Tag: love

Love and obedience

Love and obedience  Sermon, Easter 6B,

Sunday 6th May, 2018. St Petri Pastor David Preuss


John 15:9-17 Jesus calls us his friends

9 ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: love each other.

 

 

I’d like you to think for a moment of your most special relationship. It might be with your spouse, child, parent, a good friend, or even your dog?  What makes it so attractive and special?  Perhaps knowing you are loved and respected by them, you understand each other, you can do things and go places together, you can confide and share intimate details of your life, be yourself, there’s trust acceptance, a reliance on each other etc.  But, as we all know, even the best relationships can turn sour, with disappointments, misunderstandings, rejection.  Love can so easily turn to hatred, I hope that doesn’t happen to your good relationships.  But I think you’ll all agree.  We life in a imperfect world of imperfect relationships.  And that’s why it’s so hard for us to comprehend a relationship that is perfect in every way:  No anger, disagreements, or personality clashes:  rather, perfect harmony at all times.  Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it.

 

But the good news for us today is: It is true.  It’s the relationship God the Father has with Jesus.  And even better news for us, is Jesus makes us recipients of the same perfect love he shares with the Father.  This is what he says.  VS 10, if you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my father’s commands and remain in his love.  What I find a little bit confronting about that statement, is the command to obey.  We’re not emotionless robots who readily obey at the push of a button.  We like to do what we want to do, not what others want us to do.  And we certainly don’t always want to do what Jesus wants us to do.  And so we sometimes baulk at this word Obey.

 

In our text Jesus really emphasises that we obey his commands in the same way he obeys the Fathers commands. He mentions it 6 times, and it’s always mentioned in conjunction with love, which is mentioned 7 times.  There’s this inseparable connection between his love and obedience to him.

 

The trouble is “obey” is often seen in a different light than love. I.e. the boss says “you obey me or you’ll get the sack” sounds real lobbing doesn’t it?  Closer to home, for me anyway, creep over the speed limit and you get hit with a $300 fin.  Obedience can be forced from fear and threats.  IN the discussions I’ve had with young brides preparing for marriage, it’s often been said “I Love him I really do, but I can’t obey, no way.”  It’s seen as a negative, as unfair, as demeaning as burdensome.

 

So how do we reconcile the love of Christ with obedience to him? Or does obedience play no role in my Christian life, because I’m saved by grace, and that’s all that matters”. And Praise God, that’s true.  I am saved by grace, It’s one of the outstanding teachings of our Christian faith.  We can’t do a thing to gain our own salvation.  So where does that leave obedience in our relationship with Jesus?  That’s the probing question for today.  I’ve mentioned some of the seemingly negative aspects of the word obey, but my challenge today is to convince you, as does this text from John’s Gospel, that to obey Jesus is the most positive response to his love you can possibly have, and it leads to the best possible relationship with him. It makes no sense whatsoever to say, I believe in Jesus, I really love him, but then totally ignore his directives for Christian living and do whatever we please.  That’s not a good witness to Jesus.  But if we allow Jesus love to keep flowing through us, we will radiate and reflect his love to others.  Think of a solar pane.  It works so effectively when it soaks up the sun.  But when it’s clouded over, when the panels face away from the sun, when it becomes dark, it can’t function.  Same with us, when we turn away from the love of the son, when our life becomes clouded over with other things.  When we are tempted to move into the darker areas of life, you know what I’m talking about, away from what Jesus commands, we can’t be immersed in, or empowered by Jesus’ love.  He never stops loving us, but sometimes we block out and ignore his love.

 

So it’s the love of Jesus, that inspires and stimulates obedience from us. If he was a tyrant, if he punished us every time we did wrong, if he was mean and unfair and exploited us, we definitely wouldn’t want to obey him, we’d be afraid of him, and that would be a very bad motive for obeying.  But Jesus perfect love for us casts out all fear.  It’s when we see the reality of the love of Christ, especially as we see him suffering and dying for us n the cross, that’s when we are moved to obey.  He says “the greatest love you can have is to lay down one’s life for a friend.  He’s referring to himself isn’t he.  This is the essence of the Christian faith and the heart of Jesus love for the world.

