUS, THE DEFEAT OF THEIR OPPRESSORS THE ROMAN ARMY AND THE RETURN TO FREEDOM AND SELF DETERMINATION BY THE JEWISH NATION. THE PARABLES THAT HE PUTS INTO THE MOUTH OF JESUS BECOME INCREASINGLY DARK AND JUDGEMENTAL. HE IS ANTICIPATING THE IMMINENT RETURN OF THE LORD AND HE IS TRYING TO ENSURE THAT HE AND HIS COMMUNITY ARE COUNTED AS EITHER OF THE TWO ‘SUCCESSFUL’ SLAVES. FOR MATTHEW, UNLIKE THE MUCH LATER MARTIN LUTHER – SALVATION – WHAT EVER THAT MEANS – IS TIED CLOSELY TO WHAT IS DONE IN LIFE BY THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS – NOT JUST WHAT IS BELIEVED. LUTHER, ON THE OTHER HAND SAID THAT “BY GRACE ARE YOU SAVED BY FAITH” – A STRONG BELIEF AND TRUST IN GOD AND THE SALVIFIC LIFE, DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS WAS WHAT MATTERED.

THIS SO CALLED PARABLE OF THE TALENTS IS PROBLEMATIC FOR US WHO ARE READING IT SOME 1900 YEARS AFTER IT WAS WRITTEN – IN THAT IT TELLS OF A JUDGEMENTAL GOD AND SLAVEMASTER WHO GOES AWAY LEAVING WEALTH IN THE HANDS OF – NOT HIS MANAGERS AND MASTERS OF THE HOUSEHOLD – BUT THE LOWEST RANKS – THOSE “UNDERSTAIRS” AS IT WERE.

THIS IS COUNTER INTUITIVE. ONE WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THAT THE EDUCATED PEOPLE – THOSE ALREADY HOLDING TRUST AND RESPONSIBILITY – WOULD BE THE ONES CHOSEN TO MANAGE THE MONEY – BUT NO – IT IS GIVEN TO THOSE WITHOUT TALENT – THE BOTTOM RUNGS OF THE SOCIETY. MAKE NO MISTAKE – THE GOSPEL IS CLEAR THAT THE FOCUS OF TRUST IS ON THE POOR, THE MARGINALISED, THE SLAVE – RATHER THAN ON THE WEALTHY AND THE SO CALLED PILLARS OF SOCIETY. THIS LESSON SHOULD BE VERY HUMBLING TO OUR POLITICAL LEADERS.

ALSO NOW WE HAVE LEARNED TO VIEW GOD IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT. GOD, FOR US, IS NO LONGER VIEWED AS THE ANCIENT JUDGEMENTAL TRIBAL JEWISH GOD WHO DEMANDED BLOOD SACRIFICE TO ATONE FOR THE SINS OF THE PEOPLE BUT A SPIRIT OF LIFE AND UNFATHOMABLE LOVE AND FORGIVENESS. THIS IS THE RADICAL GOSPEL – THE RADICAL JESUS – THE RADICAL GOD. EVERYTHING WE HOLD TO BE TRUE IN SOCIETY IS UPTURNED LIKE THE TABLES OF THE MONEY CHANGERS. LOOK BACK TO MATTHEW CHAPTER 5 – THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN IS NEVER, EVER, FOR YOUR BENEFIT ALONE, BUT FOR THE SAKE OF THE SLAVE, THE POOR IN SPIRIT, THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, SO THAT WE MIGHT ACTUALLY EMBODY THE PROMISE OF CHRIST – IMMANUEL – GOD WITH US – BEING THE SALT OF THE EARTH AND THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. TRAGICALLY, MONEY AND POWER CONTINUE TO BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN HUMAN LIFE. AS I WRITE THIS, A SEEMINGLY INCREASING NUMBER OF MEN IN POSITIONS OF POWER HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND ABUSE. AS I WRITE THIS, INANE AND INSANE INTERPRETATIONS OF SCRIPTURE ARE QUOTED IN ORDER TO VALIDATE CHILD MOLESTATION, SEXUAL ABUSE, AND PEDOPHILIA. OUR GOVERNMENT IS POISED TO PERMIT DRILLING FOR OIL IN THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN BIGHT AND IS ON THE VERGE OF POURING TAXPAYERS’ – YOURS AND MINE – DOLLARS INTO SUBSIDISING A COAL MINE THAT THREATENS THE GREAT BARRIER REEF – EVIDENTLY, CARING FOR GOD’S CREATION IS NOT A HALLMARK OF STEWARDSHIP OF THIS BEAUTIFUL AND IRREPLACABLE WORLD – RATHER CORPORATE GREED AND AN INSATIABLE URGE TO CLING TO POWER OVER RULE EVERYTHING. THE MOST VULNERABLE PEOPLE ON EARTH – THE REFUGEES – THE ASYLUM SEEKERS – ARE BEING CASTIGATED AS PRACTICALLY CRIMINALS AND THEIR PLIGHT STUDIOUSLY IGNORED BY MOST POLITICIANS AND PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY.

WE ARE TOLD THAT THE CHURCH HAS NO PLACE IN THE POLITICAL DEBATE. I DISAGREE. I WILL CONTINUE TO INSIST THAT THE GOSPEL IS INDEED POLITICAL. I WILL CONTINUE TO PERSIST IN CALLING OUT ANY AND ALL THEOLOGY THAT ATTEMPTS TO SANCTION DISCRIMINATION. I WILL CONTINUE TO RESIST SO-CALLED BIBLICAL INTERPRETATIONS THAT HAVE SO COOPTED AND CORRUPTED SCRIPTURE THAT GOD’S INTENTION TO LOVE, TO FREE THE OPPRESSED, TO CARE FOR THE REJECTED, TO UPLIFT THE MARGINALIZED, TO REGARD THE OVERLOOKED, TO EMPOWER THE POWERLESS IS OVERLOOKED AT BEST, IGNORED AND DISMISSED AT WORST. I WILL CONTINUE TO CALL OUT CLAIMS ABOUT GOD THAT ARE SIMPLY VEILED ATTEMPTS TO PERPETUATE PERSONAL AUTHORITY, AND TO IDOLATRIZE THE INDIVIDUAL. I WILL CONTINUE TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST SEXISM AND RACISM, TO SPEAK UP FOR LGBTQI PERSONS, AND SPEAK INTO THOSE PLACES AND SPACES, THOSE SYSTEMS AND ORGANIZATIONS (INCLUDING THE CHURCH), THOSE MOMENTS AND EVENTS WHERE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IS SUPPLANTED BY SELF-RIGHTEOUS JUSTIFICATION. WILL YOU TAKE UP YOUR TALENTS AND JOIN WITH ME?

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON 22ND OCTOBER 2017 – PENTECOST 20 – Matthew 22:15-22

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

TAX AND OBLIGATION

A LITTLE BOY BADLY WANTED $100 AND PRAYED FOR TWO WEEKS BUT NOTHING HAPPENED. THEN HE DECIDED TO WRITE A LETTER TO THE LORD REQUESTING THE $100. WHEN THE POST OFFICE RECEIVED THE LETTER ADDRESSED SIMPLY “TO THE LORD, AUSTRALIA,” THEY DECIDED TO SEND IT TO THE PRIME MINISTER AS THE MOST SENIOR PERSON IN THE COUNTRY. THE PRIME MINISTER WAS SO IMPRESSED, TOUCHED, AND AMUSED THAT HE INSTRUCTED HIS SECRETARY TO SEND THE LITTLE BOY A $5.00 NOTE, AS THIS WOULD APPEAR TO BE A LOT OF MONEY TO A LITTLE BOY. THE LITTLE BOY WAS DELIGHTED WITH THE $5.00, AND SAT DOWN TO WRITE A THANK-YOU LETTER TO THE LORD. IT SAID: “DEAR LORD, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR SENDING ME THE MONEY. HOWEVER, I NOTICED THAT FOR SOME REASON YOU HAD TO SEND IT THROUGH CANBERRA, AND AS USUAL, THE TAX OFFICE HAS DEDUCTED $95.”

TAX! IT’S SO TRUE THAT THERE ARE ONLY TWO REALLY SURE THINGS IN LIFE – DEATH AND TAX – NEITHER OF WHICH IS AVOIDABLE NOR REALLY POPULAR!

OF COURSE MOST OF US REALIZE THAT, CERTAINLY IN OUR SOCIETY TAXES ARE NOT ONLY INEVITABLE BUT THEY ARE ALSO MOST NECESSARY, FOR WITHOUT MONEY NO GOVERNMENT WOULD BE ABLE TO PROVIDE THE SERVICES ITS CITIZENS NEED AND EXPECT.

THIS MORNING’S READING FROM MATTHEW TELLS OF THE TEMPLE STAFF TRYING TO TRAP JESUS WITH A QUESTION ABOUT TAX. NOW AT THAT TIME THE SUBJECT OF TAX WOULD HAVE BEEN A HOT TOPIC. IN FACT, IT WAS ONE OF THE ONEROUS IMPOSITIONS LEVIED BY THE ROMAN STATE – NOT ON ITS OWN CITIZENS – BUT ON ITS SUBJECTS SUCH AS THE JEWISH PEOPLE. IT WAS DEEMED BY THEM AS BEING MOST UNFAIR. THE ROMAN POLL TAX WAS DEEPLY RESENTED—TERTULLIAN BEWAILED THE POLL TAX AS A “BADGE OF SLAVERY”—AND IT PROVOKED NUMEROUS REVOLTS IN THE PROVINCES. PERHAPS MOST FAMOUS IS THE ZEALOT REVOLT IN JUDAEA OF 66 CE. AFTER THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE IN 70 CE, THE EMPEROR IMPOSED AS A PUNISHMENT AN EXTRA POLL TAX ON JEWS THROUGHOUT THE EMPIRE, THE FISCUS JUDAICUS, OF TWO DENARII EACH.

HEAD TAXES WERE IMPORTANT SOURCES OF REVENUE FOR MANY GOVERNMENTS FROM ANCIENT TIMES RIGHT UP UNTIL THE 19TH CENTURY. IN THE UNITED KINGDOM, POLL TAXES WERE LEVIED BY THE GOVERNMENT IN THE 14TH AND 17TH CENTURIES, AS WELL AS MARGARET THATCHER’S IN THE 20TH CENTURY. IN THE UNITED STATES, SELF REGARDED AS THE WORLD’S GREATEST DEMOCRACY, VOTING POLL TAXES HAVE BEEN USED TO DISENFRANCHISE MINORITY VOTERS.

SO ONE CAN READILY SEE THE THINKING BEHIND THE QUESTION – SAY THAT THIS TAX IS LEGAL AND JUST PAY IT AND SHUT UP AND THE PEOPLE WOULD RIOT AGAINST JESUS – SUCH WAS THE HEIGHT OF RESENTMENT. ON THE OTHER HAND, SAY – “NO! THIS TAX IS AN IMPOSITION THAT IS AGAINST OUR LAWS AND SHOULD NOT BE PAID” – AND THE ROMAN ARMY WOULD HAVE SOMETHING QUITE UNPLEASANT TO SAY. THE REAL QUESTION WAS – AND STILL IS – WHERE DO YOUR LOYALTIES LIE?

IF WE ENTER OUR TARDIS AND TRAVEL BACK IN TIME TO THE EARLY CENTURIES OF THE COMMON ERA WE WILL NOTICE NOT JUST THAT THERE WAS ALWAYS A DIVISION BETWEEN THE SACRED AND THE SECULAR IN ALL COMMUNITIES BUT THAT THERE OCCURRED THE BEGINNINGS OF A TRANSITION WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. THIS COMMUNITY – ACCORDING TO THE RECORDS WE READ IN LUKE’S BOOK OF ACTS AND ALSO PAUL’S LETTERS – INDICATES THAT THE EARLY CHURCH MEMBERS LIVED ALMOST AS IN A COMMUNE. ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL WAS THEIR WAY – THE WAY WHICH FOLLOWED THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS. IT WAS NOT TOO LONG HOWEVER BEFORE THIS ATTITUDE BEGAN TO CHANGE. AS THE CHURCH BECAME ESTABLISHED – CERTAINLY AFTER THE 4TH CENTURY WHEN EMPEROR CONSTANTINE DECLARED CHRISTIANITY TO BE THE OFFICIAL RELIGION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE – PEOPLE BEGAN TO SEEK THE POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY AND CHURCH BUILDINGS REPLACED THE ORIGINAL HOUSE MEETING PLACES. THE CHURCH HAD EMBARKED UPON THE ROAD OF SECULARISATION. THIS TREND WAS AT ITS ZENITH IN THE MIDDLE AGES WHEN THE LEADER OF THE CHURCH – THE POPE – EVEN HAD HIS OWN ARMY IN ORDER TO NOT ONLY PROTECT HIS AND THE CHURCH’S PROPERTY BUT TO EXERT GREATER AUTHORITY AND ARMED MIGHT TO INCREASE HIS WEALTH. SO MUCH GREED ATTRIBUTED TO RELIGION!

SO WE COME TO THIS 21ST CENTURY – OUR OWN TIME – AND WE DON’T NEED TO RAISE OUR EYES VERY MUCH TO NOTE THAT OUR WHOLE SOCIETY HAS FOLLOWED THIS TREND OF SECULARISATION. NOW IT IS GENERALLY ACCEPTED THAT WE “GIVE TO CAESAR THAT WHICH IS CAESAR’S” BUT OUR COMMUNITY – ESPECIALLY HERE IN AUSTRALIA – DOESN’T GIVE A HOOT ABOUT ANY OBLIGATION TO “GIVE TO GOD THAT WHICH IS GOD’S”. SUNDAY – FAR FROM BEING THE DAY OF REST AND A TIME TO REFLECT ON THE HIGHER THINGS IN LIFE – HAS BECOME THE DAY OF SPORT AND LIESURE ACTIVITIES – SELF-SERVING PLEASURE AND FUN. THE CHURCH IS LARGELY IGNORED. NOW BEFORE YOU THINK I AM SOUNDING LIKE SOME HELL FIRE AND BRIMSTONE GROUCH FROM THE PAST LET ME SAY THAT I DO NOT JUDGE OR IN ANY WAY CONDEMN PEOPLE FOR TAKING TIME TO ENJOY THEMSELVES. IT IS NOT THE ACTS OF FUN AND ENJOYMENT THAT BRINGS ME SORROW – IT’S THE DESERTION OF A PLACE THAT HAS SO MUCH TO OFFER – OR SHOULD HAVE SO MUCH TO OFFER. THIS IS THE CRUNCH.

IN EARLIER YEARS THE CHURCH WAS A PLACE OF REFUGE – PHYSICAL REFUGE AND SAFETY. IT HAS ALWAYS SAID IT WAS ALSO A PLACE OF SPIRITUAL REFUGE. IT IS NOW LARGELY VIEWED FROM THE ASPECTS OF THE SECULAR COMMUNITY AS A BODY OF NEGATIVITY AND CONDEMNATION AND A MOST UNATTRACTIVE AND IRRELEVENT PLACE TO ENTER.

HOW CAN WE BEGIN TO CONVINCE OUR FRIENDS, NEIGHBOURS AND THE BROADER COMMUNITY THAT WE ARE NOT LIKE THAT? HOW CAN WE SAY THAT HERE IS NOT CONDEMNATION BUT HERE IS INCLUSIVE LOVE, FORGIVENESS AND A PLACE TO LEAVE THE LOAD OF GUILT AND RESENTLMENT THAT PLAGUES SO MANY? WE SEEM TO BE – AS SOMEONE HAS WRITTEN – STUCK IN A GENERATION WHERE LOYALTY IS JUST A TATTOO, LOVE IS JUST A QUOTE AND LYING IS THE NEW TRUTH.

AT THE HEART OF JESUS’ RESPONSE TO THOSE WHO TRIED TO TEST HIS LOYALTIES IS A RATHER SIMPLE BUT SUBVERSIVE STATEMENT – THE HONOUR WE PAY TO GOD IS SEPARATE FROM THE HONOUR WE ARE BOUND TO PAY TO GOVERNMENTS OF WHATEVER ILK. CERTAINLY – BE A GOOD CITIZEN – MEET OUR SECULAR COMMITMENTS – TO THE FULL – BUT ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT WE HAVE A COMMITMENT – MAYBE CALL IT AN OBLIGATION – TO THE SPIRIT OF GOD WITHIN WHICH WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING – WHETHER WE ACKNOWLEDGE IT OR NOT. THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON 15TH OCTOBER 2017 – PENTECOST 19 – Matthew 22:1-14

1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE.

THIS WEEK IT WAS REVEALED THAT THE ANGLICAN DIOCESE OF SYDNEY HAD DONATED $1 MILLION TO THE “NO” CAMPAIGN CURRENTLY BEING RUN ACROSS THE COUNTRY IN RESPONSE TO THE GOVERNMENT’S POSTAL SURVEY ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY. NOW, I AM NOT INTERESTED AS TO WHETHER YOU VOTED YES OR NO – ALTHOUGH I WILL SAY THAT I DID VOTE YES AS I BELIEVE THIS IS A QUESTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS BEING ALLOWED TO EXIST IN A CIVILISED, 21st CENTURY DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY. THE CHURCH, ALREADY SIDELINED BY SOCIETY, IS IN NO AUTHORITATIVE POSITION TO TELL SOCIETY WHAT TO DO. SOCIETY IS SIMPLY NOT LISTENING AND ALL THE CONSERVATIVE CHURCH IS ACHIEVING IS TO FURTHER ALIENATE ITSELF.

ONE MILLION DOLLARS IN AN ATTEMPT TO INFLUENCE AUSTRALIANS VOTING FOR AN AMENDMENT TO THE MARRIAGE ACT – WHILST ON ANY GIVEN NIGHT IN AUSTRALIA 44,000 YOUNG PEOPLE ARE HOMELESS! CHARITY ORGANISATION KIDS UNDER COVER (KUC) STATES THAT 1 IN 6 YOUTHS IS HOMELESS. THEY ARE DESPERATELY TRYING TO HELP THESE KIDS AND ARE APPEALING TO PEOPLE TO “FUNDRAISE FOR US · MAKE A DIFFERENCE TODAY – MAKE A DONATION, DONATE YOUR CAR, RUN FOR KIDS UNDER COVER, FUNDRAISE FOR US.”- WHATEVER YOU CAN DO TO HELP – AND THEY ARE NOT DIRECTING THESE PLEAS TO ONLY THE CHURCH – THEY ARE ASKING THE BROADER COMMUNITY – WHICH RESPONDS GENEROUSLY – WHILST THE CHURCH DIRECTS ITS FUNDS TO FIGHTING A WHAT WILL PROBABLY BE AN INCONSEQUENTIAL BATTLE. IN AUGUST THIS YEAR A HEAD COUNT IN THE CITY OF SYDNEY REVEALED THAT MORE THAN 1000 PEOPLE WERE SLEEPING ROUGH, IN TEMPORARY ACCOMMODATION OR IN A PUBLIC HOSPITAL BED. HOMELESSNESS AUSTRALIA FIGURES STATE THAT THERE ARE 105,237 HOMELESS PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY. THERE ARE 17,845 CHILDREN UNDER 10 WITH 402 CHILDREN SLEEPING OUT ON ANY GIVEN NIGHT IN AUSTRALIA – 1 IN 200 PEOPLE ARE HOMELESS.

“EVERY OPPORTUNITY THAT WE HAVE TO SHINE THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL INTO THE DARKNESS OF OUR SOCIETY OUGHT TO BE WELCOMED WITH OPEN ARMS.” ABP DAVIES SAID IN HIS ADDRESS TO SYDNEY SYNOD ACKNOWLEDGING 500 YEARS SINCE THE START OF THE REFORMATION WHEN ON OCTOBER 31, 1517 LUTHER DEFIANTLY NAILED A COPY OF HIS 95 THESES TO THE DOOR OF THE WITTENBERG CASTLE CHURCH. DR DAVIES SAID THREE OF THE FIVE REGIONS IN HIS DIOCESE – WOLLONGONG, NORTH SYDNEY AND GEORGES RIVER ARE PLANNING REGIONAL MISSIONS BETWEEN NOW AND 2020. HE SAID, “DO PRAY FOR THESE SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR GOSPEL PROCLAMATION, AS IT IS ONLY BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD THAT PEOPLE ARE CONVERTED AND BECOME DISCIPLES OF THE LORD JESUS. FOR IT ISTHE GOSPEL THAT OUR SOCIETY NEEDS MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE, AS LUTHER KNEW WELL. (TELL THAT TO A YOUNG PERSON ABUSED AND SLEEPING ROUGH ON A COLD NIGHT). MAY IT BE THE PASSION FOR EACH ONE OF US TO GLORIFY GOD’S NAME, OR IN THE WORDS OF THE REFORMERS: SOLI DEO GLORIA (GLORY BE TO GOD ALONE).”

THIS IS THE CHURCH SAYING TO THOSE IN DESPERATE NEED – “BLESS YOU – I AM PRAYING FOR YOU – BE WARM – BE HEALED” AND SIMULTANEOUSLY POURING HUGE AMOUNTS OF CASH INTO AN ATTEMPT TO PREVENT AN ALTERATION TO THE MARRIAGE ACT.

THIS IS THE PRIEST IN THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN WALKING BY ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD ON HIS WAY TO THE TEMPLE TO EARNESTLY PRAY AND THEN ENJOY HOSPITALITY AND A GOOD MEAL. THESE ARE THE PEOPLE JESUS CONDEMNED OUT OF HAND. THE ANGLICAN DIOCESE OF SYDNEY STANDS CONDEMNED BEFORE CHRIST. “LET US SAVE YOUR SOUL – OH YOU’RE HUNGRY AND DON’T HAVE A HOME? NEVER MIND GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU – BLESS YOU”.

THERE IS SOME THOUGHT THAT THIS IS ACTUALLY TWO SEPARATE PARABLES, AND MAY BE TRYING TO HEIGHTEN THE SENSE THAT THIS PARABLE IS ABOUT GRACE AND MERCY RATHER THAN JUDGEMENT AND PUNISHMENT. LOOKING AT MATTHEW 22, THE FIRST 10 VERSES HAVE A PARALLEL IN LUKE, BUT THE REMAINING 5 DO NOT. STARTING IN VERSE 11, THERE IS A SECOND PARABLE THAT IS ADDED ONTO THE FIRST. THIS SECOND CONTINUES THE THEMES OF JUDGMENT “FOR MANY ARE CALLED, BUT FEW ARE CHOSEN.”

ONE COMMENTATOR SUGGESTS THAT THE THEMES OF INCLUSION AND EXCLUSION THAT SUDDENLY ARISE HERE ARE RELATED TO THOSE OF WHETHER THE GUESTS SHOW MERCY TO OTHERS. SO, IT IS INDEED A JUDGMENTAL VERSE WITH REGARDS TO WHETHER OR NOT THOSE WHO COME TO THE WEDDING FEAST ARE WILLING TO SHOW MERCY. A WEDDING GUEST ENTERING WITHOUT A WORTHY WARDROBE RESULTS IN BEING CAST OUT OF THE PARTY INTO OUTER DARKNESS WHERE THERE IS WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH? CLEARLY, THERE IS MORE TO THIS STORY THAN PROPER ATTIRE. MORE IS AT STAKE THAN WHAT TO WEAR OR WHAT NOT TO WEAR WHEN INVITED TO ROYAL NUPTIALS.AND WHAT IS THE “MORE” OF THIS STORY? WHAT “MORE” IS NECESSARY? WHAT “MORE” IS DEMANDED? WHAT “MORE” IS EXPECTED? WHAT “MORE” IS REQUIRED? WHAT DO WE ASSUME THAT “MORE” TO BE? HOW DO WE DETERMINE WHAT THAT “MORE” LOOKS LIKE? HOW DO WE DEFINE WHAT THE “MORE” INCLUDES?

OR MAYBE, THE TEXT ISN’T INTERESTED IN OUR QUESTIONS THAT ATTEMPT TO UNDERSTAND – AND AVOID – THE GUEST’S FATE. RATHER, THE TEXT SIMPLY STATES A TRUTH – A SEAT AT THE MATRIMONIAL BANQUET IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN WILL REQUIRE SOMETHING MORE THAN MERELY ACCEPTING AN INVITATION TO DISCIPLESHIP. IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO RSVP AND THEN JUST SHOW UP. THIS PARABLE IS TELLING US THAT IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO – AS SYDNEY WOULD PUT IT – “ACCEPT THE LORD JESUS INTO YOUR LIFE”.

SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE, WE HAVE FORGOTTEN WHAT IS CENTRAL TO CHRISTIANITY AND LIFE LIVED WITHIN THE KINGDOM OF GOD – LIFE, GENEROSITY, HOSPITALITY AND LOVE – AND WE HAVE LATCHED ON TO AN IDOLATROUS CHRISTIANITY THAT HAS AS ITS GOLDEN CALF A HYPOCRITICAL MIX OF FALSE OR SHALLOW PIETY WHILST HOLDING ONTO THE CENTRALITY OF ONESELF RATHER THAN THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST.

INDEED, IT IS NOT ENOUGH ANYMORE TO CALL YOURSELF A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST AND THEN ACT AS IF YOU WERE SOUND ASLEEP DURING THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO CHURCH MEMBERSHIP WITHOUT THEN VOWING TO LIVE OUT THAT CHOSENESS IN THE WORLD. IT IS NOT ENOUGH SAY YOU ARE A “CHRISTIAN” AND THEN STAY SILENT WHEN LIFE, LIBERTY, AND LOVE ARE IN JEOPARDY.

SIX YEARS AGO IN HER COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 22:1-14, SHARON RINGE WRITES, “…IT APPEARS THAT MATTHEW ENVISIONS FURTHER ACCOUNTABILITY BEYOND ONE’S INITIAL RESPONSE OF DISCIPLESHIP – OR OUR ‘YES’ TO GOD’S INVITATION TO THE BANQUET.” EXACTLY.         THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

 

SERMON 8TH OCTOBER 2017 – PENTECOST 18

Matthew 21:33-46

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

YOU MIGHT REMEMBER THAT LAST WEEKS READING WAS ABOUT POWER AND AUTHORITY. THIS WEEK – THE QUESTION OF TRUST IS ADDRESSED.

THERE IS A SAYING THAT IF YOU ASK A JEW A QUESTION HE WILL ANSWER IT WITH A QUESTION. SOMEONE HAS AMENDED THAT TO SAY “IF YOU ASK A JEW A QUESTION HE WILL ANSWER IT WITH A STORY”, WHICH ALSO RINGS VERY TRUE. THE TEMPLE LEADERS ASK JESUS WHERE HIS AUTHORITY COMES FROM AND HE ANSWERS WITH FIRST ANOTHER QUESTION AND THEN WITH TWO STORIES.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHERE MATTHEW GOT HIS INSPIRATION FOR THIS PARABLE – LOOK AT ISAIAH CHAPTER 5. THE ALLUSION TO ISAIAH WAS UNMISTAKABLE. THE OLD PROPHET MADE CLEAR THAT THE VINEYARD WAS A METAPHOR FOR THE “HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND THE PEOPLE OF JUDAH” – AND, IN ISAIAH, GOD WAS THE CARETAKER OF THIS VINEYARD. DESPITE CAREFUL ATTENTION FROM THE VINEDRESSER – THE VINEYARD PRODUCED ONLY “WILD GRAPES.” THE VINEYARD’S FAILURE TO PRODUCE BETTER FRUIT FORCED THE OWNER TO REMOVE HIS ATTENTIVENESS. THE POINT WAS, IF THE LAND WAS UNABLE TO PRODUCE WITH PROPER CARE, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO IT WITHOUT ANY CARE? IN OTHER WORDS – HOW WOULD THE NATION GET ON WITHOUT GOD’S PROTECTION?

IN JESUS’ PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD, TOLD HERE IN MATTHEW, THE “PRODUCE” WAS FINE, BUT THE DELIVERY SYSTEM WAS MALFUNCTIONING. THE PROBLEM WAS NOT WITH THE VINEYARD’S PRODUCTION BUT WITH THE TENANTS THEMSELVES. THESE WERE EXTREMELY VIOLENT TENANT FARMERS, HARMING AND MURDERING THE VARIOUS GROUPS OF SLAVES SENT BY THE LANDOWNER. THE RATIONALE FOR THEIR BRUTALITY AND MURDEROUS WAYS WAS STATED EXPLICITLY WHEN THE SON VISITED: “THIS IS THE HEIR; COME, LET US KILL HIM AND GET HIS INHERITANCE”. ON THE SURFACE, THE LANDOWNER’S DECISION TO SEND HIS SON IN LIGHT OF THE TRAGEDY OF HIS SERVANTS SEEMED UNWISE. BUT, THE PARABLE DID NOT HIGHLIGHT THIS ACT AS FOOLISH; THIS WAS NOT A PARABLE OF THE FOOLISH LANDOWNER. RATHER, IN THE HONOUR AND SHAME CULTURE OF THE MIDDLE EAST, THE LANDOWNER’S DECISION TO SEND HIS SON AS EMISSARY WAS APPROPRIATE SINCE HE COULD EXPECT PROPER RESPECT FOR HIS APPOINTED HEIR.

IN FIRST CENTURY MIDDLE EAST IT WAS COMMON PRACTICE FOR LANOWNERS TO LEASE OUT THEIR LAND TO TENANT FARMERS SO THAT THEY COULD SIT BACK – REAP A MAJOR PORTION OF THE INCOME AND ENJOY LIFE – WHILST OTHERS DID THE PHYSICAL WORK. MATTHEW USES THIS PARABLE TO HIGHLIGHT THE TRUST AND PATIENCE OF GOD. BEAR IN MIND THIS IS A CONVERSATION BETWEEN JESUS AND THE TEMPLE AUTHORITIES SO IT IS NOT TOO HARD TO FIND THE COMPARISONS. IT REFLECTS THE ONGOING ANIMOSITY BETWEEN THE REGULAR JEWISH SYNAGOGUE AND THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS IN THE NINTH DECADE OF THE FIRST CENTIRY. IT IS NOT HARD TO SEE THE SON IN THE STORY REPRESENTING JESUS WHILST HIS PRECURSERS – THE PROPHETS – HAD ALSO LARGELY BEEN ABUSED AND REJECTED BY THE ORTHODOX AUTHORITIES.

THIS IS THE THIRD RESPONSE TO THE TEMPLE LEADERSHIP’S QUERY ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF JESUS’ AUTHORITY FOR HIS TEMPLE ACTIVITY. FIRST, JESUS OFFERED A COUNTER-QUESTION ON THE AUTHORITY OF JOHN’S BAPTISM, WHICH THE LEADERS FAILED TO ANSWER DIRECTLY BECAUSE OF THEIR FEAR OF JOHN’S PUBLIC REPUTATION. REMEMBER – “WHERE DID JOHN GET THE AUTHORITY TO BAPTISE?” SECOND, JESUS TOLD THE PARABLE ABOUT “TWO SONS,” AN EXPLANATION THAT DIRECTLY CHALLENGED THIS LEADERSHIP’S UNDERSTANDING OF GOD’S ACTIVITY IN THE WORLD AND POSED THE QUESTION – POWER AND AUTHORITY – WHO HAS IT AND BY WHOSE AUTHORITY IS IT POSSESSED AND USED?

TODAY WE FACE THE QUESTION OF TRUST. WHAT EXACTLY IS TRUST? TRUST IS BOTH AN EMOTIONAL AND LOGICAL ACT. EMOTIONALLY, IT IS WHERE YOU EXPOSE YOUR VULNERABILITIES TO PEOPLE – AT THE SAME TIME BELIEVING THEY WILL NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR OPENNESS. … WE FEEL TRUST. EMOTIONS ASSOCIATED WITH TRUST INCLUDE COMPANIONSHIP, FRIENDSHIP, LOVE, AGREEMENT, RELAXATION AND COMFORT. WE ALL PRACTICE TRUST ALMOST EVERY DAY OF OUR LIVES. WE TRUST THE PILOT OF THE AIRCRAFT TO SAFELY TAKE US TO OUR DESTINATION, WE TRUST THE SHOPKEEPER WHEN THEY TELL US THE FOOD WE ARE BUYING IS FRESH, WE TRUST THE BANK TO CARE FOR OUR MONEY AND TO HONOUR THEIR COMMITMENTS – IN SHORT WE TRUST EVERYDAY OF OUR LIVES IN SOME WAY OR OTHER. NO DOUBT ALSO WE CAN ALL TELL STORIES OF WHEN OUR TRUST HAS BEEN ABUSED. WE DON’T OFTEN TALK OF THESE INSTANCES BECAUSE WE FEEL EMBARRASSED THAT SOMEONE HAS LET US DOWN – WE FEEL WE HAVE BEEN PERHAPS FOOLISH AND NAIVE – SO WE DON’T SPEAK ABOUT IT.

IN THE STORY – THE LANDOWNER TRUSTS THE TENANTS TO DO THE RIGHT THING IN ACCORDANCE WITH THEIR AGREEMENT. THEY OBVIOUSLY DISREGARD THEIR PROMISES AND TURN IN THEIR GREED TO VIOLENCE AND ULTIMATE DISASTER AS THE OWNER HAS THEM KILLED AND THE LAND RE-RENTED TO HONEST TENANTS.

NOW WE HAVE AN INTERESTING VARIATION IN THE STORY. JESUS NOW INTRODUCES THE LARGE STONE THAT WAS REJECTED BY THE BUILDERS OF PERHAPS THE VINEYARD WATCHTOWER BUT LATER RECOGNISED BY OTHERS AS PERFECT TO BE USED AS THE KEYSTONE FOR THE WHOLE BUILDING. FURTHERMORE, IT WAS POWERFUL ENOUGH TO DESTROY THOSE WHO HAD REJECTED IT. THE CONCLUSION IS A POINTED AND POWERFUL THREAT. VERSE 43 -“THEREFORE I TELL YOU, THE KINGDOM OF GOD WILL BE TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU AND GIVEN TO A PEOPLE THAT PRODUCES THE FRUITS OF THE KINGDOM.” THAT LEAVES NO DOUBT IN THE MINDS OF THE TEMPLE AUTHORITIES THAT IT IS ALL DIRECTED AT THEM – STILL THEY DO NOT LISTEN BUT CONTINUE TO PURSUE THEIR AGENDA TO RID THEMSELVES OF THIS TROUBLESOME PROPHET. THEY REJECT THE IMPLIED OFFER OF CHANGE.

REMEMBER THE DEFINING EMOTIONS ASSOCIATED WITH TRUST INCLUDE AMONGST OTHERS – COMPANIONSHIP, LOVE, RELAXATION AND COMFORT – THE VERY ANTITHESIS OF LONELINESS, HATRED, STRESS AND DISCOMFORT. THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS PREPARED TO OFFER ANYONE WHO WANTS TO ACCEPT A TENANCY IN THE VINEYARD AND ONCE ACCEPTED WE ENTER INTO THE FIDUCIARY RELATIONSHIP THAT IS ONE OF MUTUAL TRUST – THE RELATIONSHIP THAT BRINGS THOSE REWARDS OF PEACE AND A FULL LIFE. INTERESTINGLY THIS SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT THE VULNERABILITY OF GOD WHO OFFERS US TRUST AND EVERYTHING THAT GOES WITH IT SUCH AS LOVE AND JOY. ACCORDING TO MATTHEW – WHEN WE REJECT THE SPIRIT WE NOT ONLY LOSE MUCH FROM OUR OWN LIVES WE ALSO BRING HURT TO GOD.

WALTER ANDERSON SAID: “WE’RE NEVER SO VULNERABLE THAN WHEN WE TRUST SOMEONE- BUT PARADOXICALLY, IF WE CANNOT TRUST, NEITHER CAN WE FIND LOVE OR JOY”. AND JOYCE BROTHERS WROTE: “THE BEST PROOF OF LOVE IS TRUST”.

I PRAY YOU MAY ALL CONTINUE TO FIND THE LOVE AND JOY THAT IS THE RESULT OF A REAL TRUST IN GOD.                            THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

 

SERMON – 1ST OCTOBER 2017 – PENTECOST 17 – Matthew 21:23-32

23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

POWER AND AUTHORITY TODAY’S GOSPEL READING IS ALL ABOUT POWER – WHO HAS IT AND BY WHOSE AUTHORITY IT IS POSSESSED AND USED.

THERE ARE, OF COURSE MANY FORMS OF POWER. THERE IS THE POWER ONE PERSON HAS BY BEING INHERENTLY PHYSICALLY STRONGER AND FITTER AND THUS ABLE TO DEFEAT OPPONENTSAND PERFORM AMAZING PHYSICAL FEATS. THERE IS THE POWER INHERENT IN THE POSSESSION OF A WEAPON – PARTICULARLY A FIREARM – WHICH CAN BE USED FOR BOTH PROTECTION AND OFFENCE. THEN THERE IS THE POWER OF THE HUMAN MIND. WE ARE COMPLETELY AUTONOMOUS BEINGS AND – UNLESS CONSTRICTED BY A STRONGER EXTERNAL INFLUENCE – FREE TO LIVE OUR LIVES AS WE WISH. WE HAVE THE POWER TO HATE AND THE POWER TO LOVE, THE POWER TO SEEK VENGEANCE AND THE POWER TO FORGIVE. WHICH, DO YOU THINK IS THE MORE POWERFUL – VENGEANCE OR FORGIVENESS?

I TELL YOU THE STORY OF EVA KOR – ONE OF TWIN GIRLS WHO WERE BORN IN ROMANIA IN 1934. THE FAMILY WAS TAKEN BY THE NAZIS TO AUSCHWITZ DEATH CAMP IN POLAND. UPON ARRIVAL IN A CATTLE WAGON THE PARENTS WERE SEPARATED AND NEVER AGAIN SEEN BY THE GIRLS. BEING TWINS THEY WERE TAKEN ASIDE AND RESERVED AS JUBJECTS FOR THE EXPERIMENTS OF DR MENGELE THE SO CALLED “AUSCHWITZ ANGEL OF DEATH”. THEY WERE SUBJECTED TO VARIOUS EXPERIMENTS AND INJECTED WITH MANY UNKOWN SUBSTANCES. ALTHOUGH AT TIMES CLOSE TO DEATH THEY MIRACULOUSLY SURVIVED UNTIL THE CAMP WAS LIBERATED BY THE RUSSIAN ARMY ON JANUARY 12TH 1945. THEY BOTH FOUND A HOME IN ISRAEL, MARRIED AND HAD FAMILIES. IN 1992 MIRIAM DIED POSSIBLY FROM LATENT DAMAGE CAUSED BY THE EXPERIMENTS IN AUSCHWITZ.

ABOUT THIS TIME EVA WAS INVITED TO BOSTON TO SPEAK AND THE DOCTORS THERE WANTED TO LOCATE HER OLD NAZI MEDICAL RECORDS – WHICH WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE. THEY THEN ASKED IF AN EX-NAZI DOCTOR COULD ACCOMPANY HER. SHE FINALLY LOCATED A DR MUNCH WHO HAD BEEN IN AUSCWHITZ AND HAD BEEN PART OF THE OPERATION OF THE GAS CHAMBERS WHERE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WERE MURDERED. IN 1993 EVA VISITED DR MUNCH IN GERMANY AS HE WAS NOT WILLING TO TRAVEL TO BOSTON. SHE ASKED HIM TO ACCOMPANY HER TO AUSCWHITZ IN 1995 AS IT WAS THE 50 TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE LIBERATION. DURING THE VISIT SHE HAD DR MUNCH CO-SIGN A DOCUMENT ADMITTING HIS PART IN THE HOLOCAUST. PART OF THAT DOCUMENT READS “I AM SO SORRY THAT IN SOME WAY I WAS PART OF IT…”. EVA WANTED THE DOCUMENT SO SHE COULD PRODUCE IT IF EVER – AS SHE PUT IT “… SOME REVISIONIST SAID THE HOLOCAUST DID NOT HAPPEN”.

LATER SHE HAD THE URGE TO THANK MUNCH FOR COOPERATING BY MEETING HER AND SIGNING THE DOCUMENT BUT DID NOT KNOW HOW TO THANK A NAZI. AFTER 10 MONTHS SHE AWOKE ONE MORNING WITH AN IDEA – SHE WOULD SEND A SIMPLE LETTER OF FORGIVENESS TO MUNCH. SHE SAID, “WHAT I DISCOVERED FOR MYSELF WAS LIFECHANGING. I DISCOVERED THAT I HAD THE POWER TO FORGIVE. NOONE COULD GIVE ME THAT POWER AND NOONE COULD TAKE IT AWAY. IT WAS ALL MINE TO USE IN ANY WAY I WISHED. AFTER BEING A VICTIM OF 50 YEARS – I NEVER THOUGHT I HAD ANY POWER OVER MY LIFE.”

IT TOOK EVA 4 MONTHS TO WRITE THAT LETTER. HER ENGLISH DICTION IS EXCELLENT BUT SHE LACKED SOMEWHAT WITH HER SPELLING SO SHE CALLED ON HER OLD ENGLISH PROFESSOR TO PUT THINGS RIGHT. AT THE END OF THEIR SESSIONS THE PROFESSOR SAID TO HER – “SO YOU ARE FORGIVING MUNCH BUT YOUR PROBLEM IS NOT WITH MUNCH – IT IS WITH MENGELE”. EVA WAS STILL NOT QUITE READY TO FORGIVE MENGELE BUT THE PROFESSOR TOLD HER TO GO HOME AND PRETEND THAT MENGELE WAS IN THE ROOM AND THAT SHE WAS TELLING HIM THAT SHE FORGAVE HIM.

I HAVE TO ASK AT THIS POINT – HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOU WERE TOLD TO DO THAT? TO – EVEN IN YOUR IMAGINATION – CONFRONT THE MAN WHO HAD DONE SUCH HORRIBLE, INHUMANE THINGS AND MURDERED SO MANY PEOPLE – AND HAD SUBJECTED YOU TO SUCH PAIN AND SUFFERING. IT IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO CONCEIVE HOW EVA KOR COULD HAVE FACED SUCH A MEMORY – LET ALONE SAY WORDS OF FORGIVENESS TO AN INHUMANE MONSTER WHO HAD APPARENTLY DIVESTED HIMSLEF OF ALL THE GOOD PARTS THAT MAKE US HUMAN. HOW WOULD YOU REACT? THAT’S A BIG QUESTION.

SO EVA WENT HOME, TOOK DOWN THE DICTIONARY AND WROTE DOWN 20 “NASTY WORDS” AS SHE CALLED THEM – WHICH SHE THEN READ OUT TO THE IMAGINARY PRESENCE OF MENGELE AND FINISHED BY SAYING “IN SPITE OF ALL THAT …I FORGIVE YOU”. HER REACTION WAS – “IT MADE ME FEEL VERY GOOD THAT I, THE LITTLE GUINEA PIG OF 50 YEARS HAD THE POWER OVER THE ANGEL OF DEATH OF AUSCHWITZ”. SHE LATER MET MUNCH IN AUSCHWITZ AS PLANNED AND THEY BOTH SIGNED THE DOCUMENT SHE HAD PREPARED. SHE SAID SHE THEN FELT FREE FROM AUSCHWITZ AND MENGELE.

SHE KNEW THAT MOST OF THE OTHER SURVIVORS WOULD DENOUNCE HER AND THAT IS WHAT HAPPENED AND WAS STILL HAPPENING WHEN SHE RECORDED THE INTERVIEW BUT SHE LIKES HER ACT OF FORGIVENESS WHICH TO HER IS AN ACT OF SELFHEALING, SELF LIBERATION AND SELF EMPOWERMENT. ALL VICTIMS, SHE SAID, ARE HURT, FEEL HOPELESS AND FEEL POWERLESS. “YOU CANNOT CHANGE WHAT HAPPENED”, SHE SAID, “THAT IS THE TRAGIC PART, BUT WE CAN CHANGE HOW WE RELATE TO IT.”

WHAT A CONTRAST WE SEE IN THIS AMAZING STORY. THE POWER OF A SINGLE WOMAN MADE VICTIM BY AN OVERWHELMING EVIL POWER WEILDING ARMED FORCE AND FEAR. WE HAVE WITNESSED THE POWER OF REAL, GENUINE FORGIVENESS GIVEN IN THE FACE OF RESIDUAL HATRED AND A YEARNING FOR VENGEANCE. EVA KOR STANDS ALMOST ALONE AMONGST HER FELLOW SURVIVORS IT WOULD SEEM. THE HATRED AND SEEKING OF VENGEANCE SEEMS TO COME NATURALLY BUT IT IS ONLY THROUGH THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD THAT WE CAN FIND IT WITHIN OURSELVES TO HONESTLY AND GENUINELY FORGIVE – BECAUSE THE ACT OF FORGIVENESS COMES OUT OF A SENSE OF LOVE. HOW CAN ONE POSSIBLY LOVE OTHERS WHO ARE GUILTY OF SUCH HEINOUS ACTS? THE ANSWER IS THAT ONE CANNOT BY SIMPLY RELYING UPON ONE’S OWN POWER. TO DO SUCH A COUNTER INTUITIVE THING REQUIRES MORE POWER THAN WE AS INDIVIDUALS CAN POSSIBLY RAISE.

THE WORLD AT THIS TIME REALLY NEEDS THE POWER OF LOVE LIKE NEVER BEFORE. WE SEE TWO POWERFUL MEN EXCHANGING INSULTS AND HEIGHTENING RHETORIC SEEMINGLY OBLIVIOUS TO THE CARNAGE AND WORLD WIDE MISERY THAT COULD POTENTIALLY EVENTUATE. WE ALSO SEE OUR OWN GOVERNMENT TO SOME EXTENT JOINING IN THE RHETORIC. SURELY IT IS UP TO US, THE POWERLESS, TO SPEAK UP IN THE NAME OF AN ALL ENCOMPASSING SPIRIT OF LOVE AND COMPASSION. LOVE IS STRONGER THAN HATE AND THE GOOD TO BE FOUND IN GOD THROUGH CHRIST IS STRONGER THAN EVIL. THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN                                               If you would like to see and hear Eva Kor go to Facebook                                                                                                                                      St John’s Church Norton Summit – “The Church on the Hill”

SERMON 24TH SEPTEMBER 2017 – PENTACOST 16

MATTHEW 20. 1-16 

IT’S NOT FAIR!

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE

“IT’S NOT FAIR!” CAN’T YOU JUST HEAR THE WHINEY TONE THAT DELIVERS THAT EXCLAMATION? I’VE YET TO MEET A PARENT WHOSE CHILD HASN’T AT SOME POINT OR OTHER PROTESTED, “THAT’S NOT FAAAIIIIIIRRRR?” (NOTE THE DRAWN OUT FAAAIIIIIIRRRR, ADDED FOR EXTRA IMPACT ON YOU, THE PARENT.)

OFTEN PARENTAL RESPONSE IS TO USE LOGIC. HEARING THE CRY, THE ADULT RESORTS TO LOGIC. “OH YES, IT IS FAIR BECAUSE YOU GOT TO GO FIRST LAST TIME, AND NOW IT’S BILLY’S TURN.” IT DOESN’T COMPUTE, IS DEEMED AN IRRELEVANT NOISE AND THE CHILD RETORTS, “BUT IT ISN’T FAIR!” LOGIC DOESN’T WORK.

NEXT, THE PARENT LETS THE CHILD KNOW THE SAD REALITY THAT LIFE JUST ISN’T FAIR. THE PROBLEM WITH THIS RESPONSE IS THAT THE CHILD IS UNHAPPY, AND SO CAN’T GET BEYOND THAT FEELING. AND TELLING A CHILD THAT LIFE ISN’T FAIR ALSO HAS ZERO MEANING FOR THAT 6-YEAR-OLD, WHO DOESN’T HAVE MUCH LIFE EXPERIENCE UNDER THE BELT.

CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND BEHAVIOUR SPECIALIST, BETSY BRAUN SAYS: “THE INTERESTING THING IS THAT IT IS THE PARENT WHO SOWS THE SEEDS FOR THE CHILD’S EXPECTATION FOR FAIRNESS. IN FAMILIES WITH MORE THAN ONE CHILD, PARENTS BEND OVER BACKWARDS TO MAKE SURE THAT THE CHILDREN GET THE SAME. THE CHILDREN COME TO UNDERSTAND THAT FAIR MEANS EQUAL. AND THAT’S JUST NOT TRUE. DAD TAKES AMANDA TO BUY NEW SHOES, AND HE GETS THEM FOR LITTLE SAMANTHA TOO. “MIGHT AS WELL,” HE THINKS. THE MISTAKE IS CULTIVATING THE IDEA THAT WHATEVER ONE GETS OR GETS TO DO, THE OTHER WILL AS WELL. DAD WANTS TO AVOID THE INEVITABLE “THAT’S NOT FAIR!” FROM THE ONE WHO DOESN’T GET, SO HE PREEMPTIVELY BUYS SHOES FOR BOTH.

FAIR DOES NOT MEAN EQUAL. FAIR MEANS DOING WHAT EACH CHILD NEEDS AT THE TIME. THE RESPONSE TO SAMANTHA SHOULD BE, “WHEN YOUR FEET GET TOO BIG FOR YOUR SHOES, YOU WILL GET NEW SHOES.” THAT’S A CHILD BEHAVIOUR SPECIALIST SPEAKING.

UNFAIRNESS OR IMBALANCE HOWEVER DOES NOT END WITH CHILDHOOD. THE COURTS ARE AWASH WITH FAMILY MEMBERS CONTESTING WILLS. “HE LEFT IT ALL TO HER AFTER I DID ALL THE WORK”, IS THE CRY. THE COURT THEN HAS TO DECIDE ON THE FACTS IF THAT IS INDEED THE CASE AND CAN MAKE AN ORDER TO VARY THE TERMS OF THE WILL IF IT IS DEEMED TO BE UNFAIR.

MELANIE DALE HAS WRITTEN A BOOK ENTITLED: IT’S NOT FAIR: LEARNING TO LOVE THE LIFE YOU DIDN’T CHOOSE. “…LOVE THE LIFE YOU DIDN’T CHOOSE”? THAT SORT OF APPEALED TO ME AT FIRST BUT THEN OF COURSE THERE IS THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN. MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKERS WILL TELL YOU THAT YOU HAVE THE POWER WITHIN YOU TO CHANGE YOUR SITUATION AND BECOME ANYTHING YOU WISH TO BE. FAIRNESS IS ALL ABOUT TRUE JUSTICE – NOT NECESSARILY EQUALITY – THE IMBALANCE OF THE RICH WHO DO NOT SHARE THEIR WEALTH AS OPPOSED TO THE POOR WHO HAVE NOTHING TO SHARE – IS THAT “FAIR”?

THE IMBALANCE BETWEEN THE IMPOTENT STRUGGLING MERELY TO SURVIVE IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES AND THE POWERFUL PEOPLE WHO MAKE AND IMPOSE THE BIG DECISIONS ON SOCIETY – IS THAT FAIR? FAIRNESS SEEMS TO TRANSLATE AS EQUITY – BALANCE – JUSTICE – SO UNFAIRNESS IS INEQUITY – IMBALANCE AND INJUSTICE. AS WE LOOK AROUND – AND WE DON’T NEED TO LOOK VERY FAR IN THIS WORLD – WE SEE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY INEQUITY AND INJUSTICE.

AUSTRALIA IS PRESENTLY IN THE MIDDLE OF A POSTAL SURVEY IN ORDER TO ASCERTAIN THE COMMUNITY’S OPINION ON THE STATUS OF MARRIAGE.

I AM OF THE OPINION THAT EACH AND EVERY PERSON HAS THE RIGHT TO LOVE AND TO BE ABLE TO EXPRESS THAT LOVE PUBLICLY BY ENTERING INTO MARRIAGE IF THEY SO CHOOSE. I HAVE OBVIOUSLY VOTED “YES” TO THE QUESTION PUT. MY EXPERIENCE HAS TAUGHT ME THAT GAY PEOPLE ARE IN ESSENCE NO DIFFERENT FROM ANYONE ELSE IN THE COMMUNITY. IF FOR THE PURPOSES OF COMPARISONS, I CAN FOR A MOMENT CONSIDER THEM AS A SEPARATE GROUPING WITHIN THE COMMUNITY – AND I HASTEN TO POINT OUT THAT I DO NOT NORMALLY CONSIDER THEM AS SUCH – IT WILL BECOME QUITE OBVIOUS THAT THE GROUP CONTAINS THE SAME CROSS SECTION OF TYPES AND PERSONALITIES FOUND IN THE HETEROSEXUAL REMAINDER. THERE ARE KIND, GENEROUS, FAITHFUL AND GENUINELY LOVING PEOPLE AND THERE ARE ALSO INHERENTLY SELFISH AND CRUEL PERSONALITIES. IN PAST YEARS THIS GROUP HAS SUFFERED – AND IN SOME PLACES CONTINUES TO SUFFER GREATLY – FROM THE IGNORENCE OF THE BROADER SOCIETY. MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUND. IT IS NOW UNDERSTOOD THAT PEOPLE ARE BORN WITH THEIR INHERENT SEXUAL ORIENTATION RATHER THAN CHOOSING A LIFESTYLE. INDEED, OVER THE PAST 2 DECADES, RESEARCHERS HAVE TURNED UP CONSIDERABLE EVIDENCE THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT A LIFESTYLE CHOICE, BUT IS ROOTED IN A PERSON’S BIOLOGY AND IS AT LEAST IN PART, DETERMINED BY GENETICS. IT IS NATURAL – NOT “SINFUL” AND IS NOT SOME SORT OF “CURABLE DISEASE”. SO, HAS THE TREATMENT METED OUT TO GAY PEOPLE BEEN “FAIR”? HARDLY – IT IS A PREJUDICE THAT STEMS FROM PURE IGNORANCE. SO BEING ABSOLUTELY HUMAN AND THE SAME AS ANYONE ELSE IN THE COMMUNITY I CANNOT SEE WHY THEY ARE NOT ENTITLED TO SHARE IN HUMAN RIGHTS EXACTLY THE SAME AS ANYONE ELSE. EVERY PERSON HAS THE GOD GIVEN RIGHT TO FULLY PARTICIPATE IN OUR SOCIETY – BE IT IN BUSINESS, POLITICS OR THE CHURCH.

THE PAST ATTITUDES WHICH HAVE BEEN RIFE WITHIN THE CHURCH – AND ARE SHAMEFULLY STILL PRESENT IN THE CONSERVATIVE EVANGELICAL PARTS – ARE AN INDICTMENT ON WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE A LOVING, INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE WHO WOULD FOLLOW THE WAY OF CHRIST – WHICH IS A WAY OF LIVING ONE’S LIFE IN PEACE, FORGIVENESS AND INCLUSIVE LOVE. THE HISTORIC SIDELINING AND OVERT PREJUDICE SHOWN TO GAY PEOPLE AS WELL AS WOMEN WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH IS REPREHENSIBLE. HOW CAN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HONESTLY EXPECT PEOPLE LIVING IN THIS TIME OF SCIENTIFIC ENLIGHTENMENT AND RECOGNITION OF HUMAN RIGHTS TO BE ATTRACTED TO AN ORGANISATION THAT CLINGS RESOLUTELY TO THE IDEALS AND WORLD VIEW OF MEDIEVAL TIMES? THIS POSITION IS A RECIPE FOR COMMUNITY REJECTION, ISOLATION AND CONTINUING INCREASING IRRELEVANCE. I GIVE THANKS THAT THERE REMAINS A STRONG CORE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH WHICH REJECTS THE CONSERVATIVE PUSH FOR REGRESSION INTO THE PAST – BUT THIS CONSERVATISM REMAINS A DAMAGING DISTRACTION FROM THE REAL PURPOSE OF THE GOSPEL – TO FORGIVE AS WE ARE FORGIVEN AND TO LOVE AS WE ARE LOVED.    IT ISN’T FAIR!

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

SERMON 3RD SEPTEMBER 2017 Exodus 3:1-15

1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” 13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.'” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE.

GOD CALLED TO HIM OUT OF THE BUSH, “MOSES, MOSES!” AND HE SAID, “HERE I AM.” THEN HE SAID, “COME NO CLOSER! REMOVE THE SANDALS FROM YOUR FEET, FOR THE PLACE ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND.”

LET’S TALK ABOUT SHOES – RESPECT – AND OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD, OUR FELLOW PEOPLE AND THIS WORLD.

WHILST I WAS IN HONG KONG LAST MONTH I TOOK THE OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE A BRIEF VISIT TO JAPAN. THE JAPANESE PEOPLE LIVE A VERY DIFFERENT LIFESTYLE THAN WE HERE IN AUSTRALIA.  THE FIRST THING THAT STRUCK ME WAS THE ALMOST UNIVERSAL REQUIREMENT TO REMOVE ONE’S SHOES WHEN ENTERING A HOUSE. WE STAYED IN A TRADITIONAL ONSEN KADENSHO IN ARASHIYAMA ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF KYOTO. I HAD NOT THOUGHT ABOUT FOOTWEAR TOO MUCH BEFORE BUT UPON ARRIVAL IT WAS NECESSARY, ONCE HAVING BOOKED IN AT THE RECEPTION DESK, TO REMOVE FOOTWEAR AND PLACE SHOES IN THE LOCKER PROVIDED. ONE THEN WALKED IN BAREFEET OR SOCKS THROUGHOUT THE REST OF THE HOTEL. WHEN GOING OUT FOR AN EXCURSION OR WALK IT WAS NECESSARY TO REPLACE OUR SHOES AT THE EDGE OF THE WOODEN FLOOR AREA OF THE RECEPTION.IT WAS UNACCEPTABLE TO WALK ON THE WOODEN FLOORS ANYWHERE IN THE HOTEL. THE ONLY PLACE ONE COULD WEAR SHOES WAS ON THE HARD FLOOR IN THE RECEPTION AREA. THIS RULE APPLIED ALSO TO ALL THE BUDDHIST TEMPLES WE VISITED WHERE SPECIAL RACKS WERE PROVIDED FOR VISITOR’S SHOES WHILST THE PEOPLE WALKED THROUGHOUT THE TEMPLE IN BARE FEET OR SOCKS. THIS IDEA HAS NOW BECOME THE RULE IN THE APARTMENT IN HONG KONG. IT SEEMS TO BE A VERY WIDESPREAD PRACTISE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. I HAD NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT THE WEARING OF SHOES IN THAT LIGHT BEFORE. WE IN AUSTRALIA ARE GENERALLY VERY LAID BACK AND PERHAPS A BIT LAZY SO IT IS NOT A COMMON PRACTICE HERE.

IN THE MIDDLE EAST SHOES SEEM TO ASSUME A MUCH MORE IMPORTANT CULTURAL ROLE THAN IN WESTERN COUNTRIES. FOR INSTANCE IT IS THE HIGHEST INSULT TO THROW A SHOE AT A PERSON. AT A NEWS CONFERENCE IN 2008 THEN US PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH HAD TO DODGE A SHOE TOSSED IN ORDER TO “HUMILIATE THE TYRANT” SO THE PERPETRATOR CLAIMED.THE ACT RESULTED IN A SPLIT OF OPINION IN IRAQ. SOME APPLAUDED THE ACT WHILST OTHERS SAW IT AS BRINGING SHAME ON THEIR COUNTRY AS IT IS TRADITIONALLY OFFENSIVE TO HUMILIATE OR INSULT A GUEST. A CNN PRODUCER SAID, “ THE ACT OF THROWING A SHOE AT SOMEONE OR EVEN SHOWING THEM YOUR SOLE IS INCREDIBLY OFFENSIVE IN THE MIDDLE EAST – THE BOTTOM LINE IS A SHOE IS DIRT [SO] THROWING A SHOE ON SOMEONE MEANS THROWING DIRT ON THAT PERSON”. WE CAN ALSO THINK BACK TO THE ANCIENT TIME BEFORE THE ADVENT OF MOTORISED TRANSPORT WHEN THE ONLY METHOD OF TRAVEL WAS TO RIDE ON THE BACK OF AN ANIMAL OR WALK. HENCE THE IMPORTANCE GIVEN TO THE CEREMONY OF FOOT WASHING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. IT WAS BOTH A SIGN OF HOSPITALITY AND WELCOME AS WELL AS A PRACTICAL ACT. I READ AN ARTICLE REGARDING THESE THINGS BY KARLA SUOMALA, WHO IS PROFESSOR OF RELIGION AT LUTHER COLLEGE IN THE US. SHE POSED A MOST INTERESTING ALTERNATIVE INTERPRETATION ON THIS ACT OF REMOVING ONE’S SHOES BECAUSE “…THE PLACE ON WHICH YOU ARE STANDING IS HOLY GROUND”. PROFESSOR SUOMALA SUGGESTS THAT THE REMOVAL OF MOSES’SHOES HAS ALWAYS BEEN TAKEN SOLELY AS AN ACT OF RESPECT OR REVERENCE AND ACKNOWLEDGES THAT THAT IS CERTAINLY A PART OF IT. BUT SHE PROPOSES SOMETHING EXTRA WHICH SEEMS TO MAKE GOOD SENSE TO ME AND WHICH CAN TELL US ALL A LITTLE MORE OF THE NATURE OF THAT ANCIENT GOD OF THE HEBREWS WHO WAS THE GOD OF JESUS OF NAZARETH AND IS STILL THE GOD OF CHRISTIANS TODAY.

