Author: padtryad (page 1 of 33)

Easter 5A Sunday May 18, 2014. St PetriLoud Mouth

LOUD MOUTHS TO LISTENERS
Acts 7:55-60

55But filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56Look, he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

In Year 8 my best friend’s dad was a junior football coach. My best friend and i did not play on the same team, and so, when my team played his team we came across his Dad.

His Dad’s name was Ian and Ian was a really good bloke. But because of how he coached his young chargers during the game, he got the name “Ian the Mouth”. The reason he got the name “The mouth” was because he used a megaphone from the sideline to constantly instruct his players!

It was really annoying! Not just for the opposition team and supporters, but for his own players and supporters. I know this because my best friend would tell me. After all, the cause of the annoyance for all was his Dad!

There is not too many more annoying people to be around than a loud mouth. Like when you go for a quiet meal at a fine establishment ready to taste good culinary delights, and there s a table next to you with one person loudly dominating the conversation so that the whole room can hear him (usually a him!). This happens more frequently and more intensely with each glass of beer or wine, I notice!

There is not too much more of a sense of shame one feels when you yourself may have been the loud mouth in a situation – trying to dominate other people ’s input, getting your own way and generally being dismissive of others and unaware of their needs and their dignity – a cause for self-reflection and repentance before the Lord so that forgiveness comes and shame is removed and we learn the way of Jesus again…

Can’t Hear You!
Well in this account of Stephen, the proto- martyr, being martyred there two moments of loud shouting and they are very different.

With such anger and stiff-necked resistance to the Word of Jesus being proclaimed by this man Stephen, the religious leaders covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him” and killed him. it feels like we are one of the Ukrainian cities at the moment. People rushing at each other with nothing but blood and death to get rid of this voice, this challenge this threat….
Won’t Listen!
Stephen knows what this loud mouth behaviour is all about. He told them that their refusal to hear the Good News about Jesus was not new. They were just like their ancestors’ refusal to listen to Moses out in that desert, or, worse, their refusal to keep God’s law – even in the very moment when the Lord was giving this precious gift to them on Mt Sinai. Sure, they possessed God’s law. But did they really hear it and did they know the heart of the God who gave them his way for living? Stephen says no. One after another before this angry loud mouth moment, Stephen pulls up one indisputable loud mouth resistant story after another.

As you read through Stephen’s sermon leading up to this intense end, you can feel the anger rising in the group as he goes on pressing his point home. Those resisting the gospel of God in Jesus are indeed a stiff-necked people, loud, proud and very unattractive.

And here they are now, after the God of the Old Testament has done something completely new and completely loving and gracious and almighty in the death and resurrection of Jesus, not being willing to listen to the Holy Spirit of Jesus. They are once again to be found in opposition to God.

No Spirit (Empty Lungs)
Ironically, they who are stoning Stephen are the ones out of whom the Wind of the Spirit has been knocked. They are breathless now. They are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, they are lifeless without God. They can only destroy life now, not assist it or bring it.

Friends, the Spirit calls us to ask ourselves, where am I stiff-necked and resistant to the Lord’s voice today? Where am I attempting to dominate, have control and gain power to overrule, over power and silence? What am I afraid of at the moment and how am I trying to distance myself from that person, that things, that challenging voice? Where I am talking so loud and why am I talking so loud as to drown out other voices or his voice?

A Louder Cry (from Empty Lungs!)
And after that self-reflection and that conversation between Christian firends or marriage partners or parent and children, or colleagues, we listen to a louder, longer listing, deeply compassionate and clear voice of God…

Stephen draws the deepest breath he can and announces the Gospel so loud that, even over the shouting and rock-throwing, they heard it: He calls upon God to forgive these stiff-necked loudmouth people. He is just like his Saviour, Jesus. His very presence and his loud cry for mercy on them brings Jesus right into the situation and shows everyone that Jesus gave his spirit into God’s hands and asked forgiveness for his executioners.

Stephen, the gospel person here in this moment shouts forgiveness so loud that it cancels out their opposition to God, inviting them even in that dire emergency to repent and trust in Jesus.

Isn’t that who we are and what we do? We are not loud for ourselves but for others. We have no need to protect ourselves for we are loved and we are free and we are his. We can get loud for others – get loud in the practice the words of forgiveness – God’s forgiveness for stiff-necked enemies and those following along the loud-mouth way.
Hearing Jesus
Friends, Stephen could not have done such a generous thing except that he listened to Jesus. He noticed how Jesus went to his death. He noted how gracious it was of God, to offer his Son and give his Spirit to the very people who had disappointed him. Stephen believed, and it was counted unto him as righteousness. Stephen’s martyrdom didn’t save him, hearing Jesus did.

(Not Drowning) Kneeling
Stephen kneels as the rocks hit him and the end is near – living breathing demonstration of the love of Christians even for their enemies.

Stephen didn’t try to prove what a man he was by standing as long as he could. He was content, in that moment, to suffer while being conscious of God—to borrow from the Second Reading for Easter 4 (I know that was last Sunday! But listen):

19For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

Stephen is us. We have noticed Jesus. He has given himself for us and to us and we are community kneeling before him with ears wide open for his voice.

In the face of anger and dislike and gossip and hurt Jesus is with us. As the rocks are thrown and the words hurt, we kneel and somehow in the holy Spirit’s indwelling power, we pray not fight. We seek the wellbeing of the other more than our own. We give up ourselves and place the outcome in Jesus’ hands and in that is wonderful freedom.

And now we are his people. Once were not but now we are. We exist to be Stephens for this community. We exist to declare the mighty acts of him who called you out of this loudmouth darkness to his listening light.

What a community to be part of – a mercy community that speaks the truth, prays for enemies, loves those accusing, gives up our own wellbeing and status and place for others in the spirit of the risen Jesus and the first martyr, Stephen, who offers to give us everything we need to move from being loudmouths to listeners of his.

Friends, once we were loudmouths, but now we are listeners—and that brings God’s peace. Because, just as Christ suffered for us, we follow in his steps.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Read through the Acts 7 in quite deliberately imagining the scene and placing your self in the moment. Take note of what you find yourself being most attentive to and what questions this event raises for you…

 

Then read the build up to this intense end – Acts chapter 7 – Stephen’s speech before the ruling authorities. How does this speech strike you and why do you think it eventually ends up with this violent reaction from the Sanhedrin?

I notes those two references to “Loud Voices” – one from the Sanhedrin in their rush to execute Stephen and silence his voice…and one from Stephen as he asks the Lord to receive him in his death and forgive those throwing the stones. We reflected on the Sanhedrin’s loud voice. They were “loudmouths because they stopped listening. Stephen called this lack of listening to the gospel of Jesus being “stiff-necked”.

Talk about how you might be a little stiff-necked in relation to another person, a present situation, a particular voice challenging you at the moment and how now or in the past you have plugged your ears to God and become stiff-necked on following his lead. be specific and share these stories as brothers and sisters in already forgiven in Christ.

We also asked the question about why we become a little more “loud-mouthed” sometimes – Is it because we are scared of change and challenge? Is is because we are just a little too prideful or self-orientated? Is it because we have other more easy voices to listen to – voices that tell us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear? Maybe all of these? Reflect on this together…

Then we turned to Stephen’s voice – that voice of humble prayer in the face of suffering and brought to mind the second reading from last week again –

19For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19-25)

Have you been “aware of God” as you have endured pain and suffering and have you been affirmed in this – that this awareness of and trust in the Lord in suffering gets his great stamp of approval? How have you been aware of the Lord in your suffering and how has this helped?

Stephen brings us straight back to Jesus on that cross as he prays the same prayers Jesus prayed in his suffering for us. We noted that Stephen was just like his Saviour in this suffering and dying. Reflect on the grace of Stephen in this situation and the grace of Jesus in his suffering for us and talk about how we might live out this grace in our suffering and in our relationships…

We noted that just our very presence in tough situations and the way we pray and speak and trust the Lord on the inside and the outside is what the Lord calls us to be and do. We are a community who prays with people and for people in suffering. Ho do you think we do this at St Petri and how do you think you can be ore of this among the people you live and relate?

If there is anyone with a particular struggle of following the call of Jesus in their life at the moment pray a prayer of thanks for the Lord’s forgiveness for all our sin and pray that he would give us all the things we need to follow.

If there are people suffering then pray for them by name in the group. Thanks the Lord for Stephen and all those who have paved the way of faith in Jesus before us and their great example to us and commit the group the Lord for his purposes.

 

Stay or Stray?

Sermon: Sunday May 11Good Shepherd
Good Shepherd Sunday, Mothers Day
Keeping the Flock Together
1 Peter 2:19-25 and Acts 2:42
19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[a]
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”[b] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

KEEPING THE FLOCK TOGETHER
Keeping the flock together: That is what Mum’s do, don’t they? That is how Mums (and Dad’s) be like the Good Shepherd. Parents are called to tend their children. It is so very hard when mums and dads don’t do this and so, give up their Good Shepherd calling, But it is so very good when they live in the shadow of the Good Shepherd as they shepherd and tend their kids for the long haul.

I am not sure anyone carries in their heart more of the relationships, the conversations, the worries, the plans, the needs of a family more than a Mum? Sometimes Mum is not around. Sometimes it is someone else doing all of this. Sometimes it is dad, sometimes grandma, sometimes a carer. Sometimes there is no one doing any of this for some families and that makes things so very lonely and often damaging.