 

This God who came to us in the flesh, and who has given his all for us, has chosen us to e his friend. We didn’t choose him, but he chose us.  How incredible is that when we stop and think about it.  We have been chosen by the divine, all powerful., all conquering, ever loving, healing, all seeing, all knowing forgiving, faithful creator of the universe, to be his intimate friend.  His purpose is that we can bear much fruit, fruit that will last.  Being filled with his love is what equips us to be as Luther puts it, “little Christ’s,” in an oft times loveless world.  Taking time out to ring up, to encourage a person, visit those who are stuck at home, help them in their need, provide for the poor, befriend the lonely.  Stop complaining about the world we live in and instead Pray fervently in the name of Jesus for the world.  This is how we obey Christ and bear fruit here at St Petri, and everywhere else, by being a little Christ to the other.

 

Please don’t think of obedience to Jesus as joyless, monotonous, drudgery. Jesus says, I’ve told you these things so your joy may be complete.  As one reads the New Testament one can’t help but be impressed by the disciples, who defied death, and endured various trials with and inexpressible joy that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Paul and Silas were locked in chains, but you couldn’t shut them up from praising the Lord.  They had a joy this world can’t give.  This joy comes as we realize, the truths that the Father shares with Jesus, now belong to us.  What a treasure we have.

 

One more thing. Jesus promises: “you can go to the Father and he will give you whatever you ask in my name.” That doesn’t mean we get everything we want, but we will get those things that are according to his will. And the closer we are in our relationship with Jesus the clearer his will becomes.  In conclusion, the positives John speaks of regarding Jesus command to remain in and share his love, are inexpressible joy the joy of knowing he has chosen us to have an intimate Friendship with him, he’s given us the ability to bear fruit, and the promise that we can ask anything according to his will and it will be granted.  When we obey Jesus, we remain under the protection of his love, rather than the danger of our rebellion!

 

 

And please know this, and I speak as an expert on disobedience. When we do disobey, we can always go to Jesus as a friend, confident he will forgive us.  That’s the power of the cross.  My prayer for each of us, is that we continue to be recipients of Jesus’ love.  Please show me your warmest smiles as I tell you again” Jesus has chosen you to be his friend in the most perfect of relationships, forever.  Amen.

Saint You!

SermonJohn 3-16
St John’s Day, December 28th, 2014.
St Petri

1 John 1:1 – 2:2
The Word that gives life was from the beginning,
and this is the one our message is about.
Our ears have heard, our own eyes have seen,
and our hands touched this Word.

John is the son of Zebedee and Silome, probably younger brother to James; a professional net fisherman in the family business around the Sea of Galilee.

He and his brother must have been God listeners; God searchers, because it seem highly likely that they both went down to the Jordan to be baptised by John the Baptiser, and stayed with for a time (John 1:35-42).

Jesus called them. He gave them a name, “Sons of Thunder”. Many suggest they were either loud in personality or maybe natural born leaders that had the presence among others.

Whoever and however John was, his life was completely revolutionised by the years he spent up close and personal with Jesus of Nazareth and what he was enabled to see, hear, experience and then write down was simply stunning.

His gospel is a masterpiece structured around what he calls the seven signs of God’s presence – beginning at that wedding feast in Cana right up to the coronation of Servant King Jesus on the Roman cross of death, and then the never-ending sign of Jesus’ resurrection to life forever as ruler of all things.
Another layer to his telling is the Seven “I AM” statements of Jesus: “I am the good shepherd, I am the light of the world, I am the bread of life….”, not symbolic, but real statements of truth..

Luther, had a very high regard for John and his witness to Jesus.

“John writes very little about the works of Christ, but much about his preaching, while the other evangelists write much about his works, and little about his preaching. Therefore John’s gospel is the one, fine, true and chief gospel, and is far, far to be preferred over the other three, and placed high above them…” (LW 35:362).

The other gospels – the “synoptic” gospels; “syn” meaning “together, “optic” meaning “see” – the “seeing together’ gospels, are still OK! But John’s account is different – more like a painting than a photo.
Whatever you make of the gospels and the man, John’s is a world-changing story, a life shaping Word powered by God’s Spirit working in this man.

Along with Peter and own brother, James, he was permitted to witness the healing of the one of the synagogue rulers’, Jarius’ daughter. He was allowed to witness the Transfiguration of Jesus and see Moses and Elijah having chat time with Jesus. He was one of the three who were as close to Jesus as any person could be as he suffered in that dark Garden of Gethsemane.

