Listen to Live

Sermon, Pentecost 17B, Sunday September 16, 2018, St Petri

Proverbs 1:20-33

20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square;

21 on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:

22 ‘How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?

How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?

23 Repent at my rebuke!

Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,

   I will make known to you my teachings.

24 But since you refuse to listen when I call

and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,

25 since you disregard all my advice  and do not accept my rebuke,

26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;

I will mock when calamity overtakes you –

27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,

when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,

when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

28 ‘Then they will call to me but I will not answer;

they will look for me but will not find me,

29 since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.

30 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke,

31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.

32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,

and the complacency of fools will destroy them;

33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.’

Everybody wants a good life. No one wants to make mistakes that cause more pain or put their name, wealth, farm, house, business or family in peril. We all want to avoid bad relationships, the shame of stinging criticism, the embarrassment of getting it wrong. We all want to live in a free and fair community.

What is most important in living this life we long for when anything we fear can and will probably happen at some stage.

It is the view of the bible that it is our listening that determines our living: What and who we listen to determines our life’s direction, fulfillment and contribution more than anything else.

This is particularly the case in one of the three general literature types in the Bible; “The Writings”, or “wisdom literature”.

The Hebrew Bible is split into three great categories of writing; The law (Torah), The Prophets (Nephiliim) and the Writing (Kethubiim).

The law (Torah) is the Pentateuch; the first 5 books about creation and Exodus from slavery and Moses in the desert. Then comes the Prophets from Samuel the first prophet and king maker right through the Malachi 400 years before Jesus. Then there is the Writings – Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs; probably the writing we most associate with wisdom.

The proverbs come from Solomon and they are all about listening. They came from a listening heart, for which Solomon asked the Lord. He prayed,

” …..give your servant a listening heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. (1 Kings 3:8).

The Lord did this. Today we hear how Solomon’s wisdom words begin;

 Sophia or Lady Wisdom goes down to the central markets of the city and stands atop a counter with a microphone and calls out to anyone who will hear.

22 ‘How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?

    How long will mockers delight in mockery

    and fools hate knowledge?

23 Repent at my rebuke!

    Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,

    I will make known to you my teachings.

 

She challenges the hearers to listen to her thoughts and teachings – her words.

Listening to her words are the difference between experiencing self-destructive foolishness and life-giving wisdom of God.

You will only listen to Lady Wisdom if you honour and acknowledge the source of Lady Wisdom’s wisdom! It is the ‘fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). Wisdom begins with the acknowledgment , respect and honouring of the Lord God.

God’s wisdom for living is so much more than mere information (we have plenty of that). Neither is wisdom a program – a set of simple steps to take, or even merely a ‘proven’ formula for success. At its heart is not more research, clear values and will to do them.

But God offers his wisdom for living in speaking words; speaking words together, listening to words together; words in song, in art, in prayers.

God’s wisdom only comes in the school of hard knocks – the school of experiences – but not just your own experience, but experiences shared, talked about sung about pained, reflected in verse in lyric…..

And this wisdom on offer from God is instilled by God in you only as you engage with it and wrestle with it. Wisdom is hard won. It does not come easy or all at once by following a few rules or keeping some values. Wisdom does not come from swatting up on 10 Proverbs. Wisdom can only come when you listen to one speaking into your actual experience in the moment.

EG. If you have never heard a leaky roof dripping all night and keeping you awake or if you have not actually got a partner or been around children at all, there is no way you would know what to do with this proverb:

A foolish child is a father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome partner is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof. (Proverbs 19:13)

Once you simply receive God’s word with a great respect and trust him as he  speaks into your day in the rough and tumble experiences, Lady Wisdom’s teaching becomes many things;

  • Wisdom is a peacemaker – the most valuable life-giving thing we could acquire. (3:13-20)
  • Wisdom is actually governed by the Lord as he governs the whole universe and all of our experiences (3:13-20)
  • Wisdom’s purpose in revealing herself in experience is to help people trust in the Lord in all their life (22:19).
  • Wisdom guides good government and leadership (8:12-31). This is why we pray for the fit of God’s wisdom for those who govern – whether they acknowledge him or not – they need the Lord’s wisdom!

The opposite of wisdom is foolishness. Wisdom gives life but foolishness is the destruction of life. Foolishness is by nature destructive of self and others. Living life without the acknowledgement and listening to the Word of the Lord in your day; letting his word shape your experiences, is actually quite suicidal in nature;

 Hear, my child, your father’s instruction,
and don’t forsake your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head….
My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent.

……their feet run to evil,….they set an ambush for their own lives.
 Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
it takes away the life of its possessors.
(Proverbs 1:8-19)

Friends, it is our listening that determines our destiny more than our intellect, our wealth, our peers, our control, our dreams and visions for ourselves or the world.

But here is what I find so good this morning.

I’ll ask a question: Where does Lady Wisdom do her calling?

Lady Wisdom does not do her calling and speaking in some special holy club or some little room or some inner circle of the especially wise! Lady Wisdom does her calling and teaching at the Central Market place – in the public square, at the local pub, in the local institute, the tourist hub, the crowded Adelaide Oval, the busy hospital.

And who is in this public space? The Foolish! Wisdom invites fools to know the wisdom of the Lord. Only the foolish are invited to the banquet that gives life and understanding and makes for wisdom.