WHEN READING ON IN CHAPTER 3 OF EXODUS WE MUST BECOME AWARE OF THE ATTITUDE OF MOSES IN HIS APPARENT CONVERSATION WITH YAHWEH. HE SEEMS NOT TO BE IN AWE AND TERROR – RATHER HE SEEMS ALMOST TO CONVERSE AS WITH A NORMAL PERSON – AS ONE WOULD DISCUSS AND EVEN QUESTION AN IDEA YOUR BOSS DISCUSSES WITH YOU. WE COULD CALL IT INTELLIGENT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM. IN THE VERSES THAT FOLLOW, GOD LAYS OUT A PLAN FOR MOSES: “MOSES, I’VE SEEN MY PEOPLE AND HOW MISERABLE THEY ARE DOWN IN EGYPT.                                I’VE HEARD THEIR CRY AT THE HANDS OF THEIR TASKMASTERS. I KNOW HOW MUCH THEY ARE SUFFERING, AND I’VE DECIDED THAT IT’S TIME FOR ME TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. I WANT TO GET THEM OUT OF EGYPT AND BRING THEM INTO A MUCH BETTER LAND, A LAND THAT I PROMISED THEIR ANCESTORS. SO HERE’S THE DEAL, I’M GOING TO SEND YOU TO PHARAOH TO BRING MY PEOPLE, THE ISRAELITES, OUT OF EGYPT.” INSTEAD OF BOWING IN AWE AND HUMILITY, AS A SHOELESS MAN BEFORE THE DEITY OUGHT TO DO, AND SAYING, “YES, WITH YOUR HELP, I WILL,” MOSES SAYS, “HEY, WAIT A MINUTE. I’M NOT READY TO SIGN ON – I HAVE TOO MANY FAULTS AND PROBLEMS.” HE THEN GOES ON TO PROVIDE A LIST OF REASONS WHY HE IS NOT THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB. DOES THIS SOUND LIKE A MAN WHO KNOWS HOW TO BEHAVE PROPERLY IN GOD’S PRESENCE? MOSES SOUNDS MORE LIKE A REGULAR MAN, A REAL PERSON, A LITTLE TOO MUCH LIKE ME AND MAYBE YOU TOO.

THINKING BACK TO MY STORY OF OUR EXPERIENCES IN JAPAN FOR A MOMENT I CHECKED OUT THE REASONS FOR THIS APPARENT FIXATION ABOUT SHOE REMOVAL AND DISCOVERED THAT IT IS AN ANCIENT CUSTOM REACHING BACK TO THE 7TH OR 8TH CENTURIES. IT IS CERTAINLY WIDESPREAD AS I SUSPECTED – IN FACT IT SEEMS 98% OF JAPANESE DO IT. MOST PEOPLE IDENTIFIED TWO IMPORTANT REASONS FOR REMOVING THEIR SHOES. FIRST, THE OBVIOUS AND PRACTICAL – TO KEEP THE HOUSE CLEAN – SECONDLY, TO RELAX AND BE THEMSELVES. UPON RELFLECTION THIS RINGS VERY TRUE. THERE IS NOTHING MORE RELAXING THAN COMING HOME AND REMOVING THE SHOES THAT HAVE BEEN WORN ALL DAY AND REPLACING THEM WITH A PAIR OF SOFT SLIPPERS OR EVEN JUST SOCKS. SO FAR AS THIS STORY OF MOSES IS CONCERNED THE FIRST REASON COULD NOT APPLY AS HE WAS STANDING OUT IN THE DESERT. BUT CONSIDER THE OTHER REASON. IS IT POSSIBLE THAT GOD TELLS MOSES TO TAKE HIS SHOES OFF BECAUSE HE WANTS MOSES TO BE HIMSELF – TO REMOVE ALL PRETENSES? TO BE VULNERABLE AND OPEN TO WHAT GOD HAS TO SAY? THE CLOSEST ANALOGY I CAN THINK OF IS WALKING INTO THE ARCHBISHOP’S OFFICE FOR AN IMPORTANT MEETING WITH MY SHOES OFF. SO IS IT POSSIBLE THAT IN CALLING OUT TO MOSES, GOD WANTED MOSES TO BE MOSES – TO BE HIMSELF, RATHER THAN PRETENDING TO BE SOMEONE ELSE? AN OLD JEWISH STORY SHOWS AWARENESS OF THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ONE’S SELF: RABBI ZUSYA, WHEN HE WAS AN OLD MAN, SAID, “IN THE WORLD TO COME, THEY WILL NOT ASK ME ‘WHY WERE YOU NOT MORE LIKE MOSES?’  RATHER, THEY WILL ASK ME: ‘WHY WERE YOU NOT MORE LIKE ZUSYA?’”

CAN WE BE OURSELVES – JUST OURSELVES – IN GOD’S PRESENCE? WE PRAY EACH SUNDAY IN THE PRAYER OF APPROACH “CLEANSE THE THOUGHTS OF OUR HEARTS BY THE INSPIRATION OF YOUR HOLY SPIRIT, THAT WE MAY PERFECTLY LOVE YOU, AND WORTHILY MAGNIFY YOUR HOLY NAME”. DO WE JUST SAY THOSE WORDS AUTOMATICALLY OR DO WE ACTUALLY STOP AND THINK ABOUT WHAT WE ARE SAYING? WE ARE ACKNOWLEDGING THAT THE SPIRIT OF GOD WHICH LIVES IN US AND WITHIN WHICH WE LIVE SHARES OUR VERY LIFE AND THOUGHTS – IT IS IN EFFECT, ASKING PERMISSION TO TAKE OFF OUR SHOES, TO RELAX AND JUST BE OURSELVES AS WE APPROACH THE “BURNING BUSH” OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN OUR EUCHARIST. MOSES HEARD, “MOSES, TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF – I NEED YOU – NOT SOMEONE ELSE – YOU. NOT A YOUNGER PERSON – NOT A BETTER EDUCATED PERSON – BUT YOU.” IT CAN BE DAUNTING TO RELAX AND OPEN OUR HEARTS TO GOD BECAUSE IT IS JUST POSSIBLE THAT WE MIGHT BE GIVEN A JOB – A PURPOSE – WHICH COULD DISRUPT OUR COMFORTABLE LIVES.                   THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON 27TH AUGUST 2017 – Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

THIS MORNING THE QUESTION WE NEED TO ASK OURSELVES IS “WHAT DO WE THINK – IF AT ALL – ABOUT JESUS”? THIS IS A QUESTION THAT HAS BEEN ASKED REPEATEDLY SINCE THE FIRST CENTURY EVENTS THAT SPARKED THE CONFLAGRATION WHICH SPLIT JUDAISM AND FORMED THE OFFSHOOT WE KNOW NOW AS THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. MATTHEW WAS ASKING THESE QUESTIONS OF HIS CHURCH MEMBERS 1900 YEARS AGO. PETER BECOMES MATTHEW’S SPOKESMAN – HE ANSWERS THE QUESTION WITH “YOU ARE THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD”. BUT JUST WHO OR WHAT IS HE TO US IN THIS 21ST CENTURY? IS HE EVEN RELEVANT ANY MORE? WHAT IS OUR INTERPRETATION OF “MESSIAH”? I IMAGINE IT MIGHT BE VERY DIFFERENT FROM THAT OF MATTHEW. WE HERE IN AUSTRALIA ARE NOT LIVING UNDER THE IRON RULE OF A MILITARY INVADING FORCE. SO WHAT IS THE RELEVANCE OF TALKING ABOUT A MESSIAH WHICH THE DICTIONARY DESCRIBES AS …” a leader regarded as the saviour of a particular country, group, or cause.”? THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT THAT IN JESUS’ TIME THAT IS EXACTLY THE INTERPRETATION PLACED UPON THE TERM AND THE RESULT WAS, OF COURSE, JESUS’ EXECUTION BY THE ROMANS. BUT BY THE TIME OF MATTHEW THINGS HAD CHANGED. MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY HAD PASSED AND PEOPLE NOW UNDERSTOOD JESUS’ LIFE IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT. THEY HAD COME TO REALIZE AND UNDERSTAND THAT HE REPRESENTED FAR MORE THAN A MAN WHO WOULD LEAD ISRAEL TO FREEDOM FROM THE ROMANS – THEY NOW SAW HIS LIFE IN THE LIGHT OF THE LOVE AND FORGIVENESS HE RADIATED BOTH THROUGH HIS WORKS OF HEALING AND HIS WORDS. SO THAT IS WHERE WE MUST BEGIN IF WE ARE TO GAIN ANY UNDERSTANDING OF THE MAN, HIS LIFE, DEATH AND HIS RESURRECTION.

THESE QUESTIONS ARE INTENSELY PERSONAL. NO ONE CAN ANSWER THEM EXCEPT YOU YOURSELF BECAUSE I VENTURE TO SAY THAT EACH OF US WILL HAVE A DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE ANSWERS BASED UPON OUR PERSONAL HISTORY AND EXPERIENCES.

THE ANSWERS ARE ALSO NOT FOUND ONCE ONLY IN OUR LIVES AND THEN REMAIN SET IN CONCRETE. PERHAPS THE ANSWERS WILL CHANGE – AS OUR LIVES MATURE AND CHANGE – EVOLVE IF YOU LIKE. WE MUST ALL BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO DISCARD CERTAINTY – TO GRASP UNCERTAINTY BECAUSE THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE NOT AND NEVER CAN BE CERTAIN AND UNIVERSAL. HOW WE IDENTIFY WITH JESUS MUST BE GROUNDED UPON A LIFELONG CONVERSATION WITH AND EXPERIENCE OF GOD. IT’S GOOD TO LISTEN TO THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS BUT IN THE END THE DISCOVERY OF THE ANSWERS – IF ANY – IS UP TO US INDIVIDUALLY. IN THE END WE NEED TO DECIDE FOR OURSELVES THROUGH COMMUNICATION WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN CONTEMPLATION AND PRAYER HOW WE IDENTIFY AND HOW WE RELATE TO JESUS.

NOTE WHAT MATTHEW WRITES,”YOU ARE MESSIAH, SON OF THE LIVING GOD”. A LIVING GOD IS NOT A STATIC GOD. IN TRAVELLING AROUND ASIA I HAVE OBSERVED MANY TEMPLES DEVOTED TO VARIOUS GODS MUCH AS PAUL IS REPUTED TO HAVE EXPERIENCED IN ANCIENT ATHENS. THEY ARE ALL INTERESTING AND OFTEN FASCINATING BUT INSIDE THE IMAGES WITH FLOWERS AND FOOD PLACED AT THEIR FEET ARE IN REALITY – TO ME AT LEAST – NOTHING MORE THAN LIFELESS STATUES MADE BY HUMAN HANDS. THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, JOHN THE BAPTIST, JESUS, PAUL AND MATTHEW IS NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL. THIS IS ALSO THE GOD WE SEEK TO DISCOVER, TO EXPERIENCE AND TO WORSHIP.

FURTHERMORE, HOWEVER WE EVENTUALLY COME TO UNDERSTSAND AND IDENTIFY WITH JESUS WILL IMPACT IMMENSLEY UPON THE WAY WE INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER AND THE WORLD AT LARGE. IT WILL AFFECT OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THIS BEAUTIFUL EARTH AND ALL ITS CREATURES AND FORCE US TO SPEAK UP WHEN IT IS ABUSED THROUGH THE GREED AND CALLOUSNESS OF A SELF CENTRED HUMANITY.

FURTHER, JESUS SAYS TO PETER, “I SHALL GIVE THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS TO YOU, AND WHATEVER YOU SHOULD IMPRISON ON THE EARTH WILL BE BOUND IN THE HEAVENS, AND WHATEVER YOU SHOULD SET FREE ON EARTH WILL BE RELEASED IN THE HEAVENS,” (MATTHEW 16:20, ALTERNATIVE TRANSLATION). THE HEAVENS ARE WITNESSES OF THE PEOPLE AND THINGS WE IMPRISON AND THE PEOPLE AND THINGS THAT WE SET FREE. WHEN WE RESTRICT JUSTICE TO THE DOMINANT AND POWERFUL AND RELEASE OR ENACT UNJUST LAWS THAT IMPACT THE MOST VULNERABLE AMONG US AND IN THE EARTH, HEAVEN KNOWS AND IS IMPACTED TOO. MATTHEW’S JESUS SAID WHEN YOU HAVE TREATED THE MOST VULNERABLE — THE STRANGER/FOREIGNER, THE IMPRISONED, THOSE WITH NO HOMES, THE HUNGRY, AND THOSE WITHOUT CLEAN, AFFORDABLE WATER — WITH COMPASSION, JUSTICE, AND HUMAN CARE, YOU HAVE DONE SO TO ME (MATTHEW 25:44-45).

I LEARNED THIS WEEK OF THE CHANGES OUR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT THROUGH THE MINISTER OF IMMIGRATION PETER DUTTON, HAS INSTITUTED. THE RADICAL CHANGES TO THE IMMIGRANT VISA SYSTEM ARE CRUELLY IMPACTING ON PEOPLE WHO HAVE PREVIOUSLY BEEN GRANTED REFUGEE STATUS AND EVEN PERMANENT RESIDENCY IN AUSTRALIA. IN MANY INSTANCES UPON REVIEW BY A SINGLE OFFICER AND WITH LITTLE OPPORTUNITY FOR APPEAL THESE VISAS ARE BEING REVOKED AND THE PEOPLE LISTED FOR DEPORTATION. THE TRAUMA THIS IS CAUSING IS UNIMAGINABLE. COUPLE THIS WITH THE TREATMENT OF THE REFUGEES ON MANUS ISLAND AND IT IS CLEARLY EVIDENT THAT WE HAVE BECOME A CRUEL AND HEARTLESS NATION, INTERESTED ONLY IN MONEY, OUR OWN COMFORT AND SPORT. LIVING OUTSIDE OF AUSTRALIA AND VIEWING THIS NATION THROUGH OTHER EYES CAN BE DISILLUSIONING AND DISCOMFORTING. I PERSONALLY FEEL BOTH SAD AND ANGRY. FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST WHAT WE DO ON EARTH MATTERS AND IT HAS AN IMPACT IN THE HEAVENS AND IN THE ATMOSPHERE AROUND US.

FINALLY, JESUS COMMANDS HIS DISCIPLES THAT THEY SHOULD TELL NO ONE THAT HE IS THE CHRISTOS (MESSIAH OR ANOINTED ONE) OF THE LIVING GOD. WELL THEN, I HEAR YOU ASK, HOW SHALL THEY BUILD AN EKKLESIA – A CHURCH – ON THE TRUTH OF HIS IDENTITY, ONE THAT EVEN THE GATES OF HADES WILL NOT OVERPOWER? THEIR LIVES – YES THEIR LIVES – WILL SPEAK LOUDER, MORE TRUTHFULLY, AND MORE EFFECTIVELY THAN THEIR WORDS. THE ANSWER IS BY THE LIFE THEY LIVE, A LIFE OF LOVE FOR GOD, A LIFE THAT LOVES THE OTHER AS MUCH AS ONE LOVES ONESELF, AND A LIFE IN PURSUIT OF JUSTICE AND PEACE. ON THIS ROCK, THOU SHALL NOT BUILD AN EXCLUDING AND SELFISH NATION. ON THIS ROCK, THOU SHALL NOT BUILD A NATION WHERE HOMELESS AND HUNGRY CHILDREN ARE IGNORED. ON THIS ROCK, THOU SHALL NOT BUILD CHURCHES THAT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST THE POOR, SIDELINE WOMEN AND TURN A BLIND EYE TOWARD SEXUAL ABUSE WITHIN ITS DOORS.

NO! ON THIS ROCK, LET US BUILD CHURCHES THAT DEMONSTRATE BELIEF IN A LIVING GOD, A GOD OF FREEDOM AND NOT OF OPPRESSION, A GOD OF JUSTICE, LOVE, AND PEACE.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

 

I express my appreciation to: Mitzi J. Smith Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity

Ashland Theological Seminary, Detroit, Michigan.

 

SERMON 27TH AUGUST 2017 – Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

THIS MORNING THE QUESTION WE NEED TO ASK OURSELVES IS “WHAT DO WE THINK – IF AT ALL – ABOUT JESUS”? THIS IS A QUESTION THAT HAS BEEN ASKED REPEATEDLY SINCE THE FIRST CENTURY EVENTS THAT SPARKED THE CONFLAGRATION WHICH SPLIT JUDAISM AND FORMED THE OFFSHOOT WE KNOW NOW AS THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. MATTHEW WAS ASKING THESE QUESTIONS OF HIS CHURCH MEMBERS 1900 YEARS AGO. PETER BECOMES MATTHEW’S SPOKESMAN – HE ANSWERS THE QUESTION WITH “YOU ARE THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD”. BUT JUST WHO OR WHAT IS HE TO US IN THIS 21ST CENTURY? IS HE EVEN RELEVANT ANY MORE? WHAT IS OUR INTERPRETATION OF “MESSIAH”? I IMAGINE IT MIGHT BE VERY DIFFERENT FROM THAT OF MATTHEW. WE HERE IN AUSTRALIA ARE NOT LIVING UNDER THE IRON RULE OF A MILITARY INVADING FORCE. SO WHAT IS THE RELEVANCE OF TALKING ABOUT A MESSIAH WHICH THE DICTIONARY DESCRIBES AS …” a leader regarded as the saviour of a particular country, group, or cause.”? THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT THAT IN JESUS’ TIME THAT IS EXACTLY THE INTERPRETATION PLACED UPON THE TERM AND THE RESULT WAS, OF COURSE, JESUS’ EXECUTION BY THE ROMANS. BUT BY THE TIME OF MATTHEW THINGS HAD CHANGED. MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY HAD PASSED AND PEOPLE NOW UNDERSTOOD JESUS’ LIFE IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT. THEY HAD COME TO REALIZE AND UNDERSTAND THAT HE REPRESENTED FAR MORE THAN A MAN WHO WOULD LEAD ISRAEL TO FREEDOM FROM THE ROMANS – THEY NOW SAW HIS LIFE IN THE LIGHT OF THE LOVE AND FORGIVENESS HE RADIATED BOTH THROUGH HIS WORKS OF HEALING AND HIS WORDS. SO THAT IS WHERE WE MUST BEGIN IF WE ARE TO GAIN ANY UNDERSTANDING OF THE MAN, HIS LIFE, DEATH AND HIS RESURRECTION.

THESE QUESTIONS ARE INTENSELY PERSONAL. NO ONE CAN ANSWER THEM EXCEPT YOU YOURSELF BECAUSE I VENTURE TO SAY THAT EACH OF US WILL HAVE A DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE ANSWERS BASED UPON OUR PERSONAL HISTORY AND EXPERIENCES.

THE ANSWERS ARE ALSO NOT FOUND ONCE ONLY IN OUR LIVES AND THEN REMAIN SET IN CONCRETE. PERHAPS THE ANSWERS WILL CHANGE – AS OUR LIVES MATURE AND CHANGE – EVOLVE IF YOU LIKE. WE MUST ALL BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO DISCARD CERTAINTY – TO GRASP UNCERTAINTY BECAUSE THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE NOT AND NEVER CAN BE CERTAIN AND UNIVERSAL. HOW WE IDENTIFY WITH JESUS MUST BE GROUNDED UPON A LIFELONG CONVERSATION WITH AND EXPERIENCE OF GOD. IT’S GOOD TO LISTEN TO THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS BUT IN THE END THE DISCOVERY OF THE ANSWERS – IF ANY – IS UP TO US INDIVIDUALLY. IN THE END WE NEED TO DECIDE FOR OURSELVES THROUGH COMMUNICATION WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN CONTEMPLATION AND PRAYER HOW WE IDENTIFY AND HOW WE RELATE TO JESUS.

NOTE WHAT MATTHEW WRITES,”YOU ARE MESSIAH, SON OF THE LIVING GOD”. A LIVING GOD IS NOT A STATIC GOD. IN TRAVELLING AROUND ASIA I HAVE OBSERVED MANY TEMPLES DEVOTED TO VARIOUS GODS MUCH AS PAUL IS REPUTED TO HAVE EXPERIENCED IN ANCIENT ATHENS. THEY ARE ALL INTERESTING AND OFTEN FASCINATING BUT INSIDE THE IMAGES WITH FLOWERS AND FOOD PLACED AT THEIR FEET ARE IN REALITY – TO ME AT LEAST – NOTHING MORE THAN LIFELESS STATUES MADE BY HUMAN HANDS. THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, JOHN THE BAPTIST, JESUS, PAUL AND MATTHEW IS NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL. THIS IS ALSO THE GOD WE SEEK TO DISCOVER, TO EXPERIENCE AND TO WORSHIP.

FURTHERMORE, HOWEVER WE EVENTUALLY COME TO UNDERSTSAND AND IDENTIFY WITH JESUS WILL IMPACT IMMENSLEY UPON THE WAY WE INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER AND THE WORLD AT LARGE. IT WILL AFFECT OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THIS BEAUTIFUL EARTH AND ALL ITS CREATURES AND FORCE US TO SPEAK UP WHEN IT IS ABUSED THROUGH THE GREED AND CALLOUSNESS OF A SELF CENTRED HUMANITY.

FURTHER, JESUS SAYS TO PETER, “I SHALL GIVE THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS TO YOU, AND WHATEVER YOU SHOULD IMPRISON ON THE EARTH WILL BE BOUND IN THE HEAVENS, AND WHATEVER YOU SHOULD SET FREE ON EARTH WILL BE RELEASED IN THE HEAVENS,” (MATTHEW 16:20, ALTERNATIVE TRANSLATION). THE HEAVENS ARE WITNESSES OF THE PEOPLE AND THINGS WE IMPRISON AND THE PEOPLE AND THINGS THAT WE SET FREE. WHEN WE RESTRICT JUSTICE TO THE DOMINANT AND POWERFUL AND RELEASE OR ENACT UNJUST LAWS THAT IMPACT THE MOST VULNERABLE AMONG US AND IN THE EARTH, HEAVEN KNOWS AND IS IMPACTED TOO. MATTHEW’S JESUS SAID WHEN YOU HAVE TREATED THE MOST VULNERABLE — THE STRANGER/FOREIGNER, THE IMPRISONED, THOSE WITH NO HOMES, THE HUNGRY, AND THOSE WITHOUT CLEAN, AFFORDABLE WATER — WITH COMPASSION, JUSTICE, AND HUMAN CARE, YOU HAVE DONE SO TO ME (MATTHEW 25:44-45).

I LEARNED THIS WEEK OF THE CHANGES OUR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT THROUGH THE MINISTER OF IMMIGRATION PETER DUTTON, HAS INSTITUTED. THE RADICAL CHANGES TO THE IMMIGRANT VISA SYSTEM ARE CRUELLY IMPACTING ON PEOPLE WHO HAVE PREVIOUSLY BEEN GRANTED REFUGEE STATUS AND EVEN PERMANENT RESIDENCY IN AUSTRALIA. IN MANY INSTANCES UPON REVIEW BY A SINGLE OFFICER AND WITH LITTLE OPPORTUNITY FOR APPEAL THESE VISAS ARE BEING REVOKED AND THE PEOPLE LISTED FOR DEPORTATION. THE TRAUMA THIS IS CAUSING IS UNIMAGINABLE. COUPLE THIS WITH THE TREATMENT OF THE REFUGEES ON MANUS ISLAND AND IT IS CLEARLY EVIDENT THAT WE HAVE BECOME A CRUEL AND HEARTLESS NATION, INTERESTED ONLY IN MONEY, OUR OWN COMFORT AND SPORT. LIVING OUTSIDE OF AUSTRALIA AND VIEWING THIS NATION THROUGH OTHER EYES CAN BE DISILLUSIONING AND DISCOMFORTING. I PERSONALLY FEEL BOTH SAD AND ANGRY. FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST WHAT WE DO ON EARTH MATTERS AND IT HAS AN IMPACT IN THE HEAVENS AND IN THE ATMOSPHERE AROUND US.

FINALLY, JESUS COMMANDS HIS DISCIPLES THAT THEY SHOULD TELL NO ONE THAT HE IS THE CHRISTOS (MESSIAH OR ANOINTED ONE) OF THE LIVING GOD. WELL THEN, I HEAR YOU ASK, HOW SHALL THEY BUILD AN EKKLESIA – A CHURCH – ON THE TRUTH OF HIS IDENTITY, ONE THAT EVEN THE GATES OF HADES WILL NOT OVERPOWER? THEIR LIVES – YES THEIR LIVES – WILL SPEAK LOUDER, MORE TRUTHFULLY, AND MORE EFFECTIVELY THAN THEIR WORDS. THE ANSWER IS BY THE LIFE THEY LIVE, A LIFE OF LOVE FOR GOD, A LIFE THAT LOVES THE OTHER AS MUCH AS ONE LOVES ONESELF, AND A LIFE IN PURSUIT OF JUSTICE AND PEACE. ON THIS ROCK, THOU SHALL NOT BUILD AN EXCLUDING AND SELFISH NATION. ON THIS ROCK, THOU SHALL NOT BUILD A NATION WHERE HOMELESS AND HUNGRY CHILDREN ARE IGNORED. ON THIS ROCK, THOU SHALL NOT BUILD CHURCHES THAT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST THE POOR, SIDELINE WOMEN AND TURN A BLIND EYE TOWARD SEXUAL ABUSE WITHIN ITS DOORS.

NO! ON THIS ROCK, LET US BUILD CHURCHES THAT DEMONSTRATE BELIEF IN A LIVING GOD, A GOD OF FREEDOM AND NOT OF OPPRESSION, A GOD OF JUSTICE, LOVE, AND PEACE.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN.

 

I express my appreciation to: Mitzi J. Smith Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity

Ashland Theological Seminary, Detroit, Michigan.

 

 

 

SERMON                                                                                                                                      ST JOHN’S CATHEDRAL HONG KONG                                                    13TH AUGUST 2017 – CHORAL MATTINS

FIRST LESSON (Song of Solomon – Song of Songs. 8. 5-7)

Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in travail with you, there she who bore you was in travail. Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned.

 

 

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

 

“MANY WATERS CANNOT QUENCH LOVE, NEITHER CAN FLOODS DROWN IT. IF A MAN OFFERED FOR LOVE ALL THE WEALTH OF HIS HOUSE, IT WOULD BE UTTERLY SCORNED.”

 

SO WROTE THAT BRILLIANT POET FROM A TIME FAR PAST AND WHICH WE READ AGAIN THIS MORNING FROM THE SONG OF SOLOMON. LOVE, SO IT IS SAID, MAKES THE WORLD GO AROUND. WE ALL KNOW ABOUT LOVE BUT I TELL YOU THAT IT IS CERTAINLY A UNIVERSAL EMOTION AND NOT NECESSARILLY CONFINED TO US HUMANS.

 

ABOUT A YEAR AGO I CAME ACROSS A BEAUTIFUL STORY FROM BRAZIL. IT CONCERNED A MAN NAMED JOAO DE SOUZA, WHO ONE MORNING IN 2011 WHILST WALKING ON THE BEACH CAME ACROSS A LITTLE PENGUIN COVERED IN OIL AND SO SICK IT WAS BARELY MOVING. THE OIL DESTROYS THE ABILITY OF THE COAT TO REPEL WATER AND THE PENGUIN WAS CERTAINLY GOING TO DIE. DE SOUZA TOOK THE BIRD HOME, CLEANED IT UP AND OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME NURSED IT BACK TO HEALTH. HE NAMED THE BIRD DIMDIN AND THE TWO FORMED A REAL BOND OF FRIENDSHIP AND TRUST BUT EVENTUALLY AFTER ALMOST A YEAR THE PENGUIN WANDERED BACK INTO THE SEA AND RETURNED TO THE WILD. THE MAN THOUGHT HE WOULD NEVER AGAIN SEE THE LITTLE BIRD HE HAD SAVED – BUT TO HIS SURPRISE THE PENGUIN RETURNED AND KEPT RETURNING YEAR AFTER YEAR TO AGAIN BE WITH ITS SAVIOUR AND NOW DEAR FRIEND. HE WAS STILL RETURNING IN 2014. THERE ARE BEAUTIFUL PICTURES OF DIMDIN AND DE SOUZA INTERACTING TOGETHER – EXPRESSING MUTUAL AFFECTION. THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT DIMDIN EXPRESSED HIS GRATITUDE TO THE MAN WHO SAVED HIS LIFE – DARE I SAY HE EXPRESSED LOVE – WHICH BECAME MUTUAL.

I ALSO RECENTLY READ OF A MAN – A JOURNALIST -WHO WHILST JOGGING THROUGH A PARK IN AMERICA REPEATEDLY NOTICED A MAN WITH A BABY STROLLER WHICH CONTAINED NO BABY – BUT A DOG.

IT WAS OBVIOUSLY AN OLD DOG AND THE MAN WOULD TENDERLY LIFT THE DOG FROM THE STROLLER AND LAY HIM ON THE GRASS WHERE HE WOULD GENTLY WANDER AROUND A FEW STEPS SNIFFING THE GRASS THEN LIE DOWN AGAIN. INTRIGUED, THE MAN MADE INVESTIGATIONS AND FOUND THAT THE DOG, NAMED MAXIMILLIAN WAS 16 YEARS OLD AND SUFFERED FROM ARTHRITIS AND OTHER AILMANTS OF OLD AGE – SOME OF US CAN READILY EMPATHISE. HIS OWNER LOVED THE OLD DOG AND SO WOULD PUT HIM IN THE STROLLER AND TAKE HIM TO THE PARK EACH DAY SO HE COULD FEEL THE GRASS AND ENJOY THE FRESH AIR AND SUNSHINE – A BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLE OF LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS BETWEEN A MAN AND ANOTHER ANIMAL – THE FAITHFUL OLD DOG.

OF COURSE THE WORLD OVERFLOWS WITH SUCH STORIES AND IT LEADS US TO UNDERSTAND THAT REAL LOVE – FAR FROM BEING JUST A PASSING FAD OR A SUPERFICIAL PHYSICAL ATTRACTION – IS UNIVERSAL.

THIS MORNING’S READING FROM THE CONTROVERSIAL BUT BEAUTIFUL SONG OF SONGS IS LOVE POETRY. IT WAS WRITTEN ABOUT 2.5 TO 3000 YEARS AGO AND IS A WONDERFUL EXAMPLE OF POETRY PORTRAYING DEEP AND YES – PASSIONATE – LOVE BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE. IT TELLS US THAT TRUE LOVE IS THE GIVING OF ONESELF TO ANOTHER. THIS SORT OF LOVE IS A GIFT – A GIFT WITH NO EXPECTATION OF A RETURNING BENEFIT.

FOR CENTURIES THE MYSOGENISTS WITHIN THE CHURCH HAVE LARGELY IGNORED THIS BOOK OF LOVE POEMS AND WOULD HAVE US ALL AVERT OUR EYES AS IF THERE IS SOMETHING DIRTY ABOUT LOVE PHYSICALLY EXPRESSED BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE.

THIS IS ONE OF ONLY TWO BOOKS IN THE BIBLE THAT DO NOT MENTION GOD – THE OTHER IS ESTHER – BUT LIKE THE STORY OF ESTHER GOD PERMEATES THE WHOLE STORY – BECAUSE IT IS ABOUT LOVE – REAL LOVE. IT ALSO SHOWS US THE REALITY OF THE GOOD LIFE.                            WE ALL WANT TO LIVE THE GOOD LIFE AND HERE WE SEE THAT IT CONSISTS OF GOOD RELATIONSHIPS – BETWEEN PEOPLE, BETWEEN HUMANITY AND THIS BEAUTIFUL EARTH, AND BETWEEN US AND GOD. THE WORDS OF THE SONG OF SONGS ARE A CALL TO LOVE AND TO LIVE A FULL LIFE.

DARE I PUT THE QUESTION – HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED THE SORT OF LOVE THAT IS SPOKEN OF IN THIS BOOK? HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED THE ABSOLUTE FEELING OF JOY, THEN THE PLUNGE INTO DESPAIR AND UNCERTAINTY WHEN DOUBT OR JEALOUSY – IMAGINED OR NOT – CREEP IN. I DARE SAY THAT IF WE ARE HONEST WE WOULD ALL HAVE TO ADMIT TO THESE EXPERIENCES AT SOME TIME OR OTHER IN OUR LIVES.

 

I AM REMINDED OF THE STORY OF A FELLOW PRIEST ALSO NAMED JOHN – A FRIEND AND CONFIDENT – WHO WAS MARRIED TO HIS WIFE FOR MANY DECADES. THEY WERE DEVOTED TO EACH OTHER AND REMAINED DEEPLY IN LOVE THROUGHOUT THE YEARS. THEIR FAMILY GREW AND EVENTUALLY GRANDCHILDREN WERE BORN – MUCH TO THEIR DELIGHT. THEN SUDDENLY MY FRIEND BEGAN TO NOTICE CHANGES IN HIS WIFE’S BEHAVIOUR AND EVENTUALLY REALISED THAT SHE HAD BEGUN THAT TERRIBLE DECLINE BROUGHT ABOUT BY ALTZHEIMER’S DISEASE – BUT HE CONTINUED TO CARE FOR HER AS HER DEMENTIA DEEPENED UNTIL IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO CONTINUE AT HOME, SO SHE WAS ADMITTED TO A NURSING HOME WHERE SHE COULD BE PROPERLY AND FULLY CARED FOR. JOHN WOULD THEN EVERY DAY WITHOUT FAIL DRIVE TO THE NURSING HOME AND STAY WITH HIS WIFE AND FEED HER LUNCH AS SHE WAS NO LONGER CAPABLE – THEN RETURN TO AN EMPTY HOUSE TO PREPARE HIS OWN EVENING MEAL. HE CONTINUED FAITHFULLY TO DO THIS EVEN THOUGH SHE NO LONGER RECOGNISED HIM OR HER FAMILY. WHEN SHE EVENTUALLY DIED JOHN SUFFERED GREATLY BECAUSE HE HAD LOST THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE. YOU SEE, THAT’S ONE OF THE DANGERS OF LOVE – GIVEN SO FREELY AND OPENLY IT LEAVES US VERY VULNERABLE. WE HAVE GIVEN AWAY OUR PROTECTIVE COVERING – OUR ARMOUR IF YOU LIKE. WE OPEN OUR LIVES TO THE POSSIBLITY OF BEING HURT.

I CALL GOD A PAIN-BEARER AND I WISH MORE PEOPLE COULD COME TO UNDERSTAND THAT. PEOPLE FIND IT EASY TO BLAME GOD WHEN SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS – A NATURAL DISASTER STRIKES – A BABY DIES – A YOUNG PERSON CONTRACTS AN INCURABLE DISEASE OR SOME OTHER HORRIBLE EVENT HAPPENS. WHAT THEY FAIL TO UNDERSTAND IS THAT THE GOD JESUS REVEALED TO THE WORLD IS THE GOD PERMEATING THIS BOOK OF LOVE POETRY – THE GOD THAT IS PURE UNBOUNDED LOVE. THE GOD THAT LOVES US – AS BISHOP JACK SPONG FAMOUSLY SAID – “WASTEFULLY”. IF GOD LOVES US WASTEFULLY HOW CAN SUCH A GOD BE BLAMED FOR THE AWEFUL THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO US AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER? IT IS TOTALLY ILLOGICAL. WE NEED ONLY TO LOOK AROUND US TO SEE AND HEAR THE TRAGEDIES SO PREVALENT IN THIS WORLD – AND WE MUST COME TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE GOD WHO LOVES US – THE GOD THAT IS LOVE ITSELF – IS SUFFERING ALONG WITH US – AND – LIKE JESUS ON THE CROSS – IS BEARING – IS SHARING – OUR PAIN – IF WE WILL ONLY ALLOW HIM TO SHARE THAT LOAD. BUT TOO OFTEN WE DON’T – TOO OFTEN WE HOLD ON TO OUR GRIEF AND SADNESS – AND SUFFER MORE THAN IS NECESSARY.

LOVE IS ALSO CERTAINLY VULNERABLE TO ABUSE AND MIS-REPRESENTATION. LOOKING AROUND US WE SEE LOVE DISTORTED BEYOND RECOGNITION, ABUSED, USED FOR FINANCIAL GAIN AND TAKEN FOR GRANTED BY FICTIONAL MOVIES AND THE MEDIA.

TODAY THERE ARE WOMEN’S SHELTERS TO PROTECT WOMEN AND THEIR CHILDREN FROM DOMESTIC AND/OR FAMILY VIOLENCE -IN A DAY AND TIME WHEN HUMAN/SEX TRAFFICKING RIVALS THE DRUG TRADE FOR ILLEGAL FINANCIAL GAIN – IN A DAY AND TIME WHEN HEADLINES DAILY AFFIRM THAT WOMEN AROUND THE GLOBE ARE KIDNAPPED, RAPED, AND DISRESPECTED. IN A DAY AND TIME SUCH AS THIS, WE NEED TO HEAR THE SONG OF SONGS. WE NEED TO HEAR THE VOICES THAT SPEAK BOLDLY OF TRUE LOVE. WE NEED TO BE REMINDED OF WHAT LOVE CAN BE. WE NEED TO KNOW THAT IT IS IN TRUE LOVE – TRUE FORGIVENESS – NOT HATE – NOT JUDGEMENT – THAT WE FIND THE GOD OF LOVE.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU.   AMEN

SERMON 6TH AUGUST 2017 – DISCOVERY BAY CHURCH HONG KONG – TRANSFIGURATION

Luke 9:28-43 (NRSV)

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus[a] took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but WHEN THEY WERE FULLY awake,[b] they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three TENTS,[c] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my BELOVED;[d] listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. 37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he[e] shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE

YOU’VE ALL PROBABLY HEARD ABOUT THE NUMBER OF ANGLICANS IT TAKES TO CHANGE A LIGHTBULB? “CHANGE?!! WHO SAID ANYTHING ABOUT CHANGE??!!!” – AND THAT’S BEEN A MAJOR PROBLEM FOR THE CHURCH FOR AT LEAST THE LAST 60 OR 60 YEARS.

BUT THIS STORY IS ABOUT CHANGE. AT ITS CORE, THE TRANSFIGURATION STORY INSISTS THAT CHANGE IS DIFFICULT BUT NEEDED. CHANGE ROCKS OUR WORLD – BUT QUITE POSSIBLY OUR WORLD NEEDS SOME SORT OF EARTHQUAKE EVENT.

CHANGE DEMANDS RE-ORIENTATION BUT SOMETIMES THE CHALLENGE TO CHANGE IS PRESENTED TO US AND CONFRONTS US BEFORE WE ARE PREPARED FOR IT AND CAN LEAVE US BEWILDERED AND LOOKING AND FEELING LOST. IT’S LIKE SUDDENLY FINDING YOURSELF ALONE – DEEP IN THE VAST AUSTRALIAN BUSH WITH NO MAP OR COMPASS.

ALSO LET’S BE QUITE CLEAR – THIS IS NOT THE RECORDING OF AN HISTORICAL EVENT. THIS STORY IS FILLED WITH MYTHOLOGICAL CONTENT.

THE IMAGES PRESENTED TO US WHEN READING THIS STORY ARE SYMBOLS DRAWN FROM A FIRST CENTURY JEWISH WORLD VIEW AND THEIR INSPIRATIONS ORIGINATE IN THE JEWISH SCRIPTURES – THE HEBREW BIBLE – OUR OLD TESTAMENT. THIS STORY OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS IS NOT HISTORY. LUKE KNEW THIS. HE RATHER WROTE AN INTERPRETIVE STORY DESIGNED TO PORTRAY JESUS AS PART OF THE ANCIENT JEWISH STORY AND DEFINE HIM AS THE LONG AWAITED MESSIAH. HE USED WELL KNOWN JEWISH SYMBOLS, ONE OF WHICH WAS THE STORY OF MOSES RETURNING FROM THE MOUNTAIN WITH THE 10 COMMANDMENTS.

SO JUST WHAT WAS THE WRITER OF THIS GOSPEL ON ABOUT HERE? WHY IS IT TOLD? WHAT DID IT MEAN FOR HIS ORIGINAL HEARERS AND CAN IT HAVE ANY POSSIBLE RELEVANCE FOR US TODAY?

IT CONTAINS A NUMBER OF THEMES RELEVANT TO THE STORIES AND TRADITIONS OF THE HEBREWS. THE THEME OF LIGHT IS OF GREAT SIGNIFICANCE. THERE IS CELEBRATED – AROUND OUR TIME OF CHRISTMAS – A JEWISH FESTIVAL CALLED HANNUKAH – OR THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS. THIS CELEBRATES THE RETURN OF THE LIGHT OF GOD TO THE JERUSALEM TEMPLE FOLLOWING THE DEFEAT OF THE SELUCID KING BY JUDAS MACCABEUS ABOUT 160 YEARS BE FORE JESUS BIRTH.

GOING BACK FURTHER INTO HISTORY THEY CELEBRATED THE RETURN FROM THE EXILE IN BABYLON AND THE REBUILDING OF THE TEMPLE AROUND 510 B.C.E. AND STILL EARLIER WHEN THE FIRST TEMPLE WAS BUILT BY KING SOLOMON AROUND 940 B.C.E. THE LIGHT OF GOD WAS SAID TO HAVE BEEN PRESENT IN THE TEMPLE. BUT WHEN THIS GOSPEL WAS WRITTEN THERE WAS NO TEMPLE. IT HAD BEEN DESTROYED BY THE ROMANS ABOUT 10 OR SO YEARS BEFORE – SO FOR LUKE – NO TEMPLE WHERE THE LIGHT OF GOD COULD BE PRESENT.

LUKE WAS PORTRAYING JESUS IN THIS TRANSFIGURATION STORY AS THE “NEW TEMPLE” – THE NEW MEETING PLACE BETWEEN GOD AND HUMAN LIFE. IT WAS A RADICAL CLAIM. THAT IS WHY IN THIS NARRATIVE, THE LIGHT OF GOD COMES SO POWERFULLY ONTO JESUS THAT HIS FACE IS REMINISCENT OF WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO MOSES THOUSANDS OF YEARS EARLIER WHEN, DESCENDING FROM THE MOUNTAIN WITH THE COMMANDMENTS, HE GLOWED WITH A TRANSLUCENT, HEAVENLY LIGHT. ALSO PAUL, SOME 15 OR 20 YEARS BEFORE LUKE, HAD DRAWN THE SAME COMPARISONS BUT EXTENDED THEM TO THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS. IN FIRST CORINTHIANS, PAUL CALLED THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS “GOD’S TEMPLE,” WHICH MEANT HE WAS ASSERTING THAT GOD’S SPIRIT DWELT IN THE PEOPLE OF THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. AS HOLY PEOPLE THEY MUST NOT ALLOW ANYONE TO DESTROY THE TEMPLE OF GOD WHICH WAS THE BODY OF BELIEVERS. IN 2 CORINTHIANS, PAUL ONCE AGAIN ASSERTED THAT CHRISTIANS ARE AND MUST BE THE TEMPLE OF GOD, THE PLACE WHERE GOD DWELLS. SO, FOR LUKE JESUS REPLACES THE TEMPLE OF GOD – THE PLACE IN THE WORLD WHERE GOD MEETS HUMANITY. THE SECOND POINT I WANT TO MAKE CONCERNS THE APPEARANCE IN THE STORY OF MOSES AND ELIJAH. THE IMAGES ARE STRAIGHT FROM THE STORY OF THE EXODUS.

THE ACTION TAKES PLACE ON A MOUNTAIN – JESUS’ / MOSES GLOWING FACE – THE CLOUD – EVEN THE MENTION OF THE WORD “EXODUS” – NRSV USES “DEPARTURE”. THERE IS ALSO NO DOUBT THAT LUKE INTENDS MOSES TO REPRESENT THE TORAH – THE LAW – WHILST ELIJAH REPRESENTS THE PROPHETS – THOSE COURAGEOUS MEN WHO HAD STOOD AND WARNED THEIR PEOPLE OF COMING DISASTER AND TRIED TO LEAD THEM INTO REPENTANCE. SO WE HAVE THE TRILOGY OF – THE LAW – THE PROPHETS AND JESUS. SO WHERE DOES JESUS FIT INTO THE PICTURE? HE IS HERE SHOWN AS THE THIRD ELEMENT IN THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL – THE LONG ANTICIPATED MESSIAH. ONLY A FEW VERSES PRIOR TO THIS STORY WE READ OF PETER AFFIRMING JESUS AS “THE MESSIAH OF GOD” – THE ONE WHO’S COMING WAS FORETOLD BY THE PROPHETS – REPRESENTED BY ELIJAH AND MOSES – TWO OF THE MOST REVERED MEN OF THE HEBREW TRADITION. THIS STORY THEN IS ABOUT ONCE AGAIN IDENTIFYING AND DEFINING JESUS AND HIS ROLE IN THE WORLD. HIS AUTHORITY IS ALSO AGAIN REITERATED AND CONFIRMED – “THIS IS MY SON, MY CHOSEN, LISTEN TO HIM”. THE STORY CONTINUES BY TELLING HOW THEY DESCENDED FROM THIS MOUNTAIN AND RESUMED THEIR PLACE IN THE ‘REAL WORLD’ – RIGHT BACK INTO THE MAYHEM, NOISE AND DEMANDS OF THE PRESSING CROWDS – SOUND FAMILIAR? THAT EXPERIENCE CAN BE DISCONCERTING – TO RETREAT TO A QUIET PLACE – EXPERIENCE SOMETHING OF THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD – THEN – IT’S BACK TO THE OFFICE!           WE AS CHRISTIANS CAN BE PART OF THIS TRANSFIGURATION AND THAT MEANS THAT GOD WILL REFIGURE OUR LIVES – OUR THINKING – OUR ACTIONS. AS WE READ ON IN THIS CHAPTER THE VERY NEXT STORY TELLS OF THE DISCIPLES’ FAILURE TO CURE A CHILD. JESUS EXPRESSES HIS FRUSTRATION. HE HAS LITTLE PATIENCE WITH THEIR LACK OF POWER, THEIR LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF WHO HE IS AND WHAT MESSAGE HE HAS TO OFFER. THUS, JESUS’ INDICTMENT OF THE LACK OF FAITH OF THE DISCIPLES “‘YOU FAITHLESS AND PERVERSE GENERATION,” SOUNDS TRUE FOR THE CHURCH AND THEREFORE ALSO FOR US AS DISCIPLES OF JESUS TODAY.

 

OUR WORLD IS DASHING THE POOR AGAINST THE ROCKS OF DESPAIR, HUNGER, AND ABANDONMENT EVERYDAY. THE HOMELESS, THE GENUINE ASYLUM SEEKERS, THE INCARCERATED, ARE LIKE THAT BOY IN THE GOSPEL STORY- THROWN INTO THE SHADOWS OF OUR SOCIETY, BUT STILL PLEADING WITH US DAY AND NIGHT RIGHT IN FRONT OF US ON THE TV AND SOCIAL MEDIA! AND WE, WHO SEEM TO NOT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE LESSON OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS, ARE LOOKING AT THESE PEOPLE WHILE ASKING LIKE PETER, ” CAN WE DWELL IN OUR WORSHIP TABERNACLES – READ CHURCHES – BASKING IN YOUR GLORY, AWAY FROM THE PEOPLE AND THEIR PRESSING NEEDS?”UNLESS WE GET OUT OF THE FORTRESS OF OUR WORSHIP PLACES AND SHED LIGHT INTO THE LIVES OF THE POOR OF OUR COMMUNITIES, WE WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT TRANSFIGURATION MEANS. WE CAN HAVE A SOUND THEOLOGY AND SAY THAT JESUS IS THE INCARNATION OF THE DIVINE GLORY. HOWEVER – IF IN THE NAME AND BY THE GRACE OF GOD WE CAN’T HEAL THE BOYS AND GIRLS OF OUR OWN PEOPLE WE WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT TRANSFIGURATION MEANS – WHAT SHARED GLORY LOOKS LIKE – AND WE WILL NEVER BE “ASTOUNDED AT THE GREATNESS OF GOD.”

C.S.LEWIS FAMOUSLY SAID: “IT MAY BE HARD FOR AN EGG TO TURN INTO A BIRD: IT WOULD BE A JOLLY SIGHT HARDER FOR IT TO LEARN TO FLY WHILE REMAINING AN EGG. WE ARE LIKE EGGS AT PRESENT. AND YOU CANNOT GO ON INDEFINITELY BEING JUST AN ORDINARY, DECENT EGG. YOU MUST BE HATCHED OR GO BAD.”

I PRAY FOR A SUCCESSFUL HATCHING~

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

 

SERMON 30TH JULY 2017 – TRINITY 7 – EMMANUEL CHURCH – POKFULAM –HONG KONG

1 Kings 3:5-12

5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” 10It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.

THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON – PRAYER

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

I REALLY LOVE HISTORY BECAUSE IT TELLS US SO MUCH ABOUT OURSELVES AND THIS LITTLE STORY IN 1 KINGS IS FULL OF IT. THIS IS A STORY THAT HAS BEEN REPEATED MANY TIMES OVER AND MAKES VERY EXCITING READING. WHEN KING DAVID, SOLOMON’S FATHER AND THE FIRST KING WHO RULED BOTH ISRAEL AND JUDAH TOGETHER WAS DYING, THERE WAS A GREAT CONTROVERSY. SOLOMON’S ELDER BROTHER HAD DECIDED, BEFORE THEIR FATHER DAVID HAD DIED, THAT HE WAS TO BE KING –HE ACTUALLY HAD HIMSELF DECLARED KING AND BEGAN TO CELEBRATE. UNFORTUNATELY FOR HIM, HIS FATHER DAVID HAD NOT YET DIED AND HAD OTHER IDEAS AND ANNOUNCED THAT RATHER THAN ADONIJAH IT WAS SOLOMON WHO WAS TO SIT ON THE THRONE IN HIS PLACE. AS AN ASIDE, THE ARROGANT AND DISRESPECTFUL ADONIJAH MET A VERY NASTY END.

SO SOLOMON WAS MADE KING AND WENT TO MAKE THE TRADITIONAL SACRIFICES TO GOD AT A SO CALLED “HIGH PLACE” CALLED GIBEON.

AT THIS TIME THERE WERE MANY SUCH ”HIGH PLACES” AROUND THE COUNTRY WHERE THE HEBREW’S PREDECESSORS – THE CANAANITES – HAD SACRIFICED TO AND WORSHIPPED THEIR PAGAN GODS.

THE CONSTANTLY UNDERRUNNING THEME IN ALL THESE WRITINGS IS THAT JERUSALEM WAS TO BE THE ONLY LEGITIMATE PLACE FOR THE HEBREW PEOPLE TO WORSHIP GOD BUT AS SOLOMON HAD NOT YET BUILT THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM THE PLACES OF WORSHIP WERE STILL SCATTERED AROUND THE LAND.

SO WE COME TO THIS LITTLE STORY THAT HAS SO MUCH TO SAY TO US NOW IN THIS FAR DISTANT 21ST CENTURY.

SOLOMON DREAMS – AND IN HIS DREAM YAHWEH – THE LORD – APPEARS TO HIM SOMEWHAT LIKE THE GENIE APPEARING TO ALADDIN FROM THE LAMP IN THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS FOLK STORIES. “WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO GIVE YOU?” SAYS YAHWEH. WHAT A QUESTION TO ASK? SOLOMON IS KING OF AN ESTABLISHED KINGDOM – WHAT MORE COULD HE WANT? WELL HUMAN GREED BEING WHAT IT IS HE COULD WELL BE EXPECTED TO ASK FOR MORE WEALTH, MORE GOLD AND MORE PHYSICAL RICHES OF ALL TYPES. BUT INSTEAD HE ASKS FOR WISDOM. HE IS A KING – THE MOST IMPORTANT AND REVERED PERSON IN THE LAND – HE COULD WELL BE ARROGANT AND PROUD OF HIS SUCCESS AND HIS POSITION BUT WHAT DOES HE DO? HE TELLS GOD THAT “I AM ONLY A LITTLE CHILD; I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO GO OUT AND COME IN”. HE IS GENUINELY HUMBLE BEFORE GOD.

 

SOLOMON WAS STILL A YOUNG MAN WHEN THESE EVENTS TOOK PLACE AND WE ALL KNOW THAT YOUNG PEOPLE – PARTICULARLY MANY YOUNG MEN – THINK THEY ARE BULLET PROOF – INDESTRUCTABLE – AND THROUGH THE FOG OF ADOLESCENT TESTOSTERONE – ARROGANT. NOT SO SOLOMON. “I AM ONLY A LITTLE CHILD…” HE SAYS.

AS IS SO OFTEN THE CASE OUR LECTIONARIES AGAIN FAIL US HERE. THIS READING SHOULD BE EXTENDED AT LEAST TO THE END OF VERSE 14. LET ME READ THOSE LAST TWO VERSES.

“I WILL GIVE YOU ALSO WHAT YOU HAVE NOT ASKED, BOTH RICHES AND HONOUR ALL YOUR LIFE; NO OTHER KING SHALL COMPARE WITH YOU. IF YOU WILL WALK IN MY WAYS, KEEPING MY STATUTES AND MY COMMANDMENTS, AS YOUR FATHER DAVID WALKED, THEN I WILL LENGTHEN YOUR LIFE”.

HERE IS THE GOD WHO IS EVER GENEROUS – MORE THAN GENEROUS – IN FACT OVERFLOWING WITH GENEROSITY. SOLOMON, BECAUSE OF HIS HONEST FAITH AND SINCERITY BEFORE GOD, RECEIVED WHAT HE DID NOT ASK FOR – HE RECEIVED MUCH MORETHAN HE EVER HAD IMAGINED.

DURING THE EUCHARIST IN AUSTRALIA AND AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE WE PRAY – “ALMIGHTY GOD, YOU HAVE PROMISED TO HEAR OUR PRAYERS – GRANT THAT WHAT WE HAVE ASKED IN FAITH WE MAY BY YOUR GRACE RECEIVE. THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD. AMEN”. THE KEY WORD FOR ME THERE IS “FAITH” – “WHAT WE HAVE ASKED IN FAITH”. SOLOMON ASKED IN FAITH – AND IN HONESTY AND IN SINCERITY.            WE NEED TO DO THE SAME.

CHRISTIAN AUTHOR WESLEY DUEWEL WROTE THIS: “PRAYERS PRAYED IN THE SPIRIT NEVER DIE UNTIL THEY ACCOMPLISH GOD’S INTENDED PURPOSE. HIS ANSWER MAY NOT BE WHAT WE EXPECTED, OR WHEN WE EXPECTED IT, BUT GOD OFTEN PROVIDES MUCH MORE ABUNDANTLY THAN WE COULD THINK OR ASK …

SINCERE PRAYERS ARE NEVER LOST. ENERGY, TIME, LOVE, AND LONGING CAN BE ENDOWMENTS THAT WILL NEVER BE WASTED OR GO UNREWARDED.”

SO PRAYER CAN BE A MOST POWERFUL EXTENSION OF OUR HUMANITY. IT IS WHERE IT IS POSSIBLE TO MEET THAT SPIRIT OF CREATION, LOVE AND LIFE THAT WE CALL GOD.

PRAYER NEED NOT BE WORDS – IN FACT THE MOST POWERFUL PRAYERS DO NOT CONTAIN WORDS. SOLOMON DID NOT APPROACH GOD WITH WORDS.

HE WAS ASLEEP WHEN HE DREAMED OF HIS ENCOUNTER WITH THE DIVINE – IN THE PEACE OF HIS REST GOD CAME TO HIM – SUDDENLY AND UNEXPECTEDLY. MOST OF US LIVING IN THIS ULTRA BUSY WORLD – ESPECIALLY IN MAJOR CITIES SUCH AS HONG KONG – FIND IT DIFFICULT – IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE – TO FIND THE SPACE TO STOP – AND IN UNDISTURBED PRIVACY AND SILENCE LET OUR MINDS REST AND BE OPEN TO THE SPIRIT OF GOD – BUT TO DO THIS IS NEVER A WASTE OF TIME – IT BEARS GREAT REWARDS.

PRAYER CAN ALSO BE A TIME TO UNBURDEN OURSELVES INTO A FIGURATIVE EAR THAT IS EVER WILLING AND READY TO LISTEN. PRAYER GIVES US THE VEHICLE TO SAY THINGS WE FEEL WE CANNOT SAY TO ANYONE ELSE BUT GOD. DESPITE WHAT INTERPRETATION SOME PEOPLE STILL WANT TO PUT UPON GOD AND WANT TO CLING TO THE ANCIENT TRIBAL BEING OF JUDGEMENT AND HELL FIRE I WILL TELL YOU THAT SINCERE PRAYER NEVER RESULTS IN JUDGEMENT. HOW CAN I SAY THIS? I CAN SAY IT BECAUSE OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE LIFE OF JESUS OF NAZARETH TELLS US THAT THE GOD HE WORSHIPPED AND REVEALED TO THE WORLD IS A SPIRIT OF UNBOUNDED LOVE AND ENDLESS FORGIVENESS. THE PROBLEM WE OFTEN FACE IS NOT THAT GOD REFUSES TO FORGIVE US BUT THAT WE REFUSE TO FORGIVE OURSELVES. IN ONE OF THE SERVICES I HAVE PREPARED IN MY HOME CHURCH THE ABSOLUTION GOES LIKE THIS: GOD FORGIVES YOU – FORGIVE OTHERS – FORGIVE YOURSELF.

THE LAST PART IS VERY IMPORTANT – WHAT IS THE POINT IF YOU ARE FORGIVEN BY GOD BUT IN ESSENCE REFUSE TO ACCEPT THAT FORGIVENESS AND CONTINUE TO HANG ON TO YOUR GUILT? YOU IN EFFECT DEFEAT GOD’S PURPOSE BY DOING THAT.

SO TO SUM UP.

WE BEST HEAR GOD IN THE PLACE OF QUIETNESS AND MEDITATION

– WORDS ARE NOT NECESSARY

– OUR PRAYERS FOR THE WORLD, FOR OTHERS AND FOR OURSELVES NEED TO BE MADE IN TRUTH, HUMBLENESS AND SINCERITY.

WE ALSO NEED TO REALIZE THAT OUR PRAYERS ARE NOT ALWAYS ANSWERED AS WE MIGHT EXPECT –BOTH IN MANNER AND IN TIME – BUT BE ASSURED THAT GOD IS FAITHFUL – WITH UNBOUNDED LOVE, FORGIVENESS AND OVERWHELMING GENEROSITY.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

SERMON – ST STEPHENS CHURCH – STANLEY – HONG KONG – 23RD JULY 2017 TRINITY 6

GENESIS 28: 10-19A

Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder/ STAIRWAY set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the Lord stood ABOVE IT] and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed[c] in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel; (House of God)

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

THIS JACOB WAS NOT A PARTICULARLY SAVOURY CHARACTER. IT WAS HE WHO HAD, WITH THE CONNIVANCE OF HIS MOTHER REBEKAH, DEFRAUDED HIS HONEST BROTHER ESAU OUT OF THEIR FATHER’S BLESSING. TO SAY THAT ESAU WAS ANNOYED IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT. IN FACT HE WAS PLANNING TO KILL JACOB AFTER THEIR OLD FATHER ISAAC DIED. REBEKAH GOT TO HEAR OF THESE MURMURINGS AND SUGGESTED TO JACOB THAT HE HAD BETTER CONSIDER MOVING TO DISTANT PARTS UNTIL THINGS COOLED DOWN. SO THAT IS HOW WE GET TO FIND THIS SOMEWHAT TAINTED CHARACTER MAKING CAMP ON THE LONG ROAD TO HARAN WHERE, ACCORDING TO HIS MOTHER, HE MIGHT FIND A SUITABLE WIFE. IT WAS A VERY LONG ROAD TO HARAN AND HE WAS OBVIOUSLY A TOUGH SORT OF PERSON: I HAVE NO WISH TO USE A STONE FOR MY PILLOW.

SO THE STORY GOES – IN HIS SLEEP HE DREAMED – AND IN HIS DREAM HE MET GOD – YAHWEH –THE GOD OF THE ANCIENT HEBREW PEOPLE AND WHO IS INTRODUCED AS “THE GOD OF ABRAHAM YOUR FATHER AND THE GOD OF ISAAC”. FOR JACOB BOTH THESE MEN – THESE PATRIARCHS – WERE TO BE REVERED.