This ‘up close and personal way’ John tells of God’s working in Jesus of Nazareth surely comes from his own experience of personally knowing the love, acceptance and friendship of the Saviour.
A sign of this is in this famous way he names himself in his gospel.

He names himself, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.

“The disciple whom Jesus loved”. What a name. What a way to sum up who you are in Christ. “Disciple” – learner, follower, practitioner of his teaching, doer of his way. “The one whom Jesus loved”: a man, a woman he loves – like a badge to wear in the face of it all. A person loved then and now no matter what and the action is his. He loved. I received. He loves, I receive.

The weight is on what he did and does. So, he gets the glory. I remain unnamed. My name is important to him because he gave me a name descriptive of who I am; “a Son of Thunder”, but his naming of me is what counts. I wear his name like a badge of honour, like a name tag to welcome people into the story of who he made me to be.

There must have been this very unique and close relationship between the Saviour and the man.
In that moment of pure forsakenness as Jesus speaks in such pain from the cross, Jesus says,
“John. Take in my Mum. Mum, rely on this man as you would me”.

She did and so did he because we hear,

“From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:27).

Someone once said that John was the only one of the Twelve to actually hear the heartbeat of God. He is the one who “reclined at the table” with Jesus on that night he was betrayed – the new Passover. John, literally leaning on his elbow at the low table, leaning on Jesus as they shared the Passover meal with the betrayer and all the rest (John 13:25).

He is the only one who gives us that amazing scene of the washing of the disciples’ feet on that fateful night.

“Having loved his own who were I the world, he (Jesus) now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).

John is used by the Spirit to tell us of Jesus in terms of pure love – self-sacrificing, self-giving, love and kindness like none other.

John, along with Peter, seemed to take up a central leadership role in that first church in Jerusalem. He also teamed up with Peter on at least one occasion as they set out to evangelise Samaria (Acts 8:14).

Like the other Apostles, John was scattered a long way from Jerusalem after twelve years of working in that first place of call. The persecution under Herod Agrippa led to this scattering of the church.

It seems that he ended up in Asia Minor – around Turkey. He writes his three short letters to little communities of the gospel there. It is widely believed that John was the only one of the Twelve to live to old age as he served his time on the Greek island prison of Patmos. Like Nelson Mandela, imprisonment does not stop him!

“Our ears have heard, our own eyes have seen, and our hands touched this Word”, he declares.
2 The one who gives life appeared! We saw it happen, and we are witnesses to what we have seen. …3 We are telling you what we have seen and heard, so that you may share in this life with us. And we share in it with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

So, as this year ends and another begins…some questions…
Are you a seeker of God like James and John?
Will you respond to his call and receive his great love in all that he has done and still says?
Does the love of the man, Jesus, move you and make you move, or is he still out of reach for you this years’ end?
Is John out of reach? Sure, he named himself “the one whom Jesus loved”, but can I?

Yes you can.

Friend, “God is love”, and “he first loved us”, says the Evangelist. As John famously put it, he is not here to condemn you but save you from yourself and from the evil we know. Jesus is alive and he is the King of love – your Good Shepherd, Gateway to life in his community in his presence.

This man of love and man of that heavenly vision we now call the “Revelation of St John” at the end of the bible is calling out to us not to think him so special but Jesus as special.

“I am the way, truth and life”, John hears Jesus say.

“Anyone who has seen me, says Jesus, has seen the Father”.

John is not out of reach. Jesus is not out of reach. All of the love of the Shepherd were bestowed on you in your baptism and he gives them to you now.

“If you love me”, says Jesus, “you will do what I teach and the Counsellor will be with you to show you how to remain in God’s love”.

St John? Saint You! You are the disciple whom Jesus loves. Because he is so very, very gracious.
Amen

Love Costs

Sermon:  St Stephen’s DaySt Stephen icon

St Petri, Dec 29th, 2013

Acts 6:5b-15.

5They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Today we remember St Stephen, the first Christian to give the ultimate witness to faith in Jesus with his own life. Over the history of the Christian church, Stephen has been remembered on December 26 or 27th. That seems quite strange, especially so soon after the joy and happiness of Christmas celebrations.

And yet, to reflect on the martyrdom of a disciple of Jesus immediately after reflecting on the gentleness and great joy of that same Jesus in a manger certainly confronts us with the reality that faith in this child of God costs us nothing at the same time that it costs us everything.