In that parable Jesus told about the wedding banquet, those who believed themselves to be wise didn’t bother coming when invited. Only those who were not wise ended up feasting in joy!

That is good news for fools like me!

And even better news…… Nowhere does Lady Wisdom give God’s wisdom for life, future, marriage, family, work, love, health and real peace than in a person – a living, breathing real person of history.

Lady Wisdom only gives up her richest and fullest meaning when she is heard in light of Jesus of Nazareth.

He dazzled his listeners with his wisdom).

“….and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked (Matthew 13:54)

He claimed to be the new Solomon with ultimate wisdom.

“….and now something greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31).

Lady Wisdom that is said to have created the world (Prov 8:22-31) is finally revealed to be Jesus, the Word of God, with whom God created all things;

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made… (John 1:1-4).

Paul actually can name Jesus very Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24, 30). Jesus Christ crucified and risen is the person in whom all God’s wisdom is hidden;

“….namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. (Colossians 2:3).

This Jesus calls fools. This Jesus uses what seems foolish (his cross) to shame those who think they are wise enough already so that they and we ship of fools can find that the Lord is good and true in all aspects of our life, and so we know our wisdom is in him, not ourselves and he gets all the glory for all wisdom we live.

It is the listening that determines your living more than anything else.

We listen to live.

A few crumbs

Sermon, Sunday September 9, 2018 Pentecost 16B, St Petri

Mark 7:24-37

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a  Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

 27 ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’

28 ‘Lord,’ she replied, ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’

29 Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

 31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[b32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spat and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’(which means ‘Be opened!’). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosed and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’

Every time come across this strange encounter between Jesus and a very persistent gentile mum desperate for some real help for her suffering daughter the seeming rudeness of the words Jesus says to this mum catch my ear.

He calls her, her sick daughter, and all those gentiles like her who are not the chosen few Jewish people, “little dogs”.

She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

Jesus says, ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’

This seems so harsh. What is this uncharacteristic rudeness? Is it rudeness at all? If Jesus refuses this desperate mother, does he or will he refuse me? Will he lump me in with all the other bad people of whatever group or name and write me off too?

Some context might help…..

Jesus is in Tyre. That is a long way away from his home place in kilometres and culture. He is alone. He is looking for some space. He wants to be incognito.

He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it…

He is like some hounded politician or movie star facing the unwanted assault of the paparazzi.

But there will be no space even way up here. Somehow this mum manages to find him. That would be like you having a coffee break at the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta only to for your next door neighbour to walk in!

The conversation is short and sharp. Is Jesus just caught with his compassion down here? Is he really human? Is he just like us when we are tired and alone and in need of R&R?

Nowhere else does he refuse a direct request to heal someone. Nowhere else does he respond to a seeking person with a bald insult like this, calling her and her sick daughter “dogs.”

Why the name? Are they “dogs” because they are wealthy, or because the Syrians and Phoenicians had historically not been Israel’s nicest neighbours? Is he lumping the mother and daughter together with other Tyrians who had recently oppressed the local Jewish population?

Although Jesus’ motives are not clear, his intent seems very clear. He refuses the request for help.

We have to make a decision about this harsh and uncharacteristic word from Jesus today. Is the woman passing a test or winning an argument?

Some say she is passing a test that Jesus sets. Jesus’ initial refusal to heal her daughter (verse 27) must have not been a cranky Jesus letting it fly but rather a Jesus speaking words with a playful gleam in his eye. His words are giving the woman a chance to express the faith he knows dwells within her before he gladly heals her daughter. In this case, she is passing a little test of faith.

Others say, no. There is no test. This is just plain “No”. Maybe Jesus means what he says and has no intention of freeing the daughter from her oppression and unwellness. He has that authority.

But what I noticed though, is that Jesus says,

27 First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her

“Let the children be fed first“. Not “Let them be the only ones fed forever”.

In other words, Jesus says to this mum that the time for her request is not right. God’s kingdom life may come to gentiles like her, in time, but for now God’s new life in Jesus are focussed on his chosen people – Israel. So, Jesus’ response to this mum’s request is not, “No. Absolutely never,” but “No. Not yet.”

I also notice what Jesus says in verse 29:

29 Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’

Jesus eventually responds with a “yes”. He says he does so because of this mum’s ‘word’, her reply that “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”. It is because of her “reasoning” or ‘word’” the woman puts forward that Jesus changes the plan and responds differently.

I think here of Moses reasoning with the Lord. Abraham reasoning with the Lord over Sodom and Gomorrah. Jacob, Elijah and others dialoging with the Lord and ‘talking the Lord into responding favourably to the situation.

This mum talks with the Lord with persistence, boldness, but humility and respect. She pleads her case and it is a good case. She talks to Jesus about what she needs. She asks him plainly with humility.

She does not “demand her rights”. She does not demand to be treated as one of the “children” (an Israelite). There are no banners, placards, media campaigns #metoo movements. Just plain honest and humble talk.

She is happy to receive few crumbs, not the whole table of food. She somehow recognizes that even a little bit of what Jesus can give will be more than enough for her need.

What strikes me is that Jesus listens. He listens even to this person whose time has not yet come. Jesus allows her time to come early; to be now. He allows her to jump the que and get what she can from God when she needs it.