But keeping the family together is a goal and a commitment that Mums often have and they act on this a million ways over a very long time – a life-time.

Mum’s are like shepherds in this way. This is what shepherds do. This is their aim. Today we give thanks for our Mums specifically. We give thanks for them to our Divine Parent, God the Father, and for the giving of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who tends us and cares for us over the longest time.

This is what the Good Shepherd is committed to doing – so much so that he will go into dangerous territory to find the lost sheep and bring that sheep back into fold.

So highly does the Good Shepherd value us being together in one flock that he has endured all the evil, the alienation of being a lost and forsaken sheep so that we do not have to be this way anymore.

1Peter 2:19-25
OUR GOOD SHEPHERD
Our Good Shepherd did what a lot of women do. He bore the pain of his own people. He suffered and stayed the course like a woman who has tended to the needs of others for years through thick and thin. Our Good Shepherd bore up under the pain of unjust suffering out of obedience to his Father’s will and was credited as highly exalted as a result.

Innocent, and with a generous heart, Jesus, the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the flock of those he would establish after the tomb was smashed wide open.

ALL ARE LOST SHEEP
And all of this for all of us – sheep that naturally go astray without any care of the Good Shepherd. We are like those sheep grazing around in the paddock. Without the fence the land owner puts up we might just graze away on the good grass we have until unaware we find ourselves alone, isolated and in the dark near a big ravine. And like sheep, we would not be able to find our way back by ourselves.

Even worse: without the tending of the Shepherd we are inches from certain death – As we graze away from day to day we might not realise that without that fence put up by the Shepherd we might find ourselves on the edge of the highway and suffering a sudden death by the wheels of a road train whizzing by.
Friend’s without Jesus’ word tending us we would graze our way to our death. That is what lay within us sheep of God. We all go astray. We always tend to do that. It is our disease – going astray, pulling away from the accountability and responsibility that comes with being in the flock of God.

PULLING AWAY
We seem naturally to spend quite a bit of our energy pulling away from commitment and love for other sheep. We are prone to delude ourselves that we live this life on individual terms when the truth is that we can only truly live with the commitment, support, encouragement and warmth of the flock around us under than tending and direction and forgiveness of the Good Shepherd.

Just like a son or daughter of a mum, it is right and good for us to acknowledge her care and her tending so we remain a family that is together in love.- even if there have been mistakes, because one way in which a woman cannot be like the Good Shepherd is in perfection!.

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
There is encouragement and warmth and strength in numbers. Sheep in the Shepherd’s care must need to highly value being together. It is how we have always existed with Jesus, the Good Shepherd – in a flock. Not along out in individual land. That is dangerous ground. So dangerous that the Shepherd commits himself to keeping us in the flock – even putting his own life at risk to ensure that we stay connected.

Like a mum who quietly works away for decades at keeping her family together, tending the kids as best she can, sharing the pain of the kids and the partner (if she has one), working at binding up the broken hearted in the family and worrying when people disconnect and go astray from the family… so Jesus the Good Shepherd works away for a life-time on keeping us connected and protected from ourselves our inner disease of self-orientation.

Acts 2:42-47
STAYING CONNECTED
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

So, person of God, sheep in the fold of the Good Shepherd, do you want to remain in him and he in you? Do you want to survive the night alone, the pull toward seeing everything in individual terms, the inclination of your heart to replace the Good Shepherd with a thousand other shepherds – that really are all you and about you, because after all, you are the one doing the following and making the choices to disconnect from Him and follow them and your self… We all are.

If we pull away from the flock and the Shepherd, how will we last the distance, stay close to Jesus and live one heck of a life that is full of support, encouragement, learning, serving, being a person who brings His peace, his guidance his rule, his love to a very disconnect world?

How do we keep together? One way and three ways.

ONE THING:
FELLOWSHIP: The one way is the general direction here in Luke’s account of the first church and all throughout the New testament communities. The one big direction for all of God’s people is to do all you can to stay connected to the local flock. Share the fellowship of the flock of God a disjointed and alienating world.

It is God’s flock no matter the skill of the under-shepherd, the choice of how they sing the song of belonging to him, where the pen is situated and how many fit into that particular pen. No, this local flock is a sign – a sign of a global, cosmic community of the Good Shepherd in your place.

So, the one thing for a sheep like you and me? Stay connected. Respond to his leading to be in the local flock of his people.

THREE THINGS
And then the three things…?

Luke gives them to us: Word, Meal, Prayer

WORD: Devote your heart to hearing the word of the Shepherd, sharing the encouragement and strength that comes from a common creed, a common meal, a common serving, a common welcome and hospitality.

MEAL: Get to the food – the bread of life, the Good Shepherd in person, with all the other sheep, and graze on the good things he offers at the table all the time – forgiveness and new life over and over again….

PRAYER: Speak with him together with all the others. Ask for things. Express yourself to him with others. Listen to his response with others. Wait on him with others. Seek him in the silence and the song and the conversation of the flock.

WE WILL BE LIKE HIM
Friends, as we commit to staying connected by hearing his Word, sharing him in his meal and speaking to him with each other, we will be allowing ourselves to live under the leading of the Good Shepherd who loves this community enough to create a flock of faithful people within it. And as this happens we will grow in our awareness of and calling in his way – you will naturally participate in the ongoing task of the Good Shepherd: to leave the 99 sheep to get the one – often.

Under the teaching and the gracious presence of the Good Shepherd you will be like that woman who is just immovable when it comes to caring for another in need. You will be like that mum who puts in hours and hours of caring work for her family with no questions asked.

You will be shaped in the community of grace by the grace of the Shepherd of grace, and you will be more and more like that Shepherd as you go out often, leaving the comfort of the strength in numbers – not to do our own thing but to the Shepherd thing – seeking the lost one sheep and bring him or her home to be with the flock.

A SHEPHERDING COMMUNITY
Oh for a community of God’s people who know how to shepherd as he shepherds – Oh to become more and more people who like the Good Shepherd – inviting, gently leading, sometime challenging others – bit only out of love, and always for the goal of bringing them home to the flock.

What else would you want to be?
Where else would you rather be than in the local flock of the Good Shepherd who is still seeking the strays and creating and re-creating his one flock?

What are the alternatives?
• Would we all really rather be alone?
• Follow our stray heart?
• Reject the community that God has provided and sustains for us all?

No, do the one and the four. It is the Shepherds will for all of us.

STAY CONNECTED
Stay Connected with all your might
As you hear his word with others
Break the holy bread of Life with others
Speak to him with others.

This is how the Good Shepherd keeps the family together.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Share 2 good things your Mum gave you and a thing she made you do that you did not like or understand at the time but now understand and appreciate.

Read both the text from 1 Peter and then the text from Acts carefully, identifying the questions they raise in your minds and the imagination that they fire in you ans share these with others.

How are Mum and Dad’s) like Jesus, the Good Shepherd?

How is Jesus more than what our parents can be for us?

How has staying connected to God’s people helped you over the years and how do you think St Petri is doing as a community at the one thing and the three things? Share your thoughts…

St Peter goes into how Jesus was like a innocent lamb to the slaughter and in being this took all of the judgement of God against human sin on himself voluntarily and then speaks that beautiful word about us being healed by Jesus’ wounds. “by his wounds we are healed”, says peter. Share you experience of this text. When has it meant the most for you? Tell your stories….

Luke in writing the account of how the Holy Spirit grew God’s gospel community throughout the known world and thereby fulfilled the promises of God given by Jesus as he ascended on high (see Luke 24:36ff) tells us how the community gathered – around those three things for the purpose of the one thing in the Holy Spirit’s fellowship. How do you see these things present in our worship at St Petri? How have you stayed connected to God’s community and the gospel is proclaims over the years and how you can help others re-connect or stay connected. Share your experiences.

 

GIVING thanks: The Money thing

Sermon:  Thanksgiving SundayGive Thanks- the money thing
Sunday April 27, 2014. St Petri
Luke 17:11-19, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

GIVING BACK TO GOD?

I suspect most of us might have heard this deep thought at least once in our life. We know it is “Important to give back to God”. I know that many folks around St Petri practice this very thing – giving back the God – with time, skills, money, effort, serving – and we are a thriving local church as a result!.

On the other hand, I also suspect that lots of folks, particularly of my generation and under, might sometimes struggle with giving back to God – not in terms of helping out, serving and giving of time and skills so much, but in terms of money. My generation and those later then mine do struggle with the Christian practice of giving the first fruits of our income – little or large, back to God. I reckon it may just be because we are not sure why this is important or how to do it. And this generation is always interested in why more than anything else.

It seems appropriate on thanksgiving day to talk about GIVING thanks, and to be quite specific about that much feared topic of money! – the Christian way to handle in giving back to God.

DUTY DEVOID OF HEART

“Deep thoughts from a shallow Christian” says that giving of money and time and talents is only about giving enough to avoid God’s wrath. Giving is a matter of merely following some tradition or family or church culture tradition out of sense of duty devoid of any real heart and commitment to the Lord.

If that is all giving is then we are merely being called to give of ourselves in some bare minimum way and for the reason of staying in the good books of church culture, family expectation or even God.

THE BARE MINIMUM

So with this depleted belief about giving, the idea is that we all actually giving something (the barest minimum) because you know it is “important” for some reason, but you don’t know or care why it is important.