IT WAS ABRAHAM WHO HAD BEEN THE FOUNDER OF THE ISRAELITE PEOPLES AND IT WAS ISAAC – JACOB’S FATHER – WHO HAD BEEN BLAMELESS AND HAD ALWAYS HONOURED HIS GOD. IN THE DREAM GOD REAFFIRMS WHAT HAD BEEN PROMISED TO JACOB’S ANCESTORS – FROM ABRAHAM RIGHT THROUGH TO HIS OWN FATHER ISAAC – THAT THEY WOULD EVENTUALLY FORM A NATION AND WOULD POSSESS THEIR OWN LAND INSTEAD OF BEING WANDERING NOMADS. IN DUE COURSE THS DID EVENTUATE IN THE LATER TIME OF MOSES WHEN AFTER HIS DEATH THE ISRAELITES FINALLY TOOK THE LAND OF THE CANAANITES – SEE THE FINAL CHAPTER OF DEUTERONOMY.

AS USUAL THERE IS MUCH MORE TO THIS STORY THAN MEETS THE CASUAL EYE. WE NEED TO KNOW THAT THE BOOK OF GENESIS IS MADE UP OF THREE DISTINCT SETS OF TRADITION, SNIPPETS OF TWO WE READ IN THIS STORY THIS MORNING. HERE WE HAVE A BLEND OF THE ELOHIST AND THE YAHWIST TRADITIONS. THESE TWO TERMS ARE SIMPLY TWO ALTERNATIVE NAMES FOR GOD AS USED IN THESE EARLY WRITINGS – ELOHIM WHICH IS THE WORD USED IN THE VERY FIRST VERSE OF GENESIS “IN THE BEGINNING ELOHIM [TRANSLATED IN ENGLISH AS “GOD”] CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH…”.

THE SECOND IS YAHWEH – WHICH FROM ABOUT 300 BCE ONWARD WAS A NAME NOT TO BE SPOKEN BY THE PEOPLE AS IT WAS TOO SACRED. IT IS BUILT ON THE HEBREW WORD FOR “I AM” AND WASUSED CONTROVERSIALLY BY JESUS IN THE GOSPEL WRITINGS. BY THE WAY, THE THIRD TRADITION BLENDED INTO THESE WRITINGS IS KNOWN AS THE PRIESTLY. ALSO MOST OF THESE ANCIENT STORIES AND TRADITIONS WERE FINALLY PUT DOWN IN WRITING BY THE PRIESTS DURING THE 70 YEAR PERIOD OF EXILE IN BABYLON STARTING AROUND 600 BCE.

SO ENOUGH OF THE HISTORY AND BACKGROUND OF THESE WORDS – INTERESTING AS IT MAY BE. I LOOKED AT WHAT THESE WORDS COULD MEAN FOR US – ALL THOSE CENTURIES LATER. I THINK WE CAN TAKE SOME REALLY GOOD AND POWERFUL PERSONAL LESSONS FROM THIS TODAY.

FIRST LET’S UNDERSTAND THAT – AS I POINTED OUT AT THE BEGINNING – JACOB WAS NO LILLY WHITE PURE ANGEL. HE WAS TO SAY THE LEAST TAINTED. HE WAS A CHEAT, A LIAR AND A FRAUDSTER.I VENTURE TO SAY THAT IF HE LIVED IN OUR SOCIETY TODAY HE WOULD BE SERVING TIME BEHIND BARS. BUT – AND FOR ME IT’S A BIG BUT – GOD USED HIM AND BLESSED HIM.

I KNOW I AM NOT ADDRESSING ANY SUCH PEOPLE THIS MORNING – BUT THIS ANCIENT STORY SHOULD OFFER US ALL REASSURANCE AND HOPE BECAUSE NONE OF US ARE PERFECT. EVERY ONE OF US HAS DEEP REGRETS ABOUT THINGS WE HAVE DONE – OR NOT DONE – IN OUR LIVES – PROBABLY NOTHING LIKE THE STORY OF JACOB BUT STILL ENOUGH TO TROUBLE OUR CONSCIENCES. SOME MEMORIES CAN CERTAINLY BRING US SADNESS – EVEN ANGUISH – MIXED WITH REGRET- BUT THIS STORY FROM SO LONG AGO TELLS US TO TAKE HEART. GOD JUST DOESN’T STOP WITH THE PROMISE TO JACOB THAT HE WOULD BE PART OF GOD’S PLAN TO RAISE A GREAT NATION – HE GOES ON TO REASSURE THIS FLAWED MAN BY SAYING, “ KNOW THAT I AM WITH YOU AND WILL KEEP YOU WHEREVER YOU GO”. WHAT A BEAUTIFUL AND AMAZING PROMISE!

MY POINT IS THAT THIS GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB IS THE GOD OF JESUS OF NAZARETH – IS THE GOD THAT OF WHOSE NATURE THE LIFE OF JESUS GAVE US A GLIMPSE. FOR THOSE PATRIARCHS OF OLD YAHWEY WAS A RELIABLE AND STEADFAST GOD – WHOSE PROMISES WERE ALWAYS KEPT. THROUGH THE MUCH LATER TORAH A WAY TO SERVE GOD WAS PROVIDED TO A MATURING RACE OF PEOPLE. IN THE FIRST CENTURY SAINT PAUL AGREES THAT IN CHRIST THIS LAW WAS SUPERCEDED BY BOUNDLESS LOVE AND FORGIVENESS. THIS FORGIVENESS CAN BE SEEN EVEN WAY BACK IN THIS STORY OF JACOB.

POPE FRANCIS RECENTLY MADE THE STATEMENT THAT HE BELIEVES IN GOD’S EYES THERE IS NO SIN THAT CANNOT OR WILL NOT BE FORGIVEN IF THE PERSON TRULY REPENTS OR TURNS AROUND. HOW REASSURING THIS MUST BE FOR US MERE MORTALS WHOSE SINS – LET’S FACE IT – ARE USUALLY QUITE MINOR.

TO BRIEFLY REVERT TO OUR STORY – JACOB AWAKES IN FEAR AND AWE – I IMAGINE HIM SWEATING THERE IN THE DAWN ON HIS PILLOW OF ROCK – BUT HE DOESN’T DISMISS THIS DREAMT ENCOUNTER WITH GOD – HE RISES AND ACTS – HE ACCEPTS FULLY THE FORGIVENESS AND THE SUBSEQUENT PROMISES OF GOD. HE ERECTS A PILLAR OF STONE AS A MEMORIAL – SUCH A PILLAR WILL LATER BE FOUND IN THE TEMPLE AS A REPRESENTATION OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD – AND IN THE WAY OF THE ANCIENT PEOPLE HE PAYS HOMAGE TO GOD BY NAMING THE PLACE BETHEL – HOUSE OF GOD.

WE CAN ALL FIND A GLIMPSE OF THE WONDERFUL NATURE OF GOD IN JESUS. WE CAN MEET GOD THROUGH KNOWING THE RESURRECTED CHRIST – AND HAVING MET GOD IN CHRIST WE CAN – AGAIN AS ST PAUL WRITES – THROUGH REPENTANCE CLAIM FORGIVENESS AND ONGOING BLESSING. SO DON’T JUST LIE THERE SWEATING – RISE UP AND ACT BECAUSE GOD PROMISES YOU JUST AS JACOB WAS PROMISED – THAT “..HE IS WITH YOU AND WILL KEEP YOU WHEREVER YOU GO”. AND THAT’S A PROMISE!

AND ACCORDING TO JACOB – “HOW AWESOME IS THIS PLACE” – MEET GOD – BE AWED!

THE LORD BE WITH YOU INDEED. AMEN.

KIDS:

A LONG WAY BETWEEN BEERSHEBA AND HARAN – ABOUT 500 MILES! ABOUT 2/3 WAY FROM HK TO SHANGHAI!

HOW DO YOU THINK JACOB TRAVELLED – NO CAR OR AEROPLANE?

CAN YOU GUESS WHY HE MADE THIS JOURNEY? HIS FATHER ISAAC TOLD HIM TO GO TO HIS UNCLE’S HOUSE IN HARAN AND FIND A WIFE BECAUSE HE DID NOT LIKE ANY OF THE GIRLS NEAR WHERE THEY LIVED!

ONE NIGHT JACOB SLEPT WITH A ROCK FOR A PILLOW! NO WONDER HE DREAMED – I PROBABLY WOULD NOT HAVE SLEPT AT ALL – WOULD YOU?

WHAT AN AMAZING ADVENTURE.

  1. HE OBEYED HIS PARENTS – PROBABLY DIDN’T REALLY WANT TO – REMEMBER THE LOOONG WALK!
  2. WONDERFUL THINGS HAPPENED TO HIM – HE HEARD GOD’S PROMISE IN HIS DREAM.
  3. THE PROMISE, “KNOW THAT I AM WITH YOU AND WILL KEEP YOU WHEREVER YOU GO”! – WHAT A WONDERFUL PROMISE!

SO, THE LESSON IS – OBEY YOUR PARENTS AND ONLY GOOD THINGS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU.

ANDTRUST GOD BECAUSE HIS PROMISE STILL STANDS TRUE, “I AM WITH YOU AND WILL KEEP [protect you] YOU WHEREVER YOU GO”!

MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

SERMON 2ND JULY 2017 – PENTECOST 4 – Matthew 10:40-42

40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

RIGHT FROM THE FIRST PAGES OF GENESIS AND THROUGH ALL THOSE CENTURIES OF JEWISH WRITING WHAT WE NOW COLLECTIVELY CALL “THE BIBLE” THERE IS ONE UNDERLYING MESSAGE THAT FORMED AN INTEGRAL PERT OF THE JEWISH CULTURE AND COMMUNITY – HOSPITALITY. HOSPITALITY STANDS OUT AS THE MOST IMPORTANT FEATURE OF JUDAISM AND ITS OFFSHOOTS – ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY. IN OUR READING THIS MORNING MATTHEW IS SPEAKING ABOUT THE EVENGELISTS WHO WERE TO GO FORTH AND SPREAD THE WORD OF JESUS AMONGST THEIR FELLOW JEWS BUT OF OCURSE THESE WORDS CAN TAKE ON A FAR MORE CONTEMPORARY MEANING WHEN READ IN THIS 21ST CENTURY.

TO EXTEND HOSPITALITY TO ANYONE – A PERFECT STRANGER INCLUDED – WAS OBLIGATORY AND OFTEN STILL IS IN SOME COMMUNITIES – ALBEIT SOMEWHAT DILUTED NOW IN OUR WESTERN EUROPEAN SOCIETY. THIS OBLIGATORY EXTENSION OF HOSPITALITY IS NOT CONFINED TO THE ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS. IN HINDUISM FOR INSTANCE IT IS TRADITIONALLY CONSIDERED A DUTY AND AN ACT OF RITUAL WORSHIP. THE HONOURING OF GUESTS IS INCUMBENT UPON THE HOUSEHOLDER. THE TECHNICAL DEFINITION OF A ‘GUEST’ IN HINDU LITERATURE IS A BRAHMIN WHO SPENDS A SINGLE NIGHT WITH HIS HOST; THE TERM DOES NOT IMPLY THAT THE PERSON HAS BEEN SPECIFICALLY INVITED. SO THIS HOSPITALITY IS REALLY UNIVERSAL.

IF WE ARE HONEST WITH OURSELVES – IN OUR AUSTRLIAN COMMUNITY IT HAS BEEN LARGELY CONFINED TO FRIENDS AND RELATIVES. ONE HAS TO ASK – WHAT WOULD OUR REACTION BE IF A HOMELESS, HUNGRY AND COLD STRANGER CAME TO OUR DOOR ONE EVENING SEEKING HELP. WHAT WOULD YOU DO? INVITE THE PERSON IN AND PROVIDE FOOD, CLOTHING AND A BED FOR THE NIGHT – OR WOULD WE SAY VERY SORRY – WE ARE UNABLE TO HELP.

MAYBE WE WOULD GIVE THEM SOME MONEY – NOT TOO MUCH – MAYBE AT BEST $20. ALSO WE ANGLICANS – ESPECIALLY OF ENGLISH ANCESTRY – ARE TERRIBLY EMBARRASSED ABOUT RECEIVING SOMETHING SUCH AS A SPONTANEOUS GIFT OR HOSPITALITY EVEN FROM PEOPLE WE MIGHT KNOW – LET ALONE A STRANGER. WE ARE INHERENTLY SUSPICIOUS AND RETICENT WHEN IN CONTACT WITH STRANGERS – PARTICULARLY PEOPLE WHO WE MIGHT CONSIDER TO BE IN A LOWER SOCIO-ECONOMIC STRATA THEN OURSELVES.

HUMANS ARE MADE TO LIVE IN COMMUNITY. WE HAVE EVOLVED IN COMMUNITIES – IN EONS PAST FOR SIMPLE PROTECTION FROM DANGER – SECURITY IN NUMBERS – NOW MORE FOR CONVENIENCE AND COMFORT. BUT THERE IS AN UNDERLYING PRIMEVAL – EVEN URGE – IN ALL OF US TO GROUP TOGETHER IN COMMUNITIES. NOTE THE DEMOGRAPHIC SPREAD IN OUR OWN COUNTRY OF AUSTRALIA. A HUGE PERCENTAGE OF OUR POPULATION IS CENTRED IN THE THREE MAJOR EAST COAST CITIES. TRYING TO GET PROFESSIONAL PEOPLE TO MOVE AND WORK IN RURAL AREAS IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE.

RECENTLY FIVE PEOPLE WERE INVOLVED IN A SOCIAL EXPERIMENT. CALLED “FILTHY RICH AND HOMELESS” IT WAS SPONSORED BY THE SBS TV CHANNEL. I WATCHED THE OTHER NIGHT WHEN THEY WERE IN THE STUDIO AND REPORTED ON THEIR EXPERIENCES. ORIGINALLY FROM SYDNEY THEY WERE PLACED INTO THE STREETS OF A WINTRY MELBOURNE FOR 10 DAYS. THEY EMERGED FROM THE EXPERIENCE CHANGED PEOPLE. PRIOR TO THEIR TIME ON THE STREETS THEY HAD LED VERY COMFORTABLE LIVES AS UPPER MIDDLE CLASS CITIZENS IN SYDNEY WITH THE ATTITUDES TOWARDS THE HOMELESS PEOPLE WE ALL SEE FROM TIME TO TIME – I VENTURE TO SAY IDENTICAL WITH ALL OF US SITTING HERE IN CHURCH THIS MORNING. WE AVOID THEM. WE WALK PAST ENSURING THAT WE DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT. THE LATEST STATISTICS REVEAL THAT THERE ARE APPROXIMATELY 103,000 PEOPLE WHO ARE HOMELESS IN OUR AUSTRALIA TODAY.

MISSION AUSTRALIA SAYS THAT – “THE COMMON PERCEPTION OF A HOMELESS PERSON IS AN OLDER MAN WITH A DRINKING OR DRUG PROBLEM WHO SLEEPS IN AN INNER-CITY PARK OR STREET. HOWEVER, WE KNOW FROM OUR EXPERIENCE AND CENSUS FIGURES THERE IS NO “TYPICAL” HOMELESS PERSON. HOMELESSNESS CAN AFFECT MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN FROM A WIDE RANGE OF BACKGROUNDS LIVING IN OUR CITIES, SUBURBS AND COUNTRY TOWNS. YET THE PROBLEM IS OFTEN MASKED BY THE FACT THAT PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESS MOVE FROM ONE TEMPORARY SOLUTION TO ANOTHER, MAKING DO UNTIL THEY CAN FIND PERMANENT ACCOMMODATION. THESE PEOPLE – THE ‘HIDDEN HOMELESS’ – MOVE BETWEEN THE HOMES OF FAMILY MEMBERS OR, AS IS OFTEN THE CASE WITH YOUNG PEOPLE WHO ‘COUCH SURF’, A SERIES OF FRIENDS. SOME STAY IN REFUGES, BOARDING HOUSES, CHEAP MOTELS, CARAVANS AND EVEN CARS. AS YOU CAN IMAGINE, SUCH UNCERTAINTY CAN TAKE AN ENORMOUS TOLL ON A PERSON’S SELF-WORTH AND CAPACITY TO GO TO SCHOOL, FIND WORK AND STAY HEALTHY. HOMELESSNESS ALSO COMES AT A HIGH SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC COST TO OUR SOCIETY, WHICH IS WHY PREVENTION IS SO VITAL.” DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS THE SINGLE BIGGEST CAUSE OF HOMELESSNESS IN AUSTRALIA.

HOMELESSNESS CAN BE THE RESULT OF MANY SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND HEALTH-RELATED FACTORS. FROM OUR EXPERIENCE, SAYS MISSION AUSTRALIA, PEOPLE CAN BECOME HOMELESS AFTER MANY YEARS OF EXPERIENCING POVERTY, POOR RELATIONSHIPS AND DRUG, ALCOHOL OR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.

SOMETIMES IT AFFECTS PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN MANAGING WELL IN LIFE, BUT ARE THROWN OFF COURSE BY A STRESSFUL EPISODE LIKE A RELATIONSHIP BREAK-UP, JOB LOSS OR DEATH OF A LOVED ONE. THIS CAN SET OFF A CHAIN OF EVENTS THAT LEADS TO A PERSON BEING WITHOUT A PLACE TO LIVE. A FEW STATISTICS:

  • A QUARTER OF PEOPLE SEEKING ACCOMMODATION AT SPECIALIST HOMELESSNESS SERVICES ARE THERE BECAUSE OF DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE
  • A FURTHER 15% SEEK HELP BECAUSE OF FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES, WHILE 12% ARE IN HOUSING CRISIS
  • ANOTHER 10% OF PEOPLE WHO ARE HOMELESS HAVE BEEN LIVING IN INADEQUATE OR INAPPROPRIATE DWELLING CONDITIONS. A SHORTAGE OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND DECLINING HOME OWNERSHIP RATES ALSO CONTRIBUTE TO THE NATION’S HOMELESSNESS PROBLEM. (REFER: www.missionaustralia.com.au)

ONE OF THE PEOPLE IN THE SBS PROGRAMME SAID THIS, “WHEN YOU START LOSING COMMUNITY – YOU START LOSING YOURSELF”. THAT’S POWERFUL! IT SEEMS AN INSIDIOUS THING. NEVER THINK THIS CAN NEVER HAPPEN TO ME. WELL KNOWN ACTOR DAVID WENHAM WHO VOLUNTEERS AT THE WAYSIDE CHAPEL IN SYNDNEY’S KINGS CROSS SAID HOMELESSNESS CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE.

SOMEONE ELSE HAS MADE THE POINT THAT THERE’S NO EVIDENCE TO SUGGEST THOSE WITH RELIGION ARE ANY MORE ETHICAL THAN THOSE WITHOUT – INTERESTING BECAUSE I AM SURE WE HERE IN THIS CHURCH WOULD ALL WANT TO BELIEVE OTHERWISE.

HOSPITALITY CAN BE FAR BROADER THAN SIMPLY ALLOWING SOMEONE INTO YOUR HOME; IT CAN BE AS SIMPLE AS HAVING A CONVERSATION WITH SOEMONE IN NEED. ONE OF TH EPEOPLE INVOLVED INN THE SBS PROGRAMME COMMENTED THAT MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE LIVING ROUGH ON THE STREETS ARE SIMPLY YEARNING FOR SOMEONE TO STOP AND SPEAK WITH THEM. THEY FEEL INVISIBLE AND NON-EXISTENT TO BROADER SOCIETY. THIS FEELING PERPETUATES THEIR FEELINGS OF DESPAIR AND REJECTION. THE BEST THING IS TO SIMPLY COMMUNICATE – TO STOP AND ASK HOW THEY ARE –

ARE THEY IN NEED OF SOME PARTICULAR THING BE-IT FOOD, ANOTHER BLANKET – EVEN MONEY.ALL GENUINE HOSPITALITY EMANATES FROM LOVE FOR ONE’S FELLOW HUMAN AND IN THIS INSTANCE HOSPITALITY IS SIMPLY COMMUNICATION IN LOVE.

HOSPITALITY IS NOT CONFINED TO INDIVIDUAL ACTS; IT CAN ALSO STEM FROM A COMMUNITY. COMMUNITIES CAN BE HOSPITABLE AND WELCOMING OT NEWCOMERS OR THEY CAN BE CLOSED, REJECTING AND COLD. SADLY THIS LATTER HAS BEEN THE EXPERIENCE OF MANY PEOPLE SEEKING THE COMPANIONSHIP AND FELLOWSHIP OF A CHRISTIAN CHURCH COMMUNITY.THERE ARE MANY STORIES OF SOMEONE TURNING UP AT A CHURCH SERVICE HOPING TO FIND SUPPORT AND FELLOWSHIP ONLY TO BE TOLD THEY ARE SITTING IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SEAT AND ARE IGNORED IN THE MORNING TEA FOLLOWING THE SERVICE. THANKFULLY I AM FULLY AWARE THAT NEVER HAPPENS HERE AT ST JOHN’S. IT IS REASSURING TO KNOW THAT THIS COMMUNITY IS INDEED AN OPEN COMMUNITY WELCOMING ANYONE WHO WISHES TO JOIN IN THE SERVICES. BY EXTENDING A WARM AND GENUINE WELCOME A CHURCH COMMUNITY ACTS IN TRUE HOSPITALITY – IT IS FIGURATIVELY FEEDING, CLOTHING AND WARMING THEM.

FINALLY THERE IS HOSPITALITY IN A NATIONAL SENSE. WE CAN EASILY OBSERVE THE PRESENT STATE OF AFFAIRS IN THE US WHEREBY PEOPLE ARE SIMPLY DENIED ENTRY TO THAT COUNTRY BECAUSE THEY COME FROM CERTAIN OTHER COUNTRIES OR ARE OF A SPECIFIC ETHNICITY. THIS IS THE VERY REVERSE OF HOSPITALITY AS MATTHEW WOULD EXPLAIN TO US. OBVIOUSLY BEING AWARE OF THE THREATS TO OUR SECURITY IT IS NECESSARY TO CLOSELY VET THE PEOPLE WHO WISH TO COME JUST AS ONE WOULD NEED TO CHECK ON THE BONA FIDES OF ANYONE ENTERING ONE’S HOME BUT IT GOES AGAINST CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES TO PLACE A BLANKET BAN AS WE SEE IN THE US.

AUSTRALIA IS NOT INNOCENT OF REFUSING HOSPITALITY EITHER. WE HAVE SEEN THE HARSH TREATMENT METED OUT TO ASYLUM SEEKERS HERE AND ON MANUS ISLAND – AN INEXCUSABLE BREECH OF HOSPITALTY – NOT TO MENTION OUR OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE UN TREATY ON REFUGEES.

SO TO SUM UP; HOSPITALITY AS ESPOUSED BY MATTHEW IS WHAT IS EXPECTED OF A CHRISTIAN PERSON – AND I WILL EXTEND THAT TO A COMMUNITY AND A NATION: REACHING OUT TO ANYONE IN NEED THROUGH OFFERING HELP IN ALL FORMS WITHOUT ANY THOUGHT OF REWARD OR RETURN.

MATTHEW SPEAKS OF REWARD OF COURSE. IT IS THE REWARD OF KNOWING THE CLOSER PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN YOUR LIFE; AND THAT IS SOMETHING WORTHWHILE BEYOND MEASURE.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

 

 

 

 

Sorry I have been AWOL with the sermons lately but my computer has been acting up. I seem to be back on board now.

SERMON 18TH JUNE 2017 – 2ND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST – Matthew 9:35-10:8

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

RACISM IS ANYTHING BUT NEW. “GO NOWHERE AMONG THE GENTILES, AND ENTER NO TOWN OF THE SAMARITANS, BUT GO RATHER TO THE LOST SHEEP OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL,” WRITES THE JEWISH MATTHEW. I HAVE TO SAY THAT IT WAS FORTUNATE FOR US PAUL CHOSE TO IGNORE THESE RACIST SENTIMENTS AND ENTHUSIASTICALLY DID               ”GO … AMONG THE GENTILES” – OTHER WISE THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH WOULD PROBABLY NOT EXIST. WELL, ACTUALLY THESE WORDS WERE WRITTEN MANY YEARS AFTER PAUL’S DEATH SO IT WOULD APPEAR TO BE A REACTION BY MATTHEW AGAINST THE LIBERAL TEACHINGS OF PAUL AND THE BURGEONING CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY OUTSIDE OF THE CONVENTIONAL SYNAGOGUE; ALSO MATTHEW WROTE AT A TIME OF INTENSE CONFLICT AND MUTUAL ACRIMONY AS THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WERE IN THE PROCESS OF SEPARATING FROM THE SYNAGOGUE COMMUNITY.

IN ANALYSING MATTHEW’S PERCEPTION OF JESUS AS WE CAN DISCERN FROM THESE WRITINGS IT IS OBVIOUS THAT DISCIPLES ARE EXPECTED TO DO TWO THINGS: BRING HEALING AND BRING LIBERATION. HEALING AND LIBERATION SHOULD NOT HAVE SOUNDED NEW TO THE DISCIPLES.                                                                                                                             THESE SEEM TO BE A SUMMATION OF MATTHEW’S BEATITUDES AND THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, FROM WHICH ALL DISCOURSE ON DISCIPLESHIP ORIGINATES. DISCIPLESHIP THAT DOES NOT DEMONSTRATE OF THESE TWO ESSENTIAL MARKS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NOT DISCIPLESHIP FROM A MATTHEAN PERSPECTIVE. GOD’S PRESENCE HERALDS HEALING AND LIBERATION; DISCIPLESHIP THAT DOES NOT PASS THIS LITMUS TEST MAY NOT HOLD UP TO MATTHEW’S EXPECTATIONS OF AND STANDARDS FOR DISCIPLESHIP. SO THERE IF YOU LIKE, IS SET OUT THE VERY BASIS OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP. HEALING AND LIBERATION – BOTH VERY POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES – AND BOTH OF WHICH MUST STEM FROM LOVE – LOVE OF THE CREATOR SPIRIT OF LOVE – AND LOVE FOR OUR FELLOW HUMANS AND INDEED THIS EARTH ON WHICH WE DEPEND FOR OUR VERY LIVES.

WE LIVE, AS DID MATTHEW, IN DIFFICULT TIMES. THE WESTERN WORLD WHICH WE HAVE TAKEN SO MUCH FOR GRANTED IS FACING POSSIBLY THE GREATEST THREAT TO ITS WAY OF LIFE SINCE THE RISE OF NAZIISM IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. WE HAVE THE TEMERITY TO SPEAK OF LOVE WHILST THE ISLAMIC JIHADISTS SPEAK ONLY OF HATRED. IT’S ALL VERY WELL FOR THE MEDIA AND POLITICIANS TO DOWNPLAY THE THREAT TO OUR PERSONS BY QUOTING STATISTICS WHICH SHOW THAT ONLY A TINY MINORITY OF DEATHS CAN BE ATTRIBUTED TO TERRORIST ACTION. I AM SURE THE FAMILIES AND LOVED ONES OF THOSE INNOCENTS RECENTLY KILLED IN LONDON FIND THAT IRRELEVANT.

LAST WEEK I READ TWO ARTICLES IN THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN ENTITLED “TACKLING DEADLY BELIEFS” AND ITS ACCOMPANYING “WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THEOLOGY”. LET ME GIVE YOU A COUPLE OF QUOTES. “…MANY CITIZENS IN SECULAR, PLURALIST SOCIETIES, SUCH AS AUSTRALIA HAVE LOST THE ABILITY ALTOGETHER TO THINK CRITICALLY ABOUT RELIGION.” BY CRITICALLY THE WRITER, ONE JOHNATHAN COLE MEANS OBJECTIVELY. I WOULD TAKE COLE’S POINT A LITTLE FURTHER. WE AS A SECULAR CAPITALISTIC SOCIETY HAVE LOST THE ABILITY TO EVEN THINK ABOUT RELIGION – LET ALONE OBJECTIVELY.

COLE GOES ON TO STATE,”RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS ARE PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF ALSO BEING POLITICAL ACTORS, HAVING POLITICAL AGENDAS AND BEING OF POLITICAL CONSEQUENCE. ISN’T THIS PRECISELY THE EXPERIENCE OF WESTERN SOCIETIES? JUST THINK OF THE IMPACT THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT CONTINUES TO HAVE IN US POLITICS”. I CAN ADD THAT THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT IS ALSO HAVING AN IMPACT HERE IN OUR OWN COUNTRY OF AUSTRALIA. WE ARE ALL ENTITLED TO OUR VIEW WHATEVER THAT MAY BE BUT JUST OBSERVE THE CONCERTED AND ORCHESTRATED OPPOSITION BY THE OFTEN DISGUISED CHRISTIAN RIGHT BOTH WITHIN THE BROADER SOCIETY AND WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TO IDEAS OF SOCIAL LIBERALISATION SUCH AS MARRIAGE, HOMOSEXUALITY, RACIAL AND SEXUAL EQUALITY, AND EUTHANASIA. JUST LIKE THE JIHADISTS LITERALLY QUOTING THEIR KORAN, THE LITERALLY UNDERSTOOD WRITINGS OF THE BIBLE ARE USED AS EVIDENCE AND IN SUPPORT OF THEIR ARGUMENTS – PROFOUND IGNORANCE IN BOTH CASES.

IN THE OTHER ARTICLE PETER KURTI MAKES AN INTERESTING OBSERVATION. HE WRITES, “WE NEED TO REASSERT THE PRINCIPLES OF WESTERN CIVILISATION, INSTILLING THEM IN EVERY CITIZEN, AND WORKING HARD TO ENSURE NEWCOMERS TO A COUNTRY ARE INTEGRATED INTO A WIDER SOCIETY”. I ASK, JUST WHAT ARE THESES ‘PRINCIPLES OF WESTERN CIVILISATION” AND FROM WHERE DO THEY ORIGINATE? I THINK WE ALL REALISE THAT BASIC ENGLISH AND EUROPEAN COMMON LAW IS BASED UPON CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES. THESE ARE BASICALLY WHAT IS SET OUT IN OUR INHERITED JEWISH TORAH AND CAN PERHAPS BE SUMMED UP BY THE ANCIENT PROPHET MICAH – “O MORTAL, WHAT IS GOOD; AND WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU BUT TO DO JUSTICE, AND TO LOVE KINDNESS, AND TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD”. “DO JUSTICE” – THAT’S FAIRNESS – IT MEANS TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD LIKE THEM TO TREAT YOU. “LOVE KINDNESS” – THAT’S HOSPITALITY, GENEROSITY, PITY – OR BETTER – EMPATHY WITH THOSE LESS FORTUNATE THAN YOURSELF. THAT’S ALL THE VERY OPPOSITE OF HATE AND CONFLICT. ONE CANNOT INFLICT HARM ON ANOTHER IN ANY FORM IF ONE HAS LOVE FOR THAT OTHER. THE LOVE, EMPATHY AND FORGIVENESS AS WITNESSED BY JESUS IS THE VERY ANTITHESIS OF HATE. I BELIEVE THAT UNTIL OUR COMMUNITY WAKES UP AND BEGINS TO RECONSIDER WHAT TRUE CHRISTIANITY HAS TO OFFER, IT WILL CONTINUE TO AIMLESSLY WANDER AND STRUGGLE TO FIND ANY ANSWERS TO THE HATRED AND POLITICAL AMBITIONS WE SEE DIRECTED AGAINST US BY RADICAL ISLAM. WE MUST NOT ONLY ADDRESS THAT ISSUE BUT, AS A FIRST WORLD WEALTHY AND STABLE DEMOCRATIC NATION, ALSO START TALKING ABOUT AND ACTING OUT FAIRNESS, EQUALITY, GENEROSITY AND – AGAIN THAT WORD – LOVE.

WHAT THEOLOGICAL COMMITMENTS ARE AT THE HEART OF YOUR DISCIPLESHIP? WE ALL HAVE OPERATING PRINCIPLES BY WHICH WE EMBODY OUR FAITH. BUT I SUSPECT THAT OFTEN THEY ARE NOT VERY CLOSE TO THE SURFACE OF OUR LIVES. THEY ARE SOMEWHERE IN THERE, DEEP INSIDE, BUT THE TRUTH IS WE DON’T DEPEND ON THEM VERY OFTEN OR WE TAKE THEM FOR GRANTED. WE MOVE ABOUT IN THE WORLD WITH AN UNCONSCIOUSNESS ABOUT WHAT’S THEOLOGICALLY IMPORTANT FOR US UNTIL WE ARE FORCED TO CONFESS THE TRUTH – IF WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT JESUS ACTUALLY MATTERS FOR HOW WE LIVE OUR LIVES.

DOES IT MATTER? HOW? ALL KINDS OF DECISIONS ARE MADE – IN OUR DAILY LIVES, IN OUR CHURCHES, IN OUR SYSTEMS, AND IN OUR GOVERNMENTS WITH GENERAL REFERENCES TO JESUS, ALLUSIONS TO THE BIBLE, OR NODS TO DENOMINATIONAL COMMITMENTS AS IF A RELIGIOUS MENTION IS THE SAME THING AS HAVING FAITH-BASED PRINCIPLES.

A GESTURE HERE AND THERE TO GOD, A WELL-PLACED OR CHOREOGRAPHED CITATION OF SCRIPTURE AT A WELL-APPOINTED TIME? NEITHER IS THE SAME AS HOLDING YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE TO FOUNDATIONAL THEOLOGICAL UNDERSTANDINGS. AN UNDERSTANDING AND AWARENESS OF ONE’S OWN THEOLOGICAL COMMITMENTS AND UNDERSTANDINGS WILL GUARD AGAINST THE UBIQUITOUS DUPLICITY AND IGNORANCE OF OUR TIMES. HEALING AND LIBERATION, THEREFORE, IS A GOOD PLACE TO START. MATTHEW WAS RIGHT WHEN HE WROTE, “THE HARVEST IS PLENTIFUL, BUT THE LABOURERS ARE FEW; THEREFORE ASK THE LORD OF THE HARVEST TO SEND OUT LABOURERS INTO HIS HARVEST.”

SO THIS IS NOW PERSONAL – IT COMES DOWN TO EACH OF US. THE QUESTION IS, “ARE YOU A LABOURER IN THE VINEYARD – OR AN ASKER?

THE LORD BE WITH YOU – AMEN.

 

SERMON 21ST MAY 2017 – EASTER 6 – John 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

IN OUR READING FROM THE BOOK OF ACTS WE READ LUKE’S ACCOUNT OF THE SERMON – IF I CAN CALL IT THAT – OF PAUL WHEN HE ADDRESSES THE CROWDS AT THE AREOPOGAS IN ATHENS. A FEW YEARS AGO I STOOD AT THE ACROPOLIS AND LOOKED DOWN FROM THE NORTH WESTERN CORNER OF THE HILL AND COULD PLAINLY SEE WHAT REMAINS OF THE AREOPOGAS – THE ANCIENT COURT OF ATHENS. ACCORDING TO LUKE IT WAS IN THIS VERY SPOT THAT PAUL GAVE HIS CLEVER ADDRESS. IN IT LUKE REALLY SETS OUT HIS CONCEPT OF GOD.  HE ENCOURAGES US TO VIEW THE ENTIRE CREATED ORDER AS THE PLACE OF GOD’S DWELLING. GOD IS NEAR TO US, AS CLOSE AS EVERY MOTION AND BREATH, AND WISHES TO BE FOUND BY THOSE WHO SEEK. THE LATE Dr MARCUS BORG – EMINENT AMERICAN THEOLOGIAN – HAS SAID THAT WE CAN LOOK UPON GOD AS BEING THE VAST OCEAN AND HUMANITY THE LITTLE FISH SWIMMING IN IT. I REALLY LIKE THAT ANALOGY. IT IS MOST EXPRESSIVE OF AN ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE CONCEPT.

FURTHER, ALL PEOPLE ARE GOD’S PEOPLE. LUKE MAKES NO DIFFERENTIATION BETWEEN THE CHURCH AND OTHERS. THIS INSPIRES AWE, AND ALSO REPENTANCE FOR NOT SEEKING – FOR NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THE GOD IN WHOM WE LIVE, MOVE, AND HAVE OUR BEING. PARTICULARLY, WE ARE EXHORTED TO REPENT FROM THE HUMAN INVENTIONS WE WORSHIP IN PLACE OF GOD. IN THE ANCIENT WORLD THESE INVENTIONS TOOK THE FORM OF IDOLS- FIGURES OFTEN IN HUMAN FORM; TODAY THESE STONE AND METAL OBJECTS HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY MATERIALISM AND PRIDE IN OURSELVES AND OUR HUMAN ACHIEVEMENTS – WE ARE THE CLEVER COUNTRY – WE ARE NOW INVINCIBLE.

WE IGNORE THE PLEAS OF SOME WHO TELL US WE ARE DAMAGING THE EARTH BEYOND REPAIR – SUBMERSED IN OUR CHASE AFTER PERSONAL AGGRANDISEMENT AND GATHERING OF PERSONAL POSSESSIONS.

FINALLY, THE END OF PAUL’S VISION IS JUSTICE, BROUGHT ABOUT THROUGH JESUS, THE MAN ATTESTED BY GOD THROUGH RESURRECTION. THIS BRINGS US TO JOHN’S STORY OF JESUS’ FAREWELL DISCOURSE TO HIS FRIENDS AND FOLLOWERS. AGAIN I ASK YOU TO CAST YOUR IMAGINATIONS BACK TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH JOHN WAS WRITING IN THOSE RAW AND VIOLENT FIRST AND SECOND CENTURIES. THE YOUNG EMERGING CHURCH WAS UNDER CONSTANT PRESSURE AND PERSECUTION. JOHN WRITES WORDS OF MUCH NEEDED REASSURANCE – CERTAINLY AIMED AT HIS CONGREGATION BUT ALSO MOST APPLICABLE TODAY. I FEEL NO DOUBT THAT THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TODAY IS PASSING THROUGH SIMILAR UNCERTAIN AND CHALLENGING TIMES, AND THIS STORY – THESE WORDS – ASSURE US THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE; THIS LESSON CAN BE EQUALLY ASSURING NOW AS IT WAS THEN; TO KNOW THAT EVEN TODAY WE ARE NEVER ABANDONED BY JESUS AS PRESENT IN THE FORM OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD. THE LIMITATIONS OF THE EMBODIMENT OF JESUS ARE NO LONGER AN IMPEDIMENT, BECAUSE AS CAN BE SEEN IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, “I WILL ASK THE FATHER, AND HE WILL GIVE YOU ANOTHER ADVOCATE, TO BE WITH YOU FOREVER.” THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS BEEN SENT FOR US, AND WITHOUT ANY PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS! THE POSSIBILITIES NOW APPEAR ENDLESS. THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT, OR PARACLETE (SOMEONE CALLED ALONGSIDE), JESUS ALTHOUGH CONTEXTUALLY AND PHYSICALLY LIMITED, CAN NOW WALK BY OUR SIDE. THE SPIRIT IS UBIQUITOUS. IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH WHENEVER AN HISTORICAL EPOCH HAS OCCURRED IN WHICH THE SPIRIT HAS BEEN GIVEN PRIMACY, THE BARRIERS OF SEXISM, CLASSISM, AND ALL SORTS OF PREJUDICES HAVE BEEN TORN DOWN. NOW THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH IS EVER PRESENT NOT ONLY TO BRING US TO KNOWLEDGE THAT WE CAN BE RECONCILED TO GOD THROUGH JESUS, BUT THAT WE WILL BE ABLE TO DISCERN VALUES OF JUSTICE, MERCY AND PEACE TO WHICH WE SHOULD ADHERE WITH THE DISCERNMENT PROCESS THAT ONLY THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH CAN PROVIDE US.

THE HOLY SPIRIT, UNRESTRAINED BY ETHNICITY, GENDER, CLASS AND SEXUALITY, GUIDES US TO PLACES BEYOND THE PHYSICAL AND PSYCHIC LIMITATIONS IMPOSED BY OUR BODIES, EXPERIENCES AND HISTORICAL REALITIES. JESUS IS EVER PRESENT WITH EACH AND EVERY HUMAN BEING AS WE WALK THROUGH THIS JOURNEY OF LIFE WITH THE UNRESTRAINED GUIDANCE AND WISDOM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. THIS SAME SPIRIT WOULD NOT ALLOW FOR THE EXCLUSION OF A WOMAN WHO WAS A SAMARITAN FROM THE BLESSINGS OF THE KINGDOM JUST AS THE SPIRIT WILL NOT ALLOW FOR THE EXCLUSION OF ANY AMONG US TODAY.

FROM THIS MOST PEACEFUL AND COMFORTABLE CONTINENT OF AUSTRALIA WE LOOK OUT ACROSS THE WORLD AND SEE OUR FELLOW HUMANS FACING ALMOST INDESCRIBABLE CHALLENGES. JUST AS IN THOSE FIRST CENTURIES WE SEE PERSECUTION AND VIOLENCE RAINING DOWN ON INNOCENT MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN THROUGHOUT THE MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA PARTICULARLY. THE SAD PART OF IT IS WE AS A NATION OF UNTOLD WEALTH AND BLESSING SEEM MORE INTERESTED IN PRESERVING OUR OWN STATUS QUO THAN SERIOUSLY REACHING OUT TO THOSE IN DIRE AND DESPERATE SITUATIONS. OF COURSE MANY ARE SPEAKING UP BUT OUR GOVERNMENT TURNS A LARGELY DEAF EAR. THANKFULLY THERE ARE MANY STORIES OF GOOD AND GENEROUS PEOPLE HERE REACHING OUT IN PRACTICAL WAYS TO THOSE IN NEED – AND THEIR REACHING OUT IS VERY OFTEN REWARDED BY THE SINCERE GRATITUDE SHOWN IN RETURN. WHAT A REWARD! TO KNOW THAT YOU HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE TO SOMEONE’S LIFE – THAT YOU HAVE HELPED LIFT SOMEONE UP FROM THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR.

YOU WANT TO FIND GOD? WELL ACCORDING TO THE ANCIENT LUKE AND PAUL AND THE CONTEMPORARY MARCUS BORG – YOU LIVE WITHIN THE VERY GOD YOU SEEK. IT’S JUST THAT WE ARE ALL SO ENGROSSED WITHIN OUR OWN LITTLE WORLD THAT WE DON’T NOTICE. REMEMBER THE WORDS OF JESUS AS WRITTEN BY JOHN SO LONG AGO –  “THEY WHO HAVE MY COMMANDMENTS AND KEEP THEM ARE THOSE WHO LOVE ME; AND THOSE WHO LOVE ME WILL BE LOVED BY MY FATHER, AND I WILL LOVE THEM AND REVEAL MYSELF TO THEM.”  WE HAVE THE COMMANDMENTS OF JESUS – CARE FOR THE POOR AND THE OUTCAST AND THOSE IN NEED. IT’S NOT SELECTIVE YOU KNOW – IT APPLIES TO EVERYONE ON EARTH – THE ATTRACTIVE AND THE UNATTRACTIVE – THE CLEAN AND THE SMELLY – AND IT DOESN’T JUST APPLY TO PEOPLE – WE NEED TO STOP DAMAGING THE EARTH – THE COMMANDS ARE INDEED UNIVERSAL.

YOU WANT TO KNOW THE SPIRIT OF GOD? THEN SIMPLY ACKNOWLEDGE THE PRESENCE AND OBEY THE COMMANDMENTS – LOVE WITHOUT RESERVE AND EXPRESS THAT LOVE BY REACHING OUT.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU.                    AMEN

 

I hope this is helpful. Blessings. John

SERMON 7TH MAY 2017 – EASTER 4 – John 10:1-10

1 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

THE CHAPTER DIVISIONS IN THESE WRITINGS ARE OFTEN MISLEADING – MUCH LIKE THE CHRISTIAN HIJACKED INTERPRETATION OF THEM. IN ORDER TO GET THE SENSE OF THIS PASSAGE WE NEED TO LOOK BACK INTO CHAPTER 9 WHERE JOHN TELLS THE STORY OF JESUS HEALING THE MAN BORN BLIND. WHEN THE MAN WHO REMAINS UNNAMED IS TAKEN TO SEE THE PHARISEES THEY REJECT HIM AND CAST HIM OUT. JESUS SEEKS HIM OUT AND EVENTUALLY THE MAN BECOMES A FOLLOWER OF JESUS AND THE PART OF THE STORY WE READ TODAY TAKES PLACE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ARGUMENT BETWEEN THE PHARISEES AND JESUS. THE STORY IS ABOUT BLINDNESS – NOT JUST PHYSICAL BLINDNESS BUT SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS. THE STORY CONCLUDES WITH A STRONG DIVISION OF OPINION AS TO THE IDENTITY OF JESUS. OF COURSE, FOR JOHN, JESUS WAS THE ETERNAL SON OF JAHWEH, THE ANCIENT GOD OF THE JEWS. JOHN HAS WRITTEN THIS SHEPHERD DISCOURSE REALLY AS AN INTERPRETATION OF THE STORY IN WHICH IT IS EMBEDDED – THE GIVING OF SIGHT TO THE MAN BORN BLIND.

THE PHARISEES WHO HAVE INTERROGATED THE BLIND MAN IN JOHN 9 ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THE SHEPHERDS OF ISRAEL, THOSE WHO CARE FOR, PROTECT, AND NOURISH THE PEOPLE. INSTEAD, THEY EXPEL THE HEALED BLIND MAN FROM THEIR COMMUNITY, REFUSING TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS AND HIS HEALING WORK COME FROM GOD. THEY ARE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT GUARDING THEIR POWER AND AUTHORITY THAN ABOUT THE WELL-BEING OF THE PEOPLE. THE MAN IS VIRTUALLY SAVED BY JESUS AND HIS LIFE IS RADICALLY CHANGED FROM BEING A BLIND BEGGAR ON THE STREET TO A MEMBER OF JESUS’ ENTOURAGE.

MORE TO THE POINT, WHAT CAN THIS STORY TELL US AS CHRISTIANS – FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST -TODAY? WHAT DOES THIS STATEMENT – “I CAME THAT THEY [THE SHEEP] MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY” MEAN? WHAT IS THIS ABUNDANT LIFE? IT SOUNDS LIKE IT IS MORE THAN SIMPLY THE NORMAL AVERAGE LIFE WE ALL LEAD AS PEOPLE POPULATING THIS EARTH.

AS WITH MOST TOPICS OF SERIOUS DISCUSSION AMONGST PEOPLE THERE ARE TWO FAIRLY DISTINCT AND DISPARIT POSITIONS TAKEN WHEN THE SUBJECTS OF LIFE AND DEATH ARE DISCUSSED. THERE ARE THOSE WHO ARE ADAMENT OF A LIFE CONTINUING IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD FOR EVER AFTER DEATH. I REMEMBER THE OLD REVIVAL SONG THAT COULD BE TAKEN AS THEIR ANTHEM, “THIS WORLD IS NOT MY HOME, I’M JUST A-PASSING THROUGH”. I PERSONALLY FIND THAT ATTITUDE EXTREMELY SAD. FOR ME IT IS SELF-INDULGENT AND TOTALLY UNREALISTIC. IT INFERS THAT ONE’S MIND AND LIFE IS FOCUSSED NOT HERE WHERE WE ALL LIVE TOGETHER BUT “UP THERE” IN SOME IDEALISED CONCEPT OF A HEAVEN WHICH EXISTS SOMEWHERE ABOVE THE CLOUDS. WE ALL KNOW THAT IS AN IDEA THAT HAS BEEN PUT ASIDE MANY YEARS AGO BY THINKING PEOPLE. IT IS INTROSPECTIVE AND ACTUALLY OPPOSITE TO THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS WHICH WOULD HAVE US FOCUS ON THE WELFARE OF OTHERS.

SO, IF THIS TALK OF “ABUNDANT LIFE“ IS NOT ABOUT SOME FUTURE EXISTENCE AFTER DEATH WHAT IS JOHN SAYING HERE?

HE SPEAKS OF THIEVES AND BANDITS. CHRISTIANITY IS A BROAD CHURCH ENFOLDING MANY IDEAS AND WAYS OF EXPRESSING FAITH IN GOD AND NOT ALL LEADERS ARE HONEST. THERE ARE PREACHERS WHO PORTRAY THE “ABUNDANT LIFE” OF JOHN’S GOSPEL AS BEING CERTAINLY IN THE HERE AND NOW BUT OFFERING A LIFE OF WEALTH, HEALTH AND WORLDLY SUCCESS. THIS MESSAGE, USUALLY PROMULGATED BY THE SO CALLED TELE-EVANGELISTS USUALLY RESULTS IN GREAT WEALTH FOR THE PREACHER BUT OFTEN DECEPTION AND DESPAIR FOR THE FOLLOWERS WHO FIND THAT LIFE REMAINS FULL OF STRUGGLE.

WHAT, THEN, IS THE LIFE IN ABUNDANCE THAT JESUS PROMISES? THE WHOLE OF JOHN’S GOSPEL IS FOCUSED ON THIS GIFT OF LIFE – FOR INSTANCE:

  • “IN HIM WAS LIFE, AND THE LIFE WAS THE LIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE” (1:4).
  • “FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON, SO THAT EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM MAY NOT PERISH BUT MAY HAVE ETERNAL LIFE” (3:16).
  • “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN ME, EVEN THOUGH THEY DIE, WILL LIVE” (11:25).
  • “AND THIS IS ETERNAL LIFE, THAT THEY MAY KNOW YOU, THE ONLY TRUE GOD, AND JESUS CHRIST WHOM YOU HAVE SENT” (17:3).
  • “BUT THESE ARE WRITTEN SO THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE… AND THAT THROUGH BELIEVING YOU MAY HAVE LIFE IN HIS NAME” (20:31).

“LIFE” OR “ETERNAL LIFE” IN JOHN’S GOSPEL IS NOT JUST ABOUT LIFE AFTER DEATH. IT IS LIFE THAT BEGINS HERE AND NOW; IT IS KNOWING THE ONE TRUE GOD AND JESUS WHO HAS REVEALED SO MUCH OF THE NATURE OF GOD TO THE WORLD.  IT IS KNOWING THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD WHO TRULY CARES FOR US. IT IS LIFE IN COMMUNITY, FINDING SECURITY AND NOURISHMENT AS PART OF HIS FLOCK. IT IS LIFE THAT ABOUNDS IN MEANING AND VALUE AND ENDURES EVEN BEYOND DEATH.

SO WHAT IS ABUNDANT LIFE? HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE IT? SUCCESS IN YOUR WORKING LIFE? HAPPINESS? FAMILY? RELATIONSHIPS? MONEY?

WHEN WE THINK ABOUT ABUNDANCE, OUR TENDENCY IS TO JUDGE IT BY THE WORLD’S STANDARDS, WHICH THEN, I SUSPECT, CONNECTS A CONCEPT OF ABUNDANCE TO PERSONAL AFFLUENCE. LIFTED UP, ADMIRED, AND FAVOURED ARE THOSE WHOSE WEALTH AND RICHES SEEM TO PROVE THAT THEY’VE DONE SOMETHING RIGHT, THAT THEY ARE RIGHT WITH GOD. ABUNDANCE EQUALS AFFLUENCE – BELIEVING EQUALS BLESSINGS – FAITH LEADS TO FORTUNE – AND SO ON.

THERE’S A REASON THAT PROSPERITY GOSPEL PREACHES — AND SELLS.                            ABUNDANCE IS BOTH DESIRED AND SEEMINGLY DESERVED. WE HAVE ALL SEEN AND HEARD THE ADVERTISEMENTS THAT TELL US THAT WE NEED TO BUY THIS PRODUCT BECAUSE “YOU DESERVE IT” – A CON IF EVER THERE WAS ONE! AND THE FACT THAT THIS PROMISED PROSPERITY ELUDES MANY PEOPLE IS ALL TOO OFTEN CAUGHT UP IN ASSUMPTIONS OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

THE MEANING OF ABUNDANT LIFE IS A CRITICAL QUESTION FOR OUR TIME WHEN EVEN THE BASICS OF LIFE ARE DENIED TO MANY AND THE VERY SOURCE THAT MAINTAINS LIFE IS IN JEOPARDY. AS A RESULT, HOW THE CHURCH DEFINES ABUNDANCE BECOMES AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF OUR THINKING. ABUNDANT LIFE ACCORDING TO JESUS’ STANDARDS IS JUST ABOUT THE OPPOSITE OF HOW “ABUNDANT” GETS DEFINED BY CONTEMPORARY CRITERIA, WHICH IS WHY ABUNDANT LIFE FROM A JOHANNINE PERSPECTIVE COULD ACTUALLY MATTER.

ABUNDANT LIFE ACCORDING TO JOHN IS NOT THAT IMPRESSIVE WHEN IT COMES RIGHT DOWN TO IT AND ESPECIALLY IF WE COMPARE IT TO OUR ASSESSMENTS AND JUDGEMENTS OF WHAT WE THINK ABUNDANT LIFE SHOULD LOOK LIKE.

ABUNDANT LIFE ACCORDING TO JESUS? PROTECTION, PROVISION, AND PRESENCE.

WE CAN’T FORGET THAT THESE WORDS OF JESUS, “I CAME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY” ARE HIS INTERPRETATION OF THE HEALING OF THE MAN BLIND FROM BIRTH — A MAN BEGGING FOR HIS NEXT MEAL, CONSTANTLY EXPOSED TO THE ELEMENTS, A MAN WITHOUT COMMUNITY AND ALONE TO FEND FOR HIMSELF. BY RESTORING THIS MAN’S SIGHT, JESUS DOES MUCH MORE THAN MAKING HIM ABLE TO SEE AGAIN. IN THE HEALING OF THE MAN BORN BLIND, PROTECTION, PROVISION, AND PRESENCE ARE NOW HIS – AND FOREVER.

THAT’S IT. IT’S NOT VISIBLE OPULENCE – NOT ASSUMED AFFLUENCE – NOT LUXURY OR LAVISHNESS.

NO, IT SEEMS THAT ABUNDANT LIFE, ACCORDING TO JESUS, IS KNOWING THAT YOU WILL BE SAFE AND SOUND, TRUSTING THAT YOUR BASIC NEEDS WILL BE MET, AND BELIEVING THAT YOU ARE NEVER ALONE.

AFTER THE FORMERLY BLIND MAN HAS BEEN THROWN OUT BY THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS, CAST OUT ONCE AGAIN FROM COMMUNITY AND EXPOSED TO THE ELEMENTS, JESUS FINDS HIM AND PROTECTS HIM (JOHN 9:35). THE MAN BORN BLIND IS NOW ONE OF JESUS’ OWN, WHICH MEANS FOR HIM THE PROMISE OF PASTURE AND THE PROMISE OF PROVISION. THE BLIND MAN IS NOW A SHEEP OF JESUS’ FOLD, PART OF JESUS’ COMMUNITY, WITH JESUS ALWAYS. AND WHEN YOU KNOW AND EXPERIENCE PROTECTION, PROVISION, AND PRESENCE, HOW CAN YOUR LIFE NOT BE ABUNDANT?

SO, ABUNDANT LIFE IS NOT ABOUT SOME PIE IN THE SKY LIVING FOREVER – IT IS ABOUT FINDING OUR FULL POTENTIAL AS HUMANS.  IT IS ABOUT THE HERE AND NOW! IT MEANS SIMPLY HAVING FAITH IN THE SO CALLED GOOD SHEPHERD AND TRUSTING IN HIM.

REMEMBER, ABUNDANT LIFE ACCORDING TO JESUS? PROTECTION – PROVISION – AND PRESENCE.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU.        AMEN

 

 

 

 

Here is tomorrow’s sermon. It is a bit personal for the parish but if something strikes a note with you and you are within  cooee of Norton Summit please feel free ot come and suss us out. Blessings.

SERMON 30TH APRIL 2017 – EASTER 3 – LUKE 24.13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there; they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

IN THE NAME OF GOD; CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

ON FRIDAY EVENING I JOINED WITH A GREAT CROWD TO WITNESS THE INSTALLATION OF Bp GEOFFREY SMITH AS THE 10TH BISHOP AND 5TH ARCHBISHOP OF ADELAIDE. IN HIS SERMON Abp GEOFF SPOKE TO THE GOSPEL STORY ACCORDING TO JOHN OF THE “FEEDING OF THE 5000” BY JESUS. HE CONVEYED SUCH A POWERFUL MESSAGE FROM THE STORY THAT I KNEW I HAD TO SHARE IT WITH YOU THIS MORNING. IN THE VERSION FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN JESUS ASKS PHILIP WHERE COULD THEY BUY FOOD FOR THE CROWD TO EAT. PHILIP RESPONDS BY SAYING WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY. IT WOULD TAKE SIX MONTHS WAGES TO BUY ENOUGH AND THEN EVERYONE WOULD ONLY GET A VERY SMALL PORTION. SORRY JESUS, IT’S JUST NOT POSSIBLE. WE DON’T HAVE THE RESOURCES – AND HE WAS RIGHT – IT WAS QUITE TRUE – THEY DID NOT HAVE THE RESOURCES. THEN ANDREW, ANOTHER DISCIPLE SAYS “JESUS THERE IS A BOY HERE WHO HAS 5 BARLEY LOAVES AND 2 FISH” – HIS OWN LUNCH – BUT THAT IS CERTAINLY NOT ENOUGH TO FEED A CROWD.                                                                                                                JESUS TAKES THE FOOD FROM THE BOY, GIVES THANKS, BLESSES IT AND THE REST AS THEY SAY IS HISTORY. THE STORY ENDS BY TELLING US THERE WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE TO EAT WITH A LARGE AMOUNT LEFT OVER; THE GENEROSITY OF GOD.

THE MESSAGE IS VERY CLEAR FOR US HERE IN THIS CHURCH OF ST JOHN THIS MORNING. THIS CHURCH IS NOT GROWING – IT IS STATIC. AS I SAID IN MY REPORT TO THE ANNUAL VESTRY MEETING, THERE IS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. THIS IS SOMETHING WE MUST ADDRESS IF THIS CHURCH IS TO LIVE INTO THE FUTURE AND FULFIL OUR MISSION STATEMENT “TO BE A VITAL EXPRESSION OF GOD’S PRESENCE IN THE ADELAIDE HILLS”. Abp GEOFF’S LESSON FROM THE GOSPEL STORY WAS THAT WHAT PHILIP SAID WAS ABSOLUTELY TRUE. “SORRY JESUS, WE HAVE NOTHING – WE DON’T HAVE THE RESOURCES TO DO IT” – SO TRUE – THEY DID NOT AND WE AS A SMALL FAITHFUL GROUP OF CHRISTIANS DO NOT. WE ARE AGING, WE HAVE FAMILY COMMITMENTS TO CONSIDER, AND WE HAVE RELATIVELY LIMITED RESOURCES.

BUT IN THE STORY THEY TOOK WHAT THEY HAD AND GAVE IT TO JESUS – WHO BLESSED IT AND DID MIRACULOUS THINGS WITH IT. WE AS A CONGREGATION ARE ANXIOUS TO SEE AN INCREASE IN OUR NUMBERS HERE AT St JOHNS. Abp GEOFF WAS SPEAKING TO A DIOCESAN CONGREGATION WHEN HE ISSUED THE CHALLENGE – FOR THAT IS WHAT IT WAS – TO TAKE WHAT RESOURCES WE HAVE AND BRING THEM TO GOD – THEN TO BE LED AND GUIDED BY HIS SPIRIT IN TOTAL TRUST.  JUST AS THE CROWD WAS FED – SO – IF WE DO THIS WITH SINCERITY AND IN PRAYER – MIGHT NOT WE ALSO BE NURTURED AND THIS PARISH BENEFIT GREATLY AND FLOURISH FOR GOD? MAY WE SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT THIS AND START PRAYING THAT GOD WILL TAKE THE MEAGRE GIFTS WE CAN OFFER AND THROUGH PRAYER AND RENEWED EFFORT BRING NEW LIFE TO THIS PLACE.

TURNING NOW TO THE GOSPEL STORY FOR TODAY WE SEE THE SAME LESSON.

WE SEE TWO DESPONDENT, DISILLUSIONED AND WEARY MEN TRUDGING THE ELEVEN PLUS KILOMETRES FROM JERUSALEM BACK TO THEIR HOME IN THE VILLAGE OF EMMAUS. THEIR HOPES AND EXPECTATIONS HAD VANISHED.

THE MAN THEY THOUGHT WAS GOING TO LEAD THEIR COUNTRY ISRAEL OUT FROM UNDER THE BURDENSOME YOKE OF THE ROMAN OCCUPATION HAD BEEN BRUTALLY EXECUTED. NOTICE THAT FOR LUKE THE GUILT FOR THIS MURDER STILL RESTS WITH THE JEWISH RELIGIOUS LEADERS. BUT GUILT ALSO RESTED HARD UPON THEIR OWN SHOULDERS FOR THEY HAD DESERTED THEIR LEADER WHEN THE CRUNCH HAD COME. THEY WERE REALLY IN A VERY SORRY STATE OF MIND. “THE FUTURE”, THEY ASKED, “WHAT OF THE FUTURE? WHAT FUTURE? MAYBE THERE ISN’T ONE? WE’LL JUST CONTINUE ON WITH OUR LIVES AND TRY TO FORGET THE LAST FEW YEARS. IT WILL BE HARD TO FORGET BECAUSE WE SAW AND HEARD SO MANY MARVELLOUS THINGS WHEN WE WERE TRAVELLING WITH JESUS – BUT IT’S ALL OVER NOW”. IT’S LIKE RETURNING FROM AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF WAR. YOU RELIVE THE GOOD TIMES – BECAUSE THERE ARE ALWAYS GOOD TIMES EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF SUCH A CONFLICT – AND THE BAD TIMES WHEN THINGS LOOKED HOPELESS AND IT APPEARED WE MIGHT NEVER GET OUT OF THIS.