Jesus is willing to change the plan. The timeline has been accelerated; the program can be changed. The unclean outsiders (gentiles) can receive blessings, too, even now, before their time.

Strange though. Jesus commends the woman’s ‘word’ (“reasoning”) but says nothing about her “faith”. Some say that this makes the Syrophoenician mother mostly a model of determination or clever words rather than faith.

But I see faith here. I reckon she makes us consider what “faith” really is at its core.

  • Notice, her persistence. She refuses to go away until she gets what she came for. Like Jacob (Genesis 32:26), she’s not letting go until she gets her blessing.
  • Notice her hopeful awareness. She refuses to believe even a tiny speck of grace isn’t out of reach and receiving just a scrap can make the difference for her.
  • Notice her trusting acceptance. She is willing to take Jesus at his word and journey home alone to confirm her daughter’s healing.

Isn’t this faith? Isn’t this the way faith works its way out in your life too?

Sure, desperation and tenacity aren’t always faith in The Lord, but when they are brought to Jesus with a trust that he is compassion and kindness, and that his Word is powerful food of healing and life, isn’t that faith in him?

For whatever sickness you face, what trouble is on your door, be this unnamed mum coming to Jesus.

Seek Jesus’s words with persistence. Refuse to go away until you get from the Lord what you come to him for.

Take this mum’s hopeful awareness of the power of Jesus’ word to heal and give life. Believe that even a tiny speck of his grace is in reach in Jesus’ word. Know just a scrap can make the difference for you, even with your own tiny mustard seed of faith.

Trust him to accept you like she does. Willingly take Jesus at his word and journey home alone to confirm what he has given you for the journey of faith.

He listens. You can talk to him. He will change his plans for you. he will offer you more than a few crumbs. he gives you himself and his healing word.

 

When the Good News is All Bad. Audio Sermon – Pastor Noel Due

Sunday 2nd September

Pastor Noel Due

To whom shall we go? Audio sermon Pastor Robert Voigt

Sunday 26th August

Joshua 24:1, 2a, 14-18

Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.

Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says:

14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we travelled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

Wise bread for a Wise Head

Sermon, Sunday August 19, 2018, Pentecost 13B, St Petri

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned for forty years over Israel – seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’

Solomon answered, ‘You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

‘Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or numberSo give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for – both wealth and honour – so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.’

 

 King David’s son to Bathsheba became king when he was nowhere near ready. That is often how it is in life; things come upon us for which we feel very under-qualified. Solomon was young, inexperienced among many in the palace who weren’t and who would not mind having the power the King had, and he was an illegitimate child, who had no family right to be king. Not a good place to be! He needed wisdom!

This week I asked a few people to describe what wisdom is. One said, “Knowing your limitations”. Others said wisdom is not just knowledge, but how you use the knowledge you have gained. Wisdom is accumulated understanding about living life from accumulated experience – especially your failures.

Wisdom seems to be linked with humility. Knowing who you are and valuing others contribution. Everyone said these only come from listening to God and others because the honour of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom starts with listening to others.

Young Solomon gets this opportunity to ask for anything he wants. He gets one wish that will be given by the Lord God himself. He’d better make it count!

He reminds me of three blokes on a deserted desert island…..

As the days slowly went by on their little island, these three men dreamed of what it would be like to be at home with their friends and family, to be back at their jobs doing the things they loved.

One day one of the men found a bottle that contained a genie. He opened the bottle and the genie announced that he would grant each of them one wish.

One of the men said, “Boy, I want to be back in the Barossa with my wife and kids.” POOF–he was gone.

The second man immediately said, “I want to be back in Adelaide with my fiancé” and again in a flash he was gone.

The third man was left all alone sitting on the sandy beach. He said, “Boy, it really is lonely with my friends gone. I sure wish they were back here with me again.

And POOF……

You would think that Solomon would ask for control and power over the situation and people. He needed the help. You might too at the moment.

Solomon would more need than $80M Lotto winning on offer last week. There was a Temple to run, a Palace to maintain, a military budget to meet, a public service to uphold and international relationships to sustain. Surely he would asked God for wealth and long-term prosperity.

With that he might have asked for the praise and high opinion of himself from others. He could have asked for high status in the world.

Maybe Solomon was like his counterparts over in Egypt who built those huge burial chambers in the shape of pyramids. I read once that the majority of us work hard to ensure that something will outlive us, be it a house, a farm, our children, a monument for something, a name on an awards board….

What are you asking for today for your challenges? What do you need from God? What would you do to get what you need. What are you doing to meet that need now?

Solomon decides. He asks.

Solomon asks for big ears; for special ears. Not like Mr Spock! No, he asked for inner ears; listening ears. Specially tuned ears like a cochlea implant – tuned not to only human sounds but God’s wise voice in them; God’s wise word leading; God’s promises given; God’s direction received.

The Hebrew puts it well. Solomon asks for a “listening heart”, or ‘discerning heart”.

If wisdom begins with honouring God and listening to him speak, then this was a good ask!

With a heart tuned into the Lord’s voice this young leader to be will have the essential gift that any of God’s people need to get through complex decisions, big moments, tough situations and times of doubt and fear – wisdom. A listening heart tuned into to God’s words all the time gives the ability to know what to do and when to do it or not do it – what to say and when to keep silent and for how long.