RE-TUNE US

Would we ask the Spirit of God to re-tune us not to only the duty of giving but our love and commitment to our Saviour and each other, and our common mission of sharing the love and hope Jesus with people around here?

To do that, let’s de-bunk a couple of myths to begin with…

THE CHURCH IS ALWAYS AFTER YOUR MONEY!

People say that the church is always after your money. Well, yes we are. Mission costs money. We as a local Christian community here are responsible for sharing and living the gospel here. Yes we do want and need money at St Petri because we are a community of Christ participating in his mission to bring his kingdom of the good news to bear on this community and takes more than just money – it takes heart, people’s heart and mind and talents and resources and love. And from the heart comes giving.

THE CHURCH IS JUST KINGDOM BUILDING

People say that the church is just “kingdom building” and so conclude that the local church that is their own home is not worth giving to.

People now often say we will only give to a good cause. They want a cause. “If the cause is worthy enough, then I will give”… In this belief the mission and ministry of the local church is not as important or worthy as other more immediate, more advertised and more easily seen things. Well to that I would ask…

Are you comfortable this morning? comfortable enough to engage your heart and mind in the Word of God as you sit here in this building? Could you see the song words this morning? Are things done in good order here? Can you hear things easily? Is there someone leading this morning? Is there a sermon proclaiming God’s Word this morning? Where did you park? What event have you been to recently? What was Easter like? Who contributes to make all this happen and should that also be part of my spiritual life for my spiritual home?
But all of these are very secondary to the main thing. Did you hear of Jesus this morning? Did you hear of the grace of the God of all creation loving sinners and welcoming them into his holy presence to be with them and make us a community of grace and life reaching into this local community with that good news? Now we are talking THE motivation and the WHY of giving time, money and skills.

So, yes, we are. We are “kingdom building” at St Petri. Yes we do have buildings to maintain and staff to pay… but what for? Just for the sake of maintain a few buildings and giving a few people a job? No!

We do all we do for one high calling, one centre, one faith, on goal, one ongoing task – to share the love and the hope of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God with as many people as the Lord allows us to where we live. We are all about gospel kingdom building.

MAKE ETERNAL INVESTMENTS?

Why wouldn’t you want to make eternal investments in this gospel work right here? Why wouldn’t you want to be a Christian who puts your money where your mouth is and practise the biblical and spiritual discipline of giving your first fruits back to the Lord for the work of proclaiming Jesus to everyone in your home spiritual community? After all we are never giving OUR money – it is a gift from the Lord in the first place. And we are never only giving to “St Petri”, we are giving to the Lord and for each other.

Surely that is what the one single leper knew to his very core the day he came back to Jesus and worshipped him. Nine others did not get it. One did. Jesus healed that man and in doing so gave him a new life beyond his wildest dreams.

The man was free. The man was re-connected with his community, with his family, no longer resigned to a life of illness, segregation, alienation from friends, poverty and a living hell. He does what is the entirely appropriate response to this healing Jesus. He gives his heart, his soul, his life to Jesus. He worships this gracious God who loves and heals and gives life out of sheer grace and compassion for diseased, broken and lifeless human beings.

IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE AND COMMITTMENT

That is why we give. Not to just keep in God’s good books or fulfil some family tradition but to show our love and commitment and loyalty to our Saviour.

BUT HOW?

This is where we have arrived as a family on the whole thing of giving our money.

We have has the “three money box” way.

1. Saving,
2. Giving
3. Spending.

If you want to give of yourself in this ongoing mission journey we are now a part of in this local church then this is how to do it.

Practice the discipline of saving a portion of your income. I believe this is the first priority because I do not believe the Lord would ask you to give what you have not got or that he has not first given.

To be a person who has gives as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (1 Corinthians 9:7) the first priority is to put some income in the ‘Saving money box’.

The second thing is to then put a portion of your income into the “Giving Money Box”. Here you give a portion of you income to the work of the gospel in your home community.

The Old Testament tradition was around 10% of your income. Some suggest somewhere around 7-10% is a good thing. This will vary on where you and your family are at as your life journey continues, but even a young child can put that “dime” in the offering bowl from the whole dollar he or she receives in pocket money.

Then lastly, there is the spending money box for all the daily/weekly needs of life for yourself and those around you. Eve in this money box there is a practice of giving to the Lord as you shout someone a meal or give to other very worthy causes and needs.

1. Saving,
2. Giving
3. Spending.
The biblical way; the spiritual discipline of giving for the work of the gospel mission we all share as families, individuals and church…

LOCAL CHURCH – GOOD CAUSE

Friends, St Petri is a local mission post of the Saviour. It is a Christian community in the long standing stream of God’s ongoing work to draw all people to Jesus – to heal the lepers, call the blind and weak, baptise and nurture the sinner into God’s amazing grace and love for all of life – the grace that the one leper responded to and St Paul lived and Jesus gave continually.

This is your responsibility and mine. That is the way of it in the church. We are not here to maintain some club or keep all of our buildings and property in tip-top shape for no purpose but pride. We are here to share the love and the hope of the Risen Saviour with those the Spirit brings into our sphere of speaking.

For me any family, we would not find a better place and purpose in which or for which to give our time, talent and treasure to than the local mission outpost of the gospel – especially if it is a local church community who are seeking the Lord’s direction, willing to change, setting the priority of self-giving and engagement with the community in whatever ways. I can tell you that the Leaders of this community of Christ are doing that and he is speaking and we are doing our best to listen and respond.

Would you re-evaluate your giving practice and re-commit to it today? Would you commit your finances and your approach to giving of your money, your time, your skills that the Lord has already given to you for use in this very noble and needed cause of bring the kingdom of the God to bear in this place in ways we can’t even see….. yet…but that are becoming clearer all the time.

As you engage in giving of your heart to the Lord and his work in this community here, and then everything that follows, what St Paul says will be for you…

“You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God” among many here and beyond…(1 Corinthians 9:11)

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Read both the gospel text and then the 1 Corinthians text noting things that stand out and sharing those together.

What questions do you have and what interests you in this whole area of “giving”? Share your thoughts….

How did you learn that “giving back to God” was important in the Christian life? Were you taught specifically by someone or learn it as you watched adults in worship giving or other means? Share your stories…

I suggested that people of the current middle aged generation and younger might know that it is important to give back the God in some way but they are not sure WHY or how? What do you think about that?

I suggested that the one leper who returned to Jesus to give thanks and worship Jesus did the entirely natural and appropriate thing for a saved sinner to do – give thanks not with a sense of duty only, but with the heart. What do you think about that?

Is giving from a sense of duty also valid? I believe both duty and heart are important. Duty is the discipline of it and heart is the motivation of it. What do you think?

I suggested that people often charge the church with “always wanting you money” and agreed with that – with one difference. The money is not mine to keep anyway! All good gifts come from the Lord in the first place. In giving we simply acknowledge that and give a portion back to the Lord for the wok of the gospel and the help of people in need. What do you think about this teaching on giving?

I suggested that the reason we give is to simply show our thanks, honour for and loyalty to Jesus, concern for each other and to ensure we take up our calling and responsibility to participate with him in his ongoing “kingdom building. Do you see this as valid as a Christian person and member of this local church community?

I encouraged people to ask the Holy Spirit to re-tune our hearts on this matter of giving and suggested that St Petri is a church that is indeed “kingdom building” – not to keep our buildings and other things looking nice to keep up with the Jones’s or look good in the public view – but essentially to fulfil God’s mission with him – the share the love and hope of Jesus with people around here. How does this sit with you and your journey of faith at the moment?

PRAY
Spirit of the Risen Jesus, help me give generously and fulfil your calling on my life. Help us a a congregation to participate fully with you in your ongoing gospel kingdom mission to share the love and hope of Jesus with everyone. Amen.

Encounter Jesus’ Joy- The Secret’s Out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter DayEG of title art 1
Encounter Jesus: The Secret’s Out!
Media Reflection: Salome at the Tomb

 

“Terrified and Excited”: a description of Easter people. Yes, even Easter people – terrified at times of ourselves, of our future, of the world’s future, of evil, of the enemies of the gospel, of uncertainty – terrified at times, for sure.

And yet, excited with hope, with belief in a new day, a new dawn, a new time, a new start a new way. Hope of the very best life, the very good things of God, the gracious gifts of power and love of God…. excited.

Those close to the Nazarene teacher who witnessed with their own eyes and ears his truthful, wise words and his actions of astonishing love and power must have asked that question we all ask from time-to-time. “Were we wrong about him?”

Was he lying or deceiving or just a mad-man we got sucked in by? Was it all a dreadful hoax. Was he a trouble maker and a man responsible for leading people away from Israel’s God after all. That is what the heavies had always said…

When did you last ask that question? In your suffering, in your loss, in your thoughtful moments, in your listening to other thoughtful voices casting doubt around the realty and the intent of the God of creation, when the church was not all it was cracked up to be, when they let you down, when it got the better of you, when you watched them suffer…

They watched him suffer and they had to have asked that question deep in their very souls, “Were we wrong about him?”

Uncertainty about him and his victory over all of this made them hide in fear. Uncertainty about his victory over all we face makes us hide in fear.

Their life which had foundation and faith and future shape quickly washed out to be a long road of uncertain doubt with nothing to navigate by.