BUT LOOK WHAT HAPPENS TO THEM WHEN THEY MEET UP WITH JESUS AND LISTEN TO HIM. “OUR HEARTS BURNED WITHIN US”, THEY SAID. WITH RENEWED ENERGY THEY IMMEDIATELY TURNED AROUND AND ALMOST SPRINTED THE ELEVEN KILOMETRES BACK TO JERUSALEM. THEY HAD BEEN JOLTED OUT OF THEIR DESPONDENCY, THEIR SELF-DOUBT AND THEIR LETHARGY. THEY WERE REFRESHED AND REVITALISED.   THEY WENT ON OF COURSE TO CHANGE THE WORLD.

THE LESSON IS CLEAR ALSO FOR US HERE IN THIS CHURCH ON THIS 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER. ALL THE TWO MEN HAD TO DO IN ORDER TO CHANGE THEIR MOOD AND ATTITUDE WAS TO LISTEN TO WHAT JESUS WAS TELLING THEM.        THAT’S ALL – JUST LISTEN.

THERE IS NO QUESTION IN MY MIND THAT WE IN THIS CHURCH CAN DO THE SAME. WE CAN LISTEN TO THE SPIRIT OF GOD AS IT SPEAKS TO US THROUGH THESE WONDERFUL OLD WRITINGS AND THROUGH PRAYER.

LET US NOW PRAY:

“GRACIOUS AND LOVING GOD, WE COME BEFORE YOU FEELING AS THE TWO DISCIPLES WERE FEELING ON THAT SAD JOURNEY WHEN THEY FLED FROM THE DISIASTER THAT HAD BEFALLEN THEIR SMALL COMMUNITY IN JERUSALEM. WE TOO FEEL THE WEIGHT OF FRUSTRATION AND APPARENT LACK OF VITALITY IN THIS PLACE. LOVING AND FORGIVING GOD, WE ASK THAT YOU WILL RESPOND TO US AS WE PRAY FOR RENEWED ENTHUSIASM FOR YOUR CHURCH IN NORTON SUMMIT AND THE SURROUNDING AREAS. LORD, WE LEAVE THE BURDEN OF OUR CARES WITH YOU NOW. BLESS THIS PLACE AND BLESS US AS WE STRIVE AFRESH TO FULFIL OUR DEEP DESIRE TO BE A VITAL EXPRESSION OF YOUR PRESENCE IN THIS AREA. AS THE YOUNG BOY BROUGHT HIS OWN LUNCH TO JESUS MAY WE BRING OUR MEAGRE RESOURCES AND ENERGY AFRESH TO REVITALISE THIS PARISH THROUGH OUR PRAYERS AND COMMITMENT TO THE ENERGISING SPIRIT OF CHRIST. JUST AS THE DISCIPLES LISTENED TO JESUS ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS SO MAY WE HEAR YOU NOW AS WE PRAY AND LISTEN FOR YOUR VOICE IN OUR HEARTS? WE PRAY IN JESUS NAME. AMEN

THE LORD BE WITH YOU.

SERMON 23RD APRIL 2017 – EASTER 2  – John 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE.

AFTER READING THIS STORY FROM THE GOSPEL OF JOHN AN EXPERIENCE I HAD IN ROME IN 2012 CAME IMMEDIATELY TO MIND. I HAVE THOUGHT LONG AND HARD ABOUT WHETHER TO SHARE THIS STORY WITH YOU AS IT IS INTENSELY PERSONAL AND STILL VERY EMOTIONAL FOR ME – BUT AFTER MUCH THOUGHT I DECIDED TO RISK IT.

IN 2008 MY LATE WIFE MEREDITH AND I WERE IN ROME AND STAYING AT A PLEASANT LITTLE HOTEL CALLED HOTEL MONDIAL – NOT FAR FROM THE CENTRAL RAILWAY STATION – TERMINI. THIS WAS OUR FIRST VISIT TO ROME AND WE HAD A MOST ENJOYABLE TIME. IT WAS THE 14TH OF AUGUST AND ONE VERY WARM EVENING WE WALKED NEXT DOOR TO A CHARMING RESTAURANT CALLED “COTTO” TO CELEBRATE THE ANNIVERSARY OF OUR ENGAGEMENT WAY BACK IN 1964. THE STAFF WERE GENEROUS AND BELIEVING WE WERE CELEBRATING OUR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY PLIED US WITH EVERYTHING THE MENU – AND BAR – HAD TO OFFER. IN THE PREVIOUS YEAR MEREDITH HAD BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER BUT IN THE YEAR 2008 AFTER SURGERY, RADIO AND CHEMO THERAPY, IT SEEMED AS THOUGH IT HAD BEEN DEFEATED. SADLY THIS WAS NOT THE CASE AND MEREDITH DIED IN SEPTEMBER 2009.

2012 SAW ME BACK IN ROME, ALBEIT STAYING AT A DIFFERENT AREA FROM THE PREVIOUS VISIT. I WAS ACROSS TOWN IN PRATI, ADJACENT TO THE VATICAN. ONE DAY I WAS ENJOYING A LONE TOUR OF AREAS I HAD NOT SEEN BEFORE AND FOUND MYSELF CLOSE TO THE AREA WHERE WE STAYED FOUR YEARS BEFORE. SOMETHING URGED ME TO REVISIT THAT STREET AND SEE AGAIN THE LITTLE HOTEL AND THE COTTO RESTAURANT. AS I APPROACHED THE AREA I EXPERIENCED A VERY TANGIBLE SENSE THAT I WAS NO LONGER WALKING ALONE. I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT MEREDITH WAS THERE WITH ME. I FELT IT VERY STRONGLY AND HAD TO STOP BECAUSE I FOUND MYSELF TRYING TO CHOKE BACK THE EMOTION AND THE TEARS. THE PRESENCE WAS UNEXPECTED BUT VERY REAL – OF THAT I AM CERTAIN. I SIMPLY FELT AGAIN THE WARMTH OF HER PRESENCE AND LOVE AND IT WAS TOO MUCH.  IT WAS NOT A GHOST AS I IMAGINE SUCH A THING TO BE – BUT A SPIRITUAL PRESENCE. THAT FEELING PASSED AFTER A PERIOD AS I FOUND MY WAY BACK ACROSS THE CITY BUT IT IS SOMETHING I SHALL NEVER FORGET. I AM NOT EASILY SHAKEN BUT I WAS THEN.

OF COURSE I WANTED TO ANALYSE THE EXPERIENCE AND PUT IT DOWN TO A PSYCHOLOGICAL EPISODE TRIGGERED BY MY FOND MEMORIES AND THE FACT OF BEING IN THAT PLACE WHERE WE HAD SUCH AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE, BUT SOMEHOW THAT HAS NEVER REALLY BEEN CONVINCING. IT WAS A REAL EXPERIENCE BUT WAS BEYOND RATIONAL EXPLANATION. I WONDER WHETHER ANY OF YOU HERE TODAY HAVE HAD A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE. IF YOU HAVE YOU WILL KNOW EXACTLY HOW I FELT AND THAT WHAT I AM SAYING IS IRRATIONAL BUT INEXPLICABLE BUT REAL.

WHY HAVE I TOLD YOU OF THIS VERY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE? BECAUSE I THINK IT REFLECTS IN SOME SMALL WAY THE EVENTS TOLD BY JOHN IN OUR GOSPEL READING TO DAY.  JOHN WAS A MIDDLE EASTERN JEWISH MYSTIC AND QUITE UNLIKE AN EDUCATED WESTERN EUROPEAN PERSON OF THE 21ST CENTURY. JOHN’S METHOD OF DESCRIBING AN EVENT THAT WAS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO DESCRIBE WAS TO EITHER WRAP IT IN THE STORIES FROM HIS HEBREW BIBLE OR PUT IT INTO A SEEMINGLY FACTUAL STORY. VERSE 31 – THE LAST VERSE IN THIS EXCERPT THAT WE READ THIS MORNING – SUMS UP JOHN’S INTENTIONS IN RELATING THIS STORY. I QUOTE, “… THESE [WORDS] ARE WRITTEN SO THAT YOU MAY COME TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH, THE SON OF GOD, AND THAT THROUGH BELIEVING YOU MAY HAVE LIFE IN HIS NAME.” THREE PHRASES STAND OUT FOR ME IN THIS GOSPEL. FIRST, THE WORDS, “DO NOT BE AFRAID”, SECOND, “PEACE BE WITH YOU” AND THIRD, “YOU MAY HAVE LIFE”.

WHEN FACED WITH AN INEXPLICABLE EXPERIENCE, OFTEN THE HAIRS ON THE BACK OF ONE’S NECK RISE – IT’S A STANDARD HUMAN NERVOUS REACTION. ONE COULD SUM IT UP AS, “FEAR” – A PRIMEVAL REACTION. BUT JOHN IS SAYING FIRMLY, “DO NOT BE AFRAID”. MANY PEOPLE TO DAY ARE AFRAID TO LOWER THEIR GUARD AND ALLOW THE SPIRIT OF GOD TO SPEAK TO THEIR HEART. AS THEY TURN AWAY IN DISBELIEF IT’S SAD THAT THEY DON’T HEAR THE PLEA WHISPERED IN THEIR MIND, “DO NOT BE AFRAID” – IT IS NOT A VOICE OF FEAR BUT OF LOVE.

TODAY THERE IS ONE WORD IN OUR LANGUAGE THAT LIES BATTERED AND BLEEDING AT OUR FEET. IT IS THE WORD, “PEACE”. WE WISH FOR PEACE, WE PRAY FOR PEACE – BUT IT NEVER SEEMS TO COME. HATE AND WAR SEEMS PERPETUAL. WE SAY, “WILL IT NEVER END?” WE CAN ALL RELATE TO THAT BUT THAT IS NOT THE PEACE JOHN IS TALKING ABOUT. PICTURE HIS AND HIS COMMUNITIES’ CIRCUMSTANCES AT THE END OF THE FIRST CENTURY AND THE BEGINNING OF THE SECOND. THE ROMAN OCCUPATION WAS HEAVY UPON THE PEOPLE; THE LITTLE MINORITY CONGREGATIONS OF JESUS’ FOLLOWERS WERE SET ABOUT BY NOT JUST THE ROMAN ARMY BUT BY THE ORTHODOX JEWS IN THEIR SYNAGOGUES. BY THE TIME JOHN WROTE, THE SPLIT OF THE CHRISTIANS FROM THE SYNAGOGUES WAS WELL AND TRULY UNDERWAY; THERE WAS MUCH ACRIMONY AMONGST THE JEWISH PEOPLE. ADDED TO THOSE STRESSES WERE THE SCHISMS OPENING UP WITHIN THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH AS WELL. PEOPLE WERE PROMOTING VARIOUS IDEAS AS TO THE TRUE IDENTITY OF JESUS WHO HAD BEEN MERCILESSLY CRUCIFIED SOME 70 OR 80 YEARS BEFORE. THAT IS, BY THE WAY, AN ARGUMENT THAT SEEMS TO BE ONGOING EVEN 2000 YEARS LATER. NO, JOHN’S WAS NOT A PEACEFUL LIFE AS WE IMAGINE IT, FAR FROM IT, BUT HE CONTENDS STRONGLY THAT IN CHRIST THERE IS REAL PEACE. THAT’S WHERE WE CAN FIND IT; NOT ON THE TELEVISION OR THE ONLINE NEWS BUT IN THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST. THAT’S JOHN’S MESSAGE.

FOR JOHN THE REWARD OF FOLLOWING CHRIST IN LOVE AND PEACE WAS LIFE. WELL, WE ARE ALL ALIVE SO WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT? MANY THINK ABOUT THIS SO CALLED ETERNAL LIFE BEING SOME SORT OF HEAVENLY EXISTENCE AFTER DEATH BUT IT HAS BEEN SUMMED UP QUITE WELL AS REFERRING TO THE ONE LIFE WE GET TO LEAD – THE HERE AND NOW! AS HUMANS WE CAN LIVE OUR LIVES AT VARYING LEVELS OF SUCCESS AND SATISFACTION BUT TO BECOME TRULY AND FULLY HUMAN- TO REACH THE HEIGHT AND QUALITY OF LIFE TO WHICH WE WOULD ALL ASPIRE – THE ULTIMATE LIFE IF YOU WILL – WE NEED TO FILL OUR INNATE YEARNING FOR A SPIRITUAL HOME. THAT IS THE LIFE JOHN IS TALKING ABOUT – THE ULTIMATE – AND IT IS TO BE FOUND IN MEETING JESUS JUST AS HE TELLS HIS STORY OF THE DISCIPLES, AND THOMAS NEEDING TO PROVE THIS STORY TO HIMSELF.  HE MEETS JESUS AND FINDS ALL THE PROMISES PROVEN.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT, “DON’T BE AFRAID, PEACE BE WITH YOU, AND HERE IS THE REAL AND ULTIMATE LIFE.”

AFTER MY OWN EXPERIENCE I HAVE NO DOUBT THOSE PEOPLE OF OLD MET JESUS – NOT IN THE FLESH OF COURSE BUT IN SPIRIT – THE SPIRIT OF LOVE WHICH OVERCOMES EVERYTHING.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AMEN

My sermon is a bit provocative today – no apologies!

Do play the UTube clip.

SERMON – EASTER DAY 2017 – 16TH APRIL

Matthew 28:1-10

1 After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come; see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

SOME MIGHT REMEMBER THAT BACK IN 1972 THE THEN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, RICHARD NIXON CREATED WORLD HISTORY WHEN HE WENT ON A STATE VISIT TO CHINA AND MET MAO TSE DUNG AND PREMIER CHOU EN LAI. IN 1987 AN OPERA WAS PREMIERED, WRITTEN BY JOHN ADAMS WITH LIBRETTO BY ALICE GOODMAN AND ENTITLED “NIXON IN CHINA” – SOME MAY HAVE HEARD OF IT AND SOME MAY HAVE EVEN SEEN IT PERFORMED. IN THE FIRST ACT THE SINGER PORTRAYING NIXON SINGS THIS:                                 PLAY YOU TUBE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9EzSEFeyoA

IN REAL LIFE THE ASTUTE “TRICKY DICKY” NIXON WAS VERY AWARE OF WHAT HAS NOW BECOME THE 24 HOUR NEWS CYCLE. THE WORDS OF THAT OPERA ARIA REFLECT THAT: “NEWS HAS A KIND OF MYSTERY: WHEN I SHOOK HANDS WITH CHOU EN-LAI, ON THIS BARE FIELD OUTSIDE PEKING, JUST NOW, THE WORLD WAS LISTENING.”

THE WORD NEWS CONJURES UP FACTUAL REPORTING OF AN INCIDENT BUT WE HAVE SEEN THAT CHANGE, AND IN ORDER TO FILL THE CONSTANTLY REVOLVING 24 HOUR CYCLE WE NOW ARE BOMBARDED WITH NOT JUST NEWS BUT OPINIONS PRESENTED IN THE GUISE OF NEWS. ANY REPORTED INCIDENT NOW GENERATES A PLETHORA OF OPINIONS – ALL AUTHORITATIVE- ALL QUITE CONFUSING.

“I HAVE NEWS FOR YOU – SOME GOOD NEWS AND SOME BAD NEWS – WHICH DO YOU WANT TO HEAR FIRST?” WE HAVE ALL HEARD THOSE WORDS THAT IMMEDIATELY BRING TO OUR MINDS A TINGLE OF FEAR – WHAT IS COMING NEXT? THE PROMISE OF GOOD NEWS FADES INTO INSIGNIFICANCE AND WE ONLY WANT TO HEAR THE PROMISED BAD NEWS. OF COURSE WE HEAR NOTHING BUT BAD NEWS WHEN WE TURN ON OUR TELEVISIONS OR OPEN OUR NEWSPAPER OR LOOK AT THE NEWS FEED ON OUR DIGITAL DEVICE – ONCE CALLED A TELEPHONE. INDEED – NEWS DOES HAVE A KIND OF MYSTERY AND MOSTLY NOWADAYS IT BRINGS FEELINGS OF TREPIDATION AND EVEN FEAR. TO PARAPHRASE “NIXON IN CHINA” – THE WORLD IS LISTENING”. IN RELATION TO THE CHURCH AND CHRISTIAN ETHICS AND MORALS I SHOULD REALLY SAY – “THE WORLD WAS LISTENING”.

TODAY IT IS EVIDENT THAT THE WORLD IS NOT LISTENING. RESPECTED WRITER PAUL KELLY HAS WRITTEN AN EXCELLENT BUT DISTURBING ARTICLE IN THIS WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER. IT IS HEADED “A NEW SECULARISM THRASHES TRADITION”.  – “PROGRESSIVE MORALITY IS ELBOWING OUT CHRISTIAN VALUES”. HE QUOTES BRITISH SOCIOLOGIST FRANK FUREDI, “ADVOCATES OF CULTURAL POLITICS HAVE SUCCEEDED IN MARGINALISING THE INFLUENCE OF TRADITIONAL VALUES AND THEIR OUTDATED LANGUAGE”.

KELLY ARGUES THAT “…THE WESTERN SECULAR DEMOCRATIC STATE WAS FOUNDED ON A NEGOTIATED HARMONY BETWEEN SECULARISTS AND CHRISTIANS ABOUT THE ULTIMATE QUESTIONS.”  THIS BALANCE IS NOW BEING ERODED BEFORE OUR VERY EYES. THERE IS A NEW MORALITY THE PROPONENTS OF WHICH ARE CONSTANTLY BUILDING THEIR PLATFORM OF ISSUES ON WHICH TO MORALISE. CHRISTIANITY – READ THE CHURCH – STANDS MUTE AND SIDELINED. WHAT WERE ONCE PERSONAL ISSUES OF VALUES AND MORALITY HAVE BECOME POLITICISED AND THE LANGUAGE USED TO CONTEST THESE THINGS SUCH AS HOW YOU RAISE YOUR CHILDREN, WHAT YOU EAT, THE LANGUAGE YOU USE – ARE NOW INTERPRETED AS POLITICAL STATEMENTS. POLITICS, HE WRITES, IS INTRUDING INTO PRIVATE AND FAMILY LIFE. VALUE JUDGEMENTS ARE BEING MADE ABOUT HOW YOU LIVE IN A WAY INCONCEIVABLE TWO DECADES AGO.WE ARE NOW BEING TOLD HOW CHILDREN MUST BE RAISED – THE STRUCTURE OF FAMILY LIFE AND THE DEPLOYMENT OF MULTICULTURALISM TO WEAKEN OUR CHRISTIAN SYMBOLS. BECAUSE THE CHRISTIAN ETHOS IS IDENTIFIED WITH THE PAST AND TRADITION – PART OF THE PROBLEM – IT BECOMES A PRIORITY FOR THE PURGING. PUT BLUNTLY THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH IS IN DECLINE AND UNLESS IT WAKES UP – WILL CONTINUE TO BE MARGINALISED INTO IRRELEVANCE. I HAVE TO SAY IT DOESN’T HAVE FAR TO GO – IF IN FACT IT ISN’T ALREADY IRRELEVANT. I WAS SADDENED AT THE PLAYING OF AN AFL GAME ON GOOD FRIDAY – IS NOTHING SACRED? THE ANSWER OF COURSE IS NO – NOT WHEN MONEY IS AT STAKE. BUT MORE TO THE POINT I HEARD NOTHING – NOT A WHISPER – FROM ANY CHRISTIAN CHURCH ORGANISATION. IF IT HAD SAID ANYTHING IT WOULD HAVE BEEN IGNORED AT BEST OR RIDICULED FOR BEING OUT OF DATE AND LIVING IN THE PAST – A LARGELY ACCURATE CHARGE. THE CHURCH HAS GONE FROM BEING A VITALISED GROUP OF FOLLOWERS OF JESUS TO A LARGELY INSULAR BODY CLINGING TO ITS PAST THEOLOGIES.

THE NEWS THAT THE WOMEN ARE GIVEN IN MATTHEW’S STORY IS TOTALLY UNEXPECTED AND SHATTERING. IN HIS STORY THEY, HAVING WATCHED JESUS DIE IN AGONY WHILST NAILED TO A ROMAN CROSS, ARE NOW CONFRONTED WITH THE NEWS THEY LEAST EXPECTED TO HEAR – “HE IS ALIVE”.  MATTHEW DRESSES THIS STORY UP IN AN AMAZING WAY. HE WRITES OF A GREAT EARTHQUAKE, A SPIRITUAL SUPERNATURAL BEING APPEARING AND MAGICALLY ROLLING AWAY THE GREAT STONE SEALING THE TOMB. THE GUARDS ORDERED TO GUARD THE TOMB FAINT WITH FEAR BUT THE ANGEL SPEAKS TO THE WOMEN – AND IN A BETTER TRANSLATION OF THE GREEK SAYS,”DON’T YOU BE AFRAID”. BASICALLY SAYING “THESE IDIOTS LYING IN A FAINT AREN’T WORTH WORRYING ABOUT – THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE IN JESUS ANYWAY”! THE WOMEN STILL “LEFT THE TOMB IN FEAR” BUT ALSO WITH A NEW SENSE OF RISING JOY IN THEIR HEARTS AND RUSHED OFF TO PASS THE INCREDIBLE NEWS ON TO THE REST OF THE GROUP. IT’S A GREAT NEWS STORY – BEAUTIFULLY TOLD – BUT IS IT REAL? IS THIS WHAT LITERALLY HAPPENED ON THAT MORNING IN JERUSALEM? THE ANSWER IS OF COURSE – NO. THE PROBLEM THAT MATTHEW HAD, ALONG WITH THE WRITERS OF THE OTHER GOSPELS WAS TO ATTEMPT TO PUT INTO WORDS AN EXPERIENCE THAT WAS FRANKLY INEXPLICABLE. DID THE RESURRECTION REALLY HAPPEN? DID JESUS REALLY RISE FROM THE DEAD AND APPEAR TO HIS FOLLOWERS? THE ANSWER HAS TO BE – YES – OTHERWISE HOW CAN THE RADICAL CHANGE IN THEIR LIVES BE EXPLAINED? OVERNIGHT THEY WENT FROM FEARFUL PEOPLE HUDDLED IN A CORNER TO SEEK PROTECTION FROM THE ROMANS AND THE JEWISH TEMPLE AUTHORITIES TO OUTSPOKEN EVANGELISTS FOR CHRIST – UNAFRAID TO ACTUALLY PUT THEIR OWN LIVES ON THE LINE. THAT SORT OF CHANGE DOESN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT A RADICAL LIFECHANGING EXPERIENCE OF SOME SORT.

IN ORDER TO FIND A CLUE AS TO WHAT MIGHT REALLY HAVE HAPPENED WE NEED TO GO TO THE BOOK OF ACTS WHERE THE WRITER LUKE RELATES HOW SAUL OF TARSUS – THE TENTMAKER AND PHARISEE – LEARN-ED IN THE TORAH AND A DECLARED OPPONENT OF THE BREAKAWAY SECT WITHIN JUDAISM – BECAME TRANSFORMED INTO PAUL THE MISSIONARY FOR CHRIST WHO OPENED THE WAY OF JESUS TO NON JEWISH PEOPLE AND WITHOUT WHOM THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH WOULD NOT EXIST TODAY.  LUKE ATTESTS THAT – “NOW AS SAUL WAS GOING ALONG AND APPROACHING DAMASCUS, SUDDENLY A LIGHT FROM HEAVEN FLASHED AROUND HIM. HE FELL TO THE GROUND AND HEARD A VOICE SAYING TO HIM, “SAUL, SAUL, WHY DO YOU PERSECUTE ME?” HE ASKED, “WHO ARE YOU, LORD?” THE REPLY CAME, “I AM JESUS, WHOM YOU ARE PERSECUTING. BUT GET UP AND ENTER THE CITY, AND YOU WILL BE TOLD WHAT YOU ARE TO DO.” THE MEN WHO WERE TRAVELLING WITH HIM STOOD SPEECHLESS BECAUSE THEY HEARD THE VOICE BUT SAW NO ONE”.

I BELIEVE THAT HERE WE HAVE A STORY THAT WAS PERHAPS CLOSER TO THE HAPPENINGS OF THAT FIRST EASTER MORNING THAT WE READ IN THE GOSPELS. JESUS LIVED – YES – BUT IN SOME SORT OF SPIRITUAL WAY RATHER THAN IN A CHANGED PHYSICAL BODY. KELLY’S ARTICLE PAINTS A DARK PICTURE. BUT THERE IS LIGHT. I BELIEVE THAT WITH ALL GOOD INTENTIONS MUCH OF THE CHURCH HAS DESERTED JESUS BUT I THINK WE ALSO UNDERESTIMATE HIM.

REVD DAVID MCDOUGALL, A DOCTORAL STUDENT AT ST BARNABAS COLLEGE IN ADELAIDE WROTE THIS:  ‘DON’T BE AFRAID’, JESUS SAYS TO HIS DISCIPLES WHO HAD DESERTED HIM AT HIS MOST TRAGIC HOUR, AND ‘PEACE BE WITH YOU.’…  WITH THAT ALL FEAR OF RE-CRIMINATION LEAVES THE ROOM AND, I SUPPOSE, A FEAST BEGINS. CAN WE POSSIBLY BEGIN HERE – IN THIS CHURCH – WITH US? COME TO CHURCH MORE OFTEN – TURN AWAY FROM THE INFLUENCES THAT WOULD PREVENT YOU BEING PART OF THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY – COME AND HEAR THE GOOD NEWS – LEAVE THE BAD NEWS FOR THE MEDIA AND THEIR 24 HOUR NEWS CYCLE. HERE IS NO FEAR OF RECRIMINATION BUT THERE IS A FEAST OF LOVE AND INCLUSIVITY.                                           HAPPY EASTER TO YOU ALL. AMEN

I’m sorry the Gospel reading is so long this week – but it’s not my fault! 🙂

SERMON 9TH APRIL 2017 – PALM (PASSION) SUNDAY

Matthew 27:11-54

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. 15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” 24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. 32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.’ ” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” 

                                           THE BLAME GAME!

WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE NO ONE REALLY WANTS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR MISTAKES OR EVEN THEIR ACTIONS. WE SEE PEOPLE WHO HAVE – WITHOUT MUCH SHADOW OF DOUBT – COMMITTED THE MOST HEINOUS CRIMES PLEAD “NOT GUILTY” AND SO PUT THE COMMUNITY TO THE GREAT EXPENSE AND TROUBLE OF FURTHER CLOGGING AN ALREADY FULL COURT SYSTEM. FACTS ARE TWISTED – DOUBTS ARE RAISED BY SMART LAWYERS AND READING THE PRINT MEDIA AND SEEING THESE STORIES UNFOLD ON THE TV NEWS OFTEN SERVES ONLY TO CONFUSE US OBSERVERS – ONE ENDS UP NOT KNOWING WHAT TO BELIEVE. OF COURSE POLITICIANS OF ALL SIDES HAVE TAKEN THIS ART OF BLAMESHIFTING TO AN ENTIRELY NEW AND HIGHER LEVEL – JUST WITNESS THE RECENT TO-ING AND FRO-ING OVER THE MATTER OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA’S UNRELIABLE POWER SUPPLY.

BACK IN THE FIRST CENTURY THE WRITER OF THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW PLAYED THE BLAME GAME TO PERFECTION. IT POSSIBLY HAD THE DESIRED RESULT THEN BUT HE COULD NEVER HAVE VISUALISED THE DISASTROUS RAMIFICATIONS THAT WERE TO UNFOLD DURING THE FOLLOWING CENTURIES. HIS REASONING SEEMED QUITE SOUND AND LOGICAL AT THE TIME. AT THE TIME OF WRITING THE ROMANS HAD ALREADY SUBDUED THE UPRISING OF THE JEWISH – ROMAN WAR AND HAD COMPLETED THEIR VICTORY BY DESTROYING JERUSALEM AND FINALLY MASADA IN 73.                                                                           SO THE PESKY MILITANT JEWISH PEOPLE WERE NOT EXACTLY THE FLAVOUR OF THE MONTH IN ROME. TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE THE TENSIONS BETWEEN THE REGULAR “ORTHODOX” JEWS AND THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WERE COMING TO A HEAD.                                                  THE QUESTION FOR MATTHEW WAS, ‘HOW TO DEFLECT THE IRE OF THE ROMANS AWAY FROM THE BUDDING CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY?’                                                            AAH! IDEA! WE WILL BLAME THE ORTHODOX JEWS FOR THE DEATH OF JESUS RATHER THAN THE TRULY RESPONSIBLE PEOPLE – THE ROMANS.

WE WILL TRY TO BE FRIENDS RATHER THAN ENEMIES WITH ROME – THAT SHOULD GET THE ROMANS OFF OUR BACKS.’ WELL, IT SORT OF WORKED.

SEEKING TO SEPARATE THEMSELVES FROM THE ORTHODOX PARTY OF THE JEWS, WHOM THEY BLAMED FOR STARTING THAT DESTRUCTIVE WAR, THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS SOUGHT TO MAKE THE CASE WITH ROME THAT THEY SHOULD NOT BE PUNISHED FOR THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE JEWISH FANATICS WHO CONSTITUTED THE ORTHODOX PARTY. IT WAS A DIFFICULT CASE FOR THEM TO MAKE, HOWEVER, SINCE JESUS, THE ONE THEY FOLLOWED, HAD ALSO BEEN EXECUTED BY THE ROMANS FOR CAUSING PUBLIC DISTURBANCE.

BUT SUPPOSE, THEY SAID TO THE ROMAN AUTHORITIES THAT THE ROMANS ONLY CRUCIFIED JESUS AT THE BEHEST OF THE ORTHODOX PARTY OF THE JEWS, WHO SOUGHT TO GET RID OF HIS THREATENING TEACHING BY PORTRAYING JESUS AS A POLITICAL REVOLUTIONARY WHO WANTED TO SET UP A RIVAL KINGDOM.      RECALL THE SIGN THAT PILATE ORDERED TO BE PLACED OVER THE CROSS: ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ “THE ORTHODOX PARTY HAD TWISTED HIS MESSAGE AND MIS-REPRESENTED HIM” – THE CHRISTIANS CONTENDED TO THE ROMANS. THE SAME RELIGIOUS FANATICS, THEY ARGUED, WHO HAD EARLIER STARTED THE ROMAN WAR HAD ALSO  BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN THE DEATH OF OUR LEADER.

IT WAS A SKILFUL USE OF THAT OLD ADAGE: ‘WE SHOULD BE FRIENDS SINCE WE HAVE A COMMON ENEMY.’  ROMAN WRATH, THEY WANTED THE AUTHORITIES OF ROME TO KNOW, SHOULD NOT FALL INDISCRIMINATELY ON ALL JEWS.

HOW BETTER COULD THEY SEEK ROMAN FAVOUR THAN BY WHITEWASHING THE ROMAN PROCURATOR PONTIUS PILATE IN THEIR NARRATIVE OF JESUS’ FINAL DAYS – EXONERATING HIM OF ANY BLAME IN HIS DEATH? HISTORY TELLS US THAT THIS WAS A TOTAL MISREPRESENTATION OF PILATE. IN DESCRIBING PILATE’S PERSONALITY, PHILO WRITES IN THE 1ST CENTURY THAT PILATE HAD “VINDICTIVENESS AND FURIOUS TEMPER”, AND WAS “NATURALLY INFLEXIBLE, A BLEND OF SELF-WILL AND RELENTLESSNESS”. REFERRING TO PILATE’S GOVERNANCE, PHILO FURTHER DESCRIBES “HIS CORRUPTION, AND HIS ACTS OF INSOLENCE, AND HIS RAPINE, AND HIS HABIT OF INSULTING PEOPLE, AND HIS CRUELTY, AND HIS CONTINUAL MURDERS OF PEOPLE UNTRIED AND UNCONDEMNED, AND HIS NEVER ENDING, AND GRATUITOUS, AND MOST GRIEVOUS INHUMANITY.”

BUT PILATE, IN THE DEVELOPING GOSPEL STORY, WAS PORTRAYED AS WASHING HIS HANDS, CLAIMING HIS INNOCENCE AND REFERRING TO JESUS AS “THIS JUST MAN IN WHOM I FIND NO FAULT.” THE JEWISH CROWD WAS PORTRAYED AS ACCEPTING THE BLAME, BY SAYING: “HIS BLOOD BE UPON US AND UPON OUR CHILDREN.” THE SHIFT IN BLAME WAS COMPLETE – THE JEWS DID IT.

AS AN ASIDE, THE NAME OF JUDAS ISCARIOT, WHO PROBABLY DID NOT EXIST IN REALITY, IS THE NAME OF THE JUDAEN NATION. SO MATTHEW IS REALLY SAYING BY CREATING THIS CHARACTER THAT – JUDAH- THE JEWISH NATION – DID IT. JUDAS – AKA THE NATION – IS THE ENEMY – THE JEWS ARE THE ENEMY BUT PILATE AND THE ROMANS ARE OUR FRIENDS.

THAT IS WHERE THE CHRISTIAN PREJUDICE OF ANTI-SEMITISM HAS GROWN FROM. THAT IS THE SOURCE OUT OF WHICH ALL THE HOSTILITY OF TWO MILLENIA TOWARD THE JEWISH PEOPLE HAS FLOWED. THAT IS WHAT ALLOWED CHRISTIANS TO TOLERATE AND EVEN TO CELEBRATE A VIOLENT, KILLING ANTI-JEWISH UNDERCURRENT THAT WOULD EMERGE IN CHILLING HORROR IN THE WRITINGS OF THE CHURCH FATHERS – THE CRUSADES – THE INQUISITION – THE RESPONSE TO THE BUBONIC PLAGUE – IN THE WRITINGS OF REFORMERS LIKE LUTHER AND ULTIMTIMATELY IN THE 20TH CENTURY HOLOCAUST.

THE QUESTION FOR MATTHEW AND HIS COMMUNITY WAS, “WHO WAS TO BE MOST FEARED?” – THE JEWISH RABBIS AND THEIR FOLLOWERS OR THE ROMANS.

IT WAS AN EASY QUESTION TO ANSWER – “THE ROMANS OF COURSE – WHO COULD AND WERE CONTINUING THEIR PERSECUTIONS OF THE JEWS.”

SO, AS THEY BECAME IDENTIFIED AS A SEPARATE BODY IN THE LATE FIRST CENTURY THE BUDDING CHRISTIANS LOGICALLY SOUGHT TO MINIMISE THE PRESSURE FROM THE ROMAN ARMY AND DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM THE SYNAGOGUES.

NOW IT BECOMES CLEAR AS TO HOW THE ANTI-ORTHODOX RHETORIC OF THE FIRST CENTURY GOSPEL WRITERS MORPHED INTO THE RAMPANT ANTI-SEMITISM WE HAVE WITNESSED OVER THE CENTURIES.

HOW THEN DOES THIS HISTORIC STORY HAVE RELEVANCE AND MEANING FOR US TODAY? IT’S ALL ABOUT OUR PREJUDICES. THE ONLY PURPOSE IN RAISING THE SOURCES OF OUR PREJUDICES INTO OUR CONSCIOUSNESS IS TO ENABLE US TO EXPEL THESE PREJUDICES.

LET’S KEEP THIS PERSONAL – THE BIBLICAL TEXTS THAT WE CHRISTIANS HAVE USED FOR CENTURIES TO JUSTIFY HOSTILITY TOWARD THE JEWS NEED TO BE BANISHED FOREVER FROM THE SACRED WRITINGS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.

ALSO FOR US TODAY THIS SHOULD NOT BE SIMPLY A STORY FROM ANCIENT HISTORY – IT IS NOT JUST A STORY ABOUT PREJUDICE AGAINST JEWS. IF WE ARE HONEST WITH OURSELVES WE ALL CARRY AROUND PREJUDICES OF ONE SORT OR ANOTHER – PREJUDICES AGAINST ANYONE WHO MIGHT DIFFER FROM OURSELVES IN APPEARANCE, RACE, SEXUALITY OR RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION.

HOW CAN WE THEN RESPOND TO THIS CHALLENGE? THE WAY TO BEGIN I BELIEVE IS TO RETURN TO THE CHRIST CONSCIOUSNESS THAT CAUSED THE EARLY CHRISTIANS TO ASSERT – AS LUKE DOES IN THE PENTECOST STORY OF ACTS 2 – THAT TO BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT IS TO TRANSCEND ALL TRIBAL BOUNDARIES AND TO SPEAK THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF LOVE.

IT IS TO RECOVER THE POWER IN PAUL’S WORDS TO THE GALATIANS IN CHAPTER 3 – THAT “IN CHRIST THERE IS NEITHER JEW NOR GREEK BUT A NEW CREATION”.

TO ENTER THAT NEW CREATION MAY WELL BE WHAT IS REQUIRED IF THE HUMAN RACE IS TO SURVIVE.

THIS IS A LESSON FOR ALL OF US NOW – ESPECIALLY AS WE ENTER HOLY WEEK AND AGAIN RELIVE THE PASSION AND RESURRECTION OF CHRIST OVER EASTER.

A FINAL QUESTION – CAN YOU STILL JUSTIFY FINDING SOMEWHERE TO TRANSFER YOUR OWN PREJUDICES AND THUS ABSOLVE YOUR CONSCIENCE?

THE LORD BE WITH YOU ESPECIALLY DURING THIS COMING WEEK. AMEN

 

 

 

 

SERMON 19TH MARCH 2017 – ST JOHN’S CATHEDRAL HONG KONG – CHORAL EVENSONG

EPHESIANS 6: 10-20

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

FIRST – I EXPRESS MY PLEASURE AT BEING HERE WITH YOU ALL AND DUE TO THE GENEROSITY OF DEAN MATTHIAS HAVING THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE SOME THOUGHTS SURROUNDING PAUL’S LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE

I VENTURE TO SAY THAT I WOULD NOT BE CONTRADICTED SHOULD I MAKE THE COMMENT THAT HONG KONG IS AN INTERNATIONAL CITY MADE UP OF MANY VARYING AND DIVERGENT NATIONALITIES AND CULTURES.THIS LETTER TO THE BUDDING GROUPS WHO FOLLOWED JESUS WITHIN THE SYNAGOGUE AT EPHESUS – A PORTION OF WHICH WE HAVE JUST READ – WAS ADDRESSED TO A VERY SIMILAR PLACE. IT WAS ADDRESSED TO A MULTICULTURAL CHURCH COMMUNITY– PRIMARILY A BLEND OF JEWISH AND GREEK. HERE PAUL ADDRESSES THE ISSUES THAT WERE OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO THE DIVERSE RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS WHICH WERE PRESENT IN THE EPHESUS COMMUNITY AND INDEED RIGHT ACROSS THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN REGION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.

AS WITH MOST OF THESE ANCIENT TEXTS SCHOLARS DIFFER IN THEIR OPINIONS BUT IT IS GENERALLY ACCEPTED THAT PAUL WROTE FROM PRISON IN ROME ABOUT THE YEAR 62 – SOME 3 OR SO YEARS BEFORE HIS DEATH AT THE HANDS OF THE EMPEROR NERO.

CULTURAL DIVERSITY CAN, AS WE ALL KNOW BRING ITS OWN SET OF RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS BETWEEN PEOPLE.

MISUNDERSTANDINGS CAN BE COMMON DUE TO DIVERGENT LANGUAGES AND CULTURAL PRACTICES. WHAT IS THE NORM FOR ONE PERSON MAY WELL BE OFFENSIVE TO ANOTHER. THIS CAN EASILY LEAD TO CONFLICT – PARTICULARLY IF ONE PERSON IS PART OF A MINORITY GROUP. THE PEOPLE TO WHOM THIS LETTER WAS WRITTEN WERE INDEED PART OF A MINORITY GROUP. THEY WERE MEMBERS OF A BREAKAWAY SECT OF THE JEWISH FAITH WHICH WERE LATER CALLED CHRISTIANS. THIS TERM “CHRISTIAN” ORIGINATED IN THE CITY OF ANTIOCH AND IS FIRST MENTIONED BY THE WRITER OF THE BOOK OF ACTS ABOUT THE LATE 80’S OR EARLY 90’S. SO WE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT AT THE TIME OF PAUL’S WRITING THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WERE STILL PART OF THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUE – ALBEIT LIVING IN TENSION WITH THE “REGULAR” JEWS. SO WE HAVE A JEWISH MINORITY LIVING WITHIN A SLIGHTLY LARGER JEWISH MINORITY. YOU CAN ASK – “HOW ‘MINORITY’ CAN YOU GET?” 

IT IS ONLY FAIR TO SAY THAT IN THE ANCIENT WORLD IT WAS CONSIDERED THAT REFUSAL TO HONOUR LOCAL OR IMPERIAL DEITIES COULD BE TAKEN AS HARMFUL TO THE WHOLE OF THE WIDER COMMUNITY. OBVIOUSLY THIS IS WHERE THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS DIVERGED FROM THE MAJORITY – AND IT WAS A VERY VISIBLE DIVERGENCE – SETTING THEM APART IN A VERY VISIBLE MANNER.

A TINY MINORITY WITH RADICAL VIEWS OFFENSIVE TO THE MAJORITY INVITES CONFLICT. IF WE LOOK AROUND OUR WORLD TODAY WE CAN EASILY SEE THE EXACT SAME PHENOMENON.

PAUL IS EXHORTING HIS HEARERS TO CLOTHE THEMSELVES IN PROTECTIVE GEAR BECAUSE HE SEES THE PERPETRATORS OF DISCORD AND VIOLENCE NOT IN THE ACTUAL PERSON BUT IN THE GENERAL SPIRIT OF EVIL WHICH BECOMES MANIFEST IN DIVISION, HATRED AND VIOLENCE TOWARD THE VULNERABLE. THIS ATTITUDE IS NOT CONFINED TO THE DISTANT PAST NOR TO ONE PARTICULAR PART OF THE WORLD BUT IS PRESENT WITH US TODAY AND IS UNVERSAL.                  I, AS YOU MIGHT KNOW, AM AUSTRALIAN. AUSTRALIA, ONCE CONSIDERED A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY HAS, SINCE THE MIDDLE OF THE 20TH CENTURY EVOLVED INTO A SECULAR SOCIETY.                                                                         AND AS A RESULT OF MEDIA REPORTS OF THE VIOLENCE RAMPANT IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND EUROPE COMBINED WITH THE INFLUX OF REFUGEES FROM PREDOMINENTLY MUSLIM COUNTRIES THERE IS CURRENTLY A HOT DEBATE IN MY COUNTRY AND AN ATTEMPT BY SOME TO RESTRICT OR STOP THE ENTRY OF THESE PEOPLE. MUSLIM WOMEN, DUE TO THEIR CLOTHING STYLES ARE ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE. MANY PEOPLE CONTEND THAT AUSTRALIA IS IN DANGER OF BEING SWAMPED BY MUSLIMS BUT THE 2011 CENSUS SHOWED ONLY 2.2% OF OUR POPULATION TO BE MUSLIM. HERE IS A MODERN EXAMPLE OF A SMALL BUT HIGHLY VISIBLE MINORITY BEING CASTIGATED FOR SIMPLY BEING DIFFERENT AND SUFFERING FOR THE ACTIONS OF ITS OWN RADICAL MINORITY.

SO PAUL WRITES FOR A MINORITY AND USES THE METAPHOR OF PUTTING ON ARMOUR FOR PROTECTION. SOME MIGHT VIEW THIS AS AN EXHORTATION TO PREPARE FOR BATTLE – BECAUSE FOR CENTURIES THE WEARING OF ARMOUR HAS BEEN A PRESURSOR TO ARMED CONFLICT. BUT THIS IS NOT WHAT PAUL IS SAYING. HIS ARMOUR IS CLEARLY SPIRITUAL AND IS FOR PROTECTION – NOT AGGRESSION. THE VERY NATURE OF PAUL’S ‘ARMOUR’ MAKES IT CLEAR THAT HIS MESSAGE IS A SURVIVAL STRATEGY FOR PERSONS OF FAITH IN A HOSTILE WORLD – NOT A STRATEGY FOR AGGRESSION. SO PUT ASIDE THOUGHTS OF RETALIATION AND CONFLICT BY THE MINORITY – THAT IS NOT WHERE PAUL IS COMING FROM. PAUL’S ARMOUR IS DESIGNED TO HELP HIS HEARERS STAND FIRM IN THE FACE OF AGGRESSION. STANDING FIRM – OR STANDING FAST – AS HE SAYS IN VERSE 13 – IS A VERY SIGNIFICANT PART OF HIS EXHORTATION. THE ARMOUR IS TO EMPOWER THE BELIEVERS TO WITHSTAND THE EVILS THAT SURROUND AND THREATEN THEM.

THIS ARMOUR IS PROFOUNDLY DEFENSIVE. THE ONLY PIECE DESIGNED FOR ATTACK IS THE SWORD – AND EVEN THAT WEAPON IS THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT – THE WORD OF GOD.

PAUL’S BELIEVERS ARE GIRDED IN TRUTH, FAITH, PEACE, THE SPIRIT OF GOD THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD – AND IN PRAYER FOR BOTH THEIR DEFENCE AND STRENGTH.                HERE WE CAN HEAR PAUL SPEAKING TO US TODAY. BUT BE AWARE THAT SUCH A DONNING OF THE ARMOUR OF GOD IS NOT INTENDED TO MAKE US AN IMPENETRABLE COMMUNITY WHICH DOES NOT HEAR THE CRIES OF OTHERS. NEITHER DOES IT RENDER US IMPERVIOUS TO CHANGE.

INDEED, IN IDENTIFYING THE “MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL” AND CALLING UPON BELIEVERS TO REMAIN ALERT (V. 18) AND PRAYING FOR WISE SPEECH – THE ARMOUR OF GOD PROTECTS US FROM CONFUSING ‘STANDING FAST’ WITH ‘RIGIDITY’ WHICH IS DESTRUCTIVE BOTH TO COMMUNITIES AND INDIVIDUALS. DARK POWERS ADAPT READILY – EAGER TO DRAW BELIEVERS FROM A LIFE OF FAITHFUL LOVE. GOD’S ARMOUR HAS EMPOWERED BELIEVERS THROUGH THE MILLENNIA TO RESIST SUCH MANIPULATION.

IN CHAPTER 4 OF THIS LETTER PAUL WRITES: “AS A PRISONER FOR THE LORD, THEN, I URGE YOU TO LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE CALLING YOU HAVE RECEIVED. BE COMPLETELY HUMBLE AND GENTLE; BE PATIENT, BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE. MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO KEEP THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT THROUGH THE BOND OF PEACE.” IN OTHER WORDS THE CHURCH IS TO MAINTAIN THE UNITY WHICH CHRIST HAS BROUGHT ABOUT. ACCORDING TO NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLAR DANIEL WALLACE, THE THEME MAY BE STATED PRAGMATICALLY AS “CHRISTIANS, GET ALONG WITH EACH OTHER!”

THE ARMOUR IS BOTH FOR INDIVIDUALS AND PERHAPS MORE IMPORTANTLY, THE COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE. SO THE CHURCH – THAT’S US – IS ARMED WITH FAITH, TRUTH, PEACE, GOD’S SPIRIT, AND PRAYER. THE WORDS CALLING UPON BELIEVERS TO STAND FAST ARE PLURAL NOT SINGULAR. ONE BELIEVER ALONE DOES NOT HAVE TO BE A SORT OF ‘DON QUIXOTE FOR GOD’ IN THE MIDST OF A GODLESS WORLD – TILTING AT WINDMILLS AND NOT BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY. THIS PASSAGE CALLS FOR CONSIDERED, CORPORATE RESISTANCE TO EVIL WHEN AND WHEREVER IT IS EMBODIED IN THE STRUCTURES OF THE WORLD ONE LIVES IN, THROUGH THE POWER OF GOD. BY ITS VERY NATURE THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST IS POLITICAL!

 

THE CONTENT OF EPHESIANS NOT ONLY TELLS US THAT PAUL WAS A MAN FILLED WITH PRAISE AND WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD – BUT ALSO WHAT IT WAS THAT GAVE PAUL SUCH CONFIDENCE AND OPTIMISM IN SUCH DIRE PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES.

AS WE LOOK ABOUT US IT IS DIFFICULT TO FIND MUCH CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM IN THIS 21ST CENTURY WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE. OUR ENVIRONMENT IS SLOWLY BEING POLLUTED, ECONOMIES ARE FALTERING, MANY POLITICIANS ARE CORRUPT, AND GOVERNMENTS SEEM UNABLE TO SOLVE THE PROBLEMS FACING THEM.

BUT THERE IS ROOM FOR HOPE, FOR CONFIDENCE, FOR JOY – BUT IT IS NOT IN THE WORLD AROUND US – IT IS IN THE GOD WHOM PAUL SERVED – THE GOD OF WHOM HE WRITES, WHOM HE WORSHIPS, AND TO WHOM HE PRAYS IN EPHESIANS. THE TRUTHS OF THIS GREAT EPISTLE CAN TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE – AND THE GOD OF THIS EPISTLE CAN GIVE YOU FAITH, HOPE, AND BOUNDLESS LOVE.

I CONCLUDE BY REMINDING US OF THE WORDS WE READ FROM JOSHUA – HERE GOD SPEAKS TO JOSHUA AFTER THE DEATH OF MOSES IN JOSHUA 1: 9 – “ I HEREBY COMMAND YOU: BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS; DO NOT BE FRIGHTENED OR DISMAYED, FOR THE LORD YOUR GOD IS WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO.”

THE LORD BE WITH YOU INDEED- AMEN

SERMON – 5TH MARCH 2017 – LENT 1- Matthew 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

WARNING – THE FOLLOWING SERMON CONTAINS POSSIBLY CONFUSING REFERENCES TO HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY – SO BE ALERT.

THIS STORY OF MATTHEW’S WHICH LEADS OUR READINGS TO OPEN THE SEASON OF LENT IS WIDELY KNOWN AS THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. BUT IT IS FAR MORE THAN THAT – FAR MORE THAN JUST A TEMPTATION STORY. IT IS THE DEPICTION OF A MIGHTY POWER STRUGGLE. IT IS THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN LIGHT AND DARKNESS – EVIL AND LOVE. MATTHEW TAKES HIS INSPIRATION FOR THIS TALE FROM HIS SO WELL KNOWN HEBREW BIBLE – OUR OLD TESTAMENT.

WHAT’S THIS ABOUT FORTY DAYS? THE NUMBER FORTY LIKE THE STORY ITSELF IS CERTAINLY NOT THE RELATING OF AN HISTORICAL EVENT. THE NUMBER FORTY IS DRAWN FROM THE STORY OF THE FLOOD IN GENESIS DURING WHICH YOU MIGHT RECALL NOAH AND HIS FAMILY SURVIVED ON THE ARK FOR FORTY DAYS AND NIGHTS. AGAIN IN DEUTERONOMY AND EXODUS WE READ THAT MOSES REMAINED FASTING ON MOUNT SINAI FOR FORTY DAYS AND NIGHTS. FORTY DAYS AND NIGHTS WAS THE TIME THAT ELIJAH FASTED IN THE DESERT BEFORE RECEIVING A NEW COMMISSION FROM GOD – THAT STORY IS IN 1 KINGS. ACCORDING TO EXODUS IT WAS FORTY YEARS THAT THE ISRAELITES WANDERED IN THE WILDERNESS. AND NOW TO BRING IT RIGHT TO US IN THIS 21ST CENTURY –WE FOLLOW ALMOST TWO MILLENIA OF CHRISTIAN OBSERVANCE OF THE FORTY DAYS OF LENT AS WE TRAVEL TOWARDS THE OBSERVANCE OF CHRIST’S PASSION AND EASTER.

I SAID THIS WAS ABOUT A POWER STRUGGLE. TODAY WE ARE SURROUNDED BY POWER STRUGGLES BETWEEN PEOPLE – THE MEDIA ARE FULL OF THESE STORIES. POWER STRUGGLES ARE NOTHING NEW. THE WAR HAS BEEN GOING ON SINCE HUMANITY EVOLVED INTO OUR SEPARATE SPECIES – AND POSSIBLE WELL BEFORE THAT. THE STRUGGLE FOR DOMINANCE AND LEADERSHIP AND THE DEFENCE OF TERRITORY IS PRETTY WELL UNIVERSAL RIGHT ACROSS THE ANIMAL KINGDOM. HUMAN BEINGS ARE CERTAINLY NOT UNIQUE IN THAT TRAIT OF CHARACTER. IN THE WORLD OF HUMANITY THE MOST OBVIOUS ARENA FOR THE STRUGGLE TO ATTAIN AND MAINTAIN POWER IS, OF COURSE, THE POLITICAL. HERE IN AUSTRALIA WE ONLY NEED TO LOOK BACK OVER THE LAST FIFTY OR SO YEARS TO SEE THE MACHINATIONS BOTH ON THE PUBLIC POLITICAL STAGE AND ALSO BEHIND THE CLOSED DOORS WHERE PEOPLE OF BOTH SEXES HAVE PLOTTED AND SCHEMED TO ATTAIN THE POSITION OF PRIME MINISTER. IN FACT DURING THE LAST FEW YEARS IT HAS BEEN REFERRED TO AS THE REVOLVING DOOR OF THE PRIME MINISTERSHIP. IT’S NOT THE PRIME MINISTERIAL SALARY THAT IS THE ATTRACTION – IT IS THE PRESTIGE – THE POWER.

WE REFER TO THESE TYPES OF PEOPLE AS BEING EGO DRIVEN BUT THAT WORD SEEMS TO BE MISUNDERSTOOD BECAUSE SIGMUND FREUD ASSERTED THAT IT WAS WHAT HE LABELLED THE ID WHICH IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR DRIVEN DESIRES TO ATTAIN PLEASURE AND SATISFACTION AT ANY COST TO OTHERS. PLEASE FORGIVE THIS BRIEF LESSON ON PSYCHOLOGY BUT I THINK IT CAN GIVE US A LITTLE INSIGHT INTO MUCH OF THE AGGRESSION THAT SURROUNDS US AND IS WITHIN US.

FREUD ARGUED THAT THE ID IS PRESENT IN THE NEWLY BORN CHILD. IT IS THE DISORGANISED PART OF THE PERSONALITY STRUCTURE THAT CONTAINS A HUMAN’S BASIC, INSTINCTUAL DRIVES. ID IS THE ONLY COMPONENT OF PERSONALITY THAT IS PRESENT FROM BIRTH. IT IS THE SOURCE OF OUR BODILY NEEDS, WANTS, DESIRES, AND IMPULSES, PARTICULARLY OUR SEXUAL AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVES. THE ID ACTS ACCORDING TO THE “PLEASURE PRINCIPLE“—THE PSYCHIC FORCE THAT MOTIVATES THE TENDENCY TO SEEK IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION OF ANY IMPULSE.

I AM SURE THAT ANY PARENT CAN TESTIFY TO THESE TRAITS BEING PRESENT IN A CHILD WHOSE DRIVING FORCE IS FOCUSSED ON BEING FED AND KEPT WARM AND COMFORTABLE. LATER IN LIFE THE EGO ARRIVES TO REPRESENT WHAT MAY BE CALLED REASON AND COMMON SENSE, IN CONTRAST TO THE ID, WHICH CONTAINS THE PASSIONS. IN ITS RELATION TO THE ID IT IS LIKE A PERSON ON HORSEBACK, WHO HAS TO HOLD IN CHECK THE SUPERIOR STRENGTH OF THE HORSE.

THEN THERE IS THE SUPER-EGO. THE SUPER-EGO WORKS IN CONTRADICTION TO THE ID. THE SUPER-EGO STRIVES TO ACT IN A SOCIALLY APPROPRIATE MANNER, WHEREAS THE ID JUST WANTS INSTANT SELF-GRATIFICATION. THE SUPER-EGO CONTROLS OUR SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG AND GUILT. IT HELPS US FIT INTO SOCIETY BY GETTING US TO ACT IN SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE WAYS. THE SUPER-EGO’S DEMANDS OFTEN OPPOSE THE ID’S, SO THE EGO SOMETIMES HAS A HARD TIME IN RECONCILING THE TWO.

SO IN THIS POWER STRUGGLE THAT RUMBLES AWAY WITHIN EACH OF US WE HAVE THE ID, THE EGO AND THE SUPER EGO.

IT SEEMS LOGICAL THAT THE BALANCE BETWEEN THESE CHARACTER TRAITS VARIES FROM PERSON TO PERSON, SO ONE POSSESSING A DOMINANT ID IS ONE WHO SEEKS UNBRIDLED SATISFACTION AND SELF- PLEASURE WHILST SOMEONE WHOSE EGO IS STRONGER WOULD SEEM TO LIVE A FAR MORE EVEN AND OUTWARD LOOKING AND CARING LIFE.

NOW LET’S GET PERSONAL. THIS TIMEOF LENT BRINGS ITS OWN SET OF TEMPTATIONS AND POWER STRUGGLES TO EACH OF US. LENT SEEMS TO PUSH US TO THINK MORE THAN WE NORMALLY DO ON THESE TRAITS OF OUR OWN CHARACTER.  I SUPPOSE I CAN REFER TO IT AS A TIME OF INTROSPECTION. MIND YOU I AM WARY OF OVER-INTROSPECTION. IT CAN BE UNHEALTHY AND UNPRODUCTIVE BUT AT TIMES SOME FORM OF SELF –ASSESSMENT AND INNER ‘HOUSE CLEANING’ CAN BE POSITIVE AND ENCOURAGING.

THIS GOSPEL STORY OF A WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE REVEALS THAT THESE TEMPTATIONS ARE A PART OF WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO BE THE BELOVED OF GOD – I INCLUDE YOU AND ME IN THAT DEFINITION. AND WHAT ARE THESE TEMPTATIONS? TO SATISFY YOUR OWN HUNGER WHEN MILLIONS GO HUNGRY.

TO INSIST THAT GOD’S LOYALTY AND PROMISES NEED TO BE TESTED ON A REGULAR BASIS. TO CHOOSE THE POWER THAT THE SECULAR WORLD VALUES OVER THE URGE TO CONTINUE ALONG THE PATH OF DISCOVERY THAT LEADS US DEEPER INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE LOVE THAT IS GOD.

IT MAY VERY WELL BE THAT IN LENT OUR USUAL UNTHINKING WAYS ARE ESPECIALLY CHALLENGED AND ONE OF LENT’S TRUE TEMPTATION IS TO IGNORE THE INNER VOICE OF THE EGO AND JUST LET THE ID RUN RIOT. TRANSLATED INTO CHRISTIAN JARGON THAT MEANS IGNORING THE MINISTRATIONS AND URGINGS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN ORDER TO LET OUR OWN DESIRES DOMINATE OUR LIVES. IT MEANS WE LOSE THE INTERNAL POWER STRUGGLE AND CONTINUE TO THINK ONLY OF OURSELVES AND PUSH TO THE EDGES OF OUR MINDS THE PLIGHT OF OTHERS FAR LESS FORTUNATE THAN OURSELVES. MAY WE ALL BECOME ALERT AND SENSITIVE TO THE DANGERS OF THINKING THAT WAY. I TRULY BELIEVE THAT LENT SHOULD BE NOT SO MUCH OF A TIME OF INTROSPECTION AND SELF-EXAMINATION BUT A TIME OF LOOKING OUTWARDS AND AWAY FROM OURSELVES AND OUR OWN PROBLEMS – REAL AND IMAGINED – TOWARDS THE OFTEN DESPERATE NEEDS OF THOSE BOTH WITHIN OUR OWN COMMUNITY AND BEYOND. THIS ATTITUDE URGES US TO ACT IN A PRACTICAL WAY FROM OUR POSITION OF PRIVILEGE AND PLENTY TO HELP THOSE IN NEED. SO THIS YEAR LET’S MAKE LENT A TIME OF EXERCISING PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY IN THE NAME OF THE GOD OF LOVE.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU.