Nothing: Yes, it was God who came to us; who took the initiative, who established a new reality of joy and life forever beyond death in his Son, Jesus, the king of kings;

Everything: beiaring witness to his promises, place and power can lead to rejection, discomfort, pain and even the shedding of blood. The love of God costs. It costs God dearly in the giving up of his Son, and it cost us as we remain faithful to his love for us.

STEPHEN

Stephen was the first disciple of Jesus to live faith in Jesus in extreme persecution; in the real threat of death. He is the proto-martyr; the first one to give his life for the gospel of Jesus.

In the book of Acts the name of St. Stephen occurs for the first time when Luke tells of the appointment of the first deacons (Acts 6:5). There was some among the community of faith who were cheesed off about the unfairness of the distribution of resources from the community’s fund.

To deal with the problem, seven men were selected and specially ordained by the Apostles to take care of making sure the poor and disadvantaged were looked after in the community. Of these seven deacons, Stephen, is the first mentioned and the best known.

Stephen’s name is Greek and suggests he was one of those Jews who had been born in some foreign land and whose native language was Greek.

Stephen certainly seems to be an educated young man. His speech before the hostile religious council is one of a young man who knows his Scriptures, the Law, and the Temple Liturgy. Some have said that Stephen may have been a fellow pupil with Saul of the great Jewish teacher of the day, Gameliel. This text is also the first time that we hear of that other student, Saul of Tarsus. He was the one who oversaw and approved of Stephen’s death.

Stephen seems to stand out from the other seven deacons. Indeed, he doesn’t seem to do much “deaconing”! He does “powerful wonders of grace among the people”, Luke tells us (6:8).

WE ARE NOT AMUSED!

Some are not amused. As with Jesus, they gather some corrupt associates and set Stephen up for a mock trial before the same men who thought they had finished off this Jesus fellow.

Stephen’s speech is one that really presses all the “hot buttons” of these powerful but very anxious men. It is all beginning to look and sound the same as it did with that fellow Jesus!

THE story…

Stephen re-tells the grand story of God’s dealing with his people. It is the very story of the people accusing Stephen. They are more Jewish than he and here is this Greek speaking person telling them their own story! Hot button number 1!

As with all great speeches of any self-respecting rabbi, we have to start with Abraham. We hear of God’s promises to Abraham to make a people for himself. Then we hear of Jacob’s son, Joseph, another young man who was falsely accused and left for dead by his own brothers. But by faith in the Lord, down in Egypt, became a great instrument of blessing for the world.

Then it is on to Moses. God acted to save his people from evil and oppression through Moses in Egypt, even though the people doubted God’s hand at work through Moses from the beginning.  Then Moses, and God, had to witness the great moment of disobedience by Gods people – the golden calf at Sinai. Jewish Law Experts’ bottoms would have been shifting along the wooden benches in the room by this stage!

And then it is on to the big one: the temple. God gave a pattern of a temporary, transportable tabernacle where he met with his people in the desert to hear their prayer, bless them and forgive them. “Not even that great king David built this peranent temple in which we now sit”, says Stephen. Indeed, God doesn’t dwell in temples or in one country. There is no “holy land” or any great cathedral that can contain God, or to which God is limited, is what Stephen says. There is no one people to which God must remain limited. Stephen is a living sign of this!

STUBBORN UNHEARNG PEOPLE!

And then the telling charge of this bold disciple of Jesus to the power-brokers of his day. “You are stiff-necked, stubborn, blind, arrogant people, just like all those in the past who rejected the grace of the Lord!” he declares. That is like barracking for the West Coast Eagles at a Port Power or Crows game! You take your life into your own hands!

Stephen goes on…..  “You have rejected and willingly sought to destroy God’s grace in the person of Jesus; the Righteous One, whom God sent to save you and all people, Greek speaking like me, or Hebrew speaking, like you. You say I have not kept the law; you say I am a law-breaker and deserve shame and death – you are the ones that are breaking the good and perfect law of God – the law of love – a law that is meant to protect the people and serve them. You are law-breakers!”

Oh boy! This young man is speaking God’s Word at any cost to himself. He is speaking the truth and the truth is not wanted.

CALLED TO SPEAK AND HEAR

That is how it is with us sometimes; both ways. We are called to speak the truth of God’s law and the good news of Jesus and people listening reject it out of hand.

Or, the truth is spoken to us by a concerned friend, or a stranger sometimes, or even a preacher or even an enemy, and for lots of reason we just do not want to hear it.