Our life without faith in this man of sorrow and God of love can become some long road of uncertain doubt with nothing to navigate by.

If we were wrong about him then all of sudden life seem very long and very hopeless and aimless.

Oh but Sunday!
Our head racing faster than our feet today!

“A sealed tombstone moved”. My tombstone moved out of the way. My sin and its payment of death before God is no longer in the way of his acceptance and love for me and my life in him beyond the tomb.

“Soldiers’ weapons silenced”. Guns wont’ do it. Power won’t do it. Wealth won’t do it. Land won’t do it. Possessions won’t do it. Only he has done it – he’s given me life to the full in the life and death and life of the Son of God sent not to condemn me but save me from all of these idols to which I so willingly sacrifice my heart.

“Angels announcing good things”
They were there at the beginning, singing the good song into our hearts when the man was born. They are here now singing the same song with a twist – It is finished! It’s Sunday! Life is yours together. Go tell my brothers. Meet with him together where you live and find hope and soul and joy in that together forever.
“Grave clothes now unnecessary with a secret to tell”. Yes. There they are. Silent evidence of the end of death for human beings and all created things. No grave clothes needed. They are now unneeded. Grace clothes placed on us in baptism instead. His robes of righteousness dipped in his sacrificed blood making us alive, accepted, forgiven and victorious… These are the clothes we now have and need. The Risen Nazarite, Son of God has them in abundance for all who call on him in repentance and faith.

“The secret’s out”, Salome said. The secret’s out, I say. The secret’s out, as a local church here, we say.

In this one empty tomb is a thousand promises of forgiveness and life in God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all life on planet earth and beyond. It is a cosmic tomb with cosmic repercussions of gospel that shake my very heart.

Friends, do you see what this means?

When we are terrified of just about everything, whether we show it or just hide it inside, Jesus exceeds all your human expectations.

When we want some powerful person to fix things, Jesus exceeds all our expectations of rule, power, influence, future hope and life now.

When we want some consumer good or some good fortune to make the farm go OK or a relationship with that person to make life better, Jesus exceeds all our expectations of rule, power, influence, future hope and life now.

When we think we need a bit of something to get by or to triumph over some situation we get Jesus, the cosmic, once and for all, death killer and life giver.

He is the Saviour of the world that no world can contain.

What will you do with this morning, friend?

Reject him because it is just too good or big to be true?

Laugh it off as mere child’s play – some old story from an old church lost in time not worth seriously considering?

Ignore it all together and just keep driving on into the night with your own headlights burning hoping you don’t get lost or come to grief?

OR

Hope BIG. Not in yourself or anything or person but in HIM the only truly human God who is the mystery of life and the average man who knows suffering all at the same time.

Whatever has been taken from you is restored by him and in him.

If there is a way to truly live a good life for others it is in this good man of God’s life given here now.

If there is hope for anything good, anything encouraging, anything healthy, anything whle, anything loving, anything compassionate, anything hope-filled it is this dead man walking – this dead and risen God who loves the world, loves people, loves you.

The secret’s out.

You bear it.

We live it together.

Glory be to the Crucified King. He is Risen. Amen

Encounter Jesus – Good Friday

Homily Good FridayEG of title art 1
Encounter Jesus – His Suffering
Media Reflection: Simon of Cyrene

Did anyone encounter Jesus like Simon from a seaside town in modern day Libya, Northern Africa: Cyrene? You have to wonder.
What a place he found himself in, and so unplanned and unexpected.

Did anyone ever or since experience the suffering of Jesus as close and as personally than this stranger from the country?
• He felt the suffering of the man.
• He smelt it.
• He saw it up close.
• He was drawn into it – immersed in it for those moments he helped the condemned man up the hill with that awful cross crushing his spirit.

At the time of course, Simon was like everyone else – just guessing as to what this man Jesus was really doing.

The Nazarene’s way of bringing his influence to bear on the world must have seemed so depleted, so beaten, so irrelevant, so minimal to even his closest associates, like his Mother and close friends, John, let alone to this stranger visiting the city from a long way away.

Simon said it was hard to see the man through the blood. This was violence. This was human suffering. This was the pit. This was defeat and darkness and evil triumphing… it seemed.

Simon said the blood on the cross from his body would stain his clothes and actually stain him. Any association with Jesus’ blood would render Simon defiled – outside the worship of God at the feast of the Passover.

….Too late. He was stained. The soldiers gave him no choice…

But then in the up close and personal exchange of helpless one and helper, the African knew this man was moving, working, suffering, being abused, bleeding, being mocked for something….for someone… he had to be….

Oh friends, O that we could receive that look and that personal connection with this man of sorrows today. If we did, we would truly see him and see his intent…only love….

Friend, on this very Good Friday morning, receive this man by the ear, by this account, by his words….

Hear him in this story we re-live today. It is his story. It is him speaking…

We have his voice. He is here. This story is no mere story. That is our deep conviction in this community. This story is us. It is him resurrected within us and us simply responding to this day.

We know him and what he did.
Simon was helping this man of love carry a cross. But did it really dawn on Simon of Cyrene that this cross of pain Jesus carried was not Jesus cross….but his?
Maybe. We don’t know about Simon, but we know about ourselves.

Is that cross yours this morning? Is its weight your wrongs, your brokenness, your idol making and chasing, your rejection of the hand that gives you life, your determination to do it all your way? Simon may have thought so. Millions since have known so.

Many here now know he carries all of it for them and that is why we are here – to honour this Saviour. To give thanks. The marvel at God’s gracious love in action in human terms we can grasp….

Simon helped the suffering servant carry our wrong, our ignorance, our hard-heartedness, our human arrogance and pride, our self-interest and self-promotion and the abuse and violence it creates. They were dislodged this day. Love, hope, peace, joy, were established as rulers of the world through this man, this divine suffering man.

How must this African’s life been radically altered by this involuntary act of the Jewish man. Seems that one of his sons, Rufus, ended up a Christian in the community in Rome (Romans 16:13) and some of his fellow Northern Africans were there on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10)

How must our life be radically altered by that act of God’s resurrection power and love done in a church community somewhere by water and word?

Simon was claimed as assistant to the Messiah this day. So have we been claimed, assistant to the Messiah.
He is the Messiah – the one and only. He is truth, life, resurrection, life, shepherd of his people.

And yet the King of kings calls us to his suffering and his blood and his loss and shame.
• He calls us into these to be with him in all of it.
• He even calls us to assist him in all of this. He calls us to join him in bearing other people’s suffering with him.

Friend, today enter the cross.
Enter the suffering of your Saviour.
Leave yourself here and put on this man suffering man and be radically altered in the way you bear the cross with and for others.

All of us are being called as assistants to the Saviour in this ongoing work of bearing people’s suffering and human pride and going with him to Golgotha regularly where God nails it and deals with it all, once and for all.

Celebrate the new Passover today. He is the true Passover Lamb who has taken away all sin and its death in the world and still does through us his assisting community.

There is somewhere to go with suffering now.
Suffering is not meaningless or to be avoided at all costs. It just is and he is in it and with us in it and for us through it.
His blood stains us for good. His blood is grace, life, love, hope and future.

Let him stain you today. Let him stain you with grace. Respond to his call to do a Simon, and assist him on the way of suffering we share to the way of life and hope and love with him we share because of this Good day.

Encounter Jesus – Maundy Thursday

EG of title art 1

Homily Maundy Thursday
Encounter Jesus – His Darkness
Media Reflection: Malchus in the Garden
Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-50, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:4-11.

 

Malchus served the High Priest. Caiaphas, the High priest served a God who was not accessible to people, not open, unapproachable by flawed creatures like us.

I wonder how you find God this Easter – accessible, open, inviting or inaccessible, unapproachable and distant?

Malchus found new ears to hear that God was different than he had known so far…. Malchus, the man with a new ear, discovered on this dark night out in the Garden that Jesus could give a person new ears – physical and inner….

Whether or not he knew it, Malchus, like the rest of those in the Garden heard God speak out there in the darkness through this man, Jesus of Nazareth. His very presence was God speaking of an innocent man being falsely treated – voluntarily.

What may have pricked up Malchus’ ears and maybe ours too tonight is Jesus greeting and embracing Judas, and naming him at this dark moment “Friend”. (Matthew 26:50). “Friend”. Let’s think about that…

The known traitor identifies Jesus by the planned greeting of brotherly love and respect to those who had come to snuff all trace of this Teacher’s message from the community. Jesus, the man of sorrows and the man of love, responds to the fickle, self-centred, deal-making man, Judas, as “Friend”.

“Friend, go and do it” says the Nazarene. Go and do it so that something is done – so that something long ago spoken is will finally be completed…..

Who is in charge here? The man unjustly treated and to be completely powerless is in charge. He is carrying out his mission in ways largely undetected to the human eye and ear…

Peter is certainly not detecting everything accurately! Peter thinks he needs to be in charge – by force! So this Malchus, servant to the High Priest, Caiaphas, is on the receiving end of another ill-thought out move by Peter. In the panic and fear Peter draws a sword that he somehow acquired from somewhere and strikes this servant’s ear, severing it….

John, Mark and Matthew carry on with the telling of this fake arrest, but Luke, the Physician, tells us that the healing work of Jesus was even for this moment.