SERMON 26TH FEBRUARY 2017 – TRANSFIGURATION

Matthew 17:1-9

1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE

LET’S BE QUITE CLEAR – THIS IS NOT A RECORDING OF AN HISTORICAL EVENT. THIS STORY IS FILLED WITH MYTHOLOGICAL CONTENT. PEOPLE LIVING IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD OF TIME AND SPACE DO NOT CLIMB MOUNTAINS TO BE TRANSFIGURED. THEY DO NOT TALK WITH CHARACTERS WHO HAVE BEEN DEAD FOR 1200 AND 800 YEARS RESPECTIVELY. THEY DO NOT DECIDE TO MEMORIALISE THE MOMENT BY BUILDING THREE TABERNACLES TO MARK THE SPOT, ONLY TO BE REBUKED BY THE VOICE OF GOD, SPEAKING THROUGH A CLOUD TO INFORM THEM THAT THEY DO NOT YET UNDERSTAND. ALL OF THE SYMBOLS IN THIS STORY ARE IMAGES DRAWN FROM THE FIRST CENTURY JEWISH WORLD VIEW, DEEPLY SHAPED BY THE JEWISH SCRIPTURES. NO, THE STORY OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS IS NOT HISTORY. MATTHEW KNEW THIS. IT WAS RATHER AN INTERPRETIVE STORY DESIGNED TO PORTRAY JESUS INSIDE A SERIES OF WELL KNOWN JEWISH SYMBOLS, ONE OF WHICH WAS THE STORY OF MOSES RETURNING FROM THE MOUNTAIN WITH THE NEW LOT OF 10 COMMANDMENTS – THE FIRST HAVING BEEN DESTROYED WHEN HE FOUND THE PEOPLE WORSHIPPING THE GOLDEN CALF.

RATHER THIS STORY IS ABOUT CHANGE. NOW I KNOW THAT IS A DANGEROUS TOPIC TO ATTEMPT TO DISCUSS WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TODAY. OUR CHURCH, AS AN INSTITUTION STILL CLINGS DESPERATELY TO THE CONCEPTS AND WORLDVIEWS OF THE FIRST AND FOURTH CENTURIES AS DEPICTED IN THE SO CALLED INERRANT WRITINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE LATER CHURCH FATHERS.                                  SO LONG AS THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH INSISTS ON PROJECTING AND LIVING WITHIN THE IMAGES AND CONCEPTS OF THE PAST IT WILL CONTINUE TO DECLINE AND BE SEEN AS IRRELEVANT IN OUR WESTERN SOCIETY.

AT ITS CORE, THE TRANSFIGURATION STORY INSISTS THAT CHANGE IS DIFFICULT BUT NEEDED. CHANGE ROCKS YOUR WORLD – BUT LIKELY YOUR WORLD NEEDED SOME SORT OF EARTHQUAKE EVENT. CHANGE DEMANDS RE-ORIENTATION BUT SOMETIMES THE CHALLENGE TO CHANGE IS PRESENTED TO US AND CONFRONTS US BEFORE WE ARE PREPARED FOR IT AND CAN LEAVE US FLATFOOTED AND LOOKING AND FEELING LOST. IT’S LIKE SUDDENLY FINDING YOURSELF ALONE – DEEP IN THE AUSTRALIAN BUSH WITH NO MAP OR COMPASS.

THIS WEEK WE ENTER LENT. LENT IS A HARBINGER OF CHANGE – A CHALLENGE TO US TO CHANGE. IT CAN BE A TIME OF PREPARATION TO CHANGE. WE USUALLY DON’T LIKE LENT – IT’S TOO DARK – IT’S TOO CHALLENGING – IT FORCES TOO MUCH INTROSPECTION. BETTER TO COME TO CHURCH ON EASTER MORNING WHEN THE SKIES HAVE CLEARED AND THE JOY OF THE RESURRECTION CAN BE SHARED. WE HAVE A SERVICE NEXT WEDNESDAY – ASH WEDNESDAY – HERE AT 7.30PM – I WONDER HOW MANY WILL GRIT THEIR TEETH AND MAKE THE EFFORT TO COME?

IT’S NOT THAT WE HAVEN’T SEEN THE CHANGE COMING. IT’S NOT THAT WE HAVEN’T RECOGNIZED WHAT THE CHANGE MIGHT LOOK LIKE. WE JUST WONDER IF WE ARE READY. IF WE CAN WE HANDLE IT – IF WE ARE PREPARED. WE ERECT TEMPORARY STRUCTURES JUST LIKE THE TENTS PETER OFFERS TO BUILD IN THE STORY – SUCH AS TROTTING OUT THE MYRIAD OF EXCUSES TO NOT BECOME INVOLVED OR WANTING TO STAY SAFE IN OUR OLD PRECONCEIVED IDEAS OF LITERALISM AND SUNDAY SCHOOL THEOLOGY. THIS IS REALLY AND SIMPLY AN ACT OF ENTRENCHMENT.  MY FRIENDS – THIS PRECURSOR OF THE TRANSFIGURATION STORY TO THE COMING LENTEN SEASON IS THE CHALLENGE WE NEEDED.

IT’S TIME TO CHANGE – CHANGE OUR THINKING – ADMIT WE DON’T REALLY BELIEVE IN OUR HEART OF HEARTS THE LITERAL INTERPRETATIONS OF THE WONDERFUL GOSPEL STORIES. IT’S TIME TO LET GO OF THE PAST AND FACE THE FUTURE. WE SAY TO OURSELVES – “WELL, IF I LET GO WHAT DO I HAVE LEFT TO CLING TO?” THERE IS MUCH TO HOLD ON TO. IN FACT, LETTING GO IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT THE ACT OF HOLDING ON.PETER SAYS TO JESUS, “LORD, IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE”. IT’S GOOD TO BE CAUGHT UP IN THE VORTEX OF A WHIRLWIND – A VORTEX IS A MASS OF AIR OR WATER THAT SPINS AROUND VERY FAST AND PULLS OBJECTS INTO ITS EMPTY CENTRE. MAYBE WE NEED TO BE CAUGHT UP IN THE VORTEX OF CHANGE – AND TRANSPORTED TO ITS EMPTY CENTRE WHERE WE CAN FIND A CLEAR MIND AND THE PROMISES OF UNDERSTANDING – MAYBE EVEN EXPERIENCE SOMETHING MORE OF THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE WE CALL GOD.

AS WE MOVE INTO LENT, THIS SEEMS ESSENTIAL. HOLDING ON – NOT TO THE PAST WITH ALL ITS PERSONAL INADEQUACIES AND REGRETS – BUT TO THE PROMISES AND INSIGHTS OFFERED TO US THROUGH THE SPIRIT OF GOD.  SO LET GO – LET GO OF YOUR OUTDATED AND INADEQUATE IMAGES OF GOD. LET GO OF CONTROL. LET GO OF CONVICTION – LET GO OF CERTAINTY – NOW THAT’S DANGEROUS!

THE TRANSFIGURATION IS AN APT AND FITTING STORY TO TRANSITION US TO LENT BECAUSE IT INSISTS THAT WE KEEP WHAT WAS AND WHAT CAN BE IN TENSION: THE POSSIBILITIES THAT ARE CONTAINED WITHIN LENT AND EASTER, AND THE POSITIVITIES OF THE PROMISES INHERENT IN THE CHRISTIAN FAITH.

WE LIVE IN CONSTANT MOVEMENT OF CHANGES IN RELATIONSHIPS — WITH PARTNERS, WITH FRIENDS, WITH CHILDREN. WE EXPERIENCE MANY CHANGES IN OUR LIVES AND WE RECOGNIZE AND REMEMBER THE MAJOR LIFE CHANGES — GRADUATIONS, MARRIAGES, CHILDREN, RETIREMENT, THE LOSS OF PARTNERS AND FRIENDS.

CHANGE, BY DEFINITION, IS A SIMULTANEOUS HOLDING ON OF WHAT WAS AND A LOOKING TOWARD THE HOPE OF WHAT CAN BE. AND THAT’S WHY IT IS RATHER EXCRUCIATING. CHANGE INSISTS THAT YOU EXIST IN A PLACE YOU DON’T WANT TO BE. CHANGE DEMANDS THAT YOU ABIDE IN A SPACE OF THE UNKNOWN. CHANGE CREATES A SENSE OF GRIEF OVER WHAT WAS AND YET EXCITEMENT FOR WHAT IS TO COME.

IT IS THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU KNOW CHANGE HAS TO HAPPEN BUT YOU ARE NOT QUITE READY. THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU HAVE A HUNDRED MILLION REASONS TO WALK AWAY BUT YOU JUST NEED ONE GOOD ONE TO STAY. THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU ARE DESPERATE TO HOLD ON AND YET YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO LEAVE. THAT’S TRANSFIGURATION. IT’S NOT THE GLORY. IT’S NOT SOME SORT OF “GET OVER IT AND COME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN” LESSON. IT’S BOTH. IT’S FAITH. IT’S THE SENSE THAT CHANGE IS NECESSARY – A TRUTH HARD TO ACCEPT. IT’S THE KNOWING THAT MOVING ON IS ESSENTIAL BUT YOU HAVE YET TO RECONCILE THE PAST. CHANGE MATTERS ARE HEART AND SOUL MATTERS. CHANGE EXPOSES. CHANGE CHANGES. BUT CHANGE MATTERS ARE THE VERY ESSENCE OF OUR FAITH.

MAY THE LORD BE WITH YOU.

 

SERMON 19TH FEBRUARY 2017 – EPHIPHANY 7

Matthew 5:38-48

38 “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, “you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

THIS MORNING WE REMEMBER THE THE BOMBING OF DARWIN, ALSO KNOWN AS THE BATTLE OF DARWIN. EXACTLY SEVENTY FIVE YEARS AGO AT 9.58AM ON 19 FEBRUARY 1942 THE LARGEST SINGLE ATTACK EVER MOUNTED BY A FOREIGN POWER ON AUSTRALIA TOOK PLACE. ON THAT DAY, 242 JAPANESE AIRCRAFT, IN TWO SEPARATE RAIDS, ATTACKED THE TOWN, SHIPS IN DARWIN’S HARBOUR AND THE TOWN’S TWO AIRFIELDS IN AN ATTEMPT TO PREVENT THE ALLIES FROM USING THEM AS BASES TO CONTEST THE JAPANESE INVASIONS OF TIMOR AND JAVA. THE TOWN WAS ONLY LIGHTLY DEFENDED AND THE JAPANESE INFLICTED HEAVY LOSSES UPON THE ALLIED FORCES AT LITTLE COST TO THEMSELVES. ABOUT 250 PEOPLE WERE KILLED. THE POST OFFICE – NOW PART OF THE PARLIAMENT HOUSE BUILDING – RECEIVED A DIRECT HIT AND ALL TEN OF ITS STAFF KILLED. THEY ARE BURIED IN THE ADELAIDE RIVER CEMETERY ABOUT 116 KILOMETRES SOUTH OF DARWIN. IT IS NOT WIDELY KNOWN THAT DARWIN WAS SUBSEQUENTLY BOMBED 64 TIMES FOLLOWING THAT INITIAL SURPRISE RAID. THIS MORNING IT IS APPROPRIATE THAT WE PAUSE TO REMEMBER THOSE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES, THOSE WHO WERE WOUNDED AND TRAUMATISED AND THEIR FAMILIES WHO SUFFERED.

IT SEEMS TO BE THE NATURAL IMMEDIATE REACTION TO EVENTS SUCH AS THIS ATTACK TO RETALIATE. OF COURSE RETALIATION DID INDEED HAPPEN IN 1945 WHEN THE TWO ATOMIC BOMBS WERE DROPPED ON HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI AND ABOUT 250,000 PEOPLE WERE KILLED OR INJURED – TERRIBLE RETRIBUTION.

WHAT MATTHEW SAYS IN THE GOSPEL READING THIS MORNING SEEMS TO GO AGAINST EVERYTHING THAT IS NATURAL TO US. “DO NOT RESIST THE EVIL DOER”. YOU MUST BE KIDDING WE THINK. “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES” – ONE CAN SAY ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO DO PARTICULARLY WHEN SOMEONE ATTACKS US OR HARMS US OR OUR LOVED ONES IN SOME WAY. WHAT MATTHEW IS ASKING IS DIFFICULT IN THE EXTREME OR SOMETIMES WELL NIGH IMPOSSIBLE TO CARRY OUT. HE IS QUOTING THE OLD TORANIC LAW. HE SAYS,”YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID…”- IN THE LAW – “BUT I SAY UNTO YOU… TAKE THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW FURTHER – MUCH FURTHER” – HE WELL KNOWS THE LAW BUT EXPANDS IT AND DOES TAKE IT MUCH FURTHER – TO ITS FARTHEST IMPOSSIBLE EXTREMITY IN FACT. BY THE WAY HE IS NOT WRITING THIS STUFF IN SOME SORT OF VACUUM OR ISOLATED CAVE IMMUNE FROM THE PRESSURES AND REALITIES OF LIFE BECAUSE HE IS WRITING IT IN A TIME AND PLACE WHERE HE AND HIS COMMUNITY ARE LIVING UNDER THE WORST POSSIBLE CONDITIONS. THEY ARE SURVIVING IN AN OCCUPIED COUNTRY AND UNDER THE OPPRESSIVE RULE OF AN OCCUPYING FORCE – THE ROMAN ARMY. MATTHEW IS ASKING HIS PEOPLE TO ACHIEVE THE IMPOSSIBLE – TO NOT RESIST – TO BE PACIFISTS. HE IS ASKING THEM TO GO FURTHER THAN THAT EVEN – HE IS ASKING THEM TO GO OUT OF THEIR WAY TO ACTUALLY HELP AND ASSIST – IN ACTUAL FACT – TO LOVE – THOSE WHOM IT IS NATURAL TO HATE AND RESENT, BE THEY ROMAN OR THEIR OWN KINDRED.

THIS CAN BE SUMMED UP IN GENEROSITY, HOSPITALITY AND LOVE. JUST IMAGINE OUR WORLD TODAY IF PEOPLE ADOPTED THIS PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE. LOOKING BEYOND OR THROUGH MATTHEW’S HYPERBOLE WE CAN EASILY IMAGINE A WORLD OF PEACE WHERE THE LIGHT OF LOVE DOES OVERCOME THE DARKNESS OF EVIL – WHERE GENEROSITY REPLACES MEANNESS AND KINDNESS REPLACES AGGRESSION. THIS IS NOT EASY TO ABSORB IS IT? I AM REMINDED OF THE FAMOUS LINE FROM THE EPIC AUSTRALIAN FILM “THE CASTLE” – “TELL HIM HE’S DREAMING!” THAT MAY WELL BE THE CYNIC’S ANSWER BUT IF WE REALLY STOP AND THINK ABOUT IT MAYBE IT IS NOT SUCH AN IMPOSSIBLE ATTITUDE TO ACHIEVE.

THAT IS JUST WHAT THE SPIRIT OF GOD OFFERS US. I KNOW MOST PEOPLE WILL SIMPLY BRUSH IT OFF AND FORGET ABOUT IT – SAYING “IT’S JUST TOO HARD AND ANYWAY I DON’T SEE MYSELF HAVING ANY PARTICULAR PROBLEM” – BUT IF THAT IS YOUR RESPONSE I’M HERE TO TELL YOU THAT YOU ARE WRONG. IT TAKES A BIT OF EFFORT TO COME TO GRIPS WITH THE REALITY OF THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE BUT IT IS WELL WORTH THE EFFORT.

THE TERM “ETERNAL LIFE” IS BANDIED ABOUT AND GIVES THE IMPRESSION OF SOME SORT OF ENDLESS EXISTENCE IN THE CLOUDS LISTENING TO PERPETUAL HARP MUSIC. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. “ETERNAL LIFE” IS HERE AND NOW. IT REPRESENTS THE HUMAN’S ABILITY TO LIVE ONE’S LIFE TO ITS FULLEST POTENTIAL IN PEACE, LOVE AND GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT.

THIS MORNING WE HAVE A PRIME EXAMPLE OF THE GENEROSITY OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE AS WE TAKE MATILDA INTO OUR ARMS AND BAPTISE HER INTO THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CHURCH OF GOD. I AM HOPING THAT HER FAMILY AND GODARENTS ESPECIALLY HAVE LISTENED TO MY MESSAGE THIS MORNING FOR YOU ARE TAKING ON THE RESPONSIBILITY TO LOVE AND CARE FOR HER AS SHE GROWS INTO THE BEAUTIFUL PERSON THAT IS HER POTENTIAL.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU.

SERMON 12TH FEBRUARY 2017 – EPIPHANY 6

Tommorow is the 6th Sunday in the season of Epiphany. At first glance the excerpt from Matthew’s Gospel is really difficult. Please remember it is hyperbole and strictly within the ancient Jewish tradition of referring back to the ancient writings in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). That said, enjoy the sermon. Peace, John

Matthew 5:21-37

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder’; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 “It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be “Yes, Yes’ or “No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

RENEWAL

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE.

THIS IS A VERY LONG SERMON!

DON’T PANIC – I AM REFERRING TO THE STORY IN MATTHEW’S GOSPEL NOT TO WHAT I HAVE TO SAY THIS MORNING!

THIS STORY IS ALSO A LITTLE CONFUSING BECAUSE AT THE BEGINNING OF CHAPTER 5 – THE SO CALLED SERMON ON THE MOUNT – IT IS CLEAR THAT JESUS REMOVES HIMSELF FROM THE CROWD AND RETREATS TO A MOUNTAIN WHERE HIS DISCIPLES – THE ONES HE HAS JUST CALLED TO FOLLOW HIM – JOIN HIM. VERSE 2 – “HE BEGAN TO SPEAK AND TAUGHT THEM – THAT IS THE DISCIPLES – SAYING: BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT ETC …” HE THEN SPEAKS FOR 3 CHAPTERS. AT THE END OF CHAPTER 7 WE NOW FIND “…THE CROWDS WERE ASTOUNDED AT HIS TEACHING”. I FIND IT CONFUSING – ONE MINUTE HE IS SPEAKING TO A SMALL GROUP OF MEN HE HAS CALLED TO FOLLOW HIM AND NEXT THING WE FIND HE HAS BEEN TALKING TO “THE CROWDS”.

I HAVE A NOTE THAT OFFERS THE OPINION THAT WHILST THE SERMON WAS ADDRESSED TO THE DISCIPLES; THE CROWDS OVERHEAR IT AND DISCERN SPECIAL AUTHORITY IN JESUS’ TEACHING. BE THAT AS IT MAY I THINK WE CAN TAKE THE POSITION THAT THESE WORDS WERE FOR ALL INTERESTED PARTIES AND SO WE CAN BE FREE TO DRAW OUR LESSONS FROM THEM.

FOR ME THE THEME IS RENEWAL – RENEWAL OF YOUR WAY OF LIFE – YOUR WAY OF THINKING ABOUT GOD, OTHER PEOPLE, THE WORLD AROUND YOU AND ALSO YOURSELF. JEWISH MATTHEW IS REMINDING HIS MAINLY JEWISH COMMUNITY OF THE LAWS SET OUT IN THE TORAH – THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IF YOU LIKE. HE IS TAKING HIS HEARERS BACK TO THE STORIES OF THEIR ANCIENT ANCESTORS AS TOLD IN THE HEBREW BIBLE BOOKS OF JOSHUA, EXODUS AND DEUTERONOMY. ONE OF THE READINGS SET FOR TODAY IS FROM DEUTERONOMY 30. AFTER THEY HAVE CROSSED THE JORDAN RIVER, THE ISRAELITES TWICE HOLD COVENANT RENEWAL CEREMONIES – SEE JOSHUA 8 AND 24- SOMETHING THAT WAS PRESCRIBED BY MOSES’ EARLIER SPEECHES IN DEUTERONOMY. THUS, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE GIVEN MOSES A “YES, WE AGREE AND WILL FOLLOW YOUR WORDS” THEY REQUIRE REGULAR REMINDERS ABOUT THAT CHOICE, EVEN REGULAR MOMENTS OF RE-CHOOSING, RE-COMMITTING, RE-ORIENTING, RE-TURNING IF YOU LIKE.

WEEKLY WORSHIP CAN SERVE A SIMILAR PURPOSE IN TODAY’S CHRISTIAN LIFE AS WELL: REORIENTING OUR LIVES IN COMMUNITY TO THE SERVICE OF GOD ALONE – FOR AS CHRISTIANS WE DO NOT AND CANNOT FUNCTION EFFECTIVELY WITHIN THE BROADER COMMUNITY UNLESS WE BECOME A FUNCTIONING PART OF OUR CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. THE WHOLE ETHOS OF CHRISTIANITY IS, “IT’S NOT ABOUT JUST ME, ME, ME, AND MY PERSONAL SPIRITUAL NEEDS. IT’S NOT ABOUT JUST COMING TO CHURCH TO HEAR A SERMON AND PARTAKE OF THE COMMUNION – TO “UNLOAD” YOUR OWN INNER STRESSES AND STRAINS AS YOU SEEK AND RECEIVE THE ASSURRANCE OF FORGIVENESS AND SPIRITUAL RESTORATION. OF COURSE IT IS ALL THAT BUT ALSO MUCH MORE. THE GOSPELS AND INDEED PAUL’S WRITINGS, MAKE IT ABUNDANTLY CLEAR THAT THE LIFE JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF GOD THAT WE UNDERTAKE AS CHRISTIANS IS TAKEN IN COMMUNITY – NOT AS SOLO INDIVIDUALS.

THAT IS A DANGEROUSLY RADICAL IDEA. IF WE ACCEPT THAT WE ARE BY CHOICE AN INTRINSIC MEMBER OF A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IT PRESENTS US WITH QUITE A FEW DILEMMAS AS WE LIVE OUT OUR LIVES WITHIN THE BROADER CIRCLE OF FAMILIES, FRIENDS AND THE WIDER – EVEN THE WORLD WIDE – COMMUNITY. IT AFFECTS HOW WE VIEW OTHER PEOPLE. IT AFFECTS HOW WE VIEW EVERY LIVING CREATURE AND INDEED HOW WE VIEW THIS AMAZING AND UNIQUE WORLD ON WHICH WE LIVE.

IT ALSO AFFECTS HOW WE VIEW JUSTICE – OR LACK OF IT – AND GREED AMONGST OUR POLITICIANS AND BUSINESS LEADERS. I WAS FRANKLY SHOCKED TO LEARN THIS WEEK THAT A MAN WHO HEADS UP A MAJOR ORGANISATION IN AUSTRALIA COULD BE PERSONALLY REWARDED TO THE TUNE OF $5.6 MILLION A YEAR – THAT’S MORE THAN $107 THOUSAND PER WEEK. MORE THAN MOST PEOPLE EARN IN A WHOLE YEAR AND MANY ARE ASKED TO LIVE ON A MERE FRACTION OF THAT. AUSTRALIA, I AM INFORMED HAS THE HIGHEST MINIMUM WAGE IN THE WORLD – A GRAND $14,900 PER YEAR AFTER TAX. IN 2009THE GROSS MINIMUM WAGE IN THE UNITED STATES WAS $7.25 PER HOUR OR – ASSUMING A 30 HOUR WEEK IS WORKED – $11,300 PER YEAR. IN MANY OTHER COUNTRIES AUSTRALIAN WAGES AND LIVING STANDARDS WOULD BE CONSIDERED LUXURIOUS BEYOND MEASURE. OBVIOUSLY I AM AWARE OF THE VARYING PURCHASING POWER AND LIVING STANDARDS IN OTHER COUNTRIES. BUT THIS IS A PRIME EXAMPLE I BELIEVE OF INJUSTICE AND INEQUALITY.

THE POSSIBILITY OF RENEWAL LEADS TO THE QUESTION OF CHOICE. WE ARE INDEPENDENT BEINGS. WE ARE QUITE FREE, AT LEAST HERE IN AUSTRALIA, TO MAKE OUR OWN CHOICES. WE CAN CHOOSE TO STAND UP AND SPEAK OUT WHEN WE SEE INJUSTICE. WE CAN CHOOSE TO OPENLY CONDEMN EXPLOITATION AND GREED, JUST AS WE CAN CHOOSE TO BE PART OF A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY.

LET’S ASK OURSELVES, HOW DO WE VIEW THIS WORLD ON WHICH WE LIVE OUT OUR LIVES? HOW DO WE VIEW THE POOR, THE HOMELESS AND THE SUFFERERS OF ADDICTIONS?  HOW DO WE VIEW THOSE OF DIFFERENT COLOUR, SEXUALITY OR OF A DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING? DO WE SEE THEM AS INFERIOR? DO WE CONSIDER OUR OWN VIEWPOINTS AND RELIGION THE ONLY ONE THAT IS RIGHT AND ALL THE OTHERS WRONG – MISGUIDED EVEN – WITH THEIR ADHERANTS SPIRITUALLY LOST? IF WE DO THINK THIS WE DESPERATELY NEED TO HEAR AGAIN THESE WORDS OF JESUS AS HE DRAGS THOSE LISTENERS BACK TO THEIR ROOTS AND REMINDS THEM – AS HE REMINDS US TODAY – THAT WE NEED TO SEEK RENEWING, RECHOOSING, RE-COMMITTING, RE-ORIENTING, RE-TURNING. OUR OWN CHOICES DETERMINE THE FUTURE FOR OUR CHILDREN. THE WAY WE MOVE THROUGH THE WORLD TODAY IMPACTS FUTURE GENERATIONS. CHOOSING LIFE MEANS PRACTICING LIFE AND TURNING BACK TOWARDS GOD WITHIN COMMUNITY.

THE LORD BE WITH YOU

 

 

 

SERMON 5TH FEBRUARY 2017 – EPIPHANY 5

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]

1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. 6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”(ISAIAH 52) — 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. 14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. 16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

TODAY I DECIDED TO MOVE FROM TRADITION AND SPEAK ABOUT THIS LETTER WRITTEN BY PAUL IN THE LATE AUTUMN OR THE WINTER OF 53-54C.E. – BECAUSE I FELT ITS ABSOLUTE RELEVANCE TO OUR OWN TIME AND CULTURE. PAUL HAD LIVED IN CORINTH FOR ABOUT 18 MONTHS, LEAVING IN THE LATE SUMMER OF THE YEAR 51 TO CROSS THE AEGEAN SEA TO EPHESUS FROM WHERE HE WROTE THIS LETTER.

CORINTH WAS A VERY WEALTHY AND PROSPEROUS CITY DUE TO ITS POSITION NEAR THE NARROW ISTHMUS OF THE PELOPONNESE ABOUT 64 KILOMETRES SOUTH WEST OF ATHENS. BUT AS IS THE NORM IN SUCH PLACES NOT EVERYONE WAS WEALTHY. CORINTH HAD THE REPUTATION, AS WELL AS BEING A PROSPEROUS PLACE, OF IGNORING OR EVEN ABUSING THE POOR PEOPLE WHO LIVED THERE. BEING A GREEK CITY – ALBEIT UNDER ROMAN DOMINATION AND RULE – THE PEOPLE WERE VERY INTERESTED IN DISCUSSING RATIONAL IDEAS AND PHILOSOPHICAL THINKING. YOU GET THE PICTURE I THINK.

CAN YOU AGREE WITH ME THAT TAKING INTO ACCOUNT THE DISPARITY OF TIME AND EVOLVED CULTURE THERE IS A REMARKABLE SIMILARITY BETWEEN THIS ANCIENT COMMUNITY AND THE ONE IN WHICH WE LIVE IN THIS 21ST CENTURY.

WE MUST ADMIT THAT BY FAR THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE LIVING IN THIS AMAZING COUNTRY OF AUSTRALIA AND WITHIN OUR OWN COMMUNITY ARE WEALTHY BEYOND MEASURE WHEN COMPARED TO MANY COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD AND INTERESTINGLY MANY PEOPLE IN OUR GENERAL COMMUNITY TEND TO TREAT THE POOR AND UNDERPRIVILEGED IN A SIMILAR MANNER TO THOSE PROSPEROUS INHABITANTS OF ANCIENT CORINTH. NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED – HUMAN NATURE REMAINS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME.

PAUL WRITES TO THE MINORITY COMMUNITY OF CHRISTIANS WHICH HE HAS ESTABLISHED, SEEKING TO BOLSTER THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE INTO AND UNDERSTAND SOMETHING OF THE SPIRITUAL ASPECT OF LIFE. IT SEEMS THAT AFTER HIS DEPARTURE FOR EPHESUS THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH WAS HAVING LIMITED SUCCESS IN COMMUNICATING TO THE REST OF THE COMMUNITY ITS MESSAGE OF A NEW AND BETTER LIFE THROUGH CHRIST. PAUL IS RE-ASSURING THEM BY SAYING THAT NOT EVERYONE WILL ACCEPT THIS MESSAGE BECAUSE Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age” (V6). IN OTHER WORDS – IT IS NOT EVERYONE WHO IS ABLE TO SEE THE BEAUTY AND LIFE BENEFITS OF FOLOWING CHRIST BECAUSE PAUL SAYS THERE ARE THOSE WHO SIMPLY LACK THE ABILITY TO DISCERN THE SPIRITUAL AND ARE THEREFORE UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND SPIRITUAL MATTERS. THEIR REACTION IS SIMPLY REJECTION OF SUCH THINGS. VERSE 14 – “Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they [THE GIFTS OF GOD’S SPIRIT] are spiritually discerned.”

LAST WEEK I MENTIONED A FAMILY MEMBER WHO HAS NO CHURCH ASSOCIATION BUT WHO NONETHELESS IS AN EXAMPLE OF HOSPITALITY AND GENEROSITY. WITHIN THAT SAME FAMILY THERE WAS A MARRIAGE LAST YEAR WHICH I WAS INITIALLY INVITED TO CELEBRATE. THERE WAS ONE CONDITION – NO MENTION OF GOD, PRAYER OR EVEN A BLESSING. OBVIOUSLY I WAS UNABLE TO MEET THE CONDITION SO THE MARRIAGE WAS PERFORMED [VERY WELL I MUST SAY] BY A CIVIL CELBRANT. I WAS ASKED TO DO A READING. THEY TRUSTED ME TO CHOOSE A SUITABLE READING – ALBEIT I SUSPECT WITH A SMALL AMOUNT OF NERVOUSNESS. I CHOSE TO READ AN EXCERPT FROM A WELL KNOWN NOVEL BY LOUIS DE BERNIERES CALLED CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN. THIS IS A READING I ALWAYS USE IN MY WEDDING CEREMONIES AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN WELL RECEIVED. IT GOES LIKE THIS; LOVE IS A TEMPORARY MADNESS, IT ERUPTS LIKE VOLCANOES AND THEN SUBSIDES. AND WHEN IT SUBSIDES YOU HAVE TO MAKE A DECISION. YOU HAVE TO WORK OUT WHETHER YOUR ROOTS HAVE SO ENTWINED TOGETHER THAT IT IS INCONCEIVABLE THAT YOU SHOULD EVER PART. BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT LOVE IS. LOVE IS NOT BREATHLESSNESS, IT IS NOT EXCITEMENT, IT IS NOT THE PROMULGATION OF ETERNAL PASSION, THAT IS JUST ‘BEING IN LOVE’ WHICH ANY FOOL CAN DO. LOVE ITSELF IS WHAT’S LEFT OVER WHEN BEING IN LOVE HAS BURNED AWAY, AND THAT IS BOTH AN ART AND A FORTUNATE ACCIDENT. THOSE THAT TRULY LOVE HAVE ROOTS THAT GROW TOWARDS EACH OTHER UNDERGROUND, AND WHEN ALL THE PRETTY BLOSSOMS HAVE FALLEN FROM THEIR BRANCHES, THEY FIND THEY ARE ONE TREE AND NOT TWO”.

THIS IS ABOUT LOVE – AS A WEDDING SHOULD BE OF COURSE. LOVE IS A WORD NOT MUCH USED BY PEOPLE WHO ARE DISCONNECTED FROM THE SPIRITUAL. MANY AUSTRALIANS IN FACT FIND IT EMBARRASSING. MAYBE IT IS MENTIONED AT A WEDDING OR SOMETIMES AT THE END OF A LIFE. YOU SEE, ADMITTING LOVE IS ACKNOWLEDGING A CONNECTION WITH THE SPIRITUAL – WITH GOD IF YOU LIKE. MANY FIND “I LOVE YOU” HARD TO SAY. AT THE END OF THE READING I COULD NOT RESIST MAKING A BRIEF COMMENT. I SAID THAT THE COUPLE MUST LOVE EACH OTHER OR THEY WOULD NOT BE STANDING HERE IN THIS BEAUTIFUL GARDEN AND ACKNOWLEDGE IT OR NOT – LIKE IT OR NOT –

IT IS THROUGH THAT VERY LOVE THAT THEY UNWITTINGLY PERHAPS – TOUCH SOMETHING OF THE DIVINE. I DOUBT THESE WORDS MADE ANY DIFFERENCE OF COURSE BECAUSE THEY ARE JUST NOT OPEN TO THE SPIRITUAL DUE TO UPBRINGINGS WHICH IN ONE CASE IGNORED THE SPIRITUAL AS BEING PHANTASY AND IMMATERIAL TO LIFE WHILST ON THE OTHER BEING BOMBARDED BY FUNDAMENTALIST AND LITERALIST RUBBISH. THESE ARE THE PEOPLE TO WHOM PAUL WAS REFERRING.

WE NOW HAVE PEOPLE SUCH AS RICHARD DAWKINS WHO WROTE THE BLIND WATCHMAKER IN WHICH HE EXPOUNDS ON THE ORIGINS OF HUMANITY – AND ALL THINGS FOR THAT MATTER – THROUGH THE PROCESSES OF EVOLUTION AS PROPOUNDED BY CHARLES DARWIN. DAWKINS SETS OUT TO RUBBISH RELIGION – PARTICULARLY THE FUNDAMENTALIST VARIETY – AN ARGUMENT WITH WHICH I WOULD AGREE – BUT IN DOING SO HE TOTALLY DISMISSES THE SPIRITUAL AND EXHIBITS A COMPLETE IGNORANCE AND CERTAINLY INEXPERIENCE OF THE GROUND OF BEING WE CALL GOD. DAWKINS ALSO STANDS AS A PRIME CONTEMPORARY EXAMPLE OF THE PEOPLE PAUL IS REFERRING TO.

VERSE13 “We speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” THIS NOW COMES DOWN TO THE VERY PERSONAL. VERSE 11” For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?” PAUL IS SAYING THAT THE SPIRIT WITHIN – THE ABILITY TO DISCERN THE SPIRITUAL – IS WHAT DEFINES US AS HUMAN. IT IS THIS SPIRIT WITHIN, AS BISHOP JOHN SPONG HAS SAID, THAT ALLOWS US TO REACH THE FULL POTENTIAL OF OUR LIVES AND TO BECOME ALL THAT WE CAN BE – TO LIVE A FULLY HUMAN LIFE POSSESSING ALL OF WHAT PAUL CALLS “THE GIFTS OF GOD’S SPIRIT”.  HE LATER LISTS THESE GIFTS, SOME OF WHICH ARE: WISDOM, KNOWLEDGE, FAITH, HEALING.

THE RESULTS OF POSSESSING THESE GIFTS ARE; THE AWARENESS OF THE REALITY OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD AS EXPRESSED IN LOVE AND FORGIVENESS AND SHALOM – THE DEEPEST, MOST PROFOUND PEACE. THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO EXPERIENCE THE SPIRITUAL – TO EXPERIENCE THE DIVINE – TO EXPERIENCE GOD. MAY WE ALL COME TO UNDERSTAND, ACCEPT AND EXPERIENCE THIS. AMEN

Image may contain: 1 person, glasses and text

SERMON 29TH JANUARY 2017 – Matthew 5:1-12

Epiphany 4 – the so called “sermon on the mount”

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE

LET ME ASK YOU SOME DIRECT AND MAYBE DISCONCERTING QUESTIONS. “WHAT, FOR YOU, DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHRISTIAN?” – “HOW DOES ONE DEFINE THE QUALITIES – THE ASPIRATIONS – THE EVIDENCE (BECAUSE THERE MUST BE EVIDENCE) THAT WOULD SET SUCH A PERSON APART FROM THE HERD?”

OVER THE COURSE OF HUMAN HISTORY THERE HAVE BEEN MANY PEOPLE WHO HAVE STOOD OUT FROM THE CROWD – PEOPLE WHO HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE TO OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES AND EVEN HAVE ALTERED THE COURSE OF HUMAN HISTORY. ON A BROAD SCALE THERE HAVE BEEN PEOPLE WHO HAVE “CHANGED THE WORLD” FOR THE BETTER – WHO HAVE, SOMETIMES AT GREAT SELF-SACRIFICE, RAISED UP COMMUNITIES AND EVEN WHOLE NATIONS TO A HIGHER AND MORE GRACIOUS PLANE. ONE IMMEDIATELY THINKS OF MEN LIKE NELSON MANDELA WHO, ALTHOUGH IMPRISONED FOR MANY YEARS UNDER HARSH CONDITIONS, WHEN FREED DID NOT SEEK REVENGE AND RETRIBUTION BUT POURED FORGIVENESS UPON HIS GAOLERS AND CHANGED SOUTH AFRICA’S SOCIETY FROM ONE OF EXCLUSION AND DIVISION TO INCLUSION AND UNITY. ALSO WHILST THINKING OF SOUTH AFRICA ONE CAN’T PASS BY BISHOP DESMOND TUTU, THE NOW RETIRED ARCHBISHOP OF CAPETOWN. TUTU’S ADMIRERS SEE HIM AS A GREAT MAN WHO, SINCE THE DEMISE OF APARTHEID, HAS BEEN ACTIVE IN THE DEFENCE OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND USES HIS HIGH PROFILE TO CAMPAIGN FOR THE OPPRESSED. HE HAS CAMPAIGNED TO FIGHT HIV/AIDSTUBERCULOSISPOVERTYRACISMSEXISM, AND HOMOPHOBIA. HE RECEIVED THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE IN 1984.

JOHN F KENNEDY LATE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES FAMOUSLY SAID IN HIS INAUGURAL ADDRESS IN JANUARY 1961, “ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU BUT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY… WITH A GOOD CONSCIENCE OUR ONLY SURE REWARD, WITH HISTORY THE FINAL JUDGE OF OUR DEEDS, LET US GO FORTH TO LEAD THE LAND WE LOVE, ASKING HIS BLESSING AND HIS HELP, BUT KNOWING THAT HERE ON EARTH GOD’S WORK MUST TRULY BE OUR OWN. “ALTHOUGH A FLAWED MAN – AS ARE WE ALL IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER – KENNEDY HERE REALLY STATED THE BASIC CHRISTIAN ETHOS AS PREACHED B Y JESUS HIMSELF.

NOTICE THAT I HAVE NOT QUOTED ANY RENOWNED THEOLOGIANS. MY YEARS OF STUDY HAVE SHOWN ME THAT, ALTHOUGH MOSTLY FUELLED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS, IT HAS BEEN MANY OF THE THEOLOGIANS AND SO CALLED CHURCH FATHERS OF THE PAST WHO IN THEIR SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH BEHIND THE HISTORICAL LIFE AND MEANING OF JESUS, HAVE BEEN RESONSIBLE FOR LEADING THE CHURCH AND MILLIONS OF ITS FOLLOWERS ASTRAY. THEY HAVE IMPOSED UPON WHAT WAS A DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE MESSAGE OF LOVE AND FORGIVENESS AND ACTION TO SPREAD THOSE INATE HUMAN QUALITIES, MANY LAYERS OF COMPLICATION, RULES AND STRUCTURES OF POWER THAT THE MAN JESUS NEVER IN HIS WILDEST DREAMS EVER ENVISAGED.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN WE HAVE THE NEW PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA WHO HAS SAID HIS PERSONAL MOTTO IS “AN EYE FOR AN EYE”. HE ALSO DECLARED HE DOES NOT ASK ANYONE FOR FORGIVENESS AND HE WANTS TO BOMB THE MIDDLE EAST UNTIL “THERE’S NOTHING LEFT”.

MANY PEOPLE DO NOT READ THIS LITTLE STORY FROM MATTHEW’S GOSPEL CAREFULLY ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND THAT IN THE STORY JESUS IS SPEAKING – NOT TO THE CROWD – BUT TO THE SMALL GROUP OF MEN HE HAS JUST CALLED TO FOLLOW HIM. TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY – HE IS OUTLINING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A FOLLOWER OF HIS – IN OTHER WORDS – A CHRISTIAN IN TODAY’S PARLANCE.     HE IS NOT SAYING THAT THE PERSON WITH ALL THE WEALTH – WITH ALL THE POWER – NECESSARILY QUALIFIES. HE IS SAYING IN FACT, JUST THE OPPOSITE. IT IS THE ONES WHO STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE, WHO ARE OUTCAST AND OSTRACISED FROM “GOOD SOCIETY” – WHO HAVE LITTLE OR NOTHING OF WORLDLY GOODS WHO REALLY MATTER. LOOK AT MATTHEW’S LIST. THE POOR IN SPIRIT – THE SAD – THE LONELY – THE MOURNERS – THOSE WHO LAMENT THE LOSS OF LOVED ONES (AND THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN MANY OF RELATIVELY YOUNG YEARS IN THE FIRST CENTURY WHEN THE EVANGELIST WROTE) – THE MEEK (BETTER TRANSLATED AS “THE GENTLE”) – THE MERCIFUL – THE PURE IN HEART – THE PEACEMAKERS – THE OSTRACISED AND THOSE ON THE FRINGES OF POLITE SOCIETY.

IN OUR COMFORTABLE MIDDLECLASS SOCIETY OF TODAY WE REALLY – IF WE ARE HONEST WITH OURSELVES – WOULD PREFER TO AVERT OUR EYES FROM THESE CLASSES OF PEOPLE. WE FIND SADNESS AND ILLNESS (PARTICULARLY MENTAL ILLNESS) EMBARRASSING AND THE SUFFERER TO BE AVOIDED IF POSSIBLE – LIKEWISE THE FOREIGNER WHO PERHAPS FOLLOWS A DIFFERENT FAITH OR SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T SHARE OUR HETEROSEXUALITY. WE SAY WE HAVE NO ILL FEELINGS FOR THESE STRANGERS BUT OUR WORDS OFTEN BELIE OUR ACTIONS WHEN WE GO TO LENGTHS TO AVOID CONTACT WITH THEM.

ON THE OTHER HAND I HAVE A NIECE IN ANOTHER STATE WHO WANTS NO CONTACT WITH THE CHURCH BUT WHO IS THE MOST OPENLY GENEROUS, HOSPITABLE AND INCLUSIVE PERSON I THINK I KNOW – FOR ANYONE WHO IS IN NEED. FOR ME SHE EPITOMISES WHAT IT TRULY MEANS TO BE – NOT RELIGIOUS – BUT A CHRISTIAN – A TRUE FOLLOWER OF CHRIST.

THE OLD PROPHET MICAH HAD IT SUMMED UP. TO PARAPHRASE THIS MORNING’S READING – IT’S NOT THE CEREMONIAL RELIGIOSITY THAT MATTERS – IT’S THE PRACTICALITY AS SHOWN IN ONE’S LIFESTYLE AND ACTIONS THAT CAN DESIGNATE US AS CHRISTIAN.  (MICAH 6: 1-8) WHAT IS IT, O GOD THAT YOU WANT FROM US? WHAT DO YOU REQUIRE? JUST TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE OFFERING, AND WE WILL SURELY SACRIFICE IT — EVEN IF IT IS A RATHER EXTREME REQUEST.

THE LAST VERSE OF THIS PASSAGE — THE ONE MOST FAMILIAR TO US — TURNS THE QUESTIONS ASKED AWAY FROM THEIR FOCUS ON THE TYPES OF OFFERINGS AND TOWARD A FOCUS ON THE TYPE OF PERSON. FOR MICAH, GOD DOES NOT WANT A SPECIFIC TYPE OF OFFERING. GOD WANTS A SPECIFIC TYPE OF PERSON. THE PASSAGE CULMINATES WITH AN ANSWER. IT MAY NOT BE THE ANSWER THE PEOPLE EXPECTED. IN FACT, IT IS NOT THE ANSWER THEY WERE LOOKING FOR. THEY HAVE FOCUSED ON OFFERINGS — SMALL AND LARGE. THEY HAVE EMPHASIZED SACRIFICIAL WORSHIP – (READ CEREMONY AND RELIGIOSITY) -TO THE EXCLUSION OF JUSTICE AND KINDNESS. BUT GOD CLARIFIES WHAT IS GOOD. THE ANSWER IS RATHER STRAIGHTFORWARD: TO DO JUSTICE -TO LOVE KINDNESS – TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD.

NOW THAT THE CLARIFICATION HAS BEEN GIVEN TO US, THE MORE DIFFICULT TASK IS TO LIVE INTO THESE REQUIREMENTS AS GOD’S PEOPLE. REVENGE RATHER THAN JUSTICE IS PERHAPS OUR DEFAULT OPERATING SYSTEM. HUMILITY IS NOT SECOND NATURE. LET’S THINK THEN – WHAT DOES GOD REQUIRE FROM US? DO THESE REQUIREMENTS FROM US CAUSE US TO RETHINK WHAT IT TRULY MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN – ESPECIALLY AS WE LOOK INTO OUR OWN NEIGHBORHOODS AND CITY?  AMEN

 

 

SERMON 15TH JANUARY 2017 – EPIPHANY 2 – John 1:29-42

SIGNS OF THE TIME

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed ). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter ).

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE.

WHEN YOU HEARD THE GOSPEL READING THIS MORNING DID YOU THINK THAT THERE WAS ANYTHING STRANGE – PERHAPS AN INCLUSION THAT SEEMED TO COME FROM LEFT FIELD? SOMETHING THAT AT FIRST GLANCE SEEMS QUITE UNNECESSARY – A DETAIL THAT CAUSES ONE TO SCRATCH ONE’S HEAD AND THINK, “WHY IS THIS HERE”? NO? WELL I WARNED YOU THAT THERE WOULD BE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE READING. DON’T YOU THINK IT A LITTLE STRANGE THAT THE DETAIL OF THE TIME IS INCLUDED? V39, “THEY CAME AND SAW WHERE HE WAS STAYING, AND THEY REMAINED WITH HIM THAT DAY, IT WAS ABOUT FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON – OR IN THE LATIN PARLANCE OF THE TIME “HORA DECIMA – THE 10TH HOUR”.

I HAVE WONDERED HOW THE ANCIENTS “TOLD THE TIME” AND DISCOVERED THAT THEY USED SUNDIALS – ORIGINALLY A GREEK INVENTION AND WATER CLOCKS AMONGST OTHER SMART INVENTIONS. A HUMOROUS COMMENT ABOUT THE PREVALENCE OF SUNDIALS IS ILLUSTRATED BY A CHARACTER IN A DRAMA BY PLAUTUS A ROMAN PLAYRIGHT OF ABOUT 200 B.C.E., WHO COMPLAINS “MAY THE GODS DESTROY THAT MAN WHO FIRST DISCOVERED HOURS AND WHO FIRST SET UP A SUNDIAL HERE, WHO CUT UP MY DAY.”; THE COMPARISON IS WITH THE SPEAKER’S YOUNG DAYS WHEN A CHILD IS FREE OF TIMEKEEPING. THE ROMAN DAY STARTING AT DAWN SURVIVES TODAY IN THE SPANISH WORD SIESTA,                   LITERALLY THE SIXTH HOUR OF THE DAY ALSO OUR ENGLISH WORD FOR MIDDAY – NOON – IS DERIVED FROM THE 9TH HOUR ALTHOUGH DUE TO SEMANTIC DRIFT NOW REFERS TO MIDDAY RATHER THAN MID-AFTERNOON.

BUT ENOUGH OF INTERESTING HISTORICAL FACTS; THE QUESTION REMAINS, WHY IS THE WRITER OF JOHN’S GOSPEL SO INTERESTED IN TIME. WE NEED TO REITERATE THAT THIS MAN WAS JEWISH AND WRITES WITHIN THE CONFINES OF A JEWISH COMMUNITY AND UNDERSTANDING – ALBEIT SOME 70 OR MORE YEARS AFTER JESUS’ LIFETIME.

THE JEWISH DAYTIME HOURS BEGAN WITH DAWN AND ENDED WITH SUNDOWN, WHICH BEGAN THE NEXT DAY. OF COURSE THE HOURS ARE SEASONAL, SO THE LENGTH OF THE DAYLIGHT HOURS VARIED WITH THE SEASON OF THE YEAR. ON THE OTHER HAND THE ROMANS BEGAN THEIR DAY AT MIDNIGHT AND COUNTED 12 HOURS TO 12 NOON AND THEN 12 MORE HOURS FROM NOON TO THE NEXT MIDNIGHT. WE STILL KEEP ROMAN TIME.

LIFE HAPPENS IN TIME AND WE REMEMBER LIFE WITH TIME. IMPORTANT EVENTS ARE NOT GENERAL REFERENCES — WE DON’T SAY, “OUR WEDDING WAS IN THE EVENING SOMETIME” OR “OUR BABY WAS BORN SOMETIME IN THE MORNING” NO, WE REMEMBER THESE MOMENTS WITH PARTICULARITY. MY WEDDING WAS ON SATURDAY THE 1ST OF OCTOBER AT 4.30PM.

NO WONDER THE TIME OF THE FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS HAD TO BE RECORDED. THERE’S NO WAY YOU COULD FORGET THAT KIND OF MOMENT. JOHN AND PETER WOULD SAY, “WELL, IT WAS ABOUT FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON….”. THERE ARE EVENTS IN YOUR LIFE THAT TIME HAS TO ACKNOWLEDGE. WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL EVENTS? WHAT ARE YOUR COMMUNAL EVENTS? WHAT ARE OUR NATIONAL EVENTS? WHAT ARE OUR GLOBAL EVENTS THAT TIME HELPS US REMEMBER – HELPS US FEEL – HELPS US KNOW THAT IT MATTERED? TIME ANCHORS THE EVENT.

TIME MATTERS IN THIS STORY, NOT JUST TO MARK TIME, BUT TO REMIND US OF GOD’S TIME.

IT WAS TRADITIONAL WHILST THE JERUSALEM TEMPLE EXISTED – I.E. PRIOR TO 70C.E. – FOR THE PRIESTS TO RUN A STRICTLY ORDERED SCHEDULE. EACH DAY IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE ANCIENT TORANIC LAW THERE WERE TWO LAMBS SACRIFICED AT THE ALTAR. ONE AT DAWN THE OTHER IN THE AFTERNOON. THE SECOND ANIMAL WAS TIED TO THE ALTAR AROUND THE 6TH HOUR – NOON TO 1PM – WAS GIVEN A DRINK FROM A GOLDEN CUP DURING THAT FIRST HOUR AND WAS THEN SACRIFICED AT THE 9TH HOUR; 3 – 4PM.

WHAT THEN IS JOHN ALSO SAYING HERE? LET’S GO BACK TO VERSE 29 WHICH OPENED OUR GOSPEL READING. “THE NEXT DAY JOHN SAW JESUS COMING TOWARD HIM AND DECLARED, “HERE IS THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!” WHAT COULD BE CLEARER? JOHN, HAVING BEGUN HIS GOSPEL BY DECLARING JESUS TO HAVE BEEN WITH GOD AT CREATION OF THE WORLD AND DECLARING HIM TO BE GOD IN THE FLESH NOW DECLARES HIM TO BE THE SACRIFICIAL LAMB TO BE KILLED TO “TAKE AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD” AND EMPHASISES THIS DECLARATION BY SPECIFICALLY TELLING US THE TIME WAS 4PM – THE TIME WHEN THE TAMID LAMB WAS BEING SACRIFICED IN THE TEMPLE. ALSO JOHN HAS THE FIRST DISCIPLES JOIN JESUS AT THE SAME TIME THE TAMID LAMB WAS BEING SACRIFICED. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. READ ACTS CHAPTER 3 VERSE 1, “ONE DAY PETER AND JOHN WERE GOING UP TO THE TEMPLE AT THE HOUR OF PRAYER, AT THREE O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON”. THE SECOND TIME OF PRAYER FOR THE DAY – ALSO CALLED THE HOUR OF CONFESSION – WAS FROM 3 UNTIL 4PM. SO IT IS OBVIOUS THAT THIS JEWISH MYSTIC WRITER TIED JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES VERY CLOSELY TO THE SCHEDULE OF PRAYER AND SACRIFICE OF THE TEMPLE.

THE SECOND THING I CAN SAY ABOUT THIS GOSPEL STORY IS CONCERNING THE WORDS “THEY CAME AND SAW WHERE HE WAS STAYING, AND THEY REMAINED WITH HIM THAT DAY.” THE WORD TRANSLATED AS “REMAINED” IS THE GREEK “MENO” WHICH CAN ALSO BE TRANSLATED AS “ABIDE’ OR ‘REMAIN’.

FOR THESE FIRST DISCIPLES, ABOUT FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON WAS THEIR FIRST TIME – BY INVITATION FROM JESUS – TO ABIDE. NOT JUST TO COME AND SEE BUT TO COME AND BE. OUTSIDE OF JESUS’ BAPTISM IN JOHN1, IN REFERENCE TO THE SPIRIT, 1:39 IS THE FIRST OCCURRENCE OF THE VERB MENO IN JOHN. USED NO LESS THAN FORTY-PLUS TIMES IN JOHN- IT IS THE PRIMARY WORD TO DESCRIBE THE INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP INTO WHICH JESUS INVITED HIS DISCIPLES AND ALSO INVITES US.

TO ABIDE IS TO BELONG. TO ABIDE IS TO BE SAVED. TO ABIDE IS TO BE ASSURED OF A FUTURE WITH GOD. TO ABIDE IS TO FEEL A REAL AND COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP. NO WONDER THEY REMEMBERED FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON. YOUR FIRST ABIDING WITH THE WORD OF GOD CAN’T BE SOME GENERIC MEMORY.

THE PRESENCE OF GOD WITH US AND WITHIN TIME IS THE PROMISE OF EPIPHANY. EPIPHANY MOMENTS NEED TIMELY DEMARCATION. BECAUSE TIME WAS MEMORABLE AND MATTERED TO JOHN AND OUR TIMES MATTER DEEPLY TO GOD.

AT THE BEGINNING OF A NEW YEAR IT’S TIME TO TAKE STOCK OF OUR LIVES AND HONESTLY FACE THE QUESTION, “ARE WE, LIKE THOSE FIRST DISCIPLES, TRULY ABIDING – REMAINING – WITHIN THE HOSPITALITY OF THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE WE CALL GOD?” IF WE FIND IT DIFFICULT TO ANSWER THAT – PERHAPS IT IS TIME WE ADDRESSED THE MATTER. AMEN

 

All the best for 2017 dear friends. Stay in love and peace.

SERMON – 1st January 2017– MATTHEW 2:1-12

CELEBRATING THE EPIPHANY

The Visit of the Wise Men

 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE

LAST WEEK THERE WAS A CARTOON IN THE AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER WHICH DEPICTED THE THREE SO CALLED “WISE MEN” CONFERRING IN FRONT OF A SIGN HELD BY A TRADER WHICH READ, “POST CHRISTMAS SALE – 50% OFF ALL GOLD, FRANKINCENSE AND MYRRH “. ONE OF THE THREE SAYS TO THE OTHERS, “SEE, I TOLD YOU WE SHOULD HAVE WAITED UNTIL AFTER CHRISTMAS!”

I HAVE RECEIVED QUITE A NUMBER OF CHRISTMAS CARDS AGAIN THIS YEAR, MANY OF WHICH DEPICT THE THREE SO CALLED “KINGS” OR “WISE MEN” ARRIVING IN BETHLEHEM ON THEIR CAMELS. IT IS REALLY A COMPRESSING OF A COUPLE OF ANCIENT TRADITIONS INTO ONE.  WITHIN THE BROADER COMMUNITY NO ONE HAS HEARD OF EPIPHANY OR IF THEY HAVE HEARD THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE WORD MEANS. IN OUR TIME CHRISTMAS HAS BECOME SO COMMERCIALISED AND IMMERSED IN NORTHERN HEMISPHERE WINTER SNOW THAT MANY NOW SIMPLY PAY A NODDING ACKNOWLEDGEMENT THAT IT COULD HAVE A SOMEWHAT DEEPER AND MORE THOUGHTFUL MEANING AND REALLY LOOK AND THINK NO FURTHER.

THE ENGLISH WORD “EPIPHANY” MEANS A MOMENT WHEN YOU HAVE COME TO UNDERSTAND SOMETHING HITHERTO VEILED OR MISUNDERSTOOD – IT IS THE “AHA” MOMENT.

MATTHEW IS THE ONLY GOSPEL WRITER TO INCLUDE THIS STORY OF THE MAGI AND HEROD. BOTH THE EARLIER MARK AND LATER LUKEAND JOHN MAKE NO MENTION OF IT AND YET IT HAS BECOME A VERY CENTRAL PART OF THE CELEBRATIONS SURROUNDING THE BIRTH OF JESUS.

I BELIEVE THAT MATTHEW WANTED HIS HEARERS TO ABSORB A NUMBER OF LESSONS FROM THIS STORY.

FIRST LET’S THINK ABOUT THESE MEN FROM THE EAST. BY THE WAY WE ARE NEVERTOLD THAT THERE WERE THREE. THAT NUMBER HAS SIMPLY COME FROM TRADITION – PERHAPS A REFLECTION OF A LATER DEVELOPED DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITARIAN GOD. THE MEN WERE NOT KINGS BUT THE GREEK WORD USED – MAGI – MEANS ASTROLOGERS. THIS STORY RELFECTS SOMETHING OF THE STRESSES AT WORK WITHIN THE ROMAN EMPIRE AT THE TIME. THE MEN ARE POSSIBLY FROM PARTHIA. THE PARTHIAN EMPIRE WAS A MAJOR IRANIAN POLITICAL AND CULTURAL POWER IN ANCIENT IRAN AND IRAQ. IT WAS FOUNDED AROUND 247 B.C.E. AND LASTED UNTIL ABOUT 224C.E. – ALMOST 500 YEARS. IT WAS AN ENEMY OF ROME BORDERING AS IT DID THE FAR EASTERN BORDERS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. THE FACT THAT THESE MEN HAVE LATER BEEN GIVEN THE TITLE OF KINGS SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT THEIR POWER AND THEIR ACCESS TO THE POWER OF THE PARTHIAN EMPIRE. THEY WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN THE MOST WELCOME PEOPLE IN THE ROMAN PROVINCES. ASTROLOGY WAS A MAJOR INFLUENCE IN THESE ANCIENT TIMES. PEOPLE TOOK THE ASTROLOGERS’ PREDICTIONS VERY SERIOUSLY. A THREATENING OR DARK PREDICTION COULD HAVE A VERY DESTABILISING INFLUENCE ON THE RECIPIENT. YOU CAN NOW SEE WHY HEROD – THE CORRUPT AND VIOLENT PUPPET RULER OF ISRAEL – WAS UPSET AT THE THREATENING PREDICTION THE MEN BROUGHT TO HIM. ANY INDICATION OF A POTENTIAL NEW CHALLENGER WAS ENOUGH TO GREATLY CONCERN HIM. HIS ROMAN MASTERS WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN PLEASED IF AN UPRISING OCCURRED UNDER HIS WATCH. THESE MAGII’S ACTIONS IN APPEARING IN JERUSALEM, THE SEAT OF HEROD’S POWER AND INQUIRING ABOUT A “KING OF THE JEWS” WERE THREATENING TO HIM IN THE EXTREME. ALSO MATTHEW ALONG WITH THE OTHER SYNOPTIC GOSPEL WRITERS HAS STRONGLY LINKED JESUS WITH THE REVERED KING DAVID – A PAST HERO OF ISRAEL WHO RULED AROUND 1000 YEARS B.C.E. AND IS REPUTED TO HAVE UNITED THE SOUTHERN KINGDOM (JUDAH) AND THE NORTHERN (ISRAEL).  HEROD SENSES A FIGURATIVE RETURN OF THIS POWERFUL ISRAELITE – JUDEAN KING IN THE BABY JESUS AND PLANS TO ACT ACCORDINGLY.  MATTHEW TELLS A WONDERFUL STORY HERE AND IT WELL REFLECTS THE TIMES IN WHICH HE AND HIS COMMUNITY IN ANTIOCH LIVED.

 

SO WE CAN SEE THAT HE IS PAINTING A STRONG PICTURE OF JESUS AS KING – AS MESSIAH – AS THE ONE WHO WAS TO SAVE ISRAEL FROM THE ROMAN OPPRESSION – AS NOT JUST A THREAT TO HEROD BUT ALSO TO THE ROMAN EMPIRE. THAT WAS NO MEAN THREAT! BUT WHAT A CONTRAST WE SEE BETWEEN MATTHEW’S POTENTIAL KING AND THE KING HEROD. IN MATTHEW’S STORY HEROD REACTS WITH HORRENDOUS VIOLENCE – WHILST JESUS EXUDES NOTHING BUT HEALING, LOVE AND FORGIVENESS.

ONE OTHER IMPORTANT LESSON COMES FROM THIS STORY. THIS IS THE FIRST ACCOUNT IN ANY OF THE GOSPELS OF NON JEWS – GENTILES – TO WORSHIP JESUS.