I want that gift too. Seems like all I need to do is ask for it. God seems pleased to give us new ears to hear him speaking so we are of great use to his kingdom. Maybe you should ask? Maybe you should ask the Spirit to tune you in to God’s Word anew so you can discern the good from the bad, the silly from the smart, the left from the right in what you are facing?

This gift of new ears seems to have served Solomon and his people very well …… for a while at least.

And that is an intriguing thing. Even this gift of listening heart and the wise decisions that came from it did not last for Solomon. Things did not go so well in the latter years. How come?

The writers tell us. I noticed for the first time that even with listening ears and a wise approach Solomon had a divided heart. Did you hear? “He was a good king, except that he worshipped on the high places”.

Worshipping anywhere else other than God’s designated one place of worship in Jerusalem was in direct conflict with the Lord’s expressed direction for him. Even though it seems that he sacrificed a thousand animals at Gibeon later on, and it seems to have been in thanks and praise to the Lord, not idols, it was still an act of disobedience to the Lord. It was a well- intentioned act but against the Lord’s direction to do all worship in Jerusalem. The Lord insisted on worship only at Jerusalem for a reason – to stamp out the use of idols and high altars of pagan gods in Israel. Only this would bring real and full life in God’s land for his people.

But here is the stunning thing I notice. Even though Solomon asked for the best thing it was still a big risk for the Lord to give it to him – and the lord still does! Even though Solomon would end up being quite unwise in many ways, the Lord still gave him the best gift and trusted him with it.

This tells me that this is our God. This is how he rolls. He gives the gift at great risk to himself and his name among the world’s people before we are ready or able to guarantee that we will use it well.

The ultimate gift and the biggest risk for God? I think of the Lord coming into our humanity, into our flesh; giving his Son, the Bread for life, his wisdom in human flesh, with no guarantee that we would take him in, treat him well.

We didn’t. We still don’t. We chew on plenty of other bread, like Solomon ended up doing. But the Lord still gave himself in full. he still gives himself now – in full.

I think of my baptism. The Lord buried my sin and raised me to life with no guarantee for him that I would ever respond in faith and love. I think of the Lord’s Supper. He gives himself for forgiveness and life with no guarantees that we will do much better this week.

Friend, you may be wishing for things. You may be longing for a fix to something or someone or yourself and you, as a baptised child of God in Christ may be going about this by outwardly worshipping the Lord but actually doing what you want the way you want.

Go to the Wisdom Jesus and his words on life. Ask for these ears to receive his words of life. Eat this bread of life. Worship at THE high place – Jesus. He is the altar and the bread and the place all in one. He is our wisdom. His voice gives us the way the truth and new life to live in joy.

 

 

 

 

 

Imitate

Sermon, Pentecost 13B, Sunday August 12, 2018

St Petri Ladies Guild 90th Anniversary.

 Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5 1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

 John 6:35,41-51

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty

41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’  Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

They always told us at Sem’ that getting along with your Ladies Guild was a must for a pastor. ‘Whatever you do, do not cheese of the Ladies Guild’, they said! Why? Because they know how to serve and they do serve. Ladies Guilds can support the congregation’s ministry enormously.

This is true. The Ladies Guilds and other groups of committed women of God can make things happen in a local congregation. They certainly have in this one – for 90 years. They are a powerhouse of service in the church and with their support, good things happen.

But trying to tell a Ladies Guild what to do is like trying to herd a bunch of cats. Impossible! They like their independence and like to make decisions in their way. Fair enough. But when they support something in the congregation, they really support!

I would like to know how many catering functions, how much money, how many projects, small and large that the St Petri women have supported over the 90 years of its existence. I think we would all be amazed at just how consistent, generous and effective their serving has been for the gospel work, not just at St Petri but across the LCA and in our local community too.

When I think of Ladies Guilds, Branching Out, all kinds of other groups of women who serve others for various purposes and in various ways I always find myself recalling those women around Jesus.

The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8: 1-3).

I think of Mary Magdalene at the Crucifixion along with Mary his mother and the same Mary Magdalene at the Easter tomb.

Then I think about the women mentioned in the Book of Acts and in the New Testament letters who obviously were a very supportive group when it came to the gospel mission in their locality.

I think of the evangelist Euidia and Syntyche who “struggled together with Paul in the ministry of the gospel” (Ephesians 4:9,10). Then there is Phoebe: patron and servant in the Roman church (Romans 16:1-2); Lydia, the maker of purple cloth who seemed to also sponsor the new church in Philippi (Acts 16:14-15, 40).

And then I ponder how different Jesus’ treatment of women was for his culture. I read an article by a Franciscan scholar (Barbara Leonhard) this week who said;

Jesus refuses to treat women as inferior. He recognises their dignity and their gifts.

He names the woman with the intolerable bleeding “Daughter of Abraham” in full public view. (Luke 13:16).

He initiates conversation with a foreigner (the Samaritan Woman at the well) and respects her questions and her search and her pain.

 https://www.franciscanmedia.org/jesus-extraordinary-treatment-of-women/

The list goes on. In short Jesus is quite revolutionary, as is Paul in the way women are recognised and regarded as having dignity in God’s church and gifts for his mission.