Those hands touched that man and his ear was restored and maybe his heart ears were open…

Everything Malchus heard about this man Jesus would have surely changed – for better or worse. This is not the kind of encounter a person that can simply be forgotten and left un-responded to. Jesus’ very presence, and especially his dark death and suffering calls for a response of some sort…

Maybe the video was just wishful thinking. Maybe Malchus would have been more staunch in opposition to Jesus because of what happened. Maybe he would go on believing that this Jesus was not or him… Jesus and his motley band of followers were people to avoid – too much trouble, too confusing, too dangerous for me to tangle with.
Maybe Malchus was a small minded man who was just glad to have his ear back on his head, like Mr Potato head is happy when Mrs Potato head puts his eye back on!
Maybe that was enough for Malchus and he did not even ask any other question about this man and what happened and why.

Maybe Malchus was a thankful man for small mercies. He was aware that he was in the presence of purity and goodness…..once. it was good once but something to be left it at that – like a married couple who knew love once but don’t expect to experience it again.

At the very best, Malchus may have been a man who might have been happy to know Jesus’ presence and goodness once, but then been happy to become a casual observer of Jesus in the hours that followed and the days and years that followed as this small community grew. Like the person who used to have faith and be a part of a local church community who left it behind but still keeps tabs on it for some reason….but never personally investing the self in it?

Then again, maybe it was something like the video suggested.
• All the stereotypes of this Rabbi and his little community were completely blown out of the water for Malchus, a man touched by the grace and love of the man of sorrows.

Maybe Malchus finally could hear that Jesus was not some rebellious political threat to his power of prestige.
• Jesus was not a man of force, power, influence, as we human beings know these things.
• The Nazarene was not out to get his way by these human ways as Peter learnt. Maybe Malchus was at least open enough to say, “Jesus was not the guy I have been taught about”.

How about you this Easter? Got ears to hear?

The truth is we can be quite deaf to God’s voice and quite unaware of his mission, as Peter was.
• As church, we can misrepresent God in all kinds of ways because we are just like Malchus and peter and the rest – flawed human beings who would much rather live life on our terms and keep Jesus at a distance lest he call us and change us.
• But just because we are disinterested, disconnected, unapproachable or rash, at times, does not mean God is these things anytime.

Malchus served a man and a system who knew God as being very unapproachable by the average person. That is not us. Our God is now completely approachable and open and inviting all to come to him and receive his life in theirs.

They could not see that God was on the move in a whole new way in this unjustly treated man of sorrows. We can see Jesus in re-telling of this event this weekend. We can hear Jesus speaking and sense his presence and receive new ears to hear and new faith to live in.

In this grave moment, the grace, patience, love and power of the man, revealed in weakness is unstoppable.
• Even now in betrayal and fear of brutality to come,
• Jesus healed the wounded Malchus,
• challenged the sword bearer, Peter, and
• called his dark enemy, Judas, “Friend”, and encouraged the betrayer to complete his betraying work which would lead to his death at the hands of brutal men – all for the life of the world.


So which Malchus might you be tonight on this night when we end up with Jesus in the Garden of sorrow?

1. The Malchus who does not let the good man in to your life out of fear or self-interest or something else?

2. The Malchus with no awareness of the magnitude of the man’s presence – his love, his grand plan to serve the world in weakness and undo your death and wipe away your wrongs and soak up your tears?

3. The Malchus who is observing a good man but not embracing him?

4. The Malchus who truly saw and heard the man. The Malchus who turned away from half-truths about Jesus and truly saw and heard God in this man?

Whoever we are, this man will get it done. His commitment to us is unstoppable. His touch and his power to give new ears still present now.

So, we go to garden and we enter the night and the dark day as Malchus and all the others see and hear this man willingly go through it all for the life of us.

We pray that everyone would receive new ears to hear this Jesus, the Son of God and truly receive him with new ears, like Malchus, this Maundy Thursday Night and beyond.

 

 

 

THE GOOD LIFE: A Life for Others

Sermon, Palm Sunday, St PetriThe Good Life
Sunday April 13, 2014.
THE GOOD LIFE: A life in Christ for others

Philippians 2:5-11 Christ – obedient servant and exalted Lord
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

THE GOOD LIFE?

Over this 40 days of Lent we have pondered the Good Life and what it looks like for those the average 21st Century Aussie and what it is for those who have the mind of the crucified Christ.

We have thought about how we are often caught up in this Utopian Dream to live some perfect life in which nothing ever should go wrong and everything can be planned and controlled as if we are in charge of life even to the point of trying to avoid all talk of death or make death some kind of friend as we all speak of is “passing away”.

We have heard from Hugh MacKay and his thoughtful work on us Aussies who know that not everyone gets equal share in the good life and some have no chance of acquiring the symbols of the good life. In response we seem to just go harder at acquiring the symbols of a good life in this golden age of entitlement and ease we spoke of.

We have spoken of the ultimately futile pursuit of personal happiness as an over arching ticket to the good life. We have spoken of positive psychology with its more helpful focus on wholeness as an approach to life – but still lacking if it is only a human centred wholeness without connection to the Divine life – to Jesus.

We spoke of many people adopting one of Jesus’ own overarching approaches to life in the golden rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and yet found that wanting. We concluded that without the grace of Jesus in the picture the golden rule only gives us what it is – another rule – which can easily be used to judge others and not help us find God’s good life.

We spoke of the good life having a good ending – a good death and we remembered Lazarus and Jesus and resurrection God’s way and how death is no friend without Jesus’ death and resurrection.

ALL WITH JESUS

Friends, we have done all of this with Jesus – from that temptation up on the lonely hungry mountain, to the rural area where we were not supposed to be talking with a woman who we were not supposed to talk with, to the city and the Pool of Siloam and a mock trial of a man who was given new sight by the Light of the World, and to the tomb of a dear friend, Lazarus and that might moment of mercy and resurrection power on display for all to see.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

And now we get to the beginning of the end for Jesus’ earthly ministry: Palm Sunday, a day of huge contrast. A day of triumph and belief that the good life will finally arrive as promised and a day that begins all that is to come as the first Easter draws near – pain, suffering, loss, death, grief, sorrow, abandonment, blood, the end of the dream…

And in walks our home text for St Petri in 2014; Philippians 2:1-13 – the song about Jesus and the raising up of him and what he about do and what the Father dos as a result as the model for the good life together as Christians.

It is quite incredible that the positive psychologists and an Aussie sociologist like Hugh MacKay end up where Jesus leads us in our home text.

See, Mackay concludes his work by saying this;
“The key to a good life is to acknowledge that our essential nature is social, not individual…. Know yourself, by all means, but, above all, know this about yourself: you are one of us”
“Who am I” turns out to be less interesting and less significant than “Who are we?” he concludes.
“The good life is more a case of “Who needs me” rather than Who am I?”
(Mackay, The Good life, Postscript)

A LIFE LIVED FOR OTHERS

In other words the good life is not about the experience of personal happiness, the finding of human wholeness in individual terms, the acquiring of certain “must have things” our culture encourages to simply “must have”…. The good life is a life lived with and for others.

BUT WHO DOES THIS?

Who does this best? Who helps us do this best?

Only one who lived a self-giving human life to the point of taking all of our self-fixation, individual self-seeking and God denying heart with all of its fighting, shame, hurt, destruction, violence and sorrow to the grave to stay there forever as he rose to be the first of many to do so.

Jesus entering this city, this suffering, this road to this cross is the good in life and the life that is good.
He lives a communal life for others to the last degree even paying the ultimate price for the life of us.

That is why Paul holds him up as THE model of the good life.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross…

He has to do this because the community of Christ is not like him enough.

WE LEAK!

In Philippi there is a community of faith that has an excellent track record of supporting each other , Paul and other communities in other places. In the past there have been great moments of self-giving that comes from trust in a self-giving God revealed in Jesus.

But as with all communities, they leak! They get filled up with the grace and love of the Holy Spirit and they act in this love, but they leak. They get depleted. When they get depleted they find themselves back in the old way of self-serving, group against group, judgemental spirit, cliquiness and etc.
That is why Paul writes to these people. He writes to fill them up again with the good life of the godly man so they can remember that they are at their best when they trust in him and follow his way in their relationships with each other and the surrounding community.

KEEP AT IT IN HIM

So, what does the Holy Spirit point depleted Christian communities to do together?

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,”

This does not mean our salvation is a thing of fear that we must fearfully try and achieve before a holy God. No this is a “fear and trembling” not before God, but before each other. And it is “fear and trembling in the sense of awe inspiring humble respect for each other. So, we are to live this Good life we have been given together and we are to live it together with a healthy and humble respect for each other.

13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

And this humble and respectful living together is God-centred and God-powered – a communal life in which God is present and active.

BUT STILL, HOW?

How should I live my life? How are we at our best and how is our congregation at its best? How do we continue to live out the gift of life we have been given in the death and resurrection Jesus with healthy and humble respect for each other?

Take the encouragement, unity, comfort, common sharing, tenderness and compassion and joy from the crucified Messiah of the world and be like-minded, have the same love, be one in spirit and of one mind.

And the way this is done in our congregation?

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

There it is, the Good Life God’s way. There is it, the mind of the crucified Christ in the 21st Century Australia he has placed us.

Members of a local missional community of Jesus: People living in Christ for others, making small and large decisions on a daily basis with Jesus as not only our ultimate example of what we should do but the living, breathing present power for doing it.