But the Lord continues to speak – not out of malice but out of love. The law, which accuses us of our sin, our deafness to God’s word, our lack of understanding and trust in the Lord kills the old Adam in us. But not to leave us dead to God, but to create faith in Jesus, the love of God with and for us, as have just celebrated.

THE CROWN

Stephen paid the ultimate price for faithfully speaking God’s word. Many have since and as many do now. As he did, the Lord was with him and gave him what the name Stephanos means in Greek – “crown”.

A quick look at the Amnesty International website and some other Christian networks will show us that people in Africa, Latin America, Africa, Indonesia and many other continents and countries are being imprisoned, oppressed, tortured and murdered because they are disciples of Jesus Christ.

REMEMBER AND PRAY

We would do well to remember St Stephen and all those who are oppressed because of their faith in Christ. We would do well to ask the Lord to give us an extra measure of faith by his Spirit to give faithful witness to the love of the Jesus given to us. Both to receive God’s word – law that kills and shows us our need of a Saviour, and gospel, that breathes God’s life into our hearts and minds and then to live and tell of him all the time – no matter what personal cost might be involved.

Remember Stephen; read that Acts speech and count yourself among the stiff-necked people – and then pray to your Lord and Saviour, Jesus. Ask him to forgive you, renew you, strengthen you for this year. Ask him to give you courage to pay the price and make the faithful witness in your sphere of people and trust him for the crown of life that he has already given you, now in part, and one day in full.

ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE CHURCH

A closing encouragement for us is that this death of one of God’s people and the following severe persecution ushered in the beginning of the greatest missionary work in history. Phillip goes south, Peter went north, some of Stephens associates went further north and then, Saul, who would be confronted by the Jesus for his persecution of Christians and made new, would begin the great witness to the known world – to all people, or all ethnic groups, or all languages.

Eventually this skirmish in one of the most isolated and insignificant parts of the Roman empire would reach Rome itself and a few hundred years later, would be the dominant faith in the world.

We need the faith of Stephen in our time when other faiths are making great headway. These faith are faiths in all sorts of things – mostly in ourselves – not faith in the only true God of Stephen – Father, Son and holy Spirit. We need boldness to give faithful and gracious witness in our time.

Lord, give us this faith that changes the world and brings your kingdom of love and mercy for all. Amen.

Always Will

Sermon: Pentecost 11Calways will

Sunday August 4, 2013, St Petri

 

Always Will

Hosea 11:1-11

View the media file “Always will” at the beginning of the sermon.

 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.[
a]
They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize it was I who healed them.

I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.

“Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?

A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.

 “How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;  all my compassion is aroused.

I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man
—    the Holy One among you.  

   I will not come against their cities.
10 They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,  his children will come trembling from the west.
11 They will come from Egypt,  trembling like sparrows,
from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord.

God tortures himself in this Word from Hosea.

The woman in this scene is God’s wayward people. They have placed the ring of the covenant they made to be God’s people in God’s world on the table and gone off to the club to find solace and flame and meaning in something or someone else. This has been building. Time and time again God’s people have done this and still pretended to be married or be in covenant with the Lord. Now they have made their final break….

The man represents the furious compassion of God in pursuit of his loved partner people.

He tortures himself by continuing to seek his people, put up with their repeated rejection. God knows the pain of separation. God knows the pain of divorce from a loved one. In Hosea the language of God’s loss is strong – like the feelings of loss for us.

But, as the narration said, and as we vividly see in the pages of Hosea true love – God love – God’s self-sacrificing kindness cannot be explained. It defies sanity. It defies logic. This is God’s kind of love – always…

He will forgive. He will pursue. He will bring us home. That is his voice in this word today.

“I do have choice, says God. And I still choose you. I always will. I always will”.

How is it with you, friend? Where is the baptism certificate? Left on the table? That’s our wedding ring as Christians.

Been a long way from the Lord this week, this month, this decade? Been seeking the things the world can offer at the cost of your inner freedom and spiritual balance? Been rejecting Jesus and his call on your life? Been dancing around with various desires and pleasures and self-improvements and the like?

He is pursing you now ….

Through Hosea the prophet of the Lord….

When I first knew you, when you were a child, I loved you, says God. Out of slavery to yourself and the darkness of your own rebellious ways I called you my son, my friend, my child.