So, I believe it is fair to say that the women of this congregation have “walked in the way” Paul speaks of with his people in Ephesus. They have indeed been ‘imitators of God’, as he encourages them to be. They have ‘walked the way of love’ over the years, as Jesus has walked with us giving himself up for us and being a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Women of God are indeed a fragrant perfume as they give of themselves for the work of the Lord in their way.

I have seen a certain good humour, a certain earthiness among our women. I have seen self-less service mixed with a tinge of fun, deep care for each other, willing hearts of service, all mixed with the scars of a life well lived but lived in the world for real. When they gather they are a group carrying the wisdom that comes from faith in real experience over the long haul. They can speak of injustices, inequalities, harder things than that, and yet do so with a living joy, a living faith, a living awareness of Jesus being with them all the way along and still.

Of course, even the lovely Ladies Guild women are not always a sweet fragrance. Same with the blokes. Same for everyone. Sometimes we are actually on the nose. Paul speaks of what this being ‘on the nose’ looks like.

We are on the nose to the Lord when we do not sacrifice our own needs for others but demand they meet ours more than we give of ourselves to them.

We are on the nose when delve into the bitterness of past regrets and pain to pay people back, or act in some malicious way to get our own back or do some damage because it feels good – for a while.

The smell is not so good when we let the sun go down on our anger and keep it all locked up beneath the sun – hide it all away. Of course, no one can do this forever. Eventually is pops out of the hidden place into full view. All it can take is someone trying to shed some light on it or the sun simply shining on it. Then we turn to rage. Then damage is done.

Paul says, that we sweet smelling baptised people of Jesus can give the Evil one a foothold in our heart by keeping troubles, regrets, pain, loss, grief and anger hidden. The Devil’s foothold is that by which he climbs all over us with the goal to squash us. It stinks. He stinks.

But there is a beautiful Offering of God that heals our wounds by his own wounds. In love he closes up those footholds and kicks the Evil One off of us.

Jesus, the sweet-smelling sacrifice of God comes to us and simply says that he is special food for getting us back to where we long to be – at peace, in rest, in love, in open-hearted serving and giving to others not out of duty, but because of delight – delight in Jesus – the Bread of Life.

He is the difference between the old rage and hidden pain and anger and the ability to share your anger carefully and quickly in a way that does not tear down but actually builds up.

Jesus is the difference between endless self-serving and a life-time of self-giving and the joy and the fulness that kind of service creates.

The Bread of Life is the difference between dismissing and damaging women out of a lack of love and respect and treating women with the dignity and value they have as fellow creatures and workers in this gospel mission we all share – with all their considerable and unique gifts.

Next time you are at a function hosted by our faithful women and you pick up that much favoured curried egg sandwich with its magnificent perfume (then and a little later!), think about the Bread of Life and how he is your life and gives your life and then imitate his sacrifice, his giving, his loving, as our women have done faithfully and mostly joyfully for so long. His word and gifts are the way to what we all want – compassion, kindness, and forgiveness.

Just like the beautiful curried egg smell that wafts through the hall, so will your serving and giving and sacrificial loving be a sweet-smelling fragrance for others that help them find the Bread of Life and his beautiful promises of unity, love and hope.

Bread for Life – CONFIRMATION DAY

Sermon, Sunday August 5th 2018 

Confirmation Sunday, St Petri.

Pentecost 11B 

John 6:24-35

24 Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’

26 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’

28 Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’

29 Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’

30 So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”[c]’

32 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’

34 ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’

35 Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

It was the first time. It was like Confirmation for Jesus. What Jesus says here in the local synagogue in the town of Capernaum was like a faith statement that each of our confirmees will speak soon.

He uses words that are radical – never heard quite like this before. He will speak of who God is and who he is in a way that both inspires and upsets.

He explains what has happened just the day before, when he fed thousands abundant bread by the sea.

After that feeding of bread comes the speaking of what the sign points to.

His words are shocking. He uses words to describe who he is that are reserved for the holiest people on the holiest days of the year.

What are the radical first words? “I am”. For the first time Jesus says “:I AM”.

To you and I that may sound like no big deal. But “I AM” is how the Lord of heaven and earth described himself way back on Mt Sinai to his man, Moses.

God introduces himself personally by that burning bush to Moses and the whole world. “I AM”. I AM WHO I AM. I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE”. I JUST AM”.

In English; “THE LORD”. In Hebrew, four letters that are unpronounceable without some additional vowels to make them speakable – “Yahweh”.

What is Jesus saying?

Jesus is saying “HE IS”. “I AM is me”. I AM is here with you. I, Jesus of Nazareth am THE LORD of the burning bush, the Exodus, the Temple in Jerusalem, the creator of everything here with you now. Now that is radical!

Too radical for some. They will soon ‘murmur’ about this (John 6:41). They will call it blasphemy. Blasphemy is to speak harmfully or stupidly or wrongly. Blasphemy is speaking wrongly, stupidly, harmfully of God.

And then more. “I AM what? I AM Bread”.

What’s bread for ancient middle eastern people, and a lot of people still today? The staple diet of millions. The essential food that is eaten daily to sustain life, family, work.

If Jesus were in Africa or Asia, I reckon he would have said “I am Rice”. Two thirds of the world’s people in our time live on rice.