COME TO THE DARKNESS AND THE LIGHT

Friend, come now this holy week into the dark and into the light. Come now and find again that your life is only good as it is lived in Christ for others. Your life will be the best it can be as you live it regularly repenting of your idols and God replacement things and receiving Jesus freely given forgiveness and life that you already have in your baptism and are sustained in this community in body and blood and the mutual encouragement of the Word of God we share.

Friend, a good life is a life lived in faith in Jesus for others.

That is the pinnacle of life for us human beings and it is the life that continues on beyond our own tomb from which he will bring us and we will be immersed in this good life this Easter.

The good life only can be good when it is lived with others in mind.

The mind of Christ is serving others in his name – that IS the good life.

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

What do you think of Hugh Mackay’s conclusion that knowing ourselves as part of a community and living for others in all our relationships id more valuable and meaningful than viewing life in individual terms all the time?

Do you think that most people live with a very individualistic kind of view of themselves and the world? If so, share an example of what you have observed/experienced in this area…

Read the text carefully noting down any questions raised and noting the very communal nature of Paul’s use of this special song about Jesus. I find it interesting that in the attempt to get various groups within a local Christian community to pull together and continue to work out their life in Christ with great respect and honour for each others interests, Paul uses a song. he gives them a song to sing together. What does this say to you about the value of singing songs and hymns as we worship together?

I said that this text is very much about groups of people within a Christian congregation respecting and honouring other groups within the same congregation, rather than about a particular individual respecting another individual. This text is very much about groups relating to groups.  So, where Paul says “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” means before each other rather than before the Lord (although everything is ultimately done before the Lord). What do you think about that view of this text? How do we as groups withing a larger church community need to take this text to heart in 2014?

 

THE GOOD LIFE: A GOOD DEATH?

Sermon: Lent 5 Sunday April 6, 2014. St PetriThe Good Life

John 11:1-45 The raising of Lazarus – Jesus’ last sign

….38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

A GOOD DEATH?
Over these weeks of Lent we have been pondering the Good Life and what that looks like for the person who has the mind of the crucified Christ.

Taking Hugh Mackay’s lead, we reflected how Aussies go about defining and living “the Good life” and wondered if we Aussies, like all Westerners are living is a sort of Utopian Dream, where we are searching for this good life and we do so to operate in this Utopian fantasy land where we should never fail, suffer, have trouble, experience doubt or feel the pain of the world. As parents we are supposed to create the ‘perfect’ childhood for our children. As marriage partners we are supposed to have the “perfect” marriage. As young people we are supposed to find the “perfect” job or career, and “perfect” means that which makes me personally happy or at best, humanly whole.

THE DREAM ENDS
Well, the Utopian Dream has to eventually end. That is one thing even the most avid Good Life seeker must admit. I have noticed however that we do try very hard to diminish the small problem of death. I notice these days that the “D word” is hardly ever used. No one seems to die anymore. No we have this strange word “Passed”. “So and So “passed”, we say…. Passed to where? Passed what?

HOW WILL IT END?
In the golden age where technology, medical care, communication, entertainment, food and transport are very easy and mostly affordable by most (but certainly not all), we all deal with our own death before it happens. We have to.

In the Utopia complex we have all imagined a good death.
• I want to die in my sleep.
• I want to be awake, fully conscious of the moment
• I would rather have a heart attack while playing tennis that have a long battle with some disease.
• I would like to reach 100. I would like to die long before that….

Some people seem to think of death as the end. There is nothing more after it. I must say, this belief makes me wonder about why you would live life?
Others see death as a doorway to the great unknown.

Most religious systems offer life after death in some shape or form be it coming back as an ant if you did not do too well the previous life or as an elephant if you did really well!

Maybe most people seem to adhere to some kind of life after death? Why else would we constantly hear people saying, “So, and So “passed on”. Why else would you hear a civil funeral celebrant say things like “”He is in a ‘better place” or “She is in ‘good hands”….?

ONLY KNOWN FULLY WHEN YOU GET THERE
But the reality about death is that the after-life can only ever be imagined until we get there. You just cannot know everything about it or in fact much about it until you are there.

Blaise Paschal, the French philosopher famously proposed a wager. Because of this uncertainty, it is better to play it safe and believe that there is life after death than discover we were wrong in not believing and then be sorry!
Generally speaking, left to our own devices we have not much but fear about death.

It’s not that I’m afraid of dying – I just don’t want to be there when it happens…
(Woody Allen)

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light (Dylan Thomas)

Woody Allen’s flippant line or Dylan Thomas’ furious poem strike a chord with most people because no matter which way you look at it death means loss and pain.

It did mean this for Lazarus and his close family and friends, and even his Saviour who wept at the tomb.

DEATH IS: DEATH IS DARK
Death is dark and it is no friend, as some seem to suggest. It does matter and it is death, and not mere passing. We may try to sugar coat death but it is and end and it hurts and it tells us we have our end and we are not as smart or wise or healthy, or in control or endlessly happy as we try to be or want to be.

But friends IN CHRIST, and that makes all the difference here – IN CHRIST.

Within a week of this incredible sign of the Kingdom’s presence in human affairs, he would suffer, and reach the throne room of the crucifixion and he would be death for us – he would be “crucified, dead and buried” in a dark death tomb, so he would be raised to life by the Father for our sake and to give us a good death and a life forever.

As the stench of death would soon surround him in the tomb so the perfume of God’s grace and power would fill the world by his mighty rising three days later.

IN CHRIST – that is us. Not apart from him as we live this life he has given us.

I wonder how Lazarus pictured his second death after he was resurrected by Jesus? He died and was resurrected once and then lived his days in that gift. I wonder how he lived that life approaching his second death and resurrection?

WE ARE HE
It is a real question because when you think about it we are Lazarus. We have been dead and buried and raised and now we await our second death and resurrection.

Remember how Lutheran funeral begins?
3 Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Would Lazarus have known that Blaise Paschal’s wager to believe just in case we find out that unbelief was the wrong horse a total waste of time? Yes!

Would Lazarus have feared his second death? Not likely! Surely he would have been thankful everyday for the life he had been given and embraced his limitations with some joy because he knew for sure that life a good death is not dependent the good life but on Christ’s life.

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”  Cries Paul in a much better poetic moment!

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:54-58)

DEATH NO FRIEND BUT FOR JESUS
Friend, death is no friend to you except for the death of Jesus for you and the life we now live is only truly and fully lived in his victory over sin and the death it brings to our life.

The good life is not good without the goodness of God given in the grace of Jesus and the good death we all think about is only good because of the one who gives us his life for now and for that moment when we finally see him face to face and hear his words of affirmation – “Well done good and faithful servant, enter now into your rest with me”.

So, fellow believer in Jesus of Nazareth the Crucified king, stand firm in your baptismal death and resurrection. Receive the life-giving meal of God for your holy and pleasing life in him at the altar with your fellow saints on the journey.

IMMOVEABLE
Friends, let’s let nothing move us from faith in our crucified and victorious king, especially any unfounded fear of dying and death. People let nothing move us from working in partnership with the Lord in his mission to put to death the old idol making Adam within and raise up the new person of life and faith and joy in believing through our work and words.

Friends, let’s always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that on account of his death for us and his resurrection for us, given to us as it was to Lazarus, our work together at St Petri in the Lord is not in vain.

 CONVERSATION STARTERS

Read the text about Lazarus’ resurrection in small “chunks” following the long account bit by bit so that everyone stays aware and “with” the story. Discuss things that raise questions or make people begin to make links with Jesus’ own death and resurrection as they occur – noting things down as you go….

This is the last “sign” of the 7 signs in the gospel of John and the precursor to the greatest sign of God’s kingdom rule breaking into the world – the death and resurrection of Jesus. These signs match the 7 “I am” statements of Jesus. So we see that for John, the telling of this and all other stories of the events of Jesus’ life is very deliberate and everything has its place and meaning.

With that said, what “jumped out” for people in the group as they followed this rich story of an incredible event? If you could summarise the main things the group discerned, what would they be?

“A ‘good death’ is not dependent on a good life but on a good God”. What does this mean for you?

Death is no friend but is an enemy – except for the death and resurrection of Jesus for us. Now death has no lasting sting and no victory or mastery over those who trust in Jesus’ resurrection. What does this kind of faith statement enable you to be and do?

Have you ever wondered how Lazarus lived the rest of his life after being dead and then resurrected by Jesus? We said that this is what has happened to us and that in a way, we Christians are just like Lazarus. We have been buried with Jesus and raised with him. Take a look at Romans chapter 6:3-14. Paul says we have a new master. We were once mastered by sin and it consequence – death. Now we are mastered by God’s grace given in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Read Romans 8:28-39 to get Paul’s conclusion about how great God’s grace is and what this means for how we face life with all of its hardships and challenges……

We ended up in 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 and were encouraged to stand strong, giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. Read that text to end and pray….

The Good Life: Golden rule?

Sermon: Lent 4 March 30, 2014.The Good Life

John 9:1-41

 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

8 His neighbours and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.

Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

 

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

 

Spiritual Blindness
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said,[a]“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

 

A GOLDEN RULE FOR A GOOD LIFE?

There is a whole branch of psychology that has arisen in these last decades. It is called “positive psychology”. I have heard a positive psychologist say that when it is all said and done, the good life is really centred on the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Positive psychologists are not the only people who have said that! I have heard parents at school, coaches at sporting clubs, and the most avid non-Christian person hold up the Golden Rule as the foundation for behaviour, attitude and community.