The more I called you, the more they went away from me;

You kept sacrificing your relationship with me and even the people who love you on your idols of self.

You keep paying the price that your idols demand… you kept looking for the peace, the security, the kindness the power to overcome your broken heart in people and things that could not deliver the things for which you long.

But I was the one who taught you how to walk, ride a bike, drive car, work hard…

I was the one who took you all up in my arms; but you did not know or forgot that I healed you of all your brokenness at your baptism and every time you gathered in my name and shared the body and blood of my Son, the sacrificial Lamb who has taken away the sin of the whole world on his cross.

I have been leading you with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I am to you like a person in your life who lift infants to their cheeks. I continually bent down to you and sustain you – feed you with my healing and calling Word.

For as long as you refuse to come back to me and this turning away from me continues in your life, you shall be ruled by the kings of the world, the tides of your culture, the call of more and more, the temptation and never-ending burden of your own misplaced dreams about more this, and more that…….

The damage from self-seeking rages in your community. This trouble, pain and fear consumes even your community leaders. Sin and evil devours human life because of evil human scheming.

My people are bent on turning away from me. They call out to a great power for help, but I do not raise them up at all.

O but how can I give you up, my people? I can’t! How can I hand you over, and let your evil devour you, my beloved people? I just cannot. How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.

They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.

How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like that stubborn, man Admah, whom I judged and condemned? How can I treat you like that completely judged and condemned city, Zeboiim? I can’t do that to you. My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy you; for I am God and no mere human. I am the pure and Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

Friends, in the final execution of God’s wrath on humankind, inflicted in the very body of Jesus of Nazareth, and in the glorious rising of that same man, we can have absolute clarity and confidence in the truth that “he always will”.

Our Creator is our Saviour and our wise Counsellor. Our God is love whose love divine excels all of our loves. Can you hear his voice speaking into your situation today? He always will – pursue you, call you, invite you, love you. Forgive you. He always will.

Can we always? Can we always pursue, love, call, invite, welcome and forgive? I don’t think we can. We are mere mortals and God is not. Sometimes the pain is just too great, the damage too far down, the way to recovery and peace too difficult for us to achieve – even as Christians.

But it is then that we can rest back on God’s perfect “always” for us. When we can’t “always will”, he always will”!

We know what God has done and still does to be the pure and Hoy One living with us. He has been true to his word and “return us to our home with him” by gathering all people into the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls and our cities.

God raised us up from our idolatry and rebellious heart against him while we were still rebellious and hostile to him and laid down the life of his dearly loved Son by sheer underserved love and we arose from that water of our baptism by the mighty resurrection power of Jesus and we are at home with our God wherever we go and whatever we do and whoever we are.

Friends if he “always will” pursue us, seek us, call us, invite us, welcome us then we are called to be like this as much as we humanely can be with the Holy Spirit’s help, for each other.

Paul calls us to be like our God in – people who “always will”, or at least most of the time “always will”!

Here’s some direction from the Lord on what it means to live as an “always will” kind of person for others…

Colossians 3:1-11
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have already died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Keep putting to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: sexual wrong doing, impurity, selfish passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry – trusting in things created rather than your Creator who loves you.).
Get rid of all such things—unrighteous anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.
Do not lie to one another, now that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised; slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Friends, we have the joy of being a community who live in the presence and promises of a God who is compassionate to a wayward wife, husband, friend and child. He obviously knows the pain of such a thing – the pain of wanting to love but being rejected in love; the pain of watching a loved one make one bad decision after another and reap the harsh consequences and not be able to anything about it; the pain of wanting a relationship with a loved one but knowing that the sin has to be named to be known and dealt with – tough love indeed.

And is there anywhere in the whole bible that describes the loving compassion of our Creator God who truly loves his community of often wayward people.

God binds himself to his people and can’t let them go. Even when he has to correct, rebuke, challenge, it is from a heart of love with the longest term view in mind – eternity!!

This is our place and our privilege and the driver for all we do together as a local church.

We are not engaging in conversation and prayer about the Holy Spirit’s specific direction in God ‘s mission here at St Petri to “save St Petri” or get more people in church or look good among other people and places or “build bigger barns’ for all our achievements and status and etc….

We are engaging in serious conversation about the Lord’s mission among us and through us to be like him – Always will” people – people who pursue toe sinner, love the lost, help the poor, invite the stranger – because that is how God has been with us.