“I am the Bread of Life” – Jesus is declaring that he is the Lord God and that he is the staple diet upon which our life and all life is sustained. He is the food on which we survive in the hard times and thrive in the good times. In all times he is the thing that sustains us, gives us health, keeps us alive and helps us grow.

But what does he mean that he is ‘bread’? He is not flour, water and yeast! These people know what he manes – what ‘bread ‘is.

Bread is God’s word. Bread is God’s law that keeps them and shapes them. Bread is God’s promises, his presence, his blessing, his forgiveness, for their wrongs, his healing for their diseases, their hope for the future and the present. “Bread” is God. Bread is his words of life that make them who they are. The Lord’s Word is their staple diet that sustains them. Sounds really important to eat this ‘bread” – to eat the Word daily.

But how do you get this bread, this life, this hope, this healing and love?

28 Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’

What ‘works” do we have to do to get more of what you just gave, Jesus. How do we do enough to ensure that we will be fed and looked after all through our life? How good does a young person have to be to get God’s blessing on their future career, decisions, relationships? How good, how smart, how much do we have to pray, what secret info do we need to live the good life and get this bread, this Word of life into us?

Good questions but questions that show a completely out of sync understanding of what Jesus is offering and who he is.

They are still thinking, ‘work’. Work for the bread.

They still think that the bread has to be paid for by them. They have to be good, be smart enough, have the right nationality, the right name, the secret code to get this special bread, this special miracle, this special drink to be satisfied, to be loved, to be accepted by the Lord of Creation.

Jesus is saying, don’t bother. I AM. I just AM. I AM bread. I am Word, I am your sustenance for all your life. This bread, this staple diet that will sustain you and make you thrive is a gift, not payment for services done or reward for work completed or consequence of things understood.

It is simply Bread, Life, Word on offer. He does not say “Earn it”. He says, “Take and eat it”.

Oh, how we want children and young people and adults of all ages to receive this bread this way! Oh, how we work to try and help this happen at this local church!

This staple diet that sustains you and makes you grow is only found in one person and it is freely given not because you earnt it, or baked it yourself or controlled the process or achieved the result, but because I AM JUST IS and JUST GIVES. He is the Bread and the Baker of the bread and his Bread is his Word which is life for dead sinners and baptised saints.

That is you, young people. You have tasted this Bread of Life in this time of intensive reflection. You have tasted that this Bread is very good. You have been baptised into this Bread of life and raised to life with the Bread of Life. He now gives himself to you in his special meal of bread and wine, body and blood – for life, freedom and healing – all the time for any time.

As he gives the gift he gifts the call. You are called. Now it is time to take this Bread and feed on him with teenage ears and eyes. Soon it will change again to young adult ears and eyes, with all of its new decisions and responsibilities.

The Bread of his Word will sustain you, if you listen and eat it; eat the Bread.

We are here to support you as you take this bread and be the bread of life to those among whom Jesus places you.

We call on you to turn away from working for what goes off; your own strength, effort, understanding, desires, visions and dreams for yourself.

The Bread of life says, “Take me and eat me. Listen to me”. That grace does not go off. It lasts, and it makes you flourish in love and justice and serving that lasts.

 ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’

Everything else will come from that believing. “Believing” is not just thinking or a theory. Believing is all of you and all of life; living in the grace of God daily for others.

 “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”.

As you continue your journey with us and those you love, don’t work for bread that is short term, eventually unsatisfying and unfulfilling. Go for this bread, the Word, this man, this Church this undeserved love and the true fulfilment, joy and love he delivers like no other.

We are praying that together we can all help you and each other no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of teaching, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

Eat the Bread. It is truth and love. That is how you grow up in faith.

 

Satisfy

Sermon, Sunday July 29, 2018, Pentecost 10B

St Petri

John 6:1-21

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

 Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’

 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’

 10 Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

 14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles,[b] they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

 

It must have been scary to be on the far side of sea, but good things happen with Jesus on the far side of the sea.

That is where Jesus leads his friends and the searching crowd. Like a peloton chasing the breakaway rider in the Tour de France, the crowd is in pursuit.

It must have been such a big day. This feeding of thousands is the only event that all four gospel writers record, other than the Crucifixion. Here, even the very different Apostle John, lines up with the others, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

It is all about bread. It a sign of God’s feeding. It is a moment of overwhelming satisfaction of body, mind and spirit. It is a moment where the Old Testament they know in their bones, off by heart, comes to life right before their eyes.

Jesus is up a mountain as Moses was with the Lord often, as Elijah was too.

Jesus sits down to teach. Same as Moses and any of the great prophets and rabbis. They sit to teach God’s word to the people.

The Word is the bread upon which all life is sustained.

There is not enough food for hungry people. Same with David and his band of soldiers when David gave the Ok to eat the consecrated bread in the temple. Same when Elisha fed 100 people from twenty barley loaves, and they had some left over (2 Kings 4:42-44)

Jesus “gave thanks” (Eucharist) to God. Only John tells us that this feeding occurred at Passover time. Again – Jesus is the new Moses, the Prophet of prophets and more. He is the bread and the life and the way and the truth and in him is life to the full (John 10:10).

The point? Jesus himself is doing it all. In other words, Jesus is more and everything. He is the bread for living. He is deep satisfaction for living. He is the food and the provider of the food for life in God’s grace.