Jesus gave this golden rule himself. Many people might say that this is the only thing he said that they get or that was worthwhile! Christian or not, many people hold this up as the very foundation of the good life.

That’s not a bad thing. Treating others as you yourself like to be treated is better than just the pursuit of personal happiness and a human centred wholeness at the expense of others. At least it is “other” centred and acknowledges that living life to the fullest includes your relationships and your personal responsibility for your own behaviour in them.

But, on the other hand it is still a rule and can only give what a rule can give – a guide line or ideal but not the perfect keeping of that rule.

So, is the golden rule good enough for living the good life we are all trying to live? Can we keep it enough? Is that what the mind of Christ is for the good life? Is doing to others what you would like done to yourself is the basic foundational attitude and value for life with Jesus the Crucified Messiah?

Friends, I hope the Crucified King brings more than a rule – even a very good one! This is because I have noticed that often when people bring out this golden rule it is not very freeing. Often it is in fact brought out to judge people.

For example, when my Dad, who would not call himself a disciple of Jesus at all brings out this rule he is using it to judge others. “They don’t keep the golden rule”, he might say. “Don’t they know that they should treat people like they want be treated…” The tone of the rule is law-enforcement. There is no room for grace when this rule is used as a rule. A rule without faith in Jesus’ forgiveness remains a  crushing restriction and fosters a judgemental heart.

I can see how, without faith in Christ’s love and kindness, a sociologist like Hugh Mackay or positive psychologists might get to this golden rule as a way to point people away from self-serving and toward living the good life, but I disagree that this is all there is or the very best there is for underpinning one’s life.

There is way more for us to receive to life the very best life…

We surely have a whole lot of “rule” going on here in this lengthy event between a blind man, local city folks, formal investigation Pharisees, Jesus and some other Pharisees over hearing a conversation.

 

A GREAT MOMENT

A wonderful miraculous moment of healing and help to a person who really needed the help should have been left at that – a great moment of divine help from the hand of the Messiah being gratefully received by thankful hearts. But it is not received this way by some.  The grace of God is received as a breaking of the law of the same God.

For the man who can now see, he is in the moment and he is a thankful man. His life has just been made a whole lot better! He was a man who could acquire no symbols of the good life and had little hope of ever fulfilling any hopes and dreams of the day. He is poor, isolated, sometimes pitied, often ignored and viewed as a symbol of the bad life – of no life…

But not now! This man of new sight and new good life does not initially even know who it is that has given him this great go at a good life. He just followed this stranger’s strange instruction to cover his eyes in mud and go down to the pool and wash it off!

But the Pharisees know who Jesus is – well, in a certain way – in a threatening fearful way. Jesus is a threat and he has to be pushed outside acceptability. After grilling the man with the new sight and the new life for a while, in frustration, they eventually reveal their arrogant heartless and legalistic preoccupation as they deride this man who can now see.

What is the point of their frustration?

They have questions for Jesus. How can a man who has broken the law of God do anything good? How can a bad man say anything about the good life? Jesus did this so called healing (which they are finding very difficult to refute!) on the Sabbath day when no such “work” is to be done – by direct command of Moses.

As far as the Pharisees can see, Jesus has deliberately broken this most central law, which was put in place for God’s people and their good life. Jesus is disrupting God’s people, God’s rule, God’s promises to make Israel the place in the world where the good life is to be lived!

What’s the problem here? A complete over-emphasis on the law of Moses and a complete blindness to the promises of God to bring a new relationship between he and his broken people not based on keeping rules they are unable to keep, but on God’s gracious and undeserved love revealing itself in this man Jesus.

As with any form of fundamentalism, the main aim is to provide one’s self others with certainty. The Pharisees were so pharisaical because they insisted on certainty. Of course the “things” they demanded certainty about were not certain! Things like suffering, sorrow, the divine…all mysterious to us by nature.

They wanted answers, as we all do. Drawing on their detailed analysis of the Scriptures they created an extensive and ever-evolving code by which they believed God would have us live the good life he wants.

Then they placed their faith in their code and that was where their blindness (and ours) begins. They, like us, often sense the need to transform faith in the mysteries of God’s grace into certainty. They wanted to be so clear in their convictions that they removed the capacity for doubt. That is fundamentalism of any kind.

What this drive for certainty in the things of God does is turn the very people who thought they were guiding the people in God’s ways into actually becoming blinded to God’s possibilities, his plans, his voice, his new creation promised to them.

They become like a person who holds up the golden rule which is meant to help us all live in friendship and care into a means to judge others, thus breaking the very rule they want others to keep! Instead of using the rule to work for harmony and friendship and a more self-less and accepting life, it becomes to cause of judgement, intolerance and self-aggrandisement.

Jesus and these community leaders are on a collision course. We see it right here. Their focus on the law and their own power in being keepers of the law has turned them into oppressors of God’s people. They cannot rejoice with a man who can now see and now live the rest of his life in thankfulness to the God of love and grace. That is a direct challenge to their certainty and they cannot see it or let that in.

What about you? Can you let that in?

Friends, the good life of God then must mean an openness to God’s newness, his creation, his leading, his loving possibilities for us. The good life is not to do with the keeping of a rule, the avoidance of all uncertainty and doubt, or the construction of codes and rules to try and build certainty, but rather, the God-life we have been miraculously given in our “new sight” moment – baptism, is the new sight, the new love, the new presence and peace of this man Jesus. Just ask Doubting Thomas!

As we believe in God’s grace given in his Son who has come to free us and save us from legalistic oppression and joyless life we will live our lives with the thankful laughter of this man who used to be blind. He says, “Lord, I believe”, and lies prostrate before Jesus in complete humility and faith.

Friends, we have a God who goes deeper and more completely than any human wholeness or positive psychology could ever go because he speaks and acts in more than rules – even the golden rule. He speaks of making us holy, clean, acceptable, forgiven, hope-filled in the presence of God our Creator.

And just to drive this home we end with actually looking at that “golden rule” for the life we called to live…

When Jesus himself gives his version of that rule it is not what we think.

First of all it is the second commandment under the direction of the first – the love the Lord with all of heart and mind and soul and strength is the primary command from which this other command comes.

So, as we love the Lord with all our heart and mind it becomes possible to love ourselves and then others. And Jesus does not limit this golden rule to just “doing things” but doing from a heart of love.

And that is what turns up this day on the city by the pool – the man of love. Love fuels the rule. The rule is impossible and unfruitful without his love.

Friends, the good life God has given us is about much more than one golden rule. Before that comes this crucified king – the living breathing presence of a gracious God giving his gifts of healing and love and life, even when we don’t understand it or know too much about it.

In the end the way we live this life best standing in Jesus suffering love. And what makes it good is Jesus and his gifts and his love for you.

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. Share a high and a low for your week and then have four people read the text – one being “narrator”, one reading the “Blind man’s” words, one reading the Pharisees words and the other reading Jesus’ words.
  2. Try and capture the concern of the Pharisees. What are they scared of? What are they wanting Jesus to do or not do and why?
  3. Try and capture the Blind man’s situation. he does not seem to be scared at all – even when “interrogated”. He does not really know Jesus in the beginning, but eventually has a personal encounter with Jesus. is that how it often is for people you know? They sort of know of Jesus from a distance and may even have some kind of spiritual experience but they don;t actually know him personally?
  4. We have been talking about “the good life” and how all of us are trying to live the good life in some way. We have been asking what the mind of Christ is on this “good life” we enjoy in Australia. What do you think this man who can now see would tell us about “the good life”? Share your thoughts….
  5. People often speak of “the golden rule” – Christians or not. We said that it is a good rule. it must be because Jesus gave it! But we also said that if this is all we have got to base our lives on then it will make us like the Pharisees. We will hold up a rule(with good intentions) that is impossible to keep and in the very act of trying to make life better we will fall into judging people and our efforts will become quite oppressive for those around us. We noticed that when Jesus gave this golden rule there was a more important “rule” given before it – the one to love the Lord with all our heart and mind. Can we see that the golden rule is dependent on the love of the Lord – both his love for us and our love for him? Share your thoughts on this and on how you have used the golden rule in your life……
  6. We end up marveling at the power and love of Jesus for a man who now has new sight and a new life – not because he did anything much or knew anything much but because of Jesus’ action of love. The man simply received what Jesus gave and said in the end, “Lord, I believe”….and that was enough. Notice how he did not seem to need certainty about much else! he just thankfully confessed his faith. Is this how a baptised and loved person of Godwho knows the Crucified King and his forgivness and love everyday ends up living? IS this the good life at its fullest? Share your responses…..

PRAY

Heavenly Father, thank you for our life and all you give us everyday. Thank you for your forgiveness and new hope given in the death and resurrection of the Saviour, Jesus. Help us receive all he is and does and live thankful, joyful lives as we confess his name and be light to those around us. Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Good Life: Happy, Whole or Holy?

 Sermon, Lent 3 March 23, 2014The Good Life

John 4:5-42 Jesus and the Samaritan woman

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

The Disciples Rejoin Jesus

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.”