THE MAGI WERE NOT JEWS AND THAT SET THEM ASIDE FROM THE BUDDING JEWISH / CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY OF MATTHEW BUT THEY ALSO CAME FROM A COUNTRY THAT WAS NO FRIEND OF THE ROMANS AND THAT COUNTED FOR A LOT. EARLIER IN THE FIRST CENTURY WE SAW HOW PAUL SAW IT AS HIS GOD GIVEN TASK TO CONVERT THE GENTILES TO FOLLOW THE JEWISH JESUS AND THERE FOLLOW STORIES IN THE LATER GOSPELS THAT TELL THE SAME STORY. I THINK IMMEDIATELY OF THE STORIES OF THE SAMARIAN WOMAN AT THE WELL, THE CENTURIAN’S SERVANT AND THE SYRO-PHOENICIAN WOMAN’S DAUGHTER.

NOW SOMEWHAT OVERLOOKED IN THIS FAMILIAR STORY OF THE MAGI IS MATTHEW’S INTRODUCTION OF GENTILE WORSHIPPERS OF JESUS. THE STORY AND PROMISES OF JESUS ARE INDEED UNIVERSAL FOR THE WRITERS OF THE FIRST CENTURY AND ALSO TODAY. I ASK MYSELF , WHY IS IT THAT IN THIS SAVVY WORLD OF 2016 WE STILL FAIL TO GRASP THIS ANCIENT TRUTH IN THE GOSPEL STORIES? WHY IS IT THAT WE STILL INSIST ON PRACTISING EXCLUSION AND DISCRIMINATION BASED ON A MYRIAD OF FLIMSY EXCUSES? DIFFERENT POLITICS, DIFFERENT FAITH, DIFFERENT SKIN COLOUR, DIFFERENT SEXUALITY. LET THIS APPARENTLY SIMPLE STORY FROM MATTHEW TEACH US A LESSON AS WE CLOSE ANOTHER YEAR AND PREPARE TO ENTER A NEW ONE – ALBEIT ONE SEEMINGLY FILLED WITH UNCERTAINTY.

SO MANY OF THIS WORLD’S PROBLEMS STEM FROM DISCRIMINATION AND EXCLUSION. CAN WE RESOLVE THAT IN 2017 WE MIGHT TRY TO DO SOMETHING TO CHANGE THAT – BECAUSE IF WE SAY WE FOLLOW JESUS THAT IS CERTAINLY WHAT HE WOULD HAVE US DO? AMEN

 

 

SERMON CHRISTMAS 2016 – Luke 2:1-14

1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE.

HISTORICAL FACT ASIDE THIS STORY BY LUKE OF THE BIRTH OF JESUS IS STILL ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL STORIES EVER TOLD. THAT IS WHY IT HAS REMAINED, BEEN SPREAD AROUND THE WORLD AND HAS BEEN RE-ENACTED COUNTLESS TIMES OVER THE CENTURIES. IN REFLECTING ON THIS I HAVE COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT IT IS NOT JUST THE BEAUTY OF THE TALE BUT THE FACT THERE IS SOMETHING MORE TO IT THAT ATTRACTS US EVEN TODAY. THE BIRTH OF A CHILD IS THE CULMINATION OF A LONG – AND SOMETIMES FOR THE MOTHER – SEEMINGLY ENDLESS PERIOD OF ANTICIPATION AND HOPE – HOPE THAT THE CHILD WILL BE BORN WITHOUT DIFFICULTIES OR HANDICAPS AND HOPE THAT THE NEW PERSON WILL BE ABLE TO THRIVE AND BRING FURTHER JOY AND PRIDE TO THE FAMILY AS THEY MATURE INTO ADULTHOOD.

THIS WORD HOPE – I FOUND MYSELF PONDERING THAT. HOPE IS DEFINED AS A FEELING OF EXPECTATION AND DESIRE FOR A PARTICULAR THING TO HAPPEN. WE SAY, “I HOPE YOUR TREATMENT IS SUCCESSFUL” OR “I HOPE YOU HAVE A LOVELY CHRISTMAS”- “I HOPE TO SEE YOU AGAIN SOON”. WE ALL HOPE A LOT! HOPE IS AN INCREDIBLY POWERFUL FORCE WITHIN ALL OF US WHETHER WE STOP TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT OR NOT – BECAUSE WHEN ALL LOOKS DARK AND UNCERTAIN WE ALL LOOK FORWARD IN HOPE. WHEN CERTAINTY HAS GONE WE ACTUALLY SAY, “WE CAN ONLY HOPE”.

BUT I ALSO SENSE A DANGER IN JUST RELYING ON HOPE. WE CAN BECOME BOGGED DOWN IN HOPE. WE RUN THE RISK OF BECOMING COMPLACENT IN HOPE. HOPE MISUSED CAN ALLOW US TO ABSOLVE OURSELVES FROM THE REALITIES OF TAKING OWNERSHIP OF OUR OWN LIVES. I WANT TO TAKE US BACK TO SOME WORDS OF THE ANCIENT PROPHET ISAIAH, “She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us‘). THESE WORDS ARE TAKEN TO REFER TO JESUS. IF WE ACCEPT THAT IS WHAT IT IS SAYING, JUST AS PAUL WROTE CENTURIES LATER, “GOD WAS IN CHRIST …” WE START ON A WAY THAT CAN CHALLENGE OUR COMPLACANCY. WHAT IF THE WORD IMMANUEL IS BETTER TRANSLATED “GOD IS IN US”. I KNOW THAT’S SCANDALOUS BUT THINK OF THE IMPLICATIONS. IF GOD IS IN US WE HAVE THE POWER TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE FEAR – THE INJUSTICE-THE GREED THAT IS DESTROYING HUMAN SOCIETY. AS WE CONTEMPLATE THE CHILD JESUS WE CAN SEE OURSELVES. IT IS A WAKEUP CALL – WAKE UP TO THE SPIRIT OF GOD WITHIN YOU AND STOP JUST LAZILY WALLOWING IN HOPE – HOPE THAT INFERS SOMEONE ELSE WILL DO IT.

IN A FEW DAYS MOST OF US WILL HAVE FORGOTTEN CHRISTMAS AS WE PREPARE TO CELEBRATE THE DAWNING OF A NEW YEAR AND WHEN I THINK BACK THROUGH THE PAST YEAR IT IS EASY TO SAY THAT I HAVE LITTLE LEFT BUT HOPE FOR THE FUTURE. CERTAINTY HAS GONE OUT THE WINDOW. NOTHING IS SURE ANYMORE. THE DREADFUL CARNAGE OF THE WARS IN THE MIDDLE EAST KEEP PUSHING THEIR WAY INTO THE HOUSE VIA THE TELEVISION AND RADIO REPORTS, THE REAL THREAT OF VIOLENT TERRORISM WITHIN OUR OWN AUSTRALIAN COMMUNITY, WHILST THE DIFFICULTIES SURROUNDING THE POSSIBLE CHANGES WITHIN THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE REAL FEELING OF UNCERTAINTY FOLLOWING THE AMERICAN ELECTION ALL MAKE THE COMING YEAR LOOK FRANKLY UNAPPEALING.

ALSO IT HAS JUST BEEN REPORTED THAT 2016 WAS THE HOTTEST YEAR SINCE RECORDINGS WERE BEGUN. IT FOLLOWS ON THE PAST 3 YEARS WHEN EACH YEAR HAS HELD THE RECORD. THE EARTH’S CLIMATE IS CHANGING WHILST WORLD POLITICAL LEADERS LARGELY DITHER AND ACQUIESE TO VESTED CARBON FUEL SUPPLIER’S PECUNIARY INTERESTS.

IT SOUNDS NAÏVE TO SIMPLY SAY WE HOPE FOR BETTER THINGS – FOR BETTER TIMES – ALMOST AS THOUGH WE JUST MOUTH THE WORDS – BUT INWARDLY REALLY WANT TO – IN THE WORDS OF ANTHONY NEWLEY’S 1960’S MUSICAL – STOP THE WORLD I WANT TO GET OFF!  I ASK YOU – DO YOU FEEL THE SAME WAY ABOUT THE FUTURE? AND HAVE YOU COME INTO THIS CHURCH TO FEEL SOMETHING OF THE BEAUTY AND JOY AND HOPE AND – DARE I SAY COMFORT – THAT IS EXUDED BY THIS LOVELY CHRISTMAS STORY?

I AM SURE THAT IS AT LEAST SOME OF THE REASONS WHY YOU HAVE COME.  SO CAN WE REALLY FIND THE COMFORT WE SEEK HERE? WHEN WE SING THE OLD 15TH CENTURY CAROL WITH THE WORDS: “GOD REST YE MERRY, GENTLEMEN, LET NOTHING YOU DISMAY, REMEMBER, CHRIST, OUR SAVIOUR WAS BORN ON CHRISTMAS DAY, TO SAVE US ALL FROM SATAN’S POWER, WHEN WE WERE GONE ASTRAY, O TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY, COMFORT AND JOY, O TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY” WE WANT TO TAKE THOSE PROMISED FEELINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY INTO OUR HEARTS AND MINDS?

I SPEAK OF HOPE AND THAT IS CERTAINLY WHAT WE CAN TAKE WITH US FROM HERE BUT AS I HOPE I HAVE MADE CLEAR WE CAN ALSO TAKE A NEW SENSE OF THE AWARENESS OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD WITHIN US. THAT TAKES US BEYOND – DARE I SAY – MERE HOPE. IT BRINGS US TO A POINT OF REALISATION THAT WE HAVE THE POWER TO ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING POSITIVE. NOT TO CHANGE THE WORLD OVERNIGHT BUT TO BEGIN IN PERHAPS A SMALL WAY TO EXERCISE THAT SPIRIT OF POSITIVITY – THAT SPIRIT OF GOD – THAT IS IN US.

THE BIRTH OF JESUS – NO MATTER WHAT THE REALITY OF HIS BIRTH – HAS PROVEN TO BE ONE OF – IF NOT THE – MAJOR TURNING POINTS IN HUMAN HISTORY. FOR TWO THOUSAND YEARS PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ARGUING AND TRYING TO DETERMINE THE REALITY BEHIND THE LEGEND. IT HAS BECOME CLEAR THAT THE REALITY IS A MAN WHO RADIATED UNBOUNDED LOVE AND FORGIVENESS TO ALL THOSE AROUND HIM – INCLUDING THOSE WHO MURDERED HIM. ONE MORE THING BECOMES CLEAR – THIS IS NOT A BABY WHO GREW INTO AN AVERAGE MAN OF HIS TIME. I BELIEVE IT IS A GREAT TRUTH WHAT ST PAUL WROTE IN 2 CORINTHIANS 5:19 – THAT “GOD WAS IN CHRIST RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF”. RADICALLY I PUT IT TO YOU THAT GOD IS ALSO IN US. IT IS AN IMPOSSIBILITY TO DEFINE THE SPIRIT THAT WE CALL GOD BUT IT IS CERTAINLY POSSIBLE TO EXPERIENCE THAT SPIRIT. WE CAN FIND IT IN THE BEAUTY, THE JOY AND THE HOPE OF THIS BABE AND THIS MAN WE KNOW AS JESUS OF Nazareth WHOSE BIRTH WE STILL CELEBRATE SOME 2000 YEARS AFTER THE EVENT.

MAY THIS TIME OF CELEBRATION BE FOR YOU FILLED WITH THE BEAUTY AND THE LOVE AND THE JOY AND THE HOPE AND DARE I SAY AGAIN THE POWER TO ACT FOR GOOD – FOR THE LIGHT – THAT IS FOUND IN CHRIST JESUS. AMEN

SERMON 18TH DECEMBER 2016 – ADVENT 4  Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

I DON’T THINK I WOULD HAVE MANY DISAGREE WITH ME IF I SAID THAT WE LIVE IN AN EVOLVED AND EVOLVING WORLD. WE ARE PRODUCTS OF AN EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS DESPITE WHAT SOME PEOPLE CHOOSE TO BELIEVE. OF COURSE IT IS NOT ONLY LIVING CREATURES WHO ARE PART OF THE EVOLUTIONARY CHAIN. IDEAS AND CONCEPTS ALSO EVOLVE, OFTEN BECOMING MORE AND MORE COMPLEX AS TIME AND THOUGHT GOES ON.

LET’S GO BACK TO THE MIDDLE OF THE FIRST CENTURY AND REVISIT THE APOSTLE PAUL. PAUL WAS THE WRITER OF THE EARLIEST DOCUMENTS WE HAVE THAT HAVE SURVIVED TO BE COLLATED INTO THE NEW TESTAMENT. HE WROTE BETWEEN EIGHTEEN AND THIRTY FOUR YEARS AFTER JESUS’ DEATH. LET’S LOOK AT TWO OF HIS LETTERS – FIRST, 2 CORINTIANS 5.19. “IN CHRIST GOD WAS RECONCILING THE WORLD”, AND ROMANS 8.39 – “NOTHING IN ALL CREATION WILL BE ABLE TO SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD”. READING THESE WORDS IT BECOMES CLEAR THAT PAUL WAS USING ECSTATIC LANGUAGE. HE HAS BEEN SO MOVED BY HIS EXPERIENCE OF CHRIST THAT HE IS STILL TRYING TO EXPLAIN IT TO OTHERS. BUT IT’S IN HUMAN NATURE TO SEEK EXPLANATIONS.

“THE VERY MOMENT WE MOVE FROM ECSTATIC PROCLAMATION TO EXPLANANTION, THE PRESUMPTIONS, DEFINITIONS AND STEREOTYPES OF THE AGES BEGIN TO SHAPE OUR WORDS”[1] SO CREEDS AND THEOLOGY ITSELF EMERGES FROM THIS SEEKING AFTER EXPLANATION – SO WHAT THE CHURCH HAS PRESENTED FOR GENERATIONS AS TRUTH IS REALLY VERSIONS OF TRUTH DISTORTED BY THE TIME AND CULTURE IN WHICH THEY WERE FORMED.

IN THE LETTER TO THE ROMANS PAUL BEGINS TO DEVELOP HIS ATTEMPTS AT EXPLANANTION. IN HIS INTRODUCTION (ROMANS 1:14) HE WRITES “JESUS CHRIST … WAS DECLARED TO BE THE SON OF GOD WITH POWER ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT OF HOLINESS BY RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD”.  SO IT IS EVIDENT THAT FOR PAUL, JESUS BECAME THE ADOPTED “SON OF GOD” AT THE TIME OF HIS RESURRECTION – THE EASTER EXPERIENCE.

NEXT CAME MARK – THE EARLIEST GOSPEL – WRITTEN ABOUT TEN YEARS AFTER PAUL’S LETTER TO THE ROMANS. IT OPENS WITH THE DECLARATION “THE BEGINNING OF THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST – THE SON OF GOD”.

MARK HAS PICKED UP THE INFLUENCE OF PAUL BUT HAD TO ADAPT HIS STORY TO SUIT HIS OWN CONCEPT OF CHRIST. SO HE SETS THE SCENE OF JESUS’ DESIGNATION AS THE SON OF GOD EARLY IN HIS STORY – AT JESUS’ BAPTISM. HE ALSO LITERALISED PAUL’S “SPIRIT OF HOLINESS” INTO THE FORM OF A DOVE AND THE VOICE DECLARING JESUS AS GOD’S SON. NOW WE COME TO TODAY’S GOSPEL OF MATTHEW – WRITTEN ABOUT TWENTY YEARS AFTER MARK.  AGAIN THE STORY HAS CHANGED AND EVOLVED.

NOW IN THIS MORNING’S GOSPEL READING WE SEE MATTHEW’S ANGEL APPEARING TO JOSEPH AND DECLARING THAT MARY’S CHILD “CONCEIVED IN HER IS FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT” (V20).SO WE SEE THAT FOR MATTHEW JESUS WAS THE SON OF GOD RIGHT FROM THE TIME OF HIS CONCEPTION. MATTHEW ADDS THAT “ALL THIS TOOK PLACE TO FULFIL WHAT HAD BEEN SPOKEN BY THE LORD THROUGH THE PROPHET”. REMEMBER I SAID EARLIER THAT “THE PRESUMPTIONS, DEFINITIONS AND STEREOTYPES OF THE AGES BEGIN TO SHAPE OUR WORDS”? HERE IS A PRIME EXAMPLE OF JEWISH SCRIBE MATTHEW’S JEWISHNESS EMERGING AS HE LOOKS BACK INTO THE ANCIENT PROPHESIES OF ISAIAH.

SO WHEN WE LOOK AT THESE WRITINGS CRITICALLY AND PLACE THEM IN THEIR TRUE CONTEXT – THE RESULTS CAN BE EYE OPENING. BY THE WAY, THE LATER LUKE TOOK THINGS FURTHER AGAIN, GIVING MATTHEW’S ANONYMOUS ANGEL THE NAME OF GABRIEL AND HAVING HIM ADDRESS MARY IN PERSON, NOT IN A DREAM AS WITH JOSEPH. OF COURSE BY THE END OF THE FIRST CENTURY JOHN HAS JESUS PRESENT FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME WITH GOD, BUT WE WILL STOP AT MATTHEW’S ACCOUNT FOR TODAY.

THANKFULLY OUR SOCIETY HAS ALSO EVOLVED. AROUND THE MIDDLE OF LAST CENTURY IT WAS SHAMEFUL FOR A GIRL TO BECOME PREGNANT OUT OF WEDLOCK, SO MUCH SO THAT MANY GIRL’S LIVES WERE DESTROYED BY CALLOUS AND SOMETIMES GREEDY “CHARITABLE” ORGANISATIONS – SADLY INCLUDING THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. AS IS CLEAR IN THE GOSPEL STORY THE SAME WAS TRUE IN THE FIRST CENTURY. HOWEVER THEN, LIVING AS THEY DID IN A PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY THEY WERE CLASSED AS SECOND RATE CITIZENS ANYWAY. WITH NO GOVERNMENT WELFARE AND NO CHARITABLE ORGANISATIONS GIRLS WHO FOUND THEMSELVES IN THIS SITUATION FACED A TERRIBLE FUTURE.

IF THE FAMILY REJECTED THEM, AS WAS MOSTLY THE CASE, THEY WERE DOOMED TO STRUGGLE FOR THEIR VERY EXISTENCE. LIFE WAS SHORT AND HARD ANYWAY BUT MUCH MORE SO FOR THESE GIRLS.

MATTHEW CHOOSES TO PAINT JOSEPH IN A VERY GOOD AND KIND LIGHT. IN THAT DAY HE WOULD HAVE HAD NO OBLIGATION TO MARY – BEING “…FOUND WITH CHILD”. BUT EVEN FOR THE JEWISH SCRIBE MATTHEW THE IMAGE OF GOD WAS A SPIRIT OF LOVE. FOR MATTHEW IT WAS IMPERATIVE THAT JOSEPH LEGITIMISE JESUS. THE ALTERNATIVE WAS UNTHINKABLE FOR HIM AND THE BABY’S FUTURE.THE PLAN SUCCEEDED. IN THE LATER GOSPEL OF LUKE – 4:22 – WE READ OF JESUS’ FELLOW NAZARENE TOWNSFOLK, “ALL SPOKE WELL OF HIM AND WERE AMAZED AT THE GRACIOUS WORDS THAT CAME FROM HIS MOUTH. THEY SAID,”IS NOT THIS JOSEPH’S SON”?

MATTHEW PRESENTS JOSEPH AS A MODEL FOR ALL WHO HEAR THE MESSAGE OF JESUS THROUGH THE CHURCH. MATTHEW’S JOSEPH WAS FACE TO FACE WITH AN UNLIKELY MANIFESTATION OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD.

MATTHEW WANTS THOSE WHO ENCOUNTER THIS MESSAGE AND THE MOVEMENT OF “THE WAY OF JESUS” TO ACT IN SIMILAR FASHION AND TO DO AS JOSEPH DID: TO BELIEVE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS IS OF GOD AND TO BECOME PART OF ITS MOVEMENT – TO BECOME PART OF THE CHURCH.

AS WE COME NOW TO THE END OF ADVENT AND ENTER THE LOVELY TIME OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON MATTHEW’S MESSAGE TO US IS CLEAR. GOD IS A GOD OF BOUNDLESS LOVE AND FORGIVENESS – THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS IS THE SPIRIT OF GOD EXPRESSED THROUGH THE MAN JESUS. AS WE PREPARE TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTH WE TOO ARE URGED FOLLOW JOSEPH’S EXAMPLE AND ALLOW OUR LIVES TO BE FILLED WITH LOVE AND FORGIVENESS. AMEN

[1] SPONG, Why Christianity must change or Die, (1998)

This is not really a sermon but today is our annual Children’s Crib service when the children build the crib and decorate the Christmas Tree. So here is a little children’s story.

Christmas is for Love  – a classic story with acknowledgement

Christmas is for love.  It is for joy, for giving and sharing, for laughter, for reuniting with family and friends, for tinsel and brightly covered packages.  But, mostly Christmas is for love.

Matthew was a 10 year old orphan who lived with his aunt, a bitter, middle aged woman greatly annoyed with the burden of caring for her dead sister’s son.  She never failed to remind young Matthew, if it hadn’t been for her generosity, he would be a vagrant – homeless.  But despite all the scolding and coldness at home, he was a sweet and gentle child.

Matthew began to stay after school each day to help the teacher straighten up the room.  They did this quietly and comfortably, not speaking much, but both were happy to have a little piece of quiet time. When they did talk, Matthew spoke mostly of his mother.  Though he was quite young when she died, he remembered a kind, gentle, loving woman who always spent time with him.

As Christmas drew near however, Matthew failed to stay after school each day.  The teacher had looked forward to his coming, and when the days passed and he continued to scamper hurriedly from the room after class, the teacher stopped him one afternoon and asked him why he no longer helped him in the room.  He told Matthew how he had missed him, and his large brown eyes lit up eagerly as he replied, ‘Did you really miss me?’

The teacher explained how he had been his best helper, ‘I was making you a surprise,’ Matthew whispered confidentially.  ‘It’s for Christmas.’ With that, he became embarrassed and dashed from the room.  He didn’t stay after school any more after that.

Finally came the last school day before Christmas.  Matthew crept slowly into the room late that afternoon with his hands concealing something behind his back.  ‘I have your present,’ he said timidly when the teacher looked up.  ‘I hope you like it.’  He held out his hands, and there lying in his little hands was a small wooden box.

‘It’s beautiful, Matthew.  Is there something in it?’ the teacher asked, opening the top to look inside.  ‘Oh you can’t see what’s in it,’ he replied, ‘and you can’t touch it, or taste it or feel it, but mother always said it makes you feel good all the time, warm on cold nights and safe when you’re all alone.’

I gazed into the empty box.  ‘What is it, Matthew’ the teacher asked, ‘that will make me feel so good?’

‘It’s love,’ he whispered softly, ‘and mother always said it’s best when you give it away.’ He turned and quietly left the room.

So now I keep a small box crudely made of scraps of wood on the piano in my living room and only smile when inquiring friends raise quizzical eyebrows when I explain to them there is love in it. Yes, Christmas is for happiness, singing and for good and wondrous gifts.  But mostly, Christmas is for love because that is when a little baby called Jesus was born and when he grew up would show us all – even 2000 years later – something of what God is like. AMEN

SERMON 4TH DECEMBER 2016 – ADVENT 2

Matthew 3:1-12

1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD; CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE

YOU HAVE TO ADMIT IT; IF MATTHEW’S PORTRAYAL OF JOHN THE BAPTIST IS ANYWHERE NEAR ACCURATE THE MAN WAS MAD! ECCENTRICITY IS ONE THING BUT DOWNRIGHT CRAZY IS ANOTHER! I MUST ALSO ADD THAT THE EARLY CHURCH WAS LITTERED WITH THEM – BUT THAT IS ANOTHER STORY!

I PONDERED THE REACTION IF ANY MINISTER ADDRESSED PEOPLE WHO CAME TO CHURCH APPARENTLY SEEKING REASSURANCE AND SOME FORM OF CERTAINLTY IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD IN SUCH A MANNER AS JOHN DID IN THIS STORY. “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS! WHO WARNED YOU TO FLEE FROM THE WRATH TO COME?” HOW WOULD THAT GO OVER IN A CHURCH TODAY? IT’S A GOOD QUESTION. MAYBE IT’S JUST THE APPROACH WE NEED. MAYBE WE ARE TOO SOFT. MIND YOU WE NEVER GET TO HEAR WHAT HAPPENS TO THE PEOPLE HE BERATES BECAUSE THE STORY JUMPS STRAIGHT TO THE ACCOUNT OF JESUS’ BAPTISM AND THEY DISAPPEAR FROM THE TALE. I THINK IT IS TRUE, HOWEVER THAT THIS ANTAGONISM OF THE TEMPLE OFFICIALS EVENTUALLY COMES BACK TO BITE NOT JUST JOHN BUT ALSO JESUS HIMSELF. IT TAKES LITTLE IMAGINATION TO VISUALISE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF I FOR INSTANCE ADDRESSED PEOPLE IN SUCH A MANNER WHO CAME INTO THIS CHURCH.

LAST WEEK WE HAD THE PLEASURE OF BAPTISING A BEAUTIFUL LITTLE BABY GIRL. FOR MANY OF THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS WHO WERE IN CHURCH ON THAT OCCASION IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN A STRANGE EXPERIENCE FOR I AM CERTAIN THAT FEW IF ANY HAD ANY CONNECTION OR EXPERIENCE OF THE CHURCH OR FOR THAT MATTER, WITH THE SPIRIT OF LOVE WE CALL GOD. TO ACT AS JOHN THE BAPTIST IN THIS STORY WOULD – I FEAR – HAVE BEEN MOST NON-PRODUCTIVE!

THERE IS ONE HUMAN EMOTION THAT HAS REMAINED CONSTANT THROUGHOUT HISTORY AND UPON WHICH THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HAS PLAYED AND BUILT ITS POWER – FEAR! PRIMAL FEAR IS A BASIC SURVIVAL INSTINCT WITHIN US HUMANS AS IT IS WITHIN MOST ANIMALS ON EARTH. IN PREHISTORIC TIMES – NO FEAR WOULD HAVE MEANT A SHORT LIFE. THE EARLY CHURCH BUILT ITSELF ON FEAR – NOT JUST THE FEAR OF PAGAN PERSECUTIONS BUT THE MUCH GREATER FEAR OF THE JUDGEMENT TO COME IN THE AFTERLIFE.

BESIDES OUR EMOTIONS WE AS HUMANS HAVE BEEN ENDOWED WITH A BRAIN THAT SEEKS SOME BASIS IN FACT. I BELIEVE THAT FACT IS AVAILABLE TO US WITHIN THE BIBLICAL WRITINGS. SO IT’S WELCOME TO MATTHEW’S GOSPEL FOR THIS COMING YEAR. MATTHEW IS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CHARACTER FROM LUKE. WE WILL IMMERSE OURSELVES FAR DEEPER INTO JEWISHNESS THAN LUKE’S COMMUNITY. TODAY’S EXCERPT IS A CASE IN POINT. FOR MATTHEW, JOHN THE BAPTIST IS THE NEW ISAIAH – THE PROPHET OF OLD – “PREPARING THE WAY OF THE LORD” WHILST JESUS IS THE NEW MOSES WHO WILL LEAD HIS PEOPLE OUT OF SLAVERY AND INTO THE FREEDOM OF THE “PROMISED LAND”.

 

JOHN IS UNEQUIVICAL – IF YOU REMAIN FIGURATIVELY FRUITLESS IN LIFE – THAT IS LIVE YOUR LIFE IN A SINFUL MANNER – LIVE SELFISHLY ONLY TO SATISFY THE BASIC ANIMAL INSTINCTS – YOU WILL BE “…CUT DOWN AND THROWN INTO THE FIRE” – YOU WILL GO TO HELL.

NOW THERE IS NO SUCH PLACE AS HELL. DON’T JUST TAKE MY WORD FOR IT – HEAR WHAT POPE FRANCIS SAID IN 2013,

” Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”

THERE’S A BREATH OF FRESH AIR WITHIN THE ROMAN CHURCH!

MANY YEARS AGO MY WIFE AND I DECIDED TO LEAVE A CONGREGATION DUE TO THE “HELL FIRE AND BRIMSTONE” STYLE PREACHING OF A YOUNG ENTHUSIASTIC MINISTER. HE REMINDED ME IN SOME WAYS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST IN THIS STORY – DRESSED DIFFERENTLY HOWEVER.

THIS STORY DOES RAISE A VERY GOOD QUESTION THOUGH – A QUESTION THAT THIS CHARACTER OF JOHN THE BAPTIST IS REALLY ASKING.  LET ME ASK YOU DIRECTLY, “WHY DO YOU COME TO CHURCH?” PEOPLE HAVE ALL SORTS OF REASONS FOR COMING TO CHURCH JUST AS THEY HAVE A MULTITUDE OF REASONS FOR STAYING AWAY. DARE I SAY SOME DO COME OUT OF FEAR – JUST AS MANY HAVE DONE THROUGHOUT HISTORY. SOME COME FROM HABIT – “IT’S A THING WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE”. SOME COME OUT OF A SENSE OF COMMUNITY – JUST AS PEOPLE JOIN A PLETHORA OF AVAILABLE CLUBS – “IT’S GOOD TO FEEL PART OF A GROUP OF LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE”; WHILST OTHERS COME BECAUSE THEY FIND A REAL CONNECTION WITH A SPIRIT OF LOVE AND PEACE. SUNDAY MORNINGS BECOME DELIBERATELY SET ASIDE AS A TIME OF PERSONAL SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT – A CONNECTION – OR PERHAPS A RECONNECTION WITH THAT INDEFINABLE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE.

IT IS THIS CONNECTION THAT HAS THE CAPABLILITY OF RESETTING OUR LIFE – REBOOTING – TO USE A CONTEMPORARY I.T. TERM – AND LET’S FACE IT – WE ALL NEED A REBOOT ON A PRETTY REGULAR BASIS.

SOME CHURCHES OFFER A TIME OF EXCITEMENT – RECHARGING IN A VIBRANT SENSE – AN EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL BUZZ, WHILST OTHERS OFFER A TIME OF QUIETAND REFLECTION. MY EXPERIENCE HAS TAUGHT ME THAT THE “BUZZ” CHURCHES TEND TO SATISFY PEOPLE FOR A LIMITED PERIOD. THEY THEN BECOME BLASÉ AS THE SENSE OF EXCITEMENT WEARS OFF – IT’S ALL EMOTION WITHOUT THE SUBSTANCE THAT MAKES THE TIME TRULY WORTHWHILE. MY PREFERENCE IS FOR A TIME OF QUIETNESS WHEN I CAN RELAX BOTH BODY AND MIND AND THEREBY ALLOW ME TO BECOME AWARE OF THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN MY HEART AND SOUL. THIS IS TRULY A TIME OF SPIRITUAL RENEWAL AND REFRESHMENT – AND IT LASTS!

SO THIS MORNING I MUST REASSURE YOU ALL THAT I AM NOT IN THE BUSINESS OF BERATING, HARANGUING AND ABUSING. NOR AM I IN THE BUSINESS OF SENDING YOU OUT INTO THE WORLD WITH THE BUZZ OF A “PEP TALK” RINGING IN YOUR EARS. I AM HOWEVER SINCERELY DESIROUS THAT YOU WILL LEAVE THIS LOVELY CHURCH AWARE THAT YOU HAVE IN SOME WAY – PERHAPS IN PRIVATE PRAYER AND CONTEMPLATION – PERHAPS BY PARTAKING IN THE EUCHARIST – “MET GOD” – AS YOU FEEL THE SPIRIT OF PEACE, JOY AND LOVE SETTLE UPON YOU AND WITHIN YOUR HEART. THAT IS THE TRUE MEANING AND INTENTION OF THIS ADVENT SEASON. AMEN

 

 

 

 

SERMON 27TH NOVEMBER 2016 – ADVENT SUNDAY

Romans 13:11-14

11 Besides this, 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; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; 13 let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

TODAY WE CELEBRATE ADVENT SUNDAY – THE FIRST DAY OF THE SEASON OF ADVENT WHEN WE LOOK FORWARD TO THE COMING OF JESUS AT CHRISTMAS.

[THIS MORNING WE HAVE ALSO THE VERY SPECIAL AND EXCITING EVENT IN THE BAPTISM OF WINTER ROSE. IT SEEMS APPROPRIATE THAT WE BAPTISE WINTER ON THIS DAY AS THIS ANCIENT CEREMONY OF BAPTISM REPRESENTS HER INITIATION INTO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, HER DEDICATION TO THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS AND HER PARENT’S AND GODPARENT’S ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF HER PLACE IN THEIR LIVES AS A CHILD OF – AND IN THE BOUNDLESS LOVE – OF GOD. IN SOME WAY THIS REPRESENTS HER ENTRY INTO THE LIGHT OF CHRIST. WE BLESS HER AND OFFER OUR LOVE TO HER AND HER FAMILY.]

THIS SEASON IS AN EXCITING TIME. IT CAN ALSO BE A VERY CRAZY TIME – IF WE ALLOW THE COMMERCIALIST SOCIETY IN WHICH WE LIVE TO TAKE OVER.PAUL GIVES US A WARNING WHICH IS VERY APT FOR THIS TIME.

TO BEGIN LET ME MAKE ONE THING VERY CLEAR. THE WORDS WE JUST READ ARE FROM A GENUINE LETTER OF PAUL AND HE IS WRITING THIS TO A GROUP OF SMALL GATHERINGS OF CHRISTIANS LIVING WITHIN THE PAGAN CITY OF ROME AND WORSHIPPING IN THE SYNAGOGUES THERE. THE COLLOSSEUM HAD YET TO BE BUILT BUT THE CIRCUS MAXIMUS WAS IN USE AS WAS THE GREAT CIRCUS ON THE VATICANO HILL – WHERE THE BASILLICA OF ST PETER AND THE HEART OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH NOW STANDS. PAUL DICTATED THIS LETTER FROM CORINTH IN THE SPRING OF THE YEAR 57CE.

PAUL DID NOT FOUND NOR HAD VISITED THE CHURCHES IN ROME. THEY HAD EXISTED WELL BEFORE THE 50’S AND THEIR FOUNDERS ARE UNKNOWN ALTHOUGH TRADITION HAS IT THAT JESUS’ FRIEND PETER THE FISHERMAN WAS RESPONSIBLE – ALTHOUGH THIS IS UNLIKELY.

IT IS CLEAR HERE THAT PAUL IS ADDRESSING A SITUATION THAT HAD COME TO HIS ATTENTION. THERE WOULD APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN SOME PROBLEMS IN THE CHURCHES – TO SAY THE LEAST – AND HE SETS ABOUT ADDRESSING THEM HERE. NOTE THE OPENING SENTENCE, “NOW IS THE TIME FOR YOU TO WAKE FROM SLEEP”! IN OTHER WORDS AND IN MODERN PARLANCE, “WAKE UP YOU LOT – GET REAL”!

IT APPEARS THE PEOPLE HAD A PRECONCEIVED NOTION THAT JESUS WOULD PHYSICALLY RETURN IN THEIR LIFETIME. THE FACT THAT EVENT HAD NOT HAPPENED HAS LED TO DISCONTENT AND DISCONNECTION. IT IS STILL NIGHT FOR THEM AND THEY ARE SLEEPING. THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST – THEY HAVE REALLY FORGOTTEN THEIR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE OF THE REALITY OF CHRIST’S PRESENCE AND ALL HE HAD MEANT TO THEM EARLIER. THEY HAVE SUNK BACK INTO A WAY OF LIFE THAT IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE WAY OF JESUS THAT THEY HAD HEARD ABOUT AND BEGUN TO FOLLOW. THEY WERE LIVING – AS PAUL PUTS IT – DISHONOURABLE LIVES. THIS IS A WAKEUP CALL IF EVER THERE WAS ONE FOR US – AS WELL AS THOSE EARLY CHRISTIANS.

THE IMAGERY WE USE WHEN WE LIGHT THE CANDLES ON OUR ADVENT WREATH IN OUR ADVENT SERVICES REFLECTS THE IMAGERY OF DAWNING LIGHT THAT PAUL USES IN THIS READING. HE SPEAKS OF THE NIGHT BEING FAR GONE, AND THE DAY OF SALVATION BEING AT HAND. THE IMPLICATION HE DRAWS IS THAT WE NEED TO LIVE PROPERLY – AS IN IF IN BROAD DAYLIGHT – OPEN AND VISIBLE TO ALL – RATHER THAN HIDING IN THE SHADOWS BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID TO REVEAL OUR REAL SELVES TO THOSE AROUND US.

PAUL’S IDEA OF A DISSIPATING DARKNESS IS ONE THAT WE MODEL EACH SUNDAY AS WE LIGHT THESE ADVENT CANDLES – ONE ADDITIONAL CANDLE EACH WEEK – RIGHT UP TO THE POINT WHERE WE LIGHT THE CHRIST CANDLE ON CHRISTMAS EVE – SIGNIFYING SIMULTANEOUSLY THE MOMENT WHEN THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD WAS FIRST BORN UPON THE EARTH AND OUR HOPE THAT THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD WILL ONCE AGAIN COME AND CAST AWAY EVERY SHADOW OF DARKNESS. ADVENT IS A SEASON OF HOPE – HOPE THAT GOD’S PROMISED FUTURE WILL, IN FACT, ARRIVE AGAIN AS IT DID ON THE FIRST CHRISTMAS.

PERHAPS THROUGH THESE WORDS PAUL IS INVITING US – THIS ADVENT – TO PUT ON JESUS CHRIST AS WE WOULD PUT ON OUR CLOTHING EACH MORNING. WE CAN DO THIS BY TRYING A LITTLE EXPERIMENT. PERHAPS EACH OF US MIGHT IMAGINE A “JESUS-LOOKING OPPOSITE” TO ONE TEMPTATION THAT THE “HOLIDAY SEASON” OF OUR WORLD WILL CONFRONT US WITH. ASK OYURSELF – HOW MIGHT I PUT ON GRATITUDE RATHER THAN SUCCUMB TO JEALOUSY? HOW MIGHT I BE PEACEABLE WITH MY FAMILY OVER THE HOLIDAYS RATHER THAN FOLLOWING INTO THE SAME OLD PATTERNS OF QUARRELLING? WHAT MIGHT SOBRIETY OFFER ME AT THAT PARTY WHERE I’M TEMPTED TO HAVE ONE OR TWO DRINKS TOO MANY?

PERHAPS TAKING SUCH SIMPLE STEPS WOULD OPEN US UP TO OUR TRUE SELVES. PERHAPS THESE WOULD BE LITTLE RAYS OF LIGHT PIERCING THE DARKNESS AND LIGHTING THE SHADOW AREAS OF OUR FALSE SELVES. PERHAPS IN THESE WAYS WE MIGHT PUT ON JESUS CHRIST AND BRING A LITTLE BIT OF HIS FUTURE INTO OUR PRESENT TIME OF WAITING AND PREPARATION THIS ADVENT. AMEN

SERMON 13TH NOVEMBER 2016 – PENTACOST 26 – Luke 21:5-19

5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and, “the time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9 “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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this occurs, 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. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

 

IN THE NAME OF GOD: CREATOR, PAINBEARER AND SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE

 

IT MIGHT BE JUST A MALE THING BUT I DO LIKE TO DEAL IN FACTS IF POSSIBLE AS I FIND PROVEN FACT MUCH MORE SATISFYING THAN MERE SPECULATION, GUESSWORK OR INTERPRETING SOMETHING IN ORDER TO SATISFY ONE’S OWN PRE-JUDGEMENTS. SO LET’S LOOK AT A FEW FACTS RELEVANT TO TODAY’S GOSPEL STORY.

THIS WRITING DID NOT COME OUT OF NOWHERE AND AS PROFESSOR MARTYN PERCY THE EMINENT THEOLOGIAN AND RECTOR OF CUDDESTON COLLEGE IN OXFORD HAS FAMOUSLY SAID, “THE BIBLE DID NOT COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN ON A FAX”!

THE FACTS SURROUNDING THIS GOSPEL OF LUKE IS THAT IT WAS WRITTEN BY A PERSON WHOSE IDENTITY IS SOMEWHAT UNCERTAIN BUT WAS POSSIBLY A MAN CALLED LUKE WHO WAS AN ASSOCIATE OF ST PAUL. SCHOLARS HAVE ASCERTAINED THAT IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE TOWN OF ANTIOCH – A TOWN ON THE EASTERN BANK OF THE ORONTES RIVER IN SOUTHEASTERN MODERN TURKEY. IT WAS IN ANTIOCH THAT PEOPLE WERE FIRST REFERRED TO AS ‘CHRISTIANS’. LUKE WROTE THIS DOCUMENT AROUND THE YEAR 85CE, THAT’S ABOUT 20 YEARS AFTER THE DEATH OF PAUL AND 15 YEARS AFTER THE ROMAN ARMY TOTALLY DESTROYED JERUSALEM AND ITS TEMPLE IN 70CE. SO WHEN LUKE WAS WRITING IT WOULD HAVE BEEN COMMON KNOWLEDGE THAT THE TEMPLE HAD BEEN REDUCED TO A PILE OF RUBBLE YEARS BEFORE – AS HE WRITES,                                                                                                                 “…NOT ONE STONE WILL BE LEFT UPON ANOTHER – ALL WILL BE THROWN DOWN”. SO LUKE IS DRESSING UP AN HISTORICAL EVENT AS A PREDICTION IN ORDER TO MAKE A POINT. HE IS ALSO USING THE ULTIMATE AUTHORITY POSSIBLE FOR HIM TO MAKE HIS POINT – THE MOUTH OF JESUS. SO WHAT IS IT HE IS TRYING TO SAY? IT SEEMS QUITE APPARENT THAT AS A JEW WHO WAS A LEADING FIGURE OF THE BUDDING CHRISTIAN SECT IN ANTIOCH HE WAS  – FOLLOWING PAUL’S HEARTFELT ENTREATIES TO THE NON JEWISH ADHERENTS TO THE WAY OF JESUS – TRYING TO EMPHASISE THAT THE LAW – THE TORAH – HAD BEEN SUPERSEDED BY FAITH IN CHRIST.

THE PHYSICAL JERUSALEM TEMPLE WAS THE GREAT REPRESENTATION OF THE TORANIC LAW – THE ESTABLISHMENT AS IT WERE. ITS DESTRUCTION IS HERE BEING USED AS A POWERFUL LESSON THAT THE LAW HAS BEEN SUPERCEDED BY GOD’S GRACE AND FAITH IN JESUS THE CHRIST. SOME YEARS PRIOR TO THIS PAUL WROTE IN ROMANS 6:14 “FOR SIN SHALL NOT BE YOUR MASTER, BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT UNDER LAW, BUT UNDER GRACE”.

NOTICE HOW THE TEMPLE IS DESCRIBED AS BEING VERY BEAUTIFUL “…WITH BEAUTIFUL STONES AND GIFTS DEDICATED TO GOD”. LUKE AGREES WITH PAUL; THE ANCIENT TORANIC LAW AND THE MAGNIFICENT TEMPLE WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL IN THEIR EYES – BUT HAD SERVED ITS PURPOSE. IT WAS NOW REDUNDANT.

FOR LUKE THIS WAS PARTICULARLY POIGNANT AS IT HAD ALREADY BEEN DESTROYED. IN HIS VIEW THIS WAS A DEFINITE INDICATION FROM GOD THAT CHRIST WAS “THE NEW LAW”.

THERE IS ANOTHER ASPECT TO THIS. LUKE USES THE DESTRUCTION OF THIS MAGNIFICENT TEMPLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT ON THE IMPERMANENCE OF HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT. IN RESPONSE TO THEIR WONDER AT THE TEMPLE’S BEAUTY, JESUS ATTEMPTS TO DIVERT THE ATTENTION OF HIS AUDIENCE FROM THEIR FASCINATION WITH “THESE THINGS THAT YOU SEE” (21:6). THEIR FOCUS SHOULD BE ON SOMETHING ELSE. WHAT EXACTLY, IS NOT SPECIFIED BUT IMMEDIATELY BEFORE THIS EXCHANGE JESUS DREW ATTENTION TO A POOR WIDOW IN THE TEMPLE (21:1-4). PERHAPS LUKE’S JESUS THINKS HIS AUDIENCE SHOULD FOCUS THEIR ATTENTION ON THE POOR, NOT ON THE TEMPLE BUILDING. HERE IS A CONTINUATION OF THE THEME RUNNING THROUGH THE GOSPEL OFLUKE – CARE FOR THE POOR AND MARGINALISED.  THIS STORY IS ALSO AN EXAMPLE OF APOCALYPTIC WRITING. APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE USES UNSETTLING LANGUAGE AND IMAGERY AS A MEANS TO ASSURE THE FAITHFUL THAT THEY SHOULD KEEP THEIR TRUST IN GOD EVEN WHEN FACING THE MOST CHALLENGING OF CIRCUMSTANCES.

SURE ENOUGH, WHILE DESCRIBING THE TERRIBLE EVENTS, JESUS TELLS HIS LISTENERS NOT TO BE AFRAID. THERE IS NOTHING PARTICULARLY ORIGINAL OR SPECIFIC ABOUT JESUS’ APPARENT PREDICTIONS HERE. EVERY AGE HAS ITS OWN FALSE PROPHETS – WARS – NATURAL CATASTROPHES, AND SO ON. THIS PAST WEEK HAS SEEN WORLD DISQUIET AND UNCERTAINTY AT THE NEWS OF THE AMERICAN ELECTION RESULT. BUT WE WILL MISREAD VERSES 7-11 IF WE THINK JESUS IS DESCRIBING A SPECIFIC SET OF CALAMITIES. THE POINT IS THAT WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN – THEY HAVE – AND THEY WILL – WE SHOULD “NOT BE TERRIFIED” (21:9) OR FOLLOW ANYONE PROCLAIMING THAT THESE ARE SIGNS OF GOD’S JUDGMENT AND THE END (21:8). INSTEAD, WE SHOULD TRUST THAT GOD REMAINS PRESENT IN OUR LIVES. THAT’S NOT EASY TO DO SOMETIMES – BELIEVE ME – BUT THE DEEP SENSE OF GOD’S LOVING PRESENCE IN OUR LIVES DOES NOT ALWAYS DEPEND ON FEELINGS. WE NEED TO HOLD TO OUR TRUST IN – AND SENSE OF WORTH – TO THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND LIFE.

THE ASSURANCE OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO US IN THE FACE OF DIFFICULT TIMES IS THE REAL CONCERN OF THIS PASSAGE AND IS CONFIRMED BY VERSES 12-19. LUKE HAS JESUS DETAILING THE PERSECUTION THAT HIS FOLLOWERS CAN EXPECT TO FACE: ARRESTS; PERSECUTION; TRIALS BEFORE GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES; BETRAYAL BY FAMILY AND FRIENDS; HATRED ON ACCOUNT OF JESUS’ NAME; AND EVEN EXECUTION. THROUGHOUT HIS GOSPEL, LUKE DEPICTS JESUS AS A PROPHETIC FIGURE WHO RISKS REJECTION AND DEATH AS A RESULT OF HIS PROPHETIC MESSAGE. ANYONE WHO FOLLOWS JESUS CAN EXPECT THE SAME HOSTILITY THAT JESUS AND ISRAEL’S GREAT PROPHETS ENDURED. INDEED, THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES –   WRITTEN BY THE SAME AUTHOR WHO WROTE LUKE’S GOSPEL – PROVIDES NUMEROUS EXAMPLES OF EARLY CHRISTIAN LEADERS FACING PRECISELY THE SORT OF TROUBLES THAT ARE DESCRIBED IN VERSES 12-19.

BUT DOES JESUS TELL HIS AUDIENCE THEY SHOULD LAY BLAME ON A PARTICULAR PERSON OR GROUP OF PEOPLE – ON THEIR SOCIETY – OR EVEN ON THEIR ENEMIES FOR SUCH TREATMENT? NO.

HE SAYS THAT PERSECUTION IS “AN OPPORTUNITY TO TESTIFY” (VERSE 13). JUST AS GOD GAVE MOSES AND OTHER PROPHETS THE CAPACITY TO SPEAK TO AND CONFRONT THEIR DOUBTERS AND OPPONENTS JESUS HIMSELF WILL PROVIDE STRENGTH AND WISDOM FOR SUCH TESTIMONY. USING A PROVERB THAT SIGNIFIES DIVINE PROTECTION, JESUS TELLS THEM THAT NOT A HAIR ON THEIR HEAD WILL PERISH. ULTIMATELY, THEIR EXPERIENCE OF PERSECUTION WILL NOT END IN DEATH BUT IN A VICTORY FOR THEIR SOULS. UNDERSCORING ALL OF THESE STATEMENTS IN VERSES 12-19 IS THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUSTING IN GOD EVEN IN THE MIDST OF HARDSHIP AND PERSECUTION.

A CLOSE READING OF LUKE 21:5-19 SHOWS THAT USING THIS PASSAGE AS SOME PEOPLE HAVE – AS A SPRINGBOARD FOR PROCLAIMING GOD’S JUDGMENT ON SOCIETY WOULD MISS THE POINT. RATHER, THE PASSAGE WARNS US ABOUT BECOMING TOO FIXATED ON TEMPORARY HUMAN INSTITUTIONS – PERHAPS WITH THE IMPLICATION THAT WE SHOULD ATTEND TO THE POOR IN OUR COMMUNITIES INSTEAD – AND IT EXHORTS US TO BE FIRM IN OUR TRUST IN GOD WHEN CALAMITY AND PERSECUTION STRIKE. DESPITE ITS LANGUAGE AND ITS IMAGERY OF DESTRUCTION, LUKE 21:5-19 IS ULTIMATELY A PASSAGE GROUNDED IN HOPE – IN THE HOPE THAT GOD REMAINS PRESENT IN THE WORLD AND IN ONE’S LIFE EVEN WHEN THINGS HAVE BECOME SO BAD THAT IT FEELS LIKE THE WORLD IS CLOSING IN ON US. NOW THAT’S INDEED A HOPE WORTH CLINGING TO IN THESE VERY UNCERTAIN TIMES. AMEN

 

 

Here is the sermon for tomorrow morning at St John’s – All Saints.

Blessings and love to all.

SERMON 6TH NOVEMBER 2016 – ALL SAINTS – LUKE 6: 20-31

20 Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

IN THE NAME OF GOD: SPIRIT OF LIFE, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.

TODAY THE CHURCH REMEMBERS AND HONOURS ALL THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE US AND WHO ARE CONSIDERED SAINTS. WHAT EXACTLY DO WE MEAN WHEN WE CALL SOMEONE A SAINT? THE DICTIONARY DESCRIBES A SAINT AS, “… A VERY VIRTUOUS, KIND, OR PATIENT PERSON” AND OFFERS AS AN EXAMPLE. “SHE’S A SAINT TO GO ON LIVING WITH THAT MAN”! THERE ARE MANY SAINTS!

IN OUR LIFETIMES WE HAVE ALL KNOWN PEOPLE WE CAN HAPPILY REFER TO AS SAINTS, THOSE WHO’S MEMORIES WE HONOUR AND WHOM WE HOLD IN LOVE AND OR SIMPLY DEEP RESPECT. WE ALWAYS SEEM TO REMEMBER THE GOOD ASPECTS – THE VIRTUES OF THOSE WHO HAVE DIED – AT LEAST PUBLICLY. BUT LET’S ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT SAINTS ARE ALSO HUMAN, EVERY PERSON LIVING OR DEAD, SAINT OR EMBODIMENT OF EVIL, HAS THEIR FAULTS AS WELL AS THEIR VIRTUES. IT’S JUST THAT IN SOME THE BALANCE IS MORE ONE WAY THAN THE OTHER.

THE GOSPEL READING THIS MORNING IS SOMETIMES REFERRED TO AS “THE SERMON ON THE PLAIN” AS IT FOLLOWS THE STORY OF JESUS CHOOSING HIS APOSTLES AFTER SPENDING A NIGHT ON A MOUNTAIN PRAYING. FROM WHICH GROUP DID HE MAKE HIS CHOICE? IT IS CLEAR THAT IT WAS AFTER HE SEPARATED THE TWELVE CHOSEN ONES THAT THOSE LEFT WERE THE ONES BEING ADDRESSED IN THIS SO CALLED “SERMON”. HIS AUDIENCE WERE PEOPLE IN NEED WHO HAD COME FROM ALL REGIONS “…TO HEAR HIM AND TO BE HEALED OF THEIR DISEASES” (V18).                     SO IT WAS THE SICK, THE MAIMED, THE POOR, THE UNEDUCATED AND THE CRAZIES WHO FLOCKED TO JESUS’ FEET. LUKE WROTE THIS STORY IN THE COMMON GREEK AND HE USED THE WORD “PTOCHOI” TO DESCRIBE THOSE PEOPLE. IF WE TRY TO SAY THAT WORD OUT LOUD IT SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE ITS MEANING. IT MEANS “I AM SPITTING” – PTOCHOI”! SO THE PEOPLE BEFORE JESUS ARE THOSE WHO ARE TO BE SPAT UPON – THE BOTTOM TIER – THE DREGS OF THEIR SOCIETY – THOSE BENEATH CONTEMPT – UNWORTHY. SO FOR LUKE IT IS FROM THIS RAGTAG GROUP OF THE LOWER ECHELONS OF THEIR SOCIETY THAT JESUS CHOOSES HIS TWELVE – UNEDUCATED FISHERMEN – AND OTHERS. ALSO LET’S NOT FORGET THAT JESUS HIMSELF WAS BORN INTO A VERY ORDINARY WORKING CLASS FAMILY – RESIDENT IN A SMALL RURAL TOWN IN GALILEE – AN AREA CONSIDERED TO BE “HICKSVILLE” BY THOSE LIVING IN THE CITIES.

SO WHAT DOES JESUS DO WITH THIS ROUGH COMPANY? HE BLESSES THEM! BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE SPAT UPON! THERE IS LUKE’S LESSON HERE. FOR LUKE THE SAINTS ARE NOT THE WELL DRESSED WEALTHY PEOPLE OF THE CITY – PARTICULARLY THE SO CALLED “RELIGIOUS”. THE SAME REALLY APPLIES TODAY. HOW MANY REALLY WEALTHY PEOPLE, THOSE WHO HELD HIGH POSITIONS IN THEIR COMMUNITIES, ARE REMEMBERED AS SAINTS AS OPPOSED TO THOSE WHO HAD THEIR HANDS SOILED BY WORKING IN THE DIRT AND WITH THE “PTOCHOI” OF HISTORY?

JESUS WAS CERTAINLY A RADICAL. WE NEED TO ASK OURSELVES THE QUESTION, “IF I HAD TO CHOOSE SOMEONE WHO WOULD WORK CLOSELY WITH ME, SUPPORT ME AND BE PREPARED TO GIVE THEIR ALL FOR ME AND MY WORK, WOULD I CHOOSE SOMEONE FROM A GROUP SUCH AS THIS? “ THE ANSWER FOR MOST OF US WOULD BE, “PROBABLY NOT”.

DUGALD RUSSELL IS AN AUSTRALIAN BUSINESSMAN WITH LONG MAJOR CORPORATE EXPERIENCE AS CEO OF A COMPANY WITH ANNUAL REVENUES OF $560M PLUS AND EMPLOYING ABOUT 9000 PEOPLE IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND.                 MICHAEL MCLEAOD IS AN ABORIGINAL MAN FROM SOUTHERN NEW SOUTH WALES. IN 1963 AT THE AGE OF 2, HE WAS REMOVEDFROM HIS FAMILY AND SPENT HIS YOUTH IN FOSTER HOMES. HE SUCCUMBED TO DRUG AND ALCOHOL ADDICTIONS THAT ALMOST CLAIMED HIS LIFE. HE HAD ASPIRATIONS TO SUCCEED AND TRIED TO ESTABLISH A BUSINESS BUT FAILED. LATER MICHAEL MET DUG RUSSELL WHO CHOSE HIM FROM A GROUP OF ABORIGINAL MEN AND IN 2004 THEY ESTABLISHED “MESSAGE STICK”- A PROVIDER OF AUDIO AND VIDEOCONFERENCING SERVICES. “THAT WAS AN AMAZING CHANGE IN MY LIFE”, SAYS MICHAEL, “FROM LIVING IN POVERTY TO BEING COMFORTABLE”. HE IS NOW CEO OF THE COMPANY AND IS LOOKING TO RETIRE IN A FEW MORE YEARS. HE WANTS TO GROOM ANOTHER YOUNG ABORIGINAL MAN TO BECOME THE NEW CEO. HE SAYS,” I WANT TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK … BUT I LOOK BACK NOW AND GO ‘WOW’ – IT’S BEEN AN EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY.” FOR ME IT’S PEOPLE LIKE GUGALD RUSSELL WHO ARE THE CONTEMPORARY SAINTS. THEY ARE THE PEOPLE WHO USE THEIR POSITION AND TALENT – AND OFTEN ALSO THEIR MONEY – TO REACH DOWN TO HELP OTHERS RISE FROM THE PITS TO LIVE AN EFFECTIVE AND USEFUL LIFE.// LUKE’S TEXT USES DIRECT ADDRESS – “YOU” – AND DOESN’T MINCE WORDS ABOUT BEING POOR, HUNGRY, GRIEF-STRICKEN, AND THE LIKE. WE DO NOT HAVE TO WORK VERY HARD TO IMAGINE THE LIVES OF 1ST CENTURY PALESTINIAN JEWS AS VERY SUSCEPTIBLE TO POVERTY, HUNGER AND LOSS. NOR DO WE HAVE TO WORK VERY HARD TO IMAGINE THE LIVES OF MANY 21ST CENTURY PEOPLE EQUALLY BESET BY HARSH REALITIES. AS THOSE IN NEED WERE ALL AROUND JESUS, HAVING COME FOR BOTH HOPE AND HEALING, SO PEOPLE CONTINUE TO NEED HOPE AND HEALING IN OUR OWN AGE.

WE COME TO THE REAL QUESTION FOR OURSELVES: ON ALL SAINTS SUNDAY – WHAT DOES THIS TEXT OFFER TO US – REMEMBRANCE, LOVE, AND HONOUR FOR OUR FOREBEARS? YES, INDEED. WE ARE CALLED TO REMEMBER SAINTS IN EVERY TIME AND PLACE – PEOPLE WITH NEEDS AND HOPES –                                                                           PEOPLE WHO THROUGH THEIR CONTACT WITH JESUS CAUGHT AT LEAST A GLIMPSE OF A WORLD MORE FULLY GOD-SHAPED THAN THE ONE THEY LIVED IN.

WE COME FROM A PEOPLE AND FROM INDIVIDUALS TO WHOM WE OWE MUCH OF WHO WE ARE AND MUCH OF WHO WE LONG TO BE. OUR HISTORY AND OUR IMAGINING OF GOD’S REIGN LOOK BACK TO THE PROMISES OF GOD AS JESUS SPOKE THEM LONG AGO. OUR HISTORY AND IMAGINATION LOOK BACK TO OUR MORE RECENT FOREBEARS WHO CARRIED THE FAITH AND WHO TAUGHT IT TO US. THESE PEOPLE GONE BEFORE REMAIN VITAL IN THE GREAT COMMUNION OF GOD’S PEOPLE WHOM WE CELEBRATE AT ALL SAINTS.

THERE IS MORE FOR US, THOUGH, MUCH MORE. IT IS FOR ALL SAINTS WHO GATHER NOW TO BE REMINDED THAT THE HOPE OF THE WORLD IS NOT FOR THE SAME OLD THING TO CONTINUE – NOT FOR ALL OF US TO BECOME THE ELITES – NEVER TO WORRY ABOUT ILLNESS OR LOSS. THE HOPE FOR GOD’S WORLD IS THAT WE WALK INTO GOD’S FUTURE TOGETHER. JESUS DELIVERS THIS SERMON NOT AS AN ESCHATOLOGICAL GUIDE BOOK BUT AS A GUIDE FOR DAILY LIFE RIGHT NOW.

THE MESSAGE THAT JESUS BRINGS IS A TOUGH ONE FOR US HUMANS. IT CALLS FOR A CHANGE OF VISION – A CHANGE OF BEHAVIOUR. RESISTANCE TO AND FEAR OF CHANGE IS ONE OF THE MAIN DRIVERS IN BOTH THE POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS WORLDS TODAY AND THAT FEAR IS SYMBOLISED BY THE IDEA OF CREATING A WALL BETWEEN PEOPLE. THERE IS A CLEAR NEED IN ALL OF THIS FOR A SENSE OF SAFETY AND HOPE – BUT THE MEANS TO SUCH A PEACE ARE OF THIS WORLD AND MUST FAIL. SEEKING TO PROTECT OURSELVES AND KEEP WHAT IS” OURS” WILL FAIL: SO JESUS WARNS US IN THIS PASSAGE. SO AS WE THINK TODAY OF ALL THE SAINTS OF THE PAST LET US NOT FORGET THE SAINTS OF THE PRESENT – THOSE WHO ARE POOR – THOSE WHO ARE HUNGRY NOW – THOSE WHO WEEP. THE HATED – THE REVILED – THE PTOCHOI! REMEMBER VERSE 31: “DO TO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU”. AMEN

SERMON 16TH OCTOBER 2016 – LUKE 18: 1-8 – St STEPHENS HONG KONG

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: SPIRIT OF LIFE, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.