Many are already believing something about him. Some are sure that Jesus is a prophet. But now they see this sign and eat their fill and they can vision him as not only prophet but king!

Is this the moment when they finally get the new king long promised to rule over them and lead them to victory and freedom as Moses did and the prophets promised?

Is this the power king of worldly status and means who will get the world in shape by power and politics and military means?

Seems not. Jesus rejects this king making stuff. He is everything and more but not that kind of King. He is a bread king, a heart satisfaction king, a life to the full king beyond mere politics or power.

But where are you in all of this? In your longing for satisfaction and fulfillment in your life, where are you with Jesus?

Are you Phillip? He seems to be only able to see the practical impossibility of the situation.

Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bight!’

Phillip can see just how little they have and just how big is the need and concludes that all the tea in China would not be enough to deal with their lack of ability to feed people.

Are you Andrew?

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’

Andrew does more than be overwhelmed by the lack of ability. He seems to go down the “Mr fix it” road. He does some reconnaissance. He sees the need and gets to work in his own strength and frame of reference. But his own ability is found severely wanting. He finds the boy only has a bit of bread and a couple of fish.

Which road do you go down when things are beyond you? Do you find yourself unable to be anything but overwhelmed by your lack of ability like Phillip? Are you Andrew who hops into action to try and fix it and fight it in your own understanding and ability?

As for the people, the sense a good thing.

14…they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ 

Why wouldn’t they want Jesus to be that king they need? I too want to be without suffering and oppression. I want good things and the good life and this guy can deliver it. Let’s make him the man of power and influence to dominate and control the world!

They fall for old trap. They want what the king can give but not the king. They want trouble-free life without  receiving the Bread of Life. They want the power without the suffering, the glory without the cross,  the perfection without the struggle.

15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Staying overwhelmed in our own inadequacy or trying to overcome them by fixing themselves our way on our terms, or wanting what Jesus can give but not a relationship with Jesus is denying Jesus for who he really is. This is our eternal problem.

Here’s the irony of John’s telling of this feeding King: The One who is already King has come to open his Kingdom to people; but in their blindness, people try to force the King to be the kind of King they want; thus failing to get the King they want and losing the Kingdom life he offers. (Bailey in Morris, John, p346).

Are you losing the Kingdom this King offers because you are searching for your own version of ‘King”? Are you content to stay overwhelmed by your lack of ability, or disinterested in the satisfying of human needs of others with the Bread of Life?

Have you concluded that it is better to play it safe, keep under the radar of Jesus’ mission to let his Kingdom come here?

Are you so active and reliant on your own ability and understanding about life that you are missing his life at work in you and in others around you?

Are you so busy trying to fix things that you refuse to be fixed? Are you wanting the things that God can deliver without a living relationship with this, and only this Jesus, the Bread of Life?

Are you wanting the good things of God without the Bread of God – the Word of Jesus?

If you are one or all of these or someone else, eat the bread and come to the water. They are good food and good place.

Come out to the far side of the sea and see his mastery of even the wind and the sea. Know your own immersion in his water of grace where the evil one was knocked off his throne and you were seated with Jesus on his.

Feed on him, the Servant King, the new Passover Lamb, slain for all of our misguided belief and overwhelming fears. Take the bread in your ears and in your mouth. He is life beyond your problems and in them.

With Peter and the others, let the stranger/ghost be your teacher, mentor and friend, as well as Saviour Servant King. Let fear of an unknown God subside and welcome this human God into your boat and let him take you to the destination with him.

Why? Because good things happen with Jesus on the far side of the sea: Satisfied soul, healed body and mind; peace with the One who created the land and the sea and all their creatures, patience in suffering, wisdom in decisions, love in hate, his power in weakness, his forgiveness for an empty and wayward heart.

He is all and more and he satisfies any hungry body and spirit with the very presence of God up the mountains, on the shore, at home or away. He is is bread for you today.

Compassion – Audio Sermon Pastor Robert Voigt – 22 July 2018

“Compassion”  St Petri Sermon  – 22nd July, 2018  – Pastor Robert Voigt

Jesus was moved with compassion  – Matthew 9:36

Mark 6:34 (NIV)

34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Matthew 9:36 (NIV)

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

Psalm 51:1 NIV

 

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.                                                                          Psalm 86:15 NIV

 

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.  Matthew 14:14 NIV

 

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.”  Matthew 15:32 NIV

 

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes,  Matthew 20:34 NIV

 

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32 NIV

 

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  1 Peter 3:8 NIV

 

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

 

“We hear again and again, from the unchurched and from local churches who are deeply engaged with the unchurched in their communities, that loving genuine relationships are the only remaining currency readily exchanged between the churched and the churchless.”  –       George Barna.

Hope Rising

Sermon: Pentecost 8B, Sunday July 15, 2018

St Petri

Ephesians 1:3-14

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he[a] predestined us for adoption to sonship[b] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he[c] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen,[d] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

 

The world is a brutal place. It is now, and it was in Jesus’ time. It is brutal because people can be brutal. From the first murder recorded in Genesis, that of Abel at the hand of his own brother, Cain, to all that is happening in Syria and Turkey and in our own cities and towns, life can be very brutal. A few years back in Geneva, UN human rights expert, Ben Emmerson named human rights violations at the hands of ISIS and etc these last years as occurring on “an industrial scale”. (June 22, 2015, (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16122&LangID=E))

This hurts. People hurt. How telling it is that Jesus hurts too? Jesus obviously knows the pain of injustice and violence personally. We hear it today. His cousin, John the Baptiser. John was brutally killed for no noble reason. Jesus knows unjust, innocent suffering and its dark grief.