Many Samaritans Believe

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”

Friends, I wonder as we continue to reflect on the pretty good life we are living in terms of ease of communication, use of technology, availability of affordable transport, fresh food all year ‘round, and etc, even if we know that not everyone shares this good life both here in our own country and overseas, we are getting a sense of the mind of Christ on life – the mind of the one who humbled himself and became obedient even to death on a cross for us?

We have talked about the good life and how we Aussies are generally going pretty hard at trying to attain the symbols of the good life in one way or another and how it seems that in our 21st century culture in the West, the pursuit of happiness is all consuming for many.

We have acknowledged that us followers of Jesus can get caught up the endless pursuit of what makes us happy and this pursuit becomes very much individual, worldly things centred and a tad self-centred And as we concluded last week, happiness is quite elusive, transient and futile.

We have concluded so far that the good life and its pursuit of personal happiness that so many are slavishly following has placed us, at least in part, in “the age of Entitlement” where everyone seems to believe that everything and every institution and every other person owes them some entitlement – to make us all happy….

So if the good life from the mind of Christ perspective is not about finding the feeling of being happy a lot. Then what else could it be about at its core?

WHAT ABOUT WHOLENESS?

Well, in the psychological world, the other word used in “wholeness”. Psychologists have long offered the view that wholeness is the thing to strive for in this life. It’s a better word – a fuller word.. a more helpful word.

Pursuing wholeness does require courage because it admits that there will be plenty of experiences that will build your character and understanding that will NOT be those of FEELING happy. So, I guess for the more mature approach in living the good life we would want to go for wholeness not just happiness.

But what about the mind of Christ on wholeness? And what about this very dense and intriguing dialogue between two very unlikely people – a Jewish rabbi and a Samaritan woman? What does Jesus teach her and us about his view of our life?

I wonder what this unnamed woman might have been searching for in her interesting life?

Of course, she is of a completely different era than you and I. To suggest she would even be remotely interested in happiness or wholeness as we understand these thing now is stretching things a bit.

But on the other hand, and without “modernising her” in our image too much, she seems like she was searching for something. In fact, her search and her life might be a lot like a lot of people living in your street. Her story might be a bit like yours and mine – more than we know.

She has a story we can relate to now days…

She knows suffering and brokenness and has her eyes firmly fixed on the daily tasks at hand.

She has had multiple serious relationships and none have gone the distance – either through death of her husbands, divorce that her husband carried out, or because of their own self-centredness or because of her unfaithfulness or whatever. Whether her story of broken relationship is her fault, their fault, or both, she is broken.

It also seems she is quite disconnected from her community. Why else would you be heading out in 35 degrees in the heat of the day with heavy buckets to carry water in from the well when everyone else in town would do that in the cool of the early morning or evening?

And she is focused on the things around her – tasks, survival, getting things done, enjoying what she can, keeping her life going along OK….

Whatever her story, she got more than happiness and more than simply a human located wholeness that day she met Jesus. In this unlikely conversation we can see that this unnamed woman gets gently led into a new understanding of her very being and what the good life really is and where it comes from.

She is enabled to see for the first time that the good life is not located in the things and tasks in front of her and her effort, skills, earning, intelligence, suffering, her dreams and visions,….. No, the good life is located in a Living Water she has never been able to see but now sees right in front of her and hears in her very own ears. The Living Water that gives the best life – the divine life is with her and the good life she longs for comes from his word and is given in the worship of him.

The woman herself does not actually know the depth of her thirst. She starts out looking for a drink of water. When Jesus says there is life-giving water on offer she says, yes please. That would mean plenty. She would not have to keep coming out here in the middle of the day to get water all the time, for a start!

But Jesus gently leads her into an awareness that she needs more than water – even a permanent spring at her home. But to give her ears that can hear Jesus needs to show the extent of her need for her to understand the thirst she really has…

Thus the pointed question about the trouble of her life – 5 husbands and now living with a man who is not her husband. When her story of brokenness is exposed (gently) by Jesus she moves to change the subject. It is an obvious subject to move to. Here is a Jewish man (a rabbi even) not only in the presence of a “questionable” woman, but a sworn enemy by nationality. She is Samaritan and he is Jewish. She is usually a person held in very low regard if not just plane derision by Jewish men!

The point of the national hatred is history and the place of the temple and where people are meant to find God’s good life. Mount Gerazim in Samaria or Jerusalem in Judah.

Jesus does not go there but begins to describe a new place, a new good life – beyond wholeness and happiness and human manufacture. This life is not dependent on feeling or even human understanding, the acquirements of the “good life” as we might see it. This life is beyond the human experience and capability and it is good…very, very good.

This life being spoken of here by the One who declares himself to be life itself lasts beyond the age of entitlement, the next Centrelink payment, the next Vintage, wool or grain cheque. This living water that quenches the human hearts desire for meaning and for life itself is just offered – right here, right now.

This life is a life lived in the very presence of a Holy God who pours out his blood for the life of his world and invited Samaritans, Sinners and Sadducees to be baptised into his life and made saints – holy people of God who worship God, Father, Son and Spirit in truth.

What a moment for this woman. The Living Water Jesus, opens up a way for this broken sinner to live with her God in new way – unheard of before – even to Jews. God will now be able to thanked, prayed to, sought after and received as kind and loving Father with whom we share a bond of love which unites us together.

Can you see it friend? The good life is something given to me by this God of love, my kind and loving heavenly Father. He is the one to whom we pray “Our Father in heaven…give us what we need and help us forgive, keep us from too harder testing and from evil temptation.

This is the divine parent who promises a future beyond his death and ours – a future of life in light and love and glory for those who drink from the well of his Son’s death and resurrection.

This God is a God who does not exclude people or draw lines in the sand about how we all should be happy or whole or not, but is constantly seeking and creating people who will be in his holy presence in spirit and truth. He creates our life in him and gathers us together in love to be with him.

How would this woman who has never found this kind of constant love and kindness in her life to this point receive this new “God life”? How would she hear the promise of no more exclusion, no more derision, no more playing games, telling lies or searching for fleeting happiness or merely human wholeness?

You can tell how she receives it. She actually leaves her precious old life support (water) behind in jars and rushes off to do his inviting. “Come and see” she calls to everyone. Come and hear” she yells to those who have hurt her, ignored her, derided her and maybe even loved her. Come to Jesus” she tells anyone who will listen.

Being created by the Spirit of God to be people who can live this life as in God’s very presence by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us frees us from the constant search for feelings of happiness and the over-dependence on only human experiences to learn and grow and live well.

Jesus, is this woman’s wholeness. He is the world’s wholeness. His living water poured out i his holy gifts of water and word,  holy meal of love and every day at work and home is the good life we really need – the life he gives so that we may live life to in all its fullness (John 10:10) because he loves us not condemns us (John 3:16) he really is a man for the world. He really is for the men and women who have their eyes largely focused on water, food, work, houses and the things of the world who live in your street.  – people just like this Samaritan woman was – until she Jesus met her.

Friend, will you take your eyes off the plough, off your daily concerns and pause to stay a while in the midday sun with Jesus and let him gently lead you to himself and to his gifts he has been offering you for years?

Will you journey with him in these remaining days through his suffering for you and to the cross for you and await his light and new take on life for you, at Easter dawn?

Let him meet you here and let him renew you in his life then live! Live the good life with worship as your centre and you will be saved from the endless pursuit of fleeting feelings of happiness and the self-orientated search for human wholeness. Instead let him make you holy – forgiven, acceptable and set apart for his work in his world through you – set free by his grace to live this God-life of love and service in Jesus’ name.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. Share a high and a low for your week.
  2. Read the text carefully noting what questions it raises for you and what catches your ears and imagination and share these things.
  3. It is not clear if the traditional view of this Samaritan woman is a woman of “disrepute” as we often think. Apparently Jewish men were “allowed” a maximum of 3 divorces and in her world only the man was legally able to enact a divorce. So, it may have been some very unkind men who had caused this woman plenty of brokenness. Then again, this woman may have simply been a widow – five times over. in which case, she is a woman of great suffering. Or, this woman might have been very difficult to live with! She may have indeed had some major character flaws that made relationships very difficult. Whatever the case, her fault, their fault or both, she is broken and isolated and focused on getting through the day and doing the things that daily life requires. Does this sound a bit like people in your street? Chat about the people you know and compare and contrast them to this Samaritan woman….
  4. Skim the text again and note Jesus’ leading of this woman – from a person totally focused on getting her daily task done to a person who is so impacted by this conversation with Jesus that she runs off into town leaving her own water jars behind to tell people to come out and see and hear this man! Note his gentle words just at the right time and in the right order to help this person engage in a faith discussion – this may be very helpful for us all in our daily conversations with people focused on anything but Jesus!
  5. From this extended conversation two things come to light. Jesus is more than happiness and even wholeness he is life and gives life to any sinner who wants it. The other thing is that he is the new place of worship – not Jerusalem or Gerazim. Hie life is given in the gathered community called “church” What gifts of life does Jesus give us there?
  6. We ended up saying that the “God-life” is not happiness, merely human wholeness but being
    Holy” – forgiven, acceptable, set apart for Jesus’ ongoing work of helping people in our street receive him as their Living Water and come to worship him with us in his presence. How do you feel about this and what can you see this meaning for St Petri, and what does it mean for your group?

PRAY

Heavenly Father, pour out your living water of holiness on us as we gather in your name and receive your holy gifts at St Petri so that we leave our daily tasks and earthly bound focus and invite people to come and hear and see you. Amen

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