So, as we seek the Lord on our directions as his people in this place lets indeed go with Paul’s direction and “Set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have already died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Our life is hidden in the compassion and kindness of our God and we are only here because of him. We have a purpose – a mission because of him. We are who we are by the grace of God and nothing else.

What a privilege to have that purpose, that calling , that place, that status and that hope. Our life is hidden in the “Always will” God who simple “Always will”.

Amen.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

1. People share a high and low for their week.

2. Read this part of the text together…..

My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
My heart is changed within me;  all my compassion is aroused.I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—    the Holy One among you.

3. God has got a problem!  One the one hand his people are “determined to turn” from him and so, rightly deserve his judgement on their rebellious hearts. On the other hand he loves them and just cannot let them go.

4. Have you experienced this problem in one of your own relationships? Share something of that story…..

5. The whole book of Hosea is known for its emotive description of God’s deep compassion and care for his people. Scan this text, identify the strong words used to gain a sense of the deep nature of God’s compassion. How do these words make you feel about your own relationship with the Lord?

6. My heart is changed within me;  all my compassion is aroused. Another way of translating this sentence is to say “,,,,,,and God repents…” God repents of executing his just judgement on his wayward people. God changes his mind. This is one of the few times in the Bible where God changes his mind and does not execute direct judgement on sinful people. Can you think of another occasion when God changes his mind? One seems to be Genesis 18:16ff…..

7. God has executed his judgement fully in the death of his Son Jesus. All this has been for us so that we no longer have to fear God’s wrath. In our baptism we have received the full benefit of Jesus’ sacrificial work for us. How does this truth shape your life? In what ways do you respond to this love of God and what do you believe we are all called to be and do in the way we live and relate to others?

Reading through Colossians 3:1-11 will help you reflect on this question and share your thoughts…..

the Servant Washing

Short Homilyservant washing

Maundy Thursday Night, 2013

Rite of Footwashing, St Petri

In a way we cannot miss tonight—we proclaim and celebrate the realty that Jesus is a Servant king serving us always with his life and love and grace.

This sets him apart from all other world religious symbols and leaders. The Servant King is completely unique and his serving is revolutionary to us.

The Servant King is THE king—the Way, the Truth and the life for all people.

Will we turn away from his serving as peter and no doubt, other close friends, wanted to do on this night?

Is he too low for us? Is his cross not powerful enough for us? Is he too weak for us?

Or will we say, “Lord, wash our feet and our heads and our whole selves!”

Friends, find joy in his Serving in this re-enactment, in the holy meal we share tonight and in the good news of tomorrow and Sunday.

Good Shepherd love

Lay Sermon, Easter 4B

Sunday April 29, 2012

Combined Service, St Petri

 John 10:11-18

Good Shepherd love

   11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep 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 are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Prayer:           Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and Good Shepherd. Amen

Friends, if there is one beautiful image that Jesus paints of himself, it is this one of him being a good shepherd we can trust. He says he is the leader and guide for life that tends us carefully and wisely through times of drought and times of abundance. It is a wonderful picture that Jesus, our Good Shepherd paints of himself and his deep concern for us.

It’s interesting that many biblical scholars have pointed to the tell-tale concerns that the Apostle John seems to have had when writing his gospel. As John, bears witness in words he speaks about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, there seems to have been a major concern for John regarding the community in which he ministered as God’s shepherd, or ‘pastor’, in the Latin language. The problem was something to do with love – or a decided lack of love as far as John was concerned.

Self-preservation, Self-improvement.

The opposite of self-giving, servant kind of love of which John so often speaks in his letters – the kind of love he knew in Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah, seems to be running short through John’s community. As John sees it, the community was not the community of love it was called to be (15:1-17). People were not dedicated to one another with heart and soul, mind and strength. Instead, they were dedicated to self-preservation through self-improvement. They seemed to be thinking that this was the way God’s flock.

When the going got tough they deserted one another like the “hired hand” Jesus speaks of in our text (10:12). What resulted was the demise of community: a people more interested in making comparisons than giving acceptance, a people more dedicated to competition and self-preservation through self-improvement than to mutual care (13:12-17).

Tuned in to the wrong “voice.”

According to John, this approach to living is a reflection of the “voice” the people are listening to. As we know, there are many voices clamoring for our attention on a daily basis, and like us, John’s people seem to have succumbed to tuning out the voice of the Good Shepherd and tuning in the voice of another, the voice of expectations, keeping the right standards, being the right kind of people.