HEARING THIS GOSPEL READING BROUGHT TO MIND A SAYING WHICH IS COMMON IN AUSTRALIA – MAYBE ELSEWHERE TOO – “IT’S THE SQUEAKY WHEEL THAT GETS THE OIL”. IT’S MAINLY APPLIED WHEN DEALING WITH BUREAUCRACY – I’M SURE YOU CAN ALL APPRECIATE THAT FROM VARIOUS FRUSTRATING EXPERIENCES.

THIS MORNING WE ARE CONFRONTED WITH ONE OF THE PRIMARY UNIVERSAL CONCERNS OF OUR TIME – JUSTICE. WHAT IS THIS SUBJECTIVE THING WE CALL JUSTICE? THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY DEFINES IT AS: THE QUALITY OF BEING JUST OR RIGHT – MORAL UPRIGHTNESS; ONE OF THE FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES OF PRUDENCE, TEMPERANCE, FORTITUDE AND JUSTICE. IT ALSO ENCOMPASSES INTEGRITY, RECTITUDE – TRUTH, REASON AND FAIRNESS. IT IS ALSO DEFINED AS THE MAINTENANCE OF WHAT IS JUST OR RIGHT THROUGH THE EXERCISE OF AUTHORITY OR POWER. IN OUR WESTERN SOCIETIES THE POWER TO DISPENSE JUSTICE IS PLACED IN THE HANDS OF AN INDEPENDENT AND IMPARTIAL JUDICIARY.

THERE IS A LITTLE STORY ABOUT A JUDGE DISPENSING TRUE JUSTICE.  – WHEN ASKED FOR HER OCCUPATION, A WOMAN CHARGED WITH A TRAFFIC OFFENCE SAID SHE WAS A SCHOOLTEACHER. THE JUDGE ROSE FROM THE BENCH. “MADAM, I HAVE WAITED YEARS FOR A SCHOOLTEACHER TO APPEAR BEFORE THIS COURT,” HE SMILED WITH DELIGHT. “NOW SIT DOWN AT THAT TABLE AND WRITE ‘I MUST NOT DRIVE THROUGH A RED LIGHT AGAIN’ FIVE HUNDRED TIMES.” NOW THAT’S EFFECTIVE JUSTICE?

NOW CONSIDER THE JUDGE IN LUKE’S STORY. HE NEITHER FEARS GOD NOR HAS ANY RESPECT OR REGARD FOR HIS FELLOW PEOPLE. THE WIDOW STANDS IN STARK CONTRAST TO THIS ARROGANT MAN. SHE IS ASKING FOR JUSTICE.                                                                            IT IS THROUGH THIS CONTRAST THAT WE CLEARLY SEE LUKE’S CONCEPT OF JUSTICE.           FOR LUKE JUSTICE MEANS FEARING GOD AND HAVING RESPECT FOR OTHERS – THE VERY OPPOSITE OF HIS BAD FICTIONAL JUDGE. IF LUKE’S DEFINITION WERE ACTUALLY AT WORK IN OUR WORLD HERE AND NOW, I SUSPECT OUR WORLD WOULD BE A RATHER DIFFERENT AND BETTER PLACE IN WHICH TO LIVE.

I FEEL THAT THIS PLACE OF St STEPHENS IS VERY SPECIAL. I HAVE BECOME AWARE OF THE HORRENDOUS EVENTS THAT TOOK PLACE HERE ON CHRISTMAS DAY IN 1941 WHEN JAPANESE SOLDIERS MASSACRED DOCTORS AND PATIENTS IN THE HOSPITAL – AND THIS PLACE OF LEARNING WAS TRANSFORMED INTO AN INTERNMENT CAMP FOR MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN OF NON JAPANESE ORIGINS. I THINK WE CAN ALL ADMIT THAT THE FIRST REACTION TO THAT STORY IS ONE OF DISGUST AND RAGE THAT MEN COULD TREAT FELLOW HUMANBEINGS IN SUCH A MANNER. THE DEAD AND THE SURVIVORS CRY OUT FOR JUSTICE. BUT WHAT DOES JUSTICE IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES MEAN – RETRIBUTION – AN EYE FOR AN EYE – THE DEATHS OF THE MEN RESPONSIBLE? TOO OFTEN JUSTICE IS CONFUSED WITH REVENGE. I KNOW IT IS OFTEN THE KNEE JERK REACTION TO SUCH A DISGUSTING DEHUMANISING ACT AND THE DEATH PENALTY IS EXACTED. IN TASMANIA IN APRIL 1996     35 TOTALLY INNOCENT PEOPLE WERE MURDERED BY A SINGLE YOUNG MAN. HE WAS SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT – NEVER TO BE RELEASED – AND REMAINS IN ISOLATION IN THE HOBART PRISON TO THIS DAY – HE WILL DIE THERE. HE HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM SOCIETY BUT HIS BLOOD IS NOT ON THE HANDS OF THE COMMUNITY. I SUGGEST THAT JUSTICE HAS BEEN SERVED – RATHER THAN REVENGE.

REMEMBER THE JUDGE IN THE PARABLE – BESIDES HAVING NO RESPECT FOR HIS FELLOWS HE ALSO HAD NO FEAR OF GOD? LET’S THINK OF OUR OWN SOCIETY. IS THERE ANY FEAR OF GOD LEFT?  I THINK A FAR BETTER WORD IS ‘AWE’ – FOR THE GOD OF JESUS OF Nazareth – THE GOD WE SEEK TO RELATE TO AND WORSHIP – IS THE EPITOME OF BOUNDLESS LOVE AND FORGIVENESS AND SURELY ONE CANNOT FEAR LOVE AND FORGIVENESS. THIS SPIRIT IS BEYOND HUMAN UNDERSTANDING BUT THANKFULLY NOT BEYOND HUMAN EXPERIENCE.

SOME PEOPLE INSIST THAT WE NEED TO HAVE THE MYSTERY OF GOD ALL FIGURED OUT – SO MANY WITHIN OUR SOCIETY NEITHER FEAR GOD NOR OFTEN HAVE ANY RESPECT FOR THE OTHER PERSON – JUST LIKE LUKE’S JUDGE.

I POSE THE QUESTION – IS IT THAT THE OTHER CAN ONLY EXIST AS OUR OPPOSITE – THE ONE WHO IS DIFFERENT? IS THERE ANY RESPECT LEFT FOR THE OTHER? OR HAS FEAR COMPLETELY CRUSHED OUR COMPASSION? IS THERE ANY RESPECT LEFT FOR THE OTHER? OR HAS NARCISSISM TRULY BECOME SUCH AN EPIDEMIC AS IT APPEARS?

AS CHRISTIANS WE MIGHT STEP FORWARD WITH WORDS OF LOVE TO COUNTERACT THE RHETORIC OF HATE, MISOGYNY AND BIGOTRY – IF WE COULD ONLY REALISE HOW THESE THINGS SO BLATANTLY CONTRADICT THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. WE MIGHT ALSO REGAIN OUR RESPECT FOR THOSE WHO FEEL THE BRUNT OF THE RHETORIC OF HATE. YES, IF FEAR OR AWE OF GOD AND RESPECT FOR THE OTHER WERE OPERATIVE IN OUR UNDERSTANDINGS OF JUSTICE – THEN JUSTICE MIGHT INDEED LOOK DIFFERENTLY FROM OUR KNEE JERK IMAGININGS.

ANOTHER DETAIL OF THIS STORY WE MUSTN’T OVERLOOK: AGAIN – THE JUDGE – THE ONE WITH POWER AND AUTHORITY IS THE ONE WHO DENIES FEAR AND REJECTS REGARD. THE WIDOW, COMPLETELY LACKING IN POWER, IS THE ONE WHO NAMES AND EVEN DEMANDS THE CENTRAL CLAIM OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – WHICH IS – JUSTICE FOR ALL – EVEN HER.

IN OUR POSITIONS OF POWER – BECAUSE WE DO HAVE IT WHEN COMPARED TO THE MAJORITY OF THE WORLD’S PEOPLE – ARE WE ABLE TO HAVE A SENSE OF THE AWE OF GOD AND RESPECT FOR THE OTHER? HOW DOES POWER BLUR AN ABILITY TO FEAR GOD AND RESPECT OTHERS? AFTER ALL, WHY LIVE IN AWE OF GOD WHEN YOU ARE SECURE IN YOUR OWN POWER? WHY RESPECT OTHERS WHEN YOUR PRIMARY FOCUS IS HOW TO SECURE THE RESPECT OF OTHERS?

AND YET THE WIDOW GETS WHAT’S AT THE HEART OF GOD — JUSTICE. SHE DOESN’T ASK FOR JUST ANYTHING – BUT FOR THE JUSTICE SHE IS OWED, DESERVES, AND WHICH GOD PROMISES.

IT IS NO ACCIDENT THAT THIS STORY TAKES PLACE ONLY ONE CHAPTER BEFORE JESUS’ ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM – WHEN JUSTICE WILL BE ABANDONED BY THE POWER OF EMPIRE AND THE POWER OF EMPIRE WILL REVEAL ITS ABSOLUTE INABILITY TO RESPECT THE INDIVIDUAL OR ANYONE WHO IS DIFFERENT FROM THE NORM.

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU – FOR ME? MAYBE IT MEANS NOT ONLY BEING PERSISTENT IN JUSTICE, BUT PUTTING OURSELVES ON THE OTHER SIDE. THE SIDE OF THE JUDGE – THE SIDE OF GOD – IF YOU WILL – AND ASKING OURSELVES – DO WE HEAR THE PLEAS FOR THE GRANTING OF JUSTICE? OR DO WE PLUG OUR EARS IN AWE OF THE STATUS QUO RATHER THAN AWE OF GOD? DO WE SILENCE THE CRIES FOR JUSTICE IN DISRESPECT, IN JUDGEMENT? DO WE DISMISS THOSE DOGGED AND DETERMINED VOICES AS ONES THAT “NEED TO MOVE ON OR GET OVER IT?”

THIS STORY SUGGESTS THAT WHEN YOU WORK FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THE QUEST FOR JUSTICE IS NEVER OVER. THE NATURE OF OUR HUMANITY – THE TRUTH OF THE HUMAN CONDITION – MEANS THAT WE WILL ALWAYS ASSUME THAT JUSTICE IS OURS TO MANIPULATE. IT WILL ALWAYS BE OUR TEMPTATION TO MANOEUVRE PERCEPTIONS OF JUSTICE TO LEAN TOWARD OUR OWN STAKES AND FOR OUR OWN SAKES. IT WILL ALWAYS BE OUR INCLINATION TO BEND JUSTICE SO AS TO LEVERAGE OUR OWN AGENDAS.

WHAT’S THE ANSWER? THE ANSWER IS TO PUT VOICE TO THE WIDOW’S BID: “GOD, PLEASE. GRANT ME JUSTICE.” BECAUSE WHEN WE OURSELVES CAN BEG FOR JUSTICE, THE KINGDOM OF GOD INDEED COMES NEAR.

I CONCLUDE WITH A COUPLE OF QUOTES FROM TWO HIGHLY REGARDED PEOPLE – ONE FROM THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY AND ONE FROM OUR OWN TIME.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN SAID, “JUSTICE WILL NOT BE SERVED UNTIL THOSE WHO ARE UNAFFECTED ARE AS OUTRAGED AS THOSE WHO ARE.”                  

AND ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP   DESMOND TUTU SAID,”IF YOU ARE NEUTRAL IN SITUATIONS OF INJUSTICE, YOU HAVE CHOSEN THE SIDE OF THE OPPRESSOR!”

NOW THERE’S SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT THIS WEEK! AMEN

SERMON – 9TH OCTOBER 2016 – LUKE 17. 11 – 19 – ST STEPHENS – STANLEY – HONG KONG

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: SPIRIT OF LIFE, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.

I SPEAK TO THE PARENTS AND GRAND-PARENTS OF CHILDREN WHEN I REMIND YOU OF THE TIMES A GIFT OR TREAT WAS GIVEN TO A SMALL CHILD. WHAT IS THE MOSTLY AUTOMATIC REACTION FROM THE ADULT? “SAY THANK YOU TO … GRANDMA / UNCLE ETC.” A CHILD IS BORN A SELF-CENTRED INDIVIDUAL WHO IS INTENSELY INTERESTED IN TOYS, SWEETS AND THE GIFTS THAT COME AT TIMES OF SPECIAL CELEBRATION – ESPECIALLY BIRTHDAYS AND CHRISTMAS. I AM STILL SLIGHTLY SHOCKED WHEN MY SMALL GRAND-CHILDREN SAY “THANK YOU” OF THEIR OWN VOLITION.  UNFORTUNATELY MANY PEOPLE CARRY THIS TRAIT OF EARLY CHILDHOOD INTO THEIR ADULT LIVES.

THIS PARABLE IN LUKE’S GOSPEL IS MAINLY A LESSON ABOUT GRATITUDE – SAYING “THANK YOU” – AND THAT INCLUDES WORSHIP AND THE REALITY OF FAITH. IT HELPS TO PUT THIS WRITING INTO ITS CONTEXT – ITS PLACE IN TIME – IN HISTORY – BECAUSE IT COMES FROM A REAL PERSON IN A REAL HISTORICAL COMMUNITY – YES, A RADICAL JEWISH COMMUNITY STRUGGLING WITHIN ORTHODOXY. THESE WORDS WERE WRITTEN IN THE 9TH DECADE OF THE FIRST CENTURY – AROUND THE 80’S – SOME 40 OR 50 YEARS AFTER THE LIFE OF JESUS OF Nazareth – THAT’S A WHOLE GENERATION IN THE FIRST CENTURY MIDDLE EAST.  IT WAS WRITTEN BY A MAN WHO REMAINS POSITIVELY UNIDENTIFIED BUT PROMINENT IN A BREAKAWAY GROUP OF SYNAGOGUE JEWS CALLED “THE WAY OF JESUS” – THE BUDDING EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH – AND POSSIBLY IN THE ANCIENT SYRIAN CITY OF ANTIOCH.  IT WAS AND STILL IS THE WAY OF THE MIDDLE EAST TO TEACH A LESSON BY TELLING A STORY. IT WAS ALSO THE HABIT TO PLACE THE STORY INTO THE MOUTH OF A PROMINENT PERSON. WHO MORE PROMINENT AND AUTHORITATIVE THAN JESUS HIMSELF?                                       THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT THIS STORY REFELECTS A SITUATION WITHIN LUKE’S COMMUNITY. IT CAN READILY BE SURMISED THAT PEOPLE WERE BEING JUDGED AND EXCLUDED ON THE GROUNDS OF ETHNICITY OR SIMPLY “NOT BEING GOOD ENOUGH”.

WHEN WE READ OF THE SAMARITAN – WE ALSO NEED TO UNDERSTAND SOMETHING OF THE BACKGROUND OF THE SAMARITANS AND THEIR ENMITY WITH THE JUDEAN JEWS. THE SAMARITANS CLAIMED THEY WERE DESCENDANTS OF THE NORTHERN ISRAELITE TRIBES WHO SURVIVED THE DESTRUCTION OF THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL BY THE ASSYRIANS IN 722 BCE AND THE EXILE TO BABYLON. THEY HAVE ALSO BEEN CALLED THE “PAGAN HALF-JEWS”. THERE ARE MANY REFERENCES TO THEM IN THE GOSPELS – NONE PARTICULARLY FLATTERING. THEY WERE HELD IN DISDAIN BY THE JUDEAN JEWS. WE CAN ALL THINK OF THE PARABLE OF THE SO CALLED “GOOD SAMARITAN” WHO RESCUED THE MAN WHO FELL AMONG THIEVES. HE EMERGES IN GOOD LIGHT BUT UNEXPECTEDLY TO THE JEWISH HEARERS. IN THIS PARABLE OF THE TEN LEPERS WE SEE THE SAME REACTION – INCREDULITY THAT A SAMARITAN WOULD BE THE ONE TO POSSESS THE FAITH TO BE HEALED AND THEN TO HONESTLY EXPRESS GRATITUDE.  LUKE’S MAIN THRUST IS THE CONTINUATION OF HIS GOSPEL’S UNDERLYING MAJOR  THEME – WHICH IS THE CARE AND CONCERN FOR THE MARGINALISED IN SOCIETY. THE SAMARITANS WERE A MARGINALISED GROUP IN FIRST CENTURY PALESTINE – THEY WERE CONSIDERED DIFFERENT BY THE JEWS. THE LESSON FOR US THIS MORNING IS BLATANTLY OBVIOUS. HERE IN HONG KONG WE ARE A MIGHTY EXAMPLE OF A MOST DIVERGENT SOCIETY. THIS CONGREGATION IS MADE UP OF PEOPLE FROM A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT LANDS AND ETHNIC BACKGROUNDS.  THE QUESTION LUKE PUTS FIRMLY TO US IS,” HOW DO WE TREAT THOSE ON THE MARGINS OF SOCIETY – THE POOR – THOSE WHO MUST SLEEP ROUGH ON THE STREETS – THE UNWASHED – THE SMELLY – THOSE WHO ESPOUSE A DIFFERENT FAITH?” DO WE IGNORE THEM – HOPING THEY WILL GO AWAY – PRETENDING THEY ARE NOT THERE – DO WE GRIT OUR TEETH AND MAKE SOME TOKEN EFFORT TO HELP? OR DO WE EXTEND A GENUINELY WARM AND WELCOMING HELPING HAND IN THE TRUE SPIRIT OF THE LOVE THAT IS THE VERY GOD WE SEEK TO WORSHIP?

AT THE OUTSET OF THIS STORY, TEN MEN ARE STUCK. THEY LIVE IN A “NO-MAN’S” LAND OF BEING SOCIALLY, RELIGIOUSLY, AND PHYSICALLY UNCLEAN.  ALL TEN ARE MADE WELL. BUT ONE HAS SOMETHING MORE. HE HAS SEEN JESUS, RECOGNIZED HIS BLESSING AND REJOICED IN IT, AND CHANGED HIS COURSE OF ACTION AND BEHAVIOUR. AND BECAUSE HE SEES WHAT HAS HAPPENED, THE LEPER IS NOT JUST HEALED, BUT IS MADE WHOLE, RESTORED, DRAWN BACK INTO RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND HUMANITY. IN ALL THESE WAYS HE HAS BEEN, IF WE MUST CHOOSE A SINGLE WORD, SAVED. SO WHAT IS TRUE WORSHIP AND CHRISTIAN LIVING? IT IS THE TENTH LEPER TURNING BACK. MARTIN LUTHER WAS ONCE ASKED TO DESCRIBE THE NATURE OF TRUE WORSHIP. HIS ANSWER: “THE TENTH LEPER TURNING BACK. “

THERE’S A GREAT DESCRIPTION OF THE CHURCH I ONCE HEARD: THE CHURCH IS THE PLACE WHERE WE PERFORM WEEKLY CATARACT SURGERY.  WHICH IS ALSO, I THINK, A PRETTY GOOD IMAGE FOR WHAT HAPPENS TO THE TENTH LEPER IN LUKE’S GOSPEL. WHATEVER ELSE THIS STORY MAY BE ABOUT, I THINK IT’S ALSO ABOUT SIGHT. TEN MEN ARE HEALED, BUT ONLY ONE SEES WHAT HAS HAPPENED AND THAT SEEING MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE. NOT ONLY DOES THE TENTH LEPER CHANGE DIRECTION, MOVING TOWARD JESUS RATHER THAN THE TEMPLE PRIESTS, BUT HE ALSO HAS THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORSHIP GOD WITH THANKSGIVING AND HEAR THE PRONOUNCEMENT OF BLESSING FROM JESUS: “GO, YOUR FAITH HAS RESTORED YOU, MADE YOU WHOLE, AND SAVED YOU”. THIS BECAUSE HE RECOGNIZES – SEES WHAT HAS HAPPENED; HE HAS NOT ONLY BEEN HEALED OF LEPROSY, BUT HAS BEEN GIVEN NEW SIGHT.

MOST OF US GREW UP HEARING THE ADAGE, “SEEING IS BELIEVING.” WE WERE INSTRUCTED NOT TO BE GULLIBLE – TO WANT PROOF – TO DEMAND EVIDENCE OF WHAT PEOPLE WERE TELLING US. BUT BY NOW MOST OF US ARE OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, THE OPPOSITE IS EQUALLY TRUE. THAT IS, WHAT WE BELIEVE DEEPLY SHAPES WHAT WE PERCEIVE, AND WHAT WE EXPECT OFTEN DETERMINES WHAT WE ENCOUNTER. IS THE GLASS HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY? IS THE CHALLENGE IN FRONT OF US AN ADVERSITY OR AN OPPORTUNITY? HOW WE ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS REGULARLY DETERMINES OUR EXPERIENCE OF THE WORLD. IN OTHER WORDS, BELIEVING IS SEEING. FOR THIS REASON,          I THINK ONE OF THE FUNCTIONS OF SUNDAY WORSHIP IS TO CLARIFY OUR VISION. TO REMIND US THAT THIS IS GOD’S BELOVED WORLD. TO ANNOUNCE TO US THAT GOD LOVES US AND THAT GOD LOVES OUR NEIGHBOUR – ALL OF THEM – JUST AS MUCH. TO PROCLAIM TO US AGAIN AND AGAIN THAT IN JESUS CHRIST WE SEE GOD’S ABUNDANT LOVE. KNOWING THESE THINGS — BELIEVING THESE THINGS — MAKES AN INCREDIBLE DIFFERENCE TO HOW WE VIEW OUR LIFE, OUR NEIGHBOURS, OUR WORK, AND OUR WORLD. OUR CHRISTIAN FAITH HELPS US SEE THE WORLD DIFFERENTLY. AND THAT’S WHERE THE CATARACT SURGERY COMES IN. ANYONE ACTIVELY ENGAGED IN THIS WORLD CAN’T HELP BUT HAVE HIS OR HER VISION MADE A LITTLE FOGGY. THERE IS SO MUCH PAIN – AND DOUBT – AND HARDSHIP THAT IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO SUSTAIN FAITH IN A LOVING GOD. FURTHER, THE CHALLENGES THAT CONFRONT US IN LOVING OUR NEIGHBOUR AND STRIVING FOR A MORE JUST AND PEACEFUL WORLD ARE DAUNTING. SO EVEN THOUGH OUR FAITH MIGHT BE SURE AND CONFIDENT ON SUNDAY MORNING, BY THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY — SOME WEEKS IT’S BY MONDAY AFTERNOON! — WE NEED TO HAVE OUR FAITH REKINDLED AND THEREBY HAVE OUR VISION CLARIFIED. THE READINGS AND SERMON, THE PRAYERS AND SONGS THAT CONSTITUTE OUR WEEKLY WORSHIP SERVE TO REMOVE THE FILM THAT CLOUDS OUR ABILITY TO SEE THE SPIRIT OF GOD AT WORK IN THE WORLD AND TO RECOGNIZE GOD’S FACE IN THE NEED OF OUR NEIGHBOUR. SO WEEK IN AND WEEK OUT, WE COME TO CHURCH TO HAVE OUR VISION CLARIFIED, OUR EYESIGHT RESTORED, SO THAT WE MIGHT RETURN TO THE WORLD LOOKING FOR GOD OUT AHEAD OF US, KNOWING THAT BY THE END OF THE WEEK OUR VISION WILL ONCE AGAIN BE CLOUDY AND THAT CATARACT SURGERY AWAITS US AGAIN ON SUNDAY. WORSHIP, FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW, IS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR US TO COME TO CHURCH THAT WE MIGHT PERCEIVE, LIKE THE TENTH LEPER IN THIS WEEK’S GOSPEL, HOW GOD HAS RESTORED US – AND SEEING – GIVE GOD THANKS – AND ALLOW OUR LIVES TO REFLECT THE LOVE OF CHRIST AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD. AMEN

SERMON 25TH SEPTEMBER 2016 – Luke 16:19-31

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

THE INVISIBLE MAN

IN THE NAME OF GOD: SPIRIT OF LIFE, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.

IN 1897 THE FAMOUS NOVELIST H G WELLS PUBLISHED A MASTERPIECE OF SCIENCE FICTION ENTITLED “THE INVISIBLE MAN”. IT IS THE FASCINATING STORY OF ‘GRIFFIN’ – A SCIENTIST WHO CREATES A SERUM TO RENDER HIMSELF INVISIBLE – AND HIS DESCENT INTO MADNESS THAT FOLLOWS. SINCE THEN THERE HAVE APPEARED MANY BOOKS AND SUBSEQUENT FILMS IN THE 30’S AND EVEN A TV SERIES IN 2000 – 2002. THE IDEA OF INVISIBILITY HAS INTRIGUED PEOPLE FOR AGES – I REMEMBER ALSO HARRY POTTER AND HIS INVISIBILITY CLOAK – WHERE IT CAME AS A MYSTERIOUS CHRISTMAS PRESENT IN ‘THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE’ – VERY HANDY – AS IT WAS LATER TO PROVE!

BUT BEING INVISIBLE IS NOT ALWAYS ABOUT CLEVER SCIENCE OR HAVING FUN. THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE TODAY WHO LIVE IN OUR CITIES – EVEN ADELAIDE – WHO LIVE INVISIBLE LIVES. TODAY HOMELESS PEOPLE ARE KNOWN AS “THE INVISIBLE PEOPLE “– THEY DO NOT FEATURE AS BEING IDENTIFIABLE, OBVIOUS OR EVEN PRESENT IN OUR SOCIETY. THIS GOSPEL STORY TELLS US THAT DURING HIS LIFE THE RICH MAN DID NOT EVEN SEE THE POOR MAN WHO WAS AT HIS GATE EACH DAY – HE WAS ONE OF THE “INVISBLE PEOPLE” – AN ‘INVISIBLE MAN’.

THE ANGLICAN SOCIETY OF THE SACRED MISSION (SSM) AT ST JOHN’S CHURCH, HALIFAX STREET, ADELAIDE, PARTICIPATES IN A SERVICE AIMED PARTICULARLY AT HOMELESS YOUTH.

THEY RUN A COMMUNITY BASED ORGANISATION THAT PROVIDES ACCOMMODATION AND RELATED SUPPORT SERVICES TO YOUNG PEOPLE AND CHILDREN IN THE CITY OF ADELAIDE.

DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE ARE NEARLY 8,000 SOUTH AUSTRALIANS HOMELESS EVERY NIGHT. THIS IS LIKELY TO BE A CONSERVATIVE NUMBER AS THE CENSUS WAS UNDERTAKEN IN AUGUST WHEN PEOPLE SLEEPING ROUGH HIDE AWAY TO ESCAPE THE COLD. 66% OF THE HOMELESS POPULATION IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA IS AGED 34 YEARS OR YOUNGER, WITH AROUND 27% TEENAGERS (MAINLY ON THEIR OWN) BETWEEN 12 AND 18 YEARS.

LUKE MUST HAVE HAD A PROBLEM WITHIN HIS COMMUNITY. ONE CAN SURMISE THAT THERE WERE SOME PEOPLE WHO WERE NOT PULLING THEIR WEIGHT – SO TO SPEAK. IN THE EARLY DAYS THE WAY OF JESUS REQUIRED OR AT LEAST ENCOURAGED ITS MEMBERS TO SHARE THEIR WORLDLY GOODS – THEIR WEALTH – THAT WAS ONE OF THE DISTINGUISHING FEATURES OF THIS BUDDING JEWISH SECT BUT IT SEEMS SOME WERE WEALTHY AND WERE KEEPING THEIR ASSETS CLOSE RATHER THAN SHARING WITH THOSE LESS FORTUNATE THAN THEMSELVES. THIS STORY FOLLOWS LAST WEEK’S PARABLE ABOUT A RICH MAN AND MAMMON. THE ENTIRE 16TH CHAPTER OF LUKE CAN BE ENTITLED “RICH MEN AND LOVERS OF MONEY”.  THE RICH MAN’S SUMPTUOUS FEASTING ALSO ECHOES THE “EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY” BOAST OF THE MAN WITH BIGGER BARNS IN LUKE 12:19.

AS USUAL THE GOSPEL WRITER USES HYPERBOLE TO MAKE HIS MESSAGE SINK IN. WITH ITS VIVID JOURNEY TO THE AFTERLIFE, AND ITS EXAGGERATED IMAGERY OF CONTRAST, THIS PARABLE FITS THE FORM OF AN APOCALYPSE. AN APOCALYPSE SERVES AS A WAKE-UP CALL, PULLING BACK A CURTAIN TO OPEN OUR EYES TO SOMETHING WE URGENTLY NEED TO SEE BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. NOW, IN THE AFTERLIFE, THE RICH MAN SEES LAZARUS – BUT TOO LATE. THE PARABLE PORTRAYS A PERMANENT CHASM FIXED BETWEEN THE RICH MAN AND POOR LAZARUS, WITH NO WAY TO CROSS OVER.

THE EXAGGERATED APOCALYPTIC CONTRASTS ARE MANY: THE LAVISH MEALS OF THE RICH MAN’S TABLE IN LIFE – CONTRASTING WITH HIS UNQUENCHABLE THIRST AFTER DEATH – THE DEATHLY POVERTY OF LAZARUS – CONTRASTING WITH HIS REST WITH ABRAHAM. THESE CONTRASTS UNDERSCORE THE PARABLE’S FUNCTION AS URGENT WARNING.

WHERE DOES LUKE INTEND HIS AUDIENCE TO SEE ITSELF IN THIS PARABLE? THE IMAGE OF VINDICATION IN ABRAHAM’S BOSOM IS A WONDERFUL ONE, OFFERING COMFORT FOR THOSE IN LUKE’S AUDIENCE AND THOSE IN THE WORLD TODAY WHO ARE AS POOR AS LAZARUS. THE IMAGE OF RESTING IN THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM INSPIRED THE AFRICAN AMERICAN SPIRITUAL “ROCK MY SOUL IN THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM.” BUT BEAUTIFUL AS THIS IMAGE IS, THE PRIMARY MESSAGE OF THIS PARABLE IS NOT COMFORT.

IN MARTIN LUTHER’S DAY, THE PARABLE INSPIRED MUCH SPECULATION ABOUT WHERE WE GO AFTER WE DIE. THE LOCATION OF THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM IN RELATIONSHIP TO HEAVEN, AND WHETHER WE GO THERE IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING DEATH, OR MUST WAIT FOR THE RESURRECTION AT THE LAST DAY, WERE THE PRIMARY CONCERNS FOR LUTHER AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES.  THIS DISCUSSION ALSO INSPIRED LUTHER’S CRITIQUE AND REJECTION OF THE ROMAN CHURCH’S INVENTION OF A PLACE OF PURGING OF LIFE SINS – PURGATORY. IN A 1523 SERMON ON THIS VERY PARABLE LUTHER ARGUED THAT THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM WAS NOT A PLACE, BUT THE WORD OF GOD. “THUS WERE ALL THE FATHERS BEFORE THE BIRTH OF CHRIST CARRIED INTO ABRAHAM’S BOSOM –  THAT IS – AT DEATH THEY WERE ESTABLISHED IN THIS SAYING OF GOD AND FELL ASLEEP IN THE SAME, THEY WERE EMBRACED AND GUARDED AS IN A BOSOM, AND SLEEP THERE UNTIL THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.”  BUT THE PARABLE WAS PROBABLY NOT ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS AN EXPLANATION OF THE AFTERLIFE. TO UNDERSTAND THE MEANING, WE SHOULD TURN TO THE THREE RESPONSES OF ABRAHAM DENYING THE RICH MAN’S REQUESTS TO “SEND LAZARUS” (LUKE 16:24, 27). TENDERLY BUT FIRMLY, ABRAHAM REFUSES EACH OF THE RICH MAN’S REQUESTS. HE EVEN CALLS THE RICH MAN “CHILD,” MAKING IT CLEAR THAT BEING A CHILD OF ABRAHAM IS NO GUARANTEE OF SALVATION. FOR THE RICH MAN, IT IS TOO LATE AND ABRAHAM WILL NOT SEND LAZARUS TO HELP THE RICH MAN’S FAMILY AFTER DEATH.

APOCALYPSES OFTEN TELL HEARERS NOT JUST WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE BUT ALSO HOW TO GO ABOUT IT. WITH THEIR EXAGGERATED IMAGERY APOCALYPSES ALSO OFFER A WAKE-UP CALL, A WARNING, LIKE THE DREAM SEQUENCES OF EBENEZER SCROOGE IN CHARLES DICKENS’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. IF THIS PARABLE IS AN APOCALYPSE, THEN LUKE IS SITUATING THE AUDIENCE NOT SO MUCH IN THE ROLE OF EITHER LAZARUS OR THE RICH MAN, BUT IN THE ROLE OF THE FIVE SIBLINGS WHO ARE STILL ALIVE. THE FIVE SIBLINGS WHO ARE STILL ALIVE HAVE TIME TO OPEN THEIR EYES. THEY HAVE TIME TO SEE THE POOR PEOPLE AT THEIR GATES – BEFORE THE CHASM BECOMES PERMANENT. “SEND LAZARUS TO THEM, THAT HE MIGHT WARN THEM,” CRIES THE RICH MAN ON BEHALF OF HIS BROTHERS AND SISTERS, “SO THAT THEY DO NOT COME TO THIS PLACE OF TORMENT.” THE TERRIFYINGLY VIVID APOCALYPTIC IMAGE OF THE MAN SUFFERING IN HADES SERVES TO AWAKEN A SENSE OF URGENCY ON THE PART OF LUKE’S AUDIENCE.

LET’S BRING THIS PARABLE HOME TO US HERE IN THE 21ST CENTURY. WE ARE THOSE FIVE SIBLINGS OF THE RICH MAN. WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE HAVE BEEN WARNED ABOUT OUR URGENT SITUATION – THE PARABLE MAKES THIS CLEAR. WE CAN READ OF MOSES AND THE PROPHETS – JUST AS LUKE’S HEARERS COULD – WE HAVE THE GOSPEL – WE CAN SEE THE EXAMPLES OF GOOD PEOPLE’S CARE FOR THE POOR AND HUNGRY – SUCH AS THE ST JOHN’S COMMUNITY ORGANISATION. WE EVEN HAVE THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS – HIS LIFE LIVED OUT FULL OF EMPATHY AND CARE FOR THE WEAK AND NEEDY. THE QUESTION IS: WILL WE – THE FIVE SISTERS AND BROTHERS – SEE? WILL WE HEED THE WARNING, BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE AND WE BECOME LOST IN THE MIRE OF OUR OWN SELFISHNESS? AMEN

 

SERMON 18TH SEPTEMBER 2016     Luke 16:1-13

1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?’ He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD: SPIRIT OF CREATION, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.

CAN YOU VISUALISE A TRILLION DOLLARS? NO? WELL TO PUT IT INTO SOME KIND OF PERSPECTIVE – IF YOU WANTED TO SPEND ONE TRILLION DOLLARS YOU WOULD NEED TO SPEND IT AT THE RATE OF TEN MILLION DOLLARS EVERY DAY FOR 273 YEARS. CURRENTLY AUSTRALIA IS IN DEBT TO THE TUNE OF APPROXIMATELY SIX TRILLION DOLLARS OF WHICH GOVERNMENT DEBT ACCOUNTS FOR SOMETHING LIKE 770 BILLION (THAT’S 770 THOUSAND MILLION) – THAT TOTAL DEBT – PUBLIC AND PRIVATE – IS  ABOUT $250 THOUSAND FOR EACH ONE OF US.

THE BIG FOUR AUSTRALIAN BANKS MADE PROFITS FOR THE YEAR 2015/16 OF A TOTAL $30.78 BILLION. DO YOU EVER WONDER HOW BANKS WORK? THEY BORROW MONEY FROM INVESTORS, GOVERNMENTS AND OTHER BANKS – ALSO TRADING HUGE SUMS OVERNIGHT ON THE SHORT TERM MONEY MARKET. THEY THEN ADD A PROFIT MARGIN AND LEND THAT MONEY OUT TO THEIR CUSTOMERS. CURRENTLY THE CASH RATE IN AUSTRALIA – THAT IS THE RATE AT WHICH BANKS BORROW MONEY FROM THE AUSTRALIAN CENTRAL BANK – IS 1.5%. THE AVERAGE HOME LOAN RATE IN AUSTRALIA IS PRESENTLY ABOUT 3.4 TO 4.2% – A MARGIN OR PROFIT OF ABOUT 2%. PEOPLE ALSO INVEST THEIR MONEY IN BANK TERM DEPOSITS ETC WHICH RETURN ABOUT 3% AT PRESENT. IT ALL SOUNDS FAIRLY REASONABLE UNTIL WE COME TO CREDIT CARDS. IF YOU HAVE A BALANCE OUSTANDING ON YOUR CREDIT CARD YOU WILL PAY ANYTHING FROM ABOUT 13.5 TO 21% INTEREST. WESTPAC CURRENTLY ADVERTISE A LOW CREDIT CARD INTEREST RATE OF ONLY 13.49% – PLUS AN ANNUAL FEE OF $59. THEY MADE THE SECOND LARGEST PROFIT OF THE BIG 4 BANKS LAST YEAR OF OVER $8 BILLION.

THERE’S A GLIMPSE INTO THE CURRENT ECONOMICS OF CONTEMPORARY AUSTRALIA BUT TO TRY TO UNDERSTAND THIS PARABLE IN LUKE’S GOSPEL IN THE CONTEXT OF LUKE’S NARRATIVE WORLD, WE NEED A MINI-COURSE ON THE ECONOMICS OF ROMAN-OCCUPIED GALILEE IN THE FIRST CENTURY – AND I HAVE TO SAY THAT NOT TOO MUCH HAS CHANGED. RICH LANDLORDS AND RULERS WERE LOAN-SHARKS – I HESITATE TO DRAW PRESENT DAY COMPARISONS. THEY USED EXHORBITANT INTEREST RATES TO AMASS MORE LAND AND TO DISINHERIT PEASANTS OF THEIR FAMILY LAND, IN DIRECT VIOLATION OF TORAH LAW. I WILL QUOTE JUST TWO EXAMPLES FROM THE TORAH –                                    THERE ARE MORE: DEUTERONOMY 23.19 “DO NOT CHARGE INTEREST ON THE LOANS YOU MAKE TO A FELLOW ISRAELITE, WHETHER YOU LOAN MONEY, OR FOOD, OR ANYTHING ELSE.” EXODUS 22:25 “IF YOU LEND MONEY TO MY PEOPLE, TO THE POOR AMONG YOU, YOU ARE NOT TO ACT AS A CREDITOR TO HIM; YOU SHALL NOT CHARGE HIM INTEREST.”

THE RICH MAN OR “LORD” IN THIS PARABLE – ALONG WITH HIS STEWARD OR DEBT COLLECTOR – WAS EXPLOITING DESPERATE PEASANTS.

THROUGHOUT THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, JESUS’ MINISTRY INVOKES THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF DEBT FORGIVENESS. ECONOMIC RESTITUTION IS PART OF THE JOY OF MARY’S MAGNIFICAT (LUKE 1:53 – “…THE RICH HE HAS SENT EMPTY AWAY”) AND THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMED TO TAX COLLECTORS SUCH AS ZACCHAEUS. WHEN ZACCHAEUS RESTORES WHAT HE HAD “DEFRAUDED” FOUR-FOLD, HE IS RESTORED ALSO TO COMMUNITY, AS PROCLAIMED BY JESUS, “TODAY SALVATION HAS COME TO THIS HOUSE” (LUKE 19:8).

EVEN THOUGH THE WORD “DEFRAUD” IS NOT USED IN TODAY’S PARABLE (UNLIKE THE STORY OF ZACCHAEUS), LUKE’S HEARERS WOULD KNOW THAT THE DEBT CONTRACTS INCLUDED EXORBITANT INTEREST HIDDEN FROM ILLITERATE PEASANTS. TODAY, ANALOGIES MAY BE HIGH-INTEREST LOANS OR HARSH AUSTERITY MEASURES IMPOSED ON COUNTRIES WHOSE CITIZENS HAD NO ROLE IN AGREEING TO A DEBT. LOANS MADE AT CRIPPLING INTEREST RATES TO SMALLER DEVELOPING COUNTRIES HAVE BEEN DESCRIBED AS ”ILLEGITIMATE” AND  HAVE BEEN LIKENED TO VIOLENCE BECAUSE OF THE CRUSHING EFFECTS ON PEOPLE AND THEIR FUTURES. WEALTHY LANDLORDS IN JESUS’ DAY CREATED WAYS TO CHARGE INTEREST UNDER OTHER GUISES – OFTEN HIDING INTEREST BY ROLLING IT INTO THE PRINCIPAL. AS NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLAR WILLIAM HERZOG EXPLAINS, “THE HIDDEN INTEREST RATES APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN ABOUT 25 PERCENT FOR MONEY AND 50 PERCENT FOR GOODS.” THE MANIPULATIVE STEWARD WAS PROBABLY EXTRACTING HIS OWN CUT OF THE PROFITS, ON TOP OF THE 50% FOR THE LANDLORD, AND THE ADDITIONAL PAYMENT FOR ROME.

WHEN HE REDUCED THE PAYMENTS, THE STEWARD MAY HAVE BEEN SIMPLY FORGIVING HIS OWN CUT OF THE INTEREST – OR HE MAY HAVE BEEN DOING WHAT THE LAW COMMANDED – NAMELY FORGIVING ALL THE HIDDEN INTEREST IN THE CONTRACTS. AS DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF LIBERAL ARTS AND THE STUDY OF RELIGION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS, BOSTON – RICHARD HORSLEY -DESCRIBES, “TO INGRATIATE HIMSELF WITH THE DEBTORS, HE HAD THEM CHANGE THE AMOUNT THEY OWED ON THEIR BILLS TO EXACTLY THE AMOUNT THEY BORROWED, ELIMINATING THE HIDDEN AND PROHIBITED INTEREST.”7 IF THE RICH LANDLORD WAS NOT A GENTILE, BUT A JEW (THE TEXT DOES NOT SAY BUT IT CAN BE ASSUMED HE WAS JEWISH), HE WOULD KNOW THE TORAH TEACHING AGAINST INTEREST. THE RICH MAN, “SUDDENLY RECOGNIZING THAT HE NEEDED AT LEAST TO APPEAR TO BE OBSERVING CONVENANTAL LAWS, COMMENDED HIS STEWARD.”

ALTHOUGH THE RICH LANDLORD IS CALLED “LORD” (KYRIOS, A WORD THAT CAN SIMPLY MEAN “SIR”), JESUS DOES NOT WANT US TO SIDE WITH HIM, CONTRARY TO SOME TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATIONS. THE CHALLENGE IN THIS PARABLE IS KNOWING WHERE JESUS WANTS US TO SIDE. THERE ARE MANY INTERPRETIVE POSSIBILITIES TO THIS PARABLE; EACH OPENS UP QUESTIONS.

IN LUKE 16:12, ANOTHER DIFFICULT VERSE, OUR INSTINCTS MAY BE TO JUMP TO THE CONCLUSION THAT “BEING FAITHFUL TO WHAT IS ANOTHER’S” MEANS BEING FAITHFUL TO WHAT BELONGED TO THE RICH LANDLORD, INCLUDING THE INTEREST HE WAS CHARGING. BUT WHAT IF, INSTEAD, THE OPPOSITE MIGHT BE EQUALLY PLAUSIBLE — THAT JESUS MIGHT BE TALKING ABOUT BEING FAITHFUL TO WHAT RIGHTFULLY BELONGED TO THE PEASANTS WHO WERE BEING DISINHERITED OF THEIR LAND?

WE CANNOT KNOW – BUT WHAT WE CAN KNOW IS THAT LUKE IS MAKING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN DEBT STRUCTURES, THE URGENCY OF IMPENDING JUDGMENT, AND THE IDOL OF WORLDLY WEALTH.

RECENT TRANSLATIONS OF LUKE 16 – “YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON” – HAVE SHIFTED AWAY FROM “MAMMON” – (KING JAMES VERSION) TO “WEALTH” (NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION) OR “WORLDLY WEALTH” (COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE). BUT PERHAPS WE NEED TO RETAIN THE PERSONIFIED IDOL NAMED MAMMON, AS A REMINDER OF HOW A FINANCIAL SYSTEM ITSELF CAN FUNCTION AS AN IDOL OR “RELIGION,” AS HARVEY COX NOTED IN HIS BOOK “THE MARKET AS GOD.” OUR CURRENT FINANCIALISED ECONOMIC “RELIGION” IS STRUCTURED AROUND DEBT — INCLUDING ECOLOGICAL DEBT OWED TO FUTURE GENERATIONS. THESE ARE A FEW OF THE UNSETTLING QUESTIONS JESUS’ MULTIPLE REFERENCES TO MAMMON, IN THE CONTEXT OF A PARABLE ABOUT DEBT AND IMPENDING CRISIS, RAISE.

ENGLISH RENAISSANCE LITERATURE PORTRAYED MAMMON AS A CHARACTER ON A LOWER MORAL LEVEL THAN AVARICE. IN SPENSER’S THE FAERIE QUEENE, MAMMON ESCORTS PEOPLE DOWN INTO THE UNDERWORLD, TO THE GATE OF HELL, TO LEARN TO MINE AND SMELT GOLD.                            MILTON (PARADISE LOST) AND OTHER AUTHORS PORTRAY MAMMON IN LEAGUE WITH FALLEN ANGELS TO LEAD PEOPLE ASTRAY.

HEARING THIS VIVID PARABLE IN LUKE 16 MEANS FOLLOWING JESUS INTO QUESTIONS OF HOW WE PRACTICE NEIGHBOURLY LOVE IN ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIPS, IN THE MIDST OF UNJUST STRUCTURES. WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS TO SITUATE THE PARABLE IN THE BROADER ECONOMIC CONTEXT OF HOW JESUS WAS REVIVING VILLAGE LIFE BY REVIVING ANCIENT TORAIC ECONOMIC LIFE – FORGIVING DEBTS AND GIVING PEOPLE NEW HOPE. IN LUKE, THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL IS THE JOY OF GOD’S HEALING OF RELATIONSHIPS, INCLUDING ECONOMIC RELATIONSHIPS. AS LUTHER WARNED ABOUT MAMMON 500 YEARS AGO, “‘MANY A PERSON THINKS HE HAS GOD AND EVERYTHING HE NEEDS WHEN HE HAS MONEY AND PROPERTY. IN THEM HE TRUSTS AND OF THEM HE BOASTS SO STUBBORNLY AND SECURELY THAT HE CARES FOR NO ONE. SURELY SUCH A MAN ALSO HAS A GOD — MAMMON BY NAME – THAT IS, MONEY AND POSSESSIONS – ON WHICH HE FIXES HIS WHOLE HEART. IT IS THE MOST COMMON IDOL ON EARTH.”

THE GOSPEL REPEATEDLY WARNS THAT WE CANNOT BE DISCIPLES WHILST ACCUMULATING WEALTH AT THE EXPENSE OF THE POOR. AMEN

SERMON 11TH SEPTEMBER 2016

Luke 15:1-10

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

+  IN THE NAME OF GOD – SPIRIT OF CREATION AND LOVE, BEARER OF PAIN AND BRINGER OF JOY AND PEACE.

MANY PEOPLE SAY THEY REMEMBER EXACTLY WHERE THEY WERE AND WHAT THEY WERE DOING ON THE 22ND NOVEMBER 1963 – DO YOU? THAT IS THE DAY THAT JOHN KENNEDY PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA WAS SHOT AND KILLED WHILST DRIVING THROUGH DALLAS TEXAS. I HAVE TO ADMIT I HAVE NO MEMORY OF WHERE I WAS ON THAT PARTICULAR DAY.  I DO REMEMBER HOWEVER BEING DRIVEN ALONG THAT SAME ROAD IN 1976 WHEN I FIRST VISITED DALLAS AND I ALSO HAVE A VERY CLEAR MEMORY OF WHERE I WAS AND WHAT I WAS DOING ON THIS DAY IN 2001 – 15 YEARS AGO. TODAY IS THE 11TH OF SEPTEMBER – OR AS WE HAVE BEEN TAUGHT BY THE AMERICANS – 9/11.           I WOKE EARLY THAT MORNING AS I WAS SCHEDULED TO FLY TO SYDNEY ON THE NOW DEFUNCT ANSETT AIRLINE TO UNDERTAKE A PHOTOGRAPHIC ASSIGNMENT. I STILL RECALL THINKING IT MUST HAVE BEEN SOME SORT OF SICK JOKE AS I FIRST HEARD THE NEWS ON THE RADIO. THAT IDEA CHANGED OF COURSE WHEN TO CHECK WE TURNED ON THE TELEVISION AND WITNESSED THE HORRENDOUS EVENTS UNFOLDING IN AMERICA. I FELT IT WAS NOT AN AUSPICIOUS MORNING TO BE PUTTING MYSELF IN AN AIRCRAFT AND FLYING TO SYDNEY BUT I WENT AHEAD ANYWAY AND OF COURSE ARRIVED WITHOUT INCIDENT. INCIDENTALLY THAT WAS AN INTERESTING TRIP AS WHEN I WAS DRIVEN TO THE AIRPORT TO RETURN TO ADELAIDE A FEW DAYS LATER THE ANSETT TERMINAL WAS CLOSED AS THE AIRLINE HAD GONE INTO RECEIVERSHIP.

BY SOME STROKE OF LUCK I HAD BEEN BOOKED ON THE FLEDGLING VIRGIN TO COME HOME AS THE CLIENT THOUGHT I WOULD APPRECIATE THE NEW AND DIFFERENT AIRLINE. SO I LEFT ADELAIDE WITH THE IMAGES OF NEW YORK IN MY MIND AND LEFT SYDNEY VIA A TIN SHED NEAR THE AIRPORT ENTRANCE – AN UNFORGETTABLE TRIP.

WHAT A DREADFUL DAY THAT WAS NOT JUST FOR AMERICA BUT FOR THE WHOLE OF THE WESTERN WORLD. THE WORLD WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN.  IT WAS, AS ONE OF MY HISTORY TOPICS AT FLINDERS UNIVERSITY STATED – A TURNING POINT IN WORLD HISTORY. IT BEHOVES US THIS MORNING TO PAUSE AND REMEMBER THE ALMOST 3000 INNOCENT PEOPLE WHO DIED THAT DREADFUL MORNING IN NEW YORK AND IN THE OTHER TWO PLANES THAT CRASHED INTO THE PENTAGON IN WASHINGTON DC AND THE FIELD IN PENNSYLVANIA. ABOUT 400 OF THE DEAD WERE FIREFIGHTERS, POLICE OFFICERS AND OTHER EMERGENCY WORKERS. NOW 15 YEARS LATER THE MESS HAS BEEN CLEARED AWAY AND THE MEMORIALS ERECTED BUT THE WORLD IS STILL COUNTING THE COST BOTH IN HUMAN LIVES AND RESOURCES.

WE REMEMBER THOSE THOUSANDS KILLED IN THE USA BUT LANDMARK RESEARCH PROVES THAT THE SUBSEQUENT US-LED ‘WAR ON TERROR’ HAS KILLED AS MANY AS 2 MILLION PEOPLE. BUT THIS IS A FRACTION OF WESTERN RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEATHS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN OVER THE LAST TWO DECADES. ACCORDING TO THE MIDDLE EASTERN EYE WEBSITE WESTERN WARS HAVE KILLED 4 MILLION MUSLIMS SINCE 1990. THAT’S A STAGGERING THOUGHT. BASICALLY THE POPULATION OF SYDNEY LOST TO WAR DURING THE PAST 25 YEARS.

THE DEPTH OF HUMAN MADNESS AND PROPENSITY FOR EVIL IS CLEAR TO SEE. THE PURSUIT OF RETRIBUTION – REVENGE DISGUISED AS JUSTICE – THE EGOS GRASPING FOR POWER AND WEALTH IN THE PERVERTED NAME OF RELIGION – ALL THIS WITH A TOTAL DISREGARD EVEN DISDAIN – FOR INNOCENT HUMAN LIVES FROM BOTH SIDES. THE WORLD IS DOUBTLESS IN A SORRY MESS. ONE HAS TO ASK “WILL THIS MADNESS EVER STOP?”

“WILL PEOPLE EVER COME TO THE POINT OF REALISATION THAT WE – THE HUMAN RACE – ARE ALL BROTHERS AND SISTERS – THAT WE ALL SHARE THE SAME DNA – THAT WE HAVE ALL ORIGINATED FROM COMMON ANCESTORS?

TODAY’S GOSPEL MESSAGE DOES OFFER US A RAY OF HOPE IN ALL THIS GLOOM. IN BOTH THE INSTANCES QUOTED – THE LOST SHEEP AND THE LOST COIN – IT IS NOT THE THING LOST THAT BRINGS ABOUT ITS OWN RECOVERY – IT IS THE ONE SEARCHING. IN BOTH INSTANCES THE SHEEP AND THE COIN ARE INERT – THEY DO NOTHING EXCEPT GET THEMSELVES LOST – OF COURSE THE COIN BEING AN INANIMATE OBJECT HAS NO RESPONSIBILITY – BUT LUKE’S STORIES INFER THAT IT IS GOD WHO IS THE ONE SEARCHING FOR LOST PEOPLE. CAN IT BE THAT WE CAN TAKE THIS REASSURANCE TO HEART TODAY? EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE MOVED ON FROM THE FIRST CENTURY CONCEPT OF AN ALL POWERFUL GOD IN HUMAN FORM LIVING SOMEWHERE ABOVE THE CLOUDS – CAN WE SOMEHOW LOOK FORWARD TO WHAT WE EXPERIENCE AS THE GREAT CREATING SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE – THE SPIRIT OF LIFE ITSELF RATHER THAN THE SPIRIT OF DEATH – EXERTING SOME INFLUENCE IN THE MINDS OF THE PERPETRATORS OF MADNESS? I AM SURE WE ALL REALISE THAT THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN UNLESS GOOD PEOPLE TAKE A STAND AND BECOME THE ACTIVE PARTICIPANT – THE SEARCHER. I BELIEVE THAT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS CHRISTIANS – WE WHO CLAIM TO EXPERIENCE THE PRESENCE IN OUR LIVES OF THIS SPIRIT OF LOVE AND PEACE. GOOD PEOPLE NEED TO ACT – NOT JUST SIT AROUND IGNORING THE PROBLEM OR WRINGING OUR HANDS IN SADNESS AND FRUSTRATION. WE AS CHRISTIANS NEED TO DO ALL WE CAN TO STOP DISCRIMINATION THROUGH RACE, COLOUR OR CREED.THESE EVILS OF DIVISION AND HATE HAVE NO PLACE IN AN EDUCATED AND AWARE SOCIETY. I BELIEVE THE ANSWER BEGINS WIITH US AS IT IS NO USE LEAVING IT TO THE POLITICIANS. AMEN.

SERMON 17TH JULY 2016

LUKE 10; 38 – 42 – MARY AND MARTHA – EQUALITY AND INEQUALITY

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

THIS WEEK THE WESTERN WORLD HAS ONCE AGAIN BEEN ROCKED BY A NAUSEATING HATEFILLED ATTACK ON INNOCENT CIVILIANS INCLUDING CHILDREN, IN NICE, SOUTHERN FRANCE.

ONE MUST ASK, “WHAT IS IT IN A HUMAN BEING THAT CAN POSSIBLY ALLOW A PERSON TO PERPETRATE SUCH AN ABHORRENT ACT?” I OFFER ONE SUGGESTION. THE PERPETRATOR OF THAT AND MOST OTHER ACTS OF PREMEDITATED VIOLENCE HAS TO VIEW THE VICTIM OR VICTIMS AS “OTHER”. THE VICTIMS ARE VIEWED AS ALIENS – DIFFERENT – PERHAPS EVEN SUB-HUMAN – UNWORTHY. FOR TO VIEW THEM AS EQUALS WOULD MAKE SUCH AN ACT VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO CARRY OUT. SOLDIERS ARE TRAINED TO VIEW THE OPPOSING FORCES NOT AS PEOPLE SIMILAR TO THEMSELVES WITH FAMILIES AND HOMES AND LOVED ONES BUT SIMPLY AS “THE ENEMY”. THE ENEMY IS OTHER THAN US – PERHAPS EVEN SUB-HUMAN – JUST AS JAPANESE SOLDIERS WERE PORTRAYED WITHIN OUR OWN SOCIETY DURING WW2 – AND CERTAINLY NOT OF EQUAL WORTH. IN ORDER TO PERPETUATE DREADFUL VIOLENCE SUCH AS WE HAVE WITNESSED IN FRANCE THIS WEEK THE PERPETUATOR MUST HOLD THESE SORTS OF VIEWS. THE VICTIMS AS FOREIGNERS AND UNBELIEVERS ARE NOT WORTHY TO LIVE FOR “THEY ARE INFIDELS AND THEREFORE ARE CONDEMNED AND ONLY WORTHY OF DEATH” IS THE MANTRA. IN 2014 I.S. MAIN SPOKESMAN, ABU MUHAMMAD AL-ADNANI CALLED ON ITS FOLLOWERS TO KILL WESTENERS, “ESPECIALLY THE SPITEFUL AND FILTHY FRENCH”.THIS EVIL MAN ALSO SAID, “IF YOU CANNOT DETONATE A BOMB OR FIRE A BULLET,      ARRANGE TO MEET ALONE WITH A FRENCH OR AN AMERICAN INFIDEL AND BASH HIS SKULL IN WITH A ROCK, SLAUGHTER HIM WITH A KNIFE, RUN HIM OVER WITH YOUR CAR, THROW HIM OFF A CLIFF, STRANGLE HIM, OR INJECT HIM WITH POISON”. HE ALSO SAID THERE WAS NO NEED TO CONSULT ANYONE AS ALL UNBELIEVERS ARE FAIR GAME. “IT IS IMMATERIAL IF THE INFIDEL IS A COMBATANT OR A CIVILIAN … THEY ARE BOTH ENEMIES. THE BLOOD OF BOTH IS PERMITTED”, HE SAID.

IF WE TURN TO THE GOSPEL READING FOR THIS MORNING WE SEE LUKE TRYING TO CONVINCE HIS HEARERS THAT WHILST PEOPLE MAY HOLD DIFFERING VIEWS OF WHAT IS OF PRIMARY IMPORTANCE IN LIFE, THEY ARE TO BE CONSIDERED AS NOT BEING OPPOSED TO EACH OTHER – ONE BEING INFERIOR TO THE OTHER – BUT OF ABSOLUTELY EQUAL VALUE.

WE ALL FIND IT EXCEEDINGLY EASY TO PIT ONE EXPRESSION OF BELIEF – OF DISCIPLESHIP – OF SERVICE – OF VOCATION – AGAINST THE OTHER. YET, WHEN WE MAKE THESE KINDS OF ASSUMPTIONS, WE RARELY STOP TO THINK ABOUT WHAT WE THEN ASSUME ABOUT JESUS. WE CAN ASSUME THAT TO FAVOUR MARY IS TO SAY JESUS DISCOUNTS SERVICE – WHICH, IF YOU READ THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL – AND MAKES JESUS MAKE NO SENSE AT ALL. ON THE OTHER HAND TO FAVOUR MARTHA WOULD BE TO SAY SERVICE IS ALL THAT MATTERS. CLEARLY, BOTH MATTER, IF YOU READ THE GOSPEL OF LUKE CAREFULLY.

SO, THIS STORY CANNOT BE ABOUT WHO IS BETTER OR WHAT IS BETTER, BUT RATHER ABOUT ACKNOWLEDGING AND ARGUING THAT EVEN A WOMAN CAN BE A DISCIPLE – CAN SIT AT THE FEET OF JESUS AND LEARN. THIS STORY IS NOT ABOUT WHICH IS BETTER – BECAUSE SERVICE AND LEARNING ARE BOTH HALLMARKS OF FOLLOWING JESUS. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN A RADICAL IDEA IN 1ST CENTURY PALESTINE AND IS STILL A RADICAL IDEA IN SOME PARTS OF THE WORLD TODAY – TWO THOUSAND YEARS LATER.

THIS IS ALSO A STORY ABOUT POINTING OUT WHAT IS POSSIBLE. THOSE WE DEEM UNWORTHY FOR THE ROLE OF DISCIPLE ARE THOSE THAT JESUS INSISTS ARE MORE THAN QUALIFIED. OUR CERTAINTY ABOUT CRITERIA FOR DISCIPLESHIP JESUS SEEMS TO UPEND. IS IT SERVICE OR SITTING? HOSPITALITY OR LISTENING? ATTENTIVENESS OR LEARNING? –  OR ALL OF THE ABOVE? THIS IS A STORY ABOUT THE FACT THAT EVEN MARY – EVEN A WOMAN – EVEN THOSE WHO WERE JUDGED TO BE OUTSIDE OF GOD’S GRACE – CAN IMAGINE THEMSELVES AS DISCIPLES.

IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT IF THIS STORY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHO IS BETTER AND EVERYTHING TO DO WITH WHO MATTERS? WHAT IF THIS STORY IS NOT PREOCCUPIED WITH THE NICETIES OF PROPER POLITE ACCEPTANCE BUT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH WHOM YOU ACCEPT?

IT IS AN INDICTMENT ON ALL OF US AS TO HOW WE ADJUDICATE RIGHT AND WRONG, IN AND OUT, WORTHY AND UNWORTHY, WHICH ARE MANIFESTED NOW IN OUR WORLD AS RELIGIOUS INTOLERNCE, RACISM, SEXISM, XENOPHOBIA, HOMOPHOBIA — TO NAME ONLY A FEW.

ARE WE ABLE TO CONFESS, AS WE READ IN THIS MORNING’S PSALM 15 – “O LORD, WHO MAY ABIDE IN YOUR TENT? WHO MAY DWELL ON YOUR HOLY HILL? THOSE WHO WALK BLAMELESSLY, AND DO WHAT IS RIGHT, AND SPEAK THE TRUTH FROM THEIR HEART; WHO DO NOT SLANDER WITH THEIR TONGUE, AND DO NO EVIL TO THEIR FRIENDS, NOR TAKE UP A REPROACH AGAINST THEIR NEIGHBOURS”?

THE RECENT SPATE OF RELIGIOUS INSPIRED ACTS OF VIOLENCE  ARE MANIFESTATIONS OF THE SIN OF DISREGARD. DISREGARD IS NO SMALL MOMENT OF OVERSIGHT. NO UNINTENTIONAL ACT OF OVERLOOKING. NO MERE “I JUST DIDN’T NOTICE.”BECAUSE, DISREGARD, OVERSIGHT, OVERLOOKING, PASSING BY – IS NO MERE LAPSE OF JUDGMENT. NO MERE MISUNDERSTANDING. NO MISTAKE IN ASSESSMENT. IT LEADS TO THE REALITY OF A NONCOMMITTAL ACCEPTANCE. IT LEADS TO COMPLACENCY EVEN COMPLIANCE. WE BECOME IMMUNE TO THAT WHICH SHOULD CAUSE OUTRAGE. WE GIVE IN TO SAYING, “WELL, THAT’S THE WAY IT IS.” WE ACCEPT THAT THE WORLD AROUND US IS THE WORLD WE SHOULD ACCEPT.

THIS STORY OF MARY AND MARTHA CANNOT BE ABOUT THE BETTER THING THAT MEANS WHO IS BETTER, WHO ACTS BETTER, WHO CAN BE BETTER. THE BETTER THING IS THE INVITATION TO BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE WHO GOD SEES YOU TO BE – AND THAT IS PRECISELY OUR PROBLEM. AN INHERENT, SYSTEMIC, OMNIPRESENT, INGRAINED, INTRINSIC, DYSFUNCTIONAL, DISTURBING BELIEF THAT NOT ALL ARE WORTHY OF GOD’S REGARD AND LOVE – THE CONVICTION, AS PAUL FARMER – AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST AND PHYSICIAN FAMOUS FOR HIS WORK AMONGST THE POOR OF HAITI – SAYS, “THAT NOT ALL ARE NOT EQUAL IN GOD’S EYES. THAT ALL ARE NOT MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD.”

THIS IS NOT A STORY ABOUT COMPARISON BUT COMPLETION. NOT ABOUT WHO IS BETTER, BUT WHEN IS BETTER. NOT ABOUT WHAT IS BETTER, BUT WHY IT IS BETTER. PERHAPS IF WE ALLOW FOR A MORE NIMBLE AND GRACIOUS VIEW OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, WE MIGHT BE ABLE TO IMAGINE MORE OF THE WORLD AS PART OF IT — EVEN OURSELVES. AND WHEN WE IMAGINE OURSELVES AS PART OF GOD’S KINGDOM, WE ARE INSTANTLY CALLED TO BRING ABOUT ITS PRESENCE HERE AND NOW – AND TO UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS INCLUSIVE OF ALL – NOT JUST THE ONES WHO SHARE OUR OWN BELIEFS. IF ONLY THAT IDEA COULD TAKE ROOT WITHIN HUMANITY THE WORLD WOULD BE A BETTER PLACE. AMEN.

SERMON 12TH JUNE 2016

LUKE 7: 36 – 8:3

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man was a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

 

LAST WEEK GREG SHERIDAN WROTE A MAJOR ARTICLE IN THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER. BASICALLY HE COMMENTED THAT THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES ARE CURRENTLY DIMINISHING IN BOTH NUMBERS OF ADHERANTS AND RELEVANCE TO THE BROADER COMMUNITY. HE IS A GRADUATE OF THE MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY AND THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY AND IS A PERSONAL FRIEND OF TONY ABBOTT FROM THEIR UNIVERSITY DAYS. HE APPEARS TO WRITE FROM A CONSERVATIVE CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE AS MOSTLY THE ARTICLE IS FOCUSED ON THE CATHOLIC CHURCH BUT ANGLICANISM GETS A MENTION. LET ME READ A BRIEF PART OF THE ARTICLE. ……

SHERIDAN MAKES A VERY VALID POINT WHILST SPEAKING OF “AUSTRALIA’S SECULAR RELIGION”. THE SECULARISATION OF OUR SOCIETY HAS IN FACT BECOME EMPOWERED WITH THE VITALITY AND ZEAL THAT RELIGION FORMERLY POSSESSED. BEING AN EMINENT JOURNALIST SHERIDAN FOCUSSES ON THE MORAL ISSUES THAT THE MEDIA TEND TO BE FIXATED UPON; THE ISSUES OF ABORTION, HOMOSEXUALITY, MARRIAGE AND HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS IN GENERAL.HE IS ARGUING THAT THE CHURCHES ARE NOT MILITANT AND VOCALLY STRONG ENOUGH TO PUT FORWARD THEIR POINT OF VIEW. THAT POINT OF VIEW, ACCORDING TO SHERIDAN SEEMS TO BE STRICTLY CONSERVATIVE. WHILST I AGREED WITH HIS GENERAL STATEMENT THAT THE CHURCH IS LOSING ITS ONCE LEADING, CENTRAL AUTHORITARIAN PLACE IN WESTERN SOCIETY I FOUND MYSELF BECOMING LESS ENTHUSIASTIC AS HE DEFENDS THE “ONCE BEACON OF MORAL AUTHORITY”.

I MUST ASK THE QUESTION; WHY IS THE CHURCH LOSING ITS RELEVANCE? WHY IS IT BEING SIDELINED WITHIN OUR COMMUNITIES AND WHY ARE FEWER PEOPLE INTERESTED IN REMAINING OR EVEN BECOMING PART OF IT? THERE IS NO POINT IN BLAMING SOCIETY FOR TO TAKE THAT POSITION IS FRUITLESS AND A WASTE OF TIME. NO, THE CHURCH MUST LOOK TO ITSELF – WITHIN ITSELF AND ITS LEADERSHIP FOR THE ANSWERS AND THE POSSIBLE APPROPRIATE RESPONSES.

THE READING FROM TODAY’S GOSPEL IS TELLING AND I BELIEVE RELEVANT TO THIS MATTER. THE PHARISEE – THE PERSONIFICATION OF THE CHURCH IF YOU LIKE – IS TOTALLY JUDGEMENTAL IN THE STORY. VERSE 39: Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it [ THE WOMAN’S ACTIONS], he said to himself, “If this man was a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”

THIS IS EXACTLY HOW THE CHURCH OF TODAY IS PORTRAYED – CONSERVATIVE AND JUDGEMENTAL! CONSIDER THE MISOGYNISTIC HISTORY WHICH IS ALIVE AND WELL IN THE CHURCH TODAY. WOMEN WITHIN THE CHURCH – AND ALSO WITHOUT IT – HAVE FOUGHT TOOTH AND NAIL FOR DECADES FOR SOME SEMBLANCE OF EQUALITY. THE CHURCH IS BEING DRAGGED KICKING AND SCREAMING INTO THIS 21ST CENTURY AND THE INHERENT CONSERVATISM IS STILL ALIVE AND WELL IN MOST PARTS OF THE CHRISTIAN WORLD. I AM GRATEFUL THAT IN AUSTRALIA AND IN SOME DIOCESE – CERTAINLY NOT ALL – WE AT LEAST NOW HAVE ACCEPTED WOMEN PRIESTS AND EVEN A BISHOP!     WITH THE ELECTION OF A NEW ARCHBISHOP OF ADELAIDE LOOMING IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE WHETHER A WOMAN IS CONSIDERED – OR EVEN –MIRACLES MIGHT BE POSSIBLE – ELECTED!

THE CHURCH RETAINS THE AURA OF CONSERVATIVE ALOOFNESS – A HOLIER THAN THOU ATTITUDE AND UNTIL IT COMES TO GRIPS WITH THIS IT WILL CONTINUE TO SINK INTO IRRELEVANCE.

IN CONTRAST LOOK AT THE REPORTED RESPONSE OF JESUS. HE REMINDS THE CHURCH OFFICIAL OF HIS LACK OF HOSPITALITY AND SAYS: “VERSE 44 … turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

HER DECISION TO GO TO THE HOUSE, HER DETERMINATION TO ENTER INTO WHERE SHE WAS NOT WANTED OR WELCOME, HER DESIRE TO BE LIKE THE OTHER WOMEN WHO FOLLOWED JESUS, WERE ALL ACTS OF FAITH: BECAUSE FAITH, YOU SEE, IS ALSO THE BELIEF THAT YOU ARE WORTHY. YOU ARE WORTHY TO SIT AT THE TABLE. YOU ARE WORTHY OF TOUCHING, AND BEING TOUCHED BY, GOD. YOU ARE WORTHY OF BELONGING. YOU ARE WORTHY OF BEING CALLED A DISCIPLE. THIS IS ONE REASON I HAVE INTRODUCED MY FRIEND DAVID’S “PRAYER OF CONFIDENT APPROACH” INTO OUR LITURGY. WE ARE WORTHY – ALL ARE WORTHY. YOU ARE VALUABLE TO GOD AND TO US AS A LOVING COMMUNITY OF CHRISTIANS. I READ A STORY ABOUT A WOMAN WHO FELT HER FIRST “CALL” WAS TO MINISTRY, BUT SHE WAS REMOVED FROM HER POSITION BECAUSE THE NEW “SHERIFF IN TOWN” – THE CHURCH MINISTER – DECREED THAT NO WOMAN SHOULD BE TEACHING MEN. HER FAMILY ALL BUT REJECTED HER FOR HER “NEWFANGLED BELIEFS” ABOUT A GOD WHO WANTED AND NEEDED ALL, EVEN WOMEN, TO BRING ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD. SHE GREW UP INDOCTRINATED ABOUT WHAT WAS RIGHT AND WRONG, WHO WAS IN AND OUT, WHOM GOD LOVED AND DIDN’T LOVE. UNWORTHINESS CAN VERY WELL EXTEND FOR A LIFETIME.

SO THE CHURCH COMES ACROSS – SADLY TOO OFTEN RIGHTLY – AS EXCLUSIONARY AND JUDGEMENTAL. I READ IN THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER OF THE MINISTER WHO IS SEEKING TO DISSASSOCIATE THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FROM THE GOVERNMENT MARRIAGE ACT SHOULD THE PARLIAMENT PASS THE AMENDMENT ALLOWING UNIVERSAL MARRIAGE. I HAVE TO ASK, DOES THIS ATTITUDE DO ANYTHING TO FURTHER THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN OUR COMMUNITY? OF COURSE NOT – IT IS AGAIN ANOTHER REASON FOR REJECTION. UNTIL THE CHURCH CHANGES ITS CONSERVATIVE AND JUDGEMENTAL ATTITUDES AND REPLACES THEM WITH ALL ENCOMPASSING LOVE AND COMPASSION AND FOLLOWS THROUGH WITH THE APPROPRIATE ACTIONS, ITS FUTURE WILL REMAIN DARK. REMEMBER, “THE ONE TO WHOM LITTLE IS GIVEN LOVES LITTLE!”

LET’S GET RID OF THE HERETICAL AND IGNORANT HUMAN LITERALIST INTERPRETATIONS OF THE BIBLICAL WRITINGS AND THE – I USE THE WORD DELIBERATELY – MAN-MADE – RULES AND INVIOLABLE LAWS. LET’S INSTEAD LISTEN TO THE SPIRIT OF LOVE WHO HAS NO RULES AND REGULATIONS – ONLY ALL ENCOMPASSING LOVE AND FORGIVENESS. MAYBE THAT IS WHAT PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR. MAYBE THAT IS WHERE THE CHURCH MIGHT HAVE A FUTURE. AMEN

SERMON 5TH JUNE 2016 PENTECOST 3

LUKE 7: 11 – 17

11 Soon afterwards JESUS went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favourably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

DURING THIS PAST WEEK I HAVE ATTENDED TWO FUNERALS – ONE HERE IN ST JOHN’S WHERE I ASSISTED BISHOP IAN GEORGE AND THE OTHER IN ST JOHN’S HALIFAX STREET ADELAIDE. THERE WAS A FASCINATING CONTRAST BETWEEN THESE TWO SERVICES. CERTAINLY THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE DEATHS OF THE TWO PEOPLE CONCERNED WERE QUITE DIFFERENT. IN ONE INSTANCE THE FAMILY HAD ONLY THREE WEEKS WARNING OF THE IMMINENT DEATH, WHILST IN THE OTHER DECLINING HEALTH HAD BEEN INDICATING THE END OF LIFE FOR QUITE SOME TIME – EVEN YEARS. BOTH DECEASED WERE IN THEIR EIGHTIES AND BOTH HAD CONTRIBUTED TO THE WELLBEING OF A LOVING FAMILY AND THE BROADER SOCIETY. THE FAMILY INVOLVED IN THE LOCAL FUNERAL WERE STILL IN SOME SORT OF SHOCK I BELIEVE – AND THERE WAS A GENUINE OUTPOURING OF REAL GRIEF AND LOSS. ON THE OTHER HAND THE FUNERAL OF THE REVEREND DUNSTAN MCKEE SSM AT ST JOHN’S HALIFAX STREET WAS A WONDERFUL CELEBRATION OF HIS LIFE ALBEIT TAINTED WITH DEEP SADNESS AT HIS PASSING. I HAD KNOWN DUNSTAN SINCE HE WAS PART OF THE VIBRANT SSM COMMUNITY AT ST MICHAEL’S HOUSE CRAFERS IN THE LATE 60’S AND EARLY 70’S. I ALWAYS GREATLY ADMIRED HIS GENTLE NATURE AND ACADEMIC LEARNING. I WELL REMEMBER ON ONE OCCASION NAÏVE LY ASKING HIM, “WHAT IS THE PURPOSE IF ANY OF HUMANITIES’ EXISTENCE?” IN OTHER WORDS THE OLD 64 THOUSAND DOLLAR QUESTION, “WHY ARE WE HERE?” HIS RESPONSE WAS NOT WHAT I HAD EXPECTED FROM AN EMINENT THEOLOGICAL SCHOLAR. HE SAID, “IT’S QUITE SIMPLE REALLY, WE ARE HERE TO SIMPLY ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE OF LIFE AND THIS WONDERFUL WORLD.” WOW! THAT’S NOT WHAT I HAD EXPECTED. IT SOUNDS SO SIMPLE –

BUT AS I THOUGHT MORE ABOUT IT I CAME TO REALIZE THAT THERE WAS MUCH MORE TO THAT STATEMENT THAN WAS FIRST EVIDENT AND IT’S SOMETHING I HAVE KEPT IN MY MIND EVER SINCE.

WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF THIS STORY IN LUKE? WHY IS IT THERE AND WHERE WAS ITS INSPIRATION? THERE ARE A FEW CLUES. LET’S GO BACK TO THE INTRODUCTION OF THE GOSPEL BECAUSE WE READ HERE OF LUKE’S PURPOSE IN WRITING. HE IS ADDRESSING “MOST EXCELLENT THEOPHILUS”. THAT NAME TRANSLATES AS “LOVER OF GOD” SO I BELIEVE WE CAN ASSUME HE COULD ALSO BE WRITING TO US AS CONFESSING CHRISTIANS. WHETHER SUCH A PERSON AS THEOPHILUS EVER EXISTED IS IRRELEVANT – THE PURPOSE IS CLEAR. LUKE WRITES IN ORDER TO “… SET DOWN AN ORDERLY ACOCUNT OF THE EVENTS THAT HAVE BEEN FULFILLED AMONG US” (LUKE 1:1-4). “AN ORDERLY ACCOUNT” TO ANSWER THE QUESTION, “WHO THEN IS THIS?” WHO IS THIS MAN JESUS? WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES HE MAKE IN OUR LIVES? HOW ARE WE TO MAKE SENSE OF HIS STORY AND ALL THAT HE SAID AND DID? PERHAPS THOSE WERE THE QUESTIONS ASKED BY THEOPHILUS – AND THEY ARE CERTAINLY THE QUESTIONS THAT ARE STILL BEING ASKED BY MANY PEOPLE TODAY. SO HERE WE HAVE LUKE’S PURPOSE – WRITING SOME FORTY OR FIFTY YEARS AFTER JESUS’ LIFE TO PROVE BY EXAMPLES THAT JESUS WAS THE LONG HOPED FOR AND AWAITED MESSIAH OF THE JEWISH NATION.

WE CAN NOW LOOK FOR LUKE’S SOURCE IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – THE OLD TESTAMENT – THAT MIGHT GIVE MEANING TO THIS TYPE OF HEALING MIRACLE ATTRIBUTED TO JESUS. IN THE 35TH CHAPTER OF ISAIAH THE PROPHET IS ADDRESSING THE SUBJECT OF THE SIGNS THAT WILL MARK THE EMERGENCE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH. THIS WAS, IN APOCALYPTIC JEWISH THOUGHT, TO BE THE BIRTH OF THE MESSIANIC AGE. ISAIAH RESPONDED THAT THE WORLD WOULD RECOGNIZE THE IN-BREAKING OF THE KINGDOM IN THESE WAYS: WATER WOULD FLOW IN THE DESERT, THE CROCUSES WOULD BLOOM IN PLACES WHERE THEY HAD NEVER BLOOMED BEFORE AND HUMAN WHOLENESS WOULD APPEAR IN PLACES THAT HAD BEEN MARKED WITH HUMAN BROKENNESS.        THAT IS “THE BLIND WOULD SEE, THE DEAF WOULD HEAR, THE MUTE WOULD SHOUT AND THE LAME WOULD LEAP.”

FOR ISAIAH THESE WOULD BE THE SIGNS THAT WOULD SIGNAL THE MESSIAH’S ARRIVAL ON EARTH TO INAUGURATE THE “KINGDOM OF GOD.” IT IS QUITE CLEAR TO ME THAT THE MIRACLE STORIES IN THE GOSPELS ARE INTERPRETIVE SIGNS INSPIRED BY THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS RATHER THAN LITERAL EVENTS.

NAIN (TODAY THE LARGELY ARABIC TOWN OF NEIN) IS IN GALILEE ABOUT 14 KILOMETRES SOUTHWEST OF NAZARETH. WE ARE TOLD THAT A LARGE CROWD IS FOLLOWING JESUS BECAUSE THE WORD WAS SPREADING ABOUT THIS WORKER OF MIRACLES. AS JESUS AND HIS CROWD APPROACH THE TOWN A PROCESSION GOING OUT OF THE CITY MEETS THEM. A MAN OF THE TOWN HAS DIED AND VILLAGERS ARE ACCOMPANYING HIS MOTHER OUT TO THE CEMETERY FOR HIS BURIAL. WE ARE TOLD THAT HIS MOTHER IS A WIDOW AND HE WAS HER ONLY SON. THIS TELLS US MUCH ABOUT HER NOW PRECARIOUS STATUS BECAUSE WITHOUT EITHER A HUSBAND OR SON SHE WAS IN A DIFFICULT POSITION FINANCIALLY. SHE WOULD NOT HAVE A SOURCE OF INCOME. WE SHOULD ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT HER GRIEF IS RAW FOR ACCORDING TO JEWISH BURIAL LAWS SHE WOULD HAVE TO BURY HER SON WITHIN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS OF HIS DEATH. THAT TELLS US THAT HER SON HAD JUST DIED. SURROUNDED BY NEIGHBORS SHE IS WALKING IN PAIN AND SORROW. ONE CAN ONLY IMAGINE THE THOUGHTS THAT WERE RACING THROUGH HER HEAD — “WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ME? HOW WILL I SURVIVE WITHOUT MY SON?” SHE WAS WRAPPED IN THE FOG OF DESPAIR.

LUKE DEFINITELY WANTS HIS HEARERS TO RECALL THE STORIES OF ELIJAH AND ELISHA AS DESCRIBED IN 1 KINGS WHICH WE READ THIS MORNING. THE PROPHET ELIJAH HELPED A WIDOW AT ZAREPHATH. HE MEETS HER AT “THE GATE OF THE TOWN” – THE WOMAN’S SON FALLS ILL AND DIES. CRYING OUT TO GOD AND COVERING THE CHILD WITH HIS BODY THREE TIMES, ELIJAH RESUSCITATED THE BOY. LATER, ELIJAH’S PROTÉGÉ THE PROPHET ELISHA ALSO WAS ABLE TO RETURN A DEAD CHILD TO A WOMAN WHO SOUGHT HIS HELP. LIKE ELIJAH, HE LAY ON THE CHILD AND THE CHILD REVIVED. THESE STORIES TELL US, AS THE WIDOW OF ZAREPHATH DECLARED; “NOW I KNOW THAT YOU ARE A MAN OF GOD AND THAT THE WORD OF THE LORD IN YOUR MOUTH IS TRUTH”.

BUT UNLIKE THE PROPHETS WHO HAD TO TOUCH THE BOYS, THIS MAN JESUS WHOM LUKE IS PORTRAYING AS A FAR GREATER PROPHET NEED ONLY TOUCH THE BIER ON WHICH THE DEAD MAN LIES. HE DOES NOT CRY OUT TO GOD. RATHER, HE ONLY HAS TO TELL THE MAN TO RISE AND THE MAN SITS UP AND BEGINS TO SPEAK. ELIJAH “GAVE HIM TO HIS MOTHER” AND JESUS ALSO “GAVE HIM TO HIS MOTHER”. THEN LIKE THE WIDOW, THE CROWD WHO WITNESSED THIS RESUSCITATION DECLARED, “A GREAT PROPHET HAS RISEN AMONG US!” THE PARALLELS ARE PLAIN. HERE WE READ LUKE’S INSPIRATION.THE DEAD RETURN TO LIFE – THESE ARE SIGNS HELPING THE CROWDS, HELPING “MOST EXCELLENT THEOPHILUS”-HELPING US – TO UNDERSTAND WHO THIS MAN OF GOD – THIS JESUS – TRULY IS. THE ANCIENT PROPHETS DID AMAZING THINGS BUT JESUS EXCEEDS AND IS GREATER THAN THEM ALL – HE IS THE MESSIAH – THAT IS LUKE’S MESSAGE.

THIS IS A WONDERFUL STORY – BUT IT IS NOT EASY FOR US TO HEAR BECAUSE SO MANY OF US HAVE BEEN IN THE POSITION OF THE WIDOW. WE HAVE LOST PEOPLE WE DEARLY LOVE BUT THERE WAS NOT A PROPHET TO TOUCH THEIR BIER AND BRING THE DEAD BACK TO LIFE. THAT IS THE REALITY OF BEING HUMAN AND SELF-AWARE BEINGS LIVING IN A REAL WORLD.

WHAT WE ALL NEED TO REMEMBER HOWEVER IS THAT IT IS STILL POSSIBLE TO EXPERIENCE THE TOUCH OF CHRIST. NO – IT MAY NOT BE A PHYSICAL TOUCH – NO MORE THAN JESUS’ RESURRECTION WAS PHYSICAL – IT IS A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE. THOSE DISCIPLES OF OLD WHO EXPERIENCED THE RISEN CHRIST ATTEST TO THAT SO POSITIVELY.

I PRAY THAT YOU ALL MAY EXPERIENCE THAT GENTLE TOUCH OF THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST – MAYBE YOU WILL FEEL IT WITHIN YOUR DEEPEST BEING – MAYBE YOU WILL FEEL IT AS AN ARM AROUND YOUR SHOULDERS AND A HUG FROM A FRIEND – AS I DID THIS WEEK. AMEN.

SERMON 22ND MAY 2016 – TRINITY SUNDAY  – Romans 5:1-5

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 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.

TODAY THE CHURCH RECOGNISES AND CELEBRATES “TRINITY SUNDAY”. I PROPOSE THAT VERY FEW – IF ANY – PEOPLE OUTSIDE DEDICATED THEOLOGIANS HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THIS WORD “TRINITY” MEANS – NOR I MUST SAY – DO THEY CARE. HERE IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE CHURCH DOING ITS BEST TO ALIENATE PEOPLE OF THE 21ST CENTURY BY CLINGING TO FORMULAE AND TENETS OF THE 4TH.

WE CAN ASK, “WHERE DOES THIS TERM COME FROM AND WHAT IS IT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?” IT IS OBVIOUSLY AN ATTEMPT TO DESCRIBE AND DEFINE GOD. PROFESSOR FREDERICK BORSCH, OF THE PRINCETON UNIVERSITY DIVINITY SCHOOL SAID THE IDEA STEMMED FROM THE EARLY CHRISTIANS’ EXPERIENCE OF GOD RATHER THAN AN IDEA “THOUGHT UP BY IVORY-TOWER THEOLOGIANS WHO, TYPICALLY, WERE MAKING THINGS MORE COMPLICATED THAN THEY NEEDED TO BE…” – SO THE IDEA EMERGED FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD IN HUMAN LIVES AND MORPHED INTO AN ATTEMPT TO DESCRIBE THE WONDER BEHIND THEIR EXPERIENCE.

THE FIRST OF THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS RECORDED AS USING THE WORD “TRINITY” WAS THEOPHILUS OF ANTIOCH WRITING IN THE LATE 2ND CENTURY. HE DEFINED THE TRINITY AS – GOD – HIS WORD (LOGOS – MEANS WORD IN GREEK) AND HIS WISDOM (SOPHIA – WISDOM IN GREEK). WE READ ABOUT WISDOM IN OUR FIRST READING TODAY (PROVERBS 8). THIS TERM ‘TRINITY’ DID NOT TAKE DEFINITE SHAPE UNTIL THE 4TH CENTURY – SPECIFICALLY THE FIRST COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE IN 381. THE WHOLE IDEA PERHAPS STEMS FROM THE IMAGE OF JESUS’ BAPTISM IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW CHAPTER 28 WHICH SAID CHRISTIANS MUST BAPTISE “IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”.

BISHOP JACK SPONG HAS PRESENTED SOME VERY CLEAR IDEAS ABOUT THIS. WE FIRST HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THAT THE HOLY TRINITY IS NOT A DESCRIPTION OF GOD – WHICH IN ITSELF IS AN IMPOSSIBILITY – BUT A DESCRIPTION OF A HUMAN EXPERIENCE OF GOD. THE IDEA IS A PRODUCT OF DUALISTIC GREEK THINKING WHICH SEPARATED GOD FROM HUMANITY -THE HOLY FROM THE PROFANE – THE FLESH FROM THE SPIRIT – AND THE BODY FROM THE SOUL. THAT WAS A CULTURAL MINDSET AND NO ONE IN THAT ERA OF HISTORY KNEW HOW TO STEP OUTSIDE THAT FRAMEWORK. HOWEVER, THAT FRAME OF REFERENCE DIED IN THE PERIOD OF HISTORY WE CALL THE ENLIGHTENMENT, LEAVING MODERN CHRISTIANS WITH THE IMPOSSIBLE TASK OF FITTING A 4TH CENTURY DOCTRINE INTO A 21ST CENTURY WORLD-VIEW OUT OF WHICH IT DOES NOT COME AND TO WHICH IT CANNOT SPEAK.

THE TRINITARIAN LANGUAGE, WHICH WE USE AS WE TO SEEK TO RELATE THE TRINITARIAN EXPERIENCE IS SIMPLY IRRELEVANT. WHEN WE LOOK BEHIND THE TRINITARIAN VOCABULARY WE DISCOVER THAT WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO DO IS TO FIND WORDS THAT WILL MAKE SENSE OF THAT HUMAN ABILITY TO DISCOVER WHAT SPONG CALLS THE “BEYOND IN OUR MIDST.” WHAT WE CALL GOD IS BEYOND ANY IDEA THAT THE HUMAN MIND CAN DEVELOP. GOD IS THE ULTIMATE REALITY SOMETIMES DESCRIBED AS “THE GROUND OF ALL BEING” THAT THE HUMAN MIND CAN ONLY EVER PARTIALLY EMBRACE – AND SO WE REVERT TO THE USE OF SYMBOLS. THE TRINITARIAN WORD FOR THE ULTIMATE REALITY OF GOD IS, “FATHER”- THE SOURCE – THE ORIGINATOR OF ALL THAT IS. WE ALSO EXPERIENCE GOD AS THE ULTIMATE DEPTH OF LIFE-MEANING THAT IS DEEP WITHIN US.                                                                               THAT IS WHAT THE SYMBOL “HOLY SPIRIT” STANDS FOR. FINALLY, WE EXPERIENCE GOD COMING TO US FROM OTHER LIVES AND MOST ESPECIALLY THROUGH THE LIFE OF THE ONE WE CALL CHRIST. THAT IS WHAT THE SYMBOL “SON” STANDS FOR. SO, HOLY TRINITY IS AN ATTEMPT TO GIVE RATIONAL FORM TO OUR GOD EXPERIENCES. IT IS NOT A CREED TO BE BELIEVED SO MUCH AS IT IS AN EXPERIENCE TO BE EXPLORED. I CHALLENGE YOU TODAY TO THINK ABOUT BEGINNING THAT EXPLORATION.

THE BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH MAKING SENSE OUT OF A DOCTRINE LIKE THAT OF THE HOLY TRINITY IS THAT IT WAS FRAMED AGAINST A FOURTH CENTURY, GREEK-THINKING, DUALISTIC BACKGROUND. THAT IS NOT THE FRAME OF REFERENCE IN WHICH ANYONE THINKS TODAY. I CERTAINLY DO NOT THINK OF THE DIVINE AND THE HUMAN AS DISTINCT AND MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE CATEGORIES. I SEE THEM, RATHER, HOLISTICALLY AS IF ON A SCALE OR SPECTRUM. THE WAY INTO DIVINITY, I BELIEVE, IS TO ENTER THE POTENTIAL FULLNESS OF THE HUMAN. I DO NOT ENVISION GOD AS EXTERNAL TO MY WORLD. THE REALITY OF GOD FOR ME IS ALWAYS FOUND NOT OUTSIDE OF LIFE BUT WITHIN THE DEPTHS OF LIFE ITSELF. THE DIVINE IS THE FULLNESS – THE COMPLETENESS – OF THE HUMAN. WE CAN SPEAK OF THE HOLY ONLY FROM WITHIN THE EXPERIENCES OF THE HUMAN. SOMEDAY THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH WILL BE FORCED TO RETHINK ALL OF ITS THEOLOGICAL CONSTRUCTS IN TERMS OF OUR CONTEMPORARY WORLD VIEW. THE THEOLOGICAL CONSTUCTS OF ANTIQUITY – LIKE THE DOCTRINE OF THE HOLY TRINITY – WILL ALWAYS BE HONOURED AND RESPECTED – BUT THEIR WORDS WILL INEVITABLY IN TIME BECOME IRRELEVANT TO THE WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE – FOR THOSE WORDS WERE FORMED IN AN AGE THAT NO LONGER EXISTS. THE HOLY TRINITY IS A HUMAN ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN THE ETERNAL TRUTH OF GOD. THAT TASK WILL NEVER SUCCEED. TIME HAS A WAY OF MAKING ALL OF THE EXPLANATIONS OF ANTIQUITY SEEM UNCOUTH – QUAINT BUT NAÏVE. ANY CHURCH THAT LITERALIZES ITS EXPLANATIONS WILL BE A CHURCH THAT DIES WHEN THOSE EXPLANATIONS DIE.

THE IMPORTANT THING HERE IS TO GET SOME UNDERSTANDING OF THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD. NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO OF COURSE AND IF YOU DON’T – YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE MISSING. WE ALL ASPIRE TO BE THE BEST WE CAN BE – TO LIVE OUR LIVES TO THEIR FULL POTENTIAL. THAT EXPERIENCE IS WHAT IS BEING OFFERED BY THIS SPIRIT OF LIFE AND LOVE WE SIMPLY CALL GOD. SO SET ASIDE THE TEMPTATION TO DEFINE WHAT IS UNDEFINABLE AND LOOK FOR THE EXPERIENCE. YOU WILL FIND THAT REWARDING IN TERMS OF A NEW OUTLOOK ON LIFE – DEFINED BY THE WARMTH OF LOVE – FORGIVENESS AND PEACE. AMEN.

SERMON 15TH MAY 2016 PENTECOST

JOHN 14:8-27

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

TODAY THE CHURCH CELEBRATES WHAT IS KNOWN AS “PENTECOST” – IN THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION THE TIME WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT BECAME MANIFEST TO THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS AND WHEN THE SUBSEQUENT PREACHING OF PETER CONVERTED MANY PEOPLE TO THE NEW JEWISH SECT CALLED “THE WAY” OF JESUS OF NAZARETH.

THE WORD LITERALLY MEANS “FIFTIETH”. IT IS A JEWISH FESTIVAL AND IS KNOWN AS “THE FEAST OF HARVEST” OR “THE DAY OF FIRSTFRUITS”. WITHIN JUDAISM IT CELEBRATES THE COMPLETION OF THE GRAIN HARVEST AND OCCURS AFTER SEVEN WEEKS FROM THE SECOND DAY OF THE PASSOVER FESTIVAL – THAT’S 49 DAYS – SO ON THE 50TH DAY THE FESTIVAL IS CELEBRATED – HENCE “PENTECOST”.

WE NEED TO GO BACK TO THE BOOK OF EXODUS TO GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THE MEANING HOWEVER. ACCORDING TO ONE ANCIENT TRADITION IT WAS ON THE 50TH DAY AFTER LEAVING EGYPT THAT GOD APPEARED TO MOSES ON MOUNT SINIA TO HAND DOWN THE TEN COMMANDMENTS THUS ESTABLISHING THE LAW –                                                                                                   AND THUS ESTABLISHING THE JEWISH PEOPLE AS A SINGULAR NATION. SO AS THE APPEARANCE OF GOD ON SINAI WAS THE BIRTHDAY OF THE JEWISH NATION SO WAS THE DAY OF PENTACOST LATER CONSIDERED THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. THERE IS SOME DEBATE ABOUT THE ANCIENT AUTHENTICITY OF THIS AS SOME SCHOLARS THINK THE IDEA ENTERED THE JEWISH TRADITION IN LATER TIMES – BUT I STILL THINK IT IS AN INTERESTING IDEA AND POSSIBLY EXPLAINS ITS PLACE IN LUKE’S STORY OF THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.

IN JOHN’S GOSPEL STORY JESUS PROMISES TO BE PRESENT WITH THE DISCIPLES IN A DIFFERENT WAY: “I WILL ASK THE FATHER, AND HE WILL GIVE YOU ANOTHER ADVOCATE, TO BE WITH YOU FOREVER.” BUT JOHN’S MEANING IS THAT FOREVER WASN’T TO BE POSTPONED TO A TIME AFTER DEATH; FOREVER INCLUDED LIFE ON THIS EARTH. THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, THE ADVOCATE WILL COME HERE IN THIS LIFE. JESUS’ PRESENCE WILL BE DEEPER THAN MEMORY AND CLOSER THAN HEAVEN. JESUS WILL FOREVER BE A VITAL LIVING PART OF THIS PHYSICAL BODY-LIFE, THIS EARTHINESS WHICH SOME PEOPLE WOULD TELL US TO DISCOUNT – EVEN DISDAIN. FAR FROM DISCOUNTING OR HOLDING OUR PHYSICAL EXISTENCE IN DISTAIN WE ARE MEANT TO TREASURE IT – HONOUR IT – AND LIVE THIS LIFE AS WE WERE INTENDED TO LIVE IT – TO THE FULL.  WE ARE WORTHY! THAT’S THE UNDERLYING MESSAGE HERE.

THOUGH THIS PROMISE IS PERSONAL, IT IS PRIMARILY COMMUNAL. THESE WORDS ARE JESUS’ LAST WORDS TO THE COMMUNITY OF DISCIPLES THAT WOULD LATER BECOME THE CHURCH – AND WAS INDEED THE CHURCH IN JOHN’S TIME. IN HIS BOOK COSTLY DISCIPLESHIP, DIETRICH BONHOEFFER WROTE ABOUT CHRIST’S BODY, THE CHURCH: “THE BODY OF CHRIST TAKES UP SPACE ON THE EARTH,” HE SAID – JUST AS BUILDINGS TAKE UP SPACE, ALSO CARS, DIRT, FLOWERS, ROCKS AND PEOPLE. THEN BONHOEFFER WENT ON,    “A TRUTH, A DOCTRINE, OR A RELIGION NEED NO SPACE FOR THEMSELVES. THEY ARE DISEMBODIED ENTITIES … THAT IS ALL. BUT THE INCARNATE CHRIST NEEDS NOT ONLY EARS OR HEARTS, BUT LIVING PEOPLE WHO WILL FOLLOW HIM.” THE BODY OF CHRIST TAKES UP SPACE ON THE EARTH – IT IS PHYSICAL.

AS I HAVE SAID PENTECOST IS OFTEN CALLED “THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHURCH.” BUT THOSE OF US WHO ARE PART OF THE CHURCH KNOW WE ARE NOT WHAT JESUS CALLED US TO BE. WE SPEND TOO MUCH AND SHARE TOO LITTLE; WE JUDGE TOO MANY AND LOVE TOO FEW; WE WAIT TOO LONG AND ACT TOO LATE. WE’VE HEARD PEOPLE SAY, “SHOW ME A CHURCH WHERE PEOPLE AREN’T SELF-SERVING, WHERE THERE IS NO HYPOCRISY – WHERE LOVE IS GENUINE – AND I’LL BECOME A MEMBER.” THEY’LL WAIT A LONG TIME, FOR I DON’T BELIEVE SUCH A CHURCH EXISTS. BECAUSE THE CHURCH IS NOT SOME AIRY – FAIRY SPIRITUAL ENTITY BUT IS COMPRISED OF HUMANS WITH ALL OUR FAULTS AND FOIBLES IT WILL ALWAYS CONTINUE TO BE IMPERFECT DESPITE OUR BEST INTENTIONS.

THIS IS PENTECOST IN JOHN’S GOSPEL. THE BODY OF CHRIST MUST CLAIM SPACE ON THE EARTH AND IT IS NOT ALONE. BUT WE WHO DANCE AND CLIMB, WHO RUN AND GET KNOCKED DOWN – WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAT ARE NOT ALONE.

THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, THE ADVOCATE COMES – SOMETIMES SURPRISING US. REMEMBER JESUS’ WORDS AS WRITTEN BY JOHN – “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “WHAT A PROMISE – THE SPIRIT WILL BE WITH US FOREVER – AS LONG AS WE LIVE – NOT JUST FOR A TIME NOW AND THEN AND NOT AT SOME TIME IN THE FUTURE – BUT NOW.

SO JUST WHERE DO WE FIND THIS SPIRIT? – WITHIN US – WITHIN OUR INNERMOST BEING AND MIND – THAT WAS JOHN’S EXPERIENCE AND IT CAN BE OURS. IT IS THE SAME SPIRIT OF GOD THAT PERMEATES THE UNIVERSE AND MANIFESTS ITSELF TO WE HUMANS IN THE FORM OF LOVE AND DEEP PEACE. A SPECTACULAR IMAGE OF FIRE AND WIND MIGHT BE DRAMATIC AND EXCITING BUT IF WE ONLY LOOK OUT FOR THE DRAMATIC AND EXCITING WE MIGHT WELL MISS THE SPIRIT’S PRESENCE.

A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS THE MOST INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WE CAN KNOW. ALSO CALLED THE “PARACLETE’ – FROM THE GREEK “PARACLETOS” – ONE WHO IS CALLED TO BE BESIDE – THE SPIRIT OF GOD – THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST – IS ALWAYS RIGHT ALONGSIDE US – WHEN WE ARE JOYOUS AND WHEN WE ARE SUFFERING – BUT ESPECIALLY WHEN WE ARE SUFFERING. WE ONLY NEED TO STOP – PAUSE IN OUR HEADLONG RUSH – BE STILL AND SO FEEL THE SPIRIT’S PRESENCE RIGHT THERE ALONGSIDE US – ACTUALLY WITHIN US – A VERY PART OF US.  NO TONGUES OF FIRE – NO RUSHING WIND – JUST THE QUIET REASSURANCE OF A CALMING PRESENCE DEEP WITHIN US – THE WARMTH OF LOVE. AMEN.

 

 

1ST MAY 2016 – EASTER 6 John 14:23-29

23 Jesus answered him [JUDAS – NOT ISCARIOT], “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

AS THIS IS STILL THE EASTER SEASON WE NEED TO CONTINUE TO DISCUSS RESURRECTION AS PORTRAYED IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN. PREVIOUSLY I HAVE SUGGESTED THAT RESURRECTION IS SAFETY – AND RESURRECTION IS LOVE. TODAY LET’S THINK OF RESURRECTION AS – COMPANIONSHIP. WHY COMPANIONSHIP? THE GOSPEL READING FROM JOHN IS ONE OF THE MAJOR PASSAGES WHERE THE PARACLETE IS INTRODUCED — THE ONE WHO IS CALLED TO BE BY YOUR SIDE. THE DISCIPLES WILL NOT BE LEFT ALONE OR BE LEFT ORPHANED. THE ONE – THAT’S JESUS – WHO WALKS ALONGSIDE THEM NOW WILL STILL BE KNOWN IN THE PARACLETE WHICH WILL BE BREATHED INTO THEM BY THE RESURRECTED CHRIST (JOHN 20:22). THE PRIMARY REASON FOR THE GIFT OF THE SPIRIT IS SO THAT THE DISCIPLES MIGHT EXPERIENCE THE CONTINUING PRESENCE OF JESUS – AND ONE EXTRAORDINARY GIFT OF THE INCARNATION IS KNOWING A KIND OF COMPANIONSHIP FOR WHICH WE ALL LONG AND DESPERATELY NEED.

THE READINGS FROM REVELATION AND FROM ACTS MIGHT ALSO POINT TO THE THEME OF COMPANIONSHIP: “AND THERE WILL BE NO MORE NIGHT; THEY NEED NO LIGHT OF LAMP OR SUN, FOR THE LORD GOD WILL BE THEIR LIGHT, AND THEY WILL REIGN FOREVER AND EVER” (REVELATION 22:5).” AND, “COME AND STAY AT MY HOME,” SAYS LYDIA (ACTS 16:15). I THINK THAT A CHARACTERISTIC OF LIVING A RESURRECTION LIFE IS THE NEED FOR AND THE INVITATION TO COMPANIONSHIP. ONE TRUTH OF THE RESURRECTION IS THAT COMPANIONSHIP IS SECURED.

THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS PROMISES LIFELONG COMPANIONSHIP WITH JESUS AND WITH GOD. RESURRECTION IS THAT WHICH SECURES COMPANIONSHIP WHEN ONLY ISOLATION AND SEPARATION SEEMED THE LIKELY RESULT. WHAT DIFFERENCE MIGHT THIS MAKE FOR WHAT DIFFERENCE THE RESURRECTION MAKES? I WONDER TO WHAT EXTENT OUR FEAR OF DEATH IS NOT A FEAR OF TOMBS OR GRAVES OR URNS BUT THAT THERE JUST MIGHT BE SOME CONSCIOUSNESS OF BEING ALONE. NOTICE THAT SO MUCH OF OUR RESURRECTION IMAGINATION IS REUNION – THAT WE WILL BE WITH OUR LOVED ONES AGAIN. WE ARE NOT MEANT TO LIVE COMPANIONLESS -YET SO MANY OF US DO.

IN JOHN IT IS THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE ADVOCATE OR PARACLETE (THE GREEK WORD PARACLÊTOS SIGNIFIES “CALLED ALONG BESIDE”), THAT JESUS WILL CONTINUE TO BE PRESENT WITH HIS DISCIPLES – THAT THE FATHER WILL SEND THE HOLY SPIRIT TO BE ALONGSIDE HIS DISCIPLES – TO TEACH THEM AND REMIND THEM OF ALL THAT JESUS HAS SAID TO THEM (VERSE 26). IF WE FOLLOW FOR A MOMENT THE LATER THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY IT IS OBVIOUS THAT THIS PARACLETE – THIS ONE CALLED TO BE ALONGSIDE OF US – THIS HOLY SPIRIT – IS IN FACT THE VERY SPIRIT OF CHRIST.  THAT BEING THE CASE – THE PROMISE IN THE WORDS “I AM GOING AWAY AND I AM COMING TO YOU” – HAS ALREADY HAPPENED – JESUS HAS COME AGAIN – IN SPIRIT – AS PAUL FOUND OUT ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS AND THE DISCIPLES FOUND OUT IN LUKE’S STORY OF PENTACOST.

COMPANIONSHIP – I’VE SAID IT BEFORE BUT I CAN SAY IT AGAIN – THE VERY WORD ‘COMPANION’ IS MADE UP OF TWO – “COM” TOGETHER – AND “PANE” BREAD. THAT IS ONE WITH WHOM YOU BREAK BREAD – SIT DOWN AND EAT TOGETHER. SHARING THE MOST BASIC HUMAN ACTIVITY – EATING. FOLLOWING ON FROM THAT – ACCORDING TO THE DICTIONARY – COMPANIONSHIP IS “THE GOOD FEELING THAT COMES FROM BEING WITH SOMEONE ELSE.”-  OR – COMPANIONSHIP IS WHEN YOU FEEL A SENSE OF CLOSENESS BEING WITH ANOTHER PERSON.           THIS CRITERION IS WORTH SOME REFLECTION. I’D LIKE TO THINK THAT THE GOOD FEELING JOHN’S JESUS HAS IN MIND HAS TO DO WITH THE REASON FOR THE INCARNATION IN THE FIRST PLACE. I SENSE THAT MANY OF US THINK WE HAVE COMPANIONS. BUT HAVING SOMEONE TO DO THINGS WITH IS NOT THE SAME AS EXPERIENCING A GOOD FEELING FROM BEING WITH THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE.

I DIDN’T KNOW TOO MUCH ABOUT THE LATE MUSICIAN PRINCE BUT HE WROTE A SONG THAT INCLUDED THESE WORDS – “DEARLY BELOVED, WE ARE GATHERED HERE TODAY TO GET THROUGH THIS THING CALLED LIFE.” AND THAT’S ONE REASON FOR COMPANIONSHIP. ESPECIALLY FOR HUMANS GETTING THROUGH LIFE IS NO SMALL TASK. AND TRUE COMPANIONSHIP IS A KIND OF ACCOMPANIMENT THAT HELPS US LIVE WITH A RESURRECTION PERSPECTIVE. EVEN WAY BACK IN THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE GENESIS CREATION MYTH IT SAYS “THEN THE LORD GOD SAID, “IT IS NOT GOOD THAT THE MAN SHOULD BE ALONE; I WILL MAKE HIM A HELPER FIT FOR HIM.” MOST OF US HAVE A DEEPSEATED NEED TO BE IN COMPANY – THAT WORD AGAIN – IN COMPANIONSHIP.

ANTONYMS FOR COMPANIONSHIP INCLUDE DISCORD, DIVORCE, HOSTILITY, SEPARATION, ANTAGONISM, STRANGENESS. I SUSPECT THAT MANY OF US KNOW THESE FEELINGS BETTER THAN WE KNOW THE TRUE FRIENDSHIP AND ACCOMPANIMENT OF COMPANIONSHIP. ARE WE  AS A COMPANY OF CHRISTIANS REPRESENTATIVES FOR AND EMBODIMENTS OF THIS KIND OF COMPANIONSHIP? BECAUSE JESUS SEEMS TO SUGGEST THAT PART OF WHAT THE RESURRECTION MEANS IS THE KIND OF COMPANIONSHIP THAT IS REAL. THAT WILL NOT GO AWAY.

THERE IS AN OLD AFRICAN PROVERB THAT READS – “IF YOU WANT TO GO QUICKLY, GO ALONE. IF YOU WANT TO GO FAR, GO TOGETHER”. THE NEED FOR COMPANIONSHIP IS AS BASIC, PERHAPS, AS THE NEED FOR THAT WHICH KEEPS US ALIVE. THAT IS, IN PART, JOHN’S POINT. THE RESURRECTION PROMISES FUTURE COMPANIONSHIP FOR US — WITH GOD, WITH JESUS, WITH EACH OTHER.               BUT IF IT IS TRUE WHAT PAUL WROTE IN 2 CORINTHIANS 5 – THAT GOD WAS IN CHRIST RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF – THE COMPANIONSHIP THAT IS PROMISED IN RESURRECTION HAS TO BE KNOWN HERE AND NOW.

DELAYED COMPANIONSHIP DOES LITTLE TO MAKE ITSELF KNOWN – YET I WONDER HOW MANY OF US ARE SATISFIED WITH COMPANIONSHIP THAT WE THINK MIGHT COME IN OUR FUTURE  – THAT ‘PIE IN THE SKY’ THAT IS SO OFTEN HELD OUT TO PEOPLE IN DIRE NEED BY EVANGELICAL PREACHERS WHILST KNOWING FULL WELL IT IS NOT AN EXPERIENCE IN OUR PRESENT. TRUE COMPANIONSHIP IS HARD TO FIND. WHERE WE HOPE FOR IT, IT FAILS US. WHERE WE TRUSTED IN IT, IT DESERTS US. WHERE WE COUNT ON IT, IT LEAVES US. BUT THE TRUTH OF THE RESURRECTION? THE COMPANIONSHIP OF GOD AS FOUND IN THE SPIRIT AND DISCOVERED THROUGH US AS CHRIST’S COMPANIONS IS FOR LIFE – THIS LIFE.  WHAT IS THE RESULT OF BEING A PART OF THIS COMPANIONSHIP? PEACE – BUT NOT JUST ANY PEACE. WE ARE PROMISED THE PEACE OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD – VERSE 27 – “PEACE I LEAVE WITH YOU; MY PEACE I GIVE TO YOU. I DO NOT GIVE TO YOU AS THE WORLD GIVES. DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED, AND DO NOT LET THEM BE AFRAID.” SURELY WE COULD NOT RECEIVE A MORE PERTINENT MESSAGE FOR THE TIMES IN WHICH WE LIVE. AMEN.

SERMON EASTER 4 – April 17th 2016

John 10:22-30

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

THE TIME OF CELEBRATION OF THE JEWISH FESTIVAL OF THE DEDICATION – ALSO CALLED THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS OR HANUKKAH VARIES SLIGHTLY FROM YEAR TO YEAR MUCH LIKE THE CHRISTIAN EASTER BUT WILL BE HELD THIS YEAR FROM SUNSET ON OUR CHRISTMAS EVE UNTIL SUNSET ON NEW YEARS DAY 2017. THESE EIGHT DAYS OF HANUKKAH ARE A CELEBRATION TO REMEMBER THE REDEDICATION OF THE TEMPLE FOLLOWING THE DEFEAT BY THE MACCABEES OF THE TYRANT ANTIOCHUS 4 EPIPHANES IN ABOUT 160 B.C.E. THE RESULTANT JUDEAN SOVEREIGNTY LASTED UNTIL THE ROMANS INVADED IN 63 B.C.E. SO JOHN PLACES THIS STORY IN THE CORRECT TIME – IT IS WINTER.

TWO ASPECTS OF THIS MORNING’S READING STAND OUT FOR ME. FIRST “THE JEWS GATHERED AROUND HIM…” AND “…THEY [MY FOLLOWERS] WILL NEVER PERISH. NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND”.

FIRST – IT IS NOT DIFFICULT TO GET A MENTAL PICTURE OF JESUS BEING SURROUNDED BY A GROUP OF MEN – ALL QUITE EXCITED BUT HOLDING DIFFERING OPINIONS ABOUT WHAT HE HAS BEEN SAYING – ALL SPEAKING AT ONCE – PRESSING IN AGAINST HIM PERHAPS. “HOW LONG WILL YOU KEEP US IN SUSPENSE?” THEY CRY. EACH ONE IS TRYING TO GAIN HIS ATTENTION – EACH ONE WITH HIS OWN OPINION AND EACH ONE HOLDING A DIFFERING IDEA OF HIS MESSAGE – WHAT’S NEW?

THERE ARE ALSO MANY VOICES CLAMOURING FOR OUR ATTENTION TODAY – EACH ONE WITH A DIFFERING POINT OF VIEW – BUT EACH ONE CONVINCED THAT THEIR IDEAS ARE THE RIGHT ONES AND THE ONLY WAY TO UNDERSTAND THE MESSAGE THAT JESUS HAS BEEN OFFERING. THIS LAST WEEK I HAD A MEETING WITH A YOUNG MAN FROM THE AUSTRALIAN FEDERATION OF EVANGELICAL STUDENTS AT THE UNI SA CAMPUS ON ST BERNARD’S ROAD MAGILL. WHEN WE WERE WAITING FOR THE LIGHTS TO CROSS THE ROAD I NOTICED FOUR PEOPLE – TWO STANDING AT THE LIGHTS ON EACH SIDE OF THE ROAD AND WITH STANDS CONTAINING VARIOUS PIECES OF LITERATURE. THEY WERE JEHOVAH WITNESSES WAITING TO SPEAK TO ANYONE CROSSING THE ROAD AT THE UNIVERSITY. THEY WERE OBVIOUSLY CONVINCED OF THEIR FAITH AND WERE DESPERATE TO SHARE IT WITH ANYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN. AS I WAS DRESSED IN CLERICAL COLLAR WE WERE NOT APPROACHED BUT OTHERS WERE BEING ASKED TO STOP AND ACCEPT THEIR LITERATURE AND ENTER INTO A DISCUSSION IF POSSIBLE. I THOUGHT, HOW MANY PEOPLE CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR GOD? THERE ARE MANY VOICES THAT WANT TO TELL US HOW TO GROW CLOSER TO GOD AND WHO SEEK TO CONVINCE US: BY HAVING A PRESCRIBED RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE – BY BELIEVING THE CORRECT [FOR THEM]DOCTRINE – BY REACHING A HIGHER LEVEL OF KNOWLEDGE OR A HIGHER LEVEL OF MORALITY. OF COURSE ON THE OTHER HAND WE HAVE THE EXAMPLE OF RADICAL ISLAM, RADICAL ZIONIST JUDAISM AND RADICAL CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANITY WHO ARE ALL HAPPY TO RESORT TO VIOLENCE WHEN THEY FEAR THEIR MESSAGE IS BEING IGNORED OR WORSE REJECTED.

BY CONTRAST, THE GOOD SHEPHERD TELLS US THAT EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON BELONGING TO HIM. UNDERSTAND THAT NEVER DOES OUR STATUS BEFORE GOD DEPEND ON HOW WE FEEL – ON HAVING THE RIGHT EXPERIENCE – NEVER IS IT ABOUT BEING FREE OF DOUBT – OR ON WHAT WE ACCOMPLISH. IT DEPENDS ON ONE THING ONLY: THAT WE ARE KNOWN BY THE SHEPHERD -[VERSE 28] “MY SHEEP HEAR MY VOICE. I KNOW THEM, AND THEY FOLLOW ME.”

THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD IS A VOICE THAT LIBERATES RATHER THAN OPPRESSES. IT DOES NOT SAY, “YOU MUST DO THIS, AND THEN MAYBE YOU WILL BE GOOD ENOUGH TO BE ONE OF MY SHEEP.” IT SAYS, “YOU BELONG TO ME ALREADY – NO ONE CAN SNATCH YOU OUT OF MY HAND.” SECURE IN THIS BELONGING, WE ARE FREE TO LIVE THE ABUNDANT AND FULLY SATISFYING LIFE OF WHICH JESUS SPOKE EARLIER IN THE CHAPTER – IN VERSE 10: “I CAME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY”.

THE ABUNDANT LIFE OF WHICH JESUS SPEAKS IS NOT NECESSARILY ABOUT ABUNDANCE IN YEARS – OR WEALTH – OR STATUS – OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS. IT IS LIFE THAT IS ABUNDANT IN THE LOVE OF GOD AS MADE KNOWN IN JESUS – THE LOVE THAT OVERFLOWS TO OTHERS. IT IS ETERNAL LIFE BECAUSE ITS SOURCE IS IN GOD WHO IS ETERNAL – AND IN JESUS, WHO IS THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE – AND IT IS HERE AND NOW – NOT SOME PIE IN THE SKY PROMISE FOR AN UNKNOWN BUT HOPEFUL FUTURE. AMIDST ALL THE OTHER VOICES THAT EVOKE FEAR, MAKE DEMANDS, OR GIVE ADVICE, THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD IS THAT STILL SMALL VOICE OF PROMISE — THE VOICE THAT CALLS US BY NAME AND CLAIMS US AS GOD’S OWN.

MY SECOND POINT – “MY FOLLOWERS WILL NEVER PERISH – NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND”. THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS THAT WE ALL NEED TO KNOW. JESUS AS GOOD SHEPHERD PROMISES PROTECTION – THAT WE DO NOT TRAVEL THE VALLEYS OF DEATH AND DEPRESSION AND DESPAIR ALONE – THAT THE SHEPHERD REALLY DOES PROTECT HIS SHEEP. NO ONE WILL SNATCH YOU AWAY – NO ONE – NO THING – AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST YOU CAN FEEL SAFE.

SAFETY IS ESSENTIAL – ON SO MANY LEVELS. PROFESSIONAL, PERSONAL, SPIRITUAL. I ASK YOU – WITH WHOM DO YOU FEEL TRULY SAFE? LITERALLY SAFE – SAFE WITH WHO YOU ARE – WHO YOU WANT TO BE – SAFE WITH YOUR CONCERNS AND YOUR GRIEF AND YOUR SORROW – SAFE WITH YOUR CELEBRATIONS AND JOYS AND DREAMS – SAFE WITH YOU ASPIRATIONS AND HOPES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS – SAFE WITH YOUR FEARS AND YOUR BODY AND YOUR MIND –  SAFE WITH YOUR THOUGHTS AND YOUR CONCERNS AND YOUR NEEDS.

IN THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF THE RESURRECTED CHRIST IS FOUND SAFETY – SAFETY FROM GRIEF THAT COULD OVERWHELM HOPE – SAFETY FROM ANGUISH THAT COULD CRUSH YOUR SPIRIT AND LONELINESS THAT CAN ISOLATE YOUR SOUL.

RESURRECTION IS SAFETY BECAUSE THE SPIRIT OF LOVE SEES TO IT THAT OUR DEEPEST NEEDS ARE FULFILLED. THERE IS NO SAFETY WHEN YOUR BASIC SENSE OF WHAT YOU EXPECT FROM LIFE – INCLUDING BEING SAFE – IS NOT MET. JOHN’S MESSAGE IS THAT RESURRECTION IS SAFETY BECAUSE THE SHEPHERD IS TOTALLY COMMITTED TO THE WELL-BEING OF THE SHEEP. WHO IS COMMITTED TO THE WELL-BEING OF YOU? RESURRECTION IS SAFETY BECAUSE THE SHEPHERD KNOWS HIS SHEEP INTIMATELY.

THE EMPTY TOMB IS A PROMISE OF PROTECTION – NOT FROM THE TRUTHS AND REALITIES OF LIFE – BUT FOR THE SAKE OF THE TRUTH INHERENT WITHIN YOUR LIFE. I ASK – WHAT IS THAT TRUTH?

THAT TRUTH WHICH WE FIND IN THE DEEPEST RECESSES OF OUR BEING IS THAT YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE – ACCEPT THAT. ALSO THAT GOD LOVES WHO YOU ARE AND NEEDS YOU TO BE WHO YOU ARE – IN EVERY MOMENT OF CONFIDENCE AND IN EVERY MOMENT OF SELF-DOUBT. THAT YOU ARE INDEED – A SHEEP IN JESUS’ FOLD AND THAT NOTHING – NO ONE – NO THING – NO CHURCH – NO INSTITUTION – NO HUMAN IDEOLOGY – CAN CHANGE THAT – EVER. POWERFUL WORDS OF COMFORT AREN’T THEY? AMEN.

Norton Summit