Here’s what we know. Jesus feels as we feel. He knows loss. He knows grief. He knows brutality. When he stands outside his best friend’s stinking tomb he hurts to weep. When his own blood stains his own body as he is brutally ridiculed, tortured and crucified, and his public shame complete – he drinks this violence to the last drop.

And because he knows our pain and stays the course through it with love unyielding, there is another story to tell alongside this grizzly tale. There is a grand story of light and love at work among us, even in the unfair, unjust brutality we know and fear in our day.

This other story is beautifully proclaimed by another man who knows the pain of life. he also proclaims this story of love and life from an unjust brutal prison cell to a community he loves. Paul dictates a letter to his trusted friend and co-worker Tychicus from a prison cell in Rome toward the end of his missionary work.

His beginning words to his people in Ephesus lift us out of dark damp despair of any kind. These high words lift us out of human brutality, fear and the many, many questions that feel like a prison at times.

This is two hundred Greek words strung together without a comma or full stop in 1:3-14! So much to grasp, so much to see – all compressed into these 11 verses!

Would you lift your eyes from your concerns, your questions, your pain to gaze in wonder and praise at the awesome sight of the universe moving in procession to its appointed goal of being “gathered up in Christ (1:10)

1:3: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

A brutal world blessed. A dark mind enlightened by grace. Dead person Spirit filled. Heaven here, not just at the end or far away. Heavenly spiritual life in life today, not just tomorrow.

1:4 …just as He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love, he destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to his good pleasure and will. .

Family. Divine family. Holy friends, we are. All his choice of you; his awareness and commitment to you. You; an adopted child; one of billions. You are fully known and fully ‘in’. You have his name; his family name. When suffering comes we call on his name and remember ours – ‘Son, Daughter”, “bride”, “beloved”, “child”, “church”, “holy, blameless, accepted”, “people of the Way”; “Christian”, “Baptised”.

1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins…

Once we were dead in self worship; unable to find the family or the Father. When suffering comes all we had was us; our skills, our pep talks, our self-help, our best guess. But now we can do better than guess. We can trust. Wan seek and we can receive that glorious gift above all gifts – forgiveness with all its hope and possibility and joy.

And as many a mate or parents has said “A man needs a plan”, and so does a woman and so does God. it is a grand plan and it is here – even if it is mysterious stuff!

1:9  God has made known the mystery of his will that he put into action in Jesus.

Our life in God, beyond our own is a mystery. Like anything a bit mysterious, this plan can only be received in good faith. This mystery into which we have been baptised and called is lived only by faith and trust. By trusting what the Lord Jesus does and says we are lifted into his story beyond our own.

1:10 Now God has put a plan in place for the fullness of time. That is, the plan will come to fulfilment in his good time. But what is the plan?

I worry about the world, and I am anxious about my place in it, and our place in it.  From a prison cell, or a community surrounded by many gods of self to families falling apart to a fight with a friend, there is this plan that will bring fulfilment of it all. Like a band or orchestra searching for that final resolving note, we will resolve. he will resolve it and us. The tune will eventually be sweet and complete.

What’s the detail of the plan?

1: 10  …to “gather up” all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.

God is a gathering God. Like a bower bird or a collector of fine things, the Lord is the God who gathers friends like shoes. God is collector of people. God welcomes strangers in and adopts them as his own kids. Jesus the Son is the gate, the door through which the Father welcomes us and adopts us into his large house. Jesus is the shepherd too who finds the sheep and brings them on home.

Friend, in your questions, your suffering, your pain and your worry about the world and your own family, the truth is that all that is alienated, disjointed, lonely, hard, unfair and doubtful will be sure. You and I and we as a church community are always being put back together, like Humpty Dumpty’s shell. That is what our God does. he is always gathering, planning, working, drawing us in, inviting us to know and love and be known and loved.

The world may be brutal, but it is still the Lord’s, and the Lord of Church has a plan to end the brutality and sadness.

No more talk of ‘the church dying’ or you ‘dying’ as if there is no plan of Jesus in you and ahead of you. Only pray, trust, thanks, words of witness to his presence and you hope as a result.

Sense hope rising again today – for whatever has squashed it lately or a long time ago. Hear the hope and give the thanks. Be free from prisons and darkness and pain in Jesus. He is hope and light and love.

Hope, mysterious hope! Hope against all hope! You can because there is a plan and a God who is working the plan.

I’ll invite again……Would you lift your eyes from your concerns, your questions, your pain to gaze in wonder and praise at the awesome sight of the universe moving in procession to its appointed goal of being “gathered up in Christ” (1:10)?

Let the Spirit give hope rising for your today and tomorrow. that is faith and that is life.

PRAY

Lord Jesus, lift us up into your hope rising that we be patient, confident, loving people of yours where you have placed us.

 Amen

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