When John talks about listening to a voice he means being captivated by the voice, taking it to heart and believing in it firmly. This begs the questions: What do we listen to? What are we captivated by and what or whose word do we really believe in when we hear it?

John knows for sure that not all voices are the same and that many are down right destructive of faith and love. There are voices that are only like hired hands who have no real care for each person – but only want what they can get out of it, and only use you to meet their own self-driven ends.

“Scattered” — Destruction of the Flock

And here is the trouble with which we are confronted today. The end result of going the self-preservation way where we truly believe that the best of life is to be found in improving our selves and our property is that we become deaf to the only voice that really gives life and creates love – true self-giving, mutual respect and service kind of love, which binds us together in love.

The end result of tuning into the old voices of self-improvement and looking after number one actually scatters the flock. That is John’s experience. Is it ours too? As a community of faith in Jesus the Good Shepherds are we more into self-preservation like hired hands who are not really committed to serving each other? This is the challenge from the Good Shepherd today.

Where there is no voice of the Good Shepherd there is no gathering of the flock, no community, and only an aimless wandering and a façade at surface level.

Jesus himself says that where there is no flock gathered, no voice heard, there is no feeding, no protection, no “abundant life,” no salvation (10:9-10, 26). The old motto “there is no salvation outside the Church” is what Jesus seems to be driving at, if by “Church” we do not mean a mere institution, but the “flock of God,” wherever and whenever we gather.

Good Shepherding.

Praise the Good Shepherd that there is a different way – a way back to love and true community of loving relationships. The Good Shepherd came among his scattered sheep, once and for all, to gather them.

What makes him “good” is that he is not intimidated by the other voices. He is not phased by the charge of even “blasphemy” and threats of “stoning” (10:31-33) that came his way — but is willing (10:18) to lay down his life for his sheep (10:11, 15, 17, 18).

The cross, which his opponents thought would silence his voice, was actually his PA System! We now know him unmistakably, loud and clear as our shepherd, and we know his love first-hand.

What’s more, in his resurrection we know him as the One who is “loved by the Father” (10:17) and that his act of “laying down his life for the sheep” was not merely his idea but the will of the Father. With the Father’s backing he has real authority — real power! He has the authority and the power to lay down and take up his life (10:18) and to give it in great abundance to his sheep (10:10).

Knowing and Following.

We are captivated by his voice. We follow his voice. His voice is unique and clear on the cross and his power to heal, restore, protect, lead is unquestionable in his resurrection. To know his voice is to follow his voice (10:27. We know so we follow. We are loved, so we love. We are shepherded, so we shepherd each other.

In a world in which everyone wants to be the leader or “top dog”, Christians have a different instinct ingrained in them: Jesus calls it faith. The sheep know their shepherd to be a master servant (13:12-20) and, knowing that, they value and do servant hood, as they faithfully follow Him.

Following is not an act of blind, dumb obedience. Good followers are knowledgeable. They know exactly what and who they are following. That’s what makes them so good at following. This does not mean that there are not “leaders” in the Church. There are. But such leaders are sub-shepherds, master followers, appointed by THE Shepherd to serve on his behalf– like Peter, the Rock who is charged with feeding the flock on the Word of Jesus (21:15-19).

Gathered as a Community of Care One for Another.

And here is the heart of it all for us today. This faith in the voice of the Shepherd we know,  and the values of following and servant hood that he instills naturally lead to community.

So, following Jesus is not a private affair, but an affair of the flock. Our gathering as the flock of the Shepherd is all part of the abundant life he gives. In the midst of the flock we receive his feeding, his protection, his care and his life. In the flock there is no competition, but only mutual care and “friendship” (15:13). In the flock, the command and desire of Christ (that we “love one another as he has loved us”) becomes a reality here and now.

We are community and we are church and we are here. Jesus says he has many more sheep to add to his fold and that is our mandate. We are charged with the call to be committed to and concerned for those outside the flock – with love – Jesus’ love – the love of the Shepherd.

Above all the other things we learn, may we learn to love in Jesus’ “Good Shepherd” kind of way – self-giving, caring, and strong.

John puts it well…

 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters in the flock…Dear people, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

May we find way to love each other for it is by our love that those still yet to be drafted into the flock will know the love of Jesus for them.

Amen

Prayer:           And now may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Amen