Author: Adrian Kitson (page 1 of 25)

Grace Opportunity

Sermon, Pentecost 23rd C, Sunday November 17, 2019.

Luke 21: 5-19

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’

‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’

He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’

10 Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

In this word from Jesus today, I hear the call to trust him no matter what happens to us as a church or me as a person. He promises to sustain us through everything. This allows us to live through anything with him. This allows us to not turn to blame and shame or doubt and fear but to take the hard things as opportunity to share him with others and see him at work. This is easier said than done!

The first thing to say is that Jesus is no pretender or liar; no false teacher. Faith in Jesus is tough and very realistic. Jesus says here that bad things have, can and will happen to us, even though we are accepted and loved by God.

Things like betrayal, persecution, conflict, insult, dismissal, unfair criticism, unjust words, tragic loss or persecution of people of Christ will occur. But Jesus says he is present with us in these things too. He is here with us in the tough things. His presence enables us to respond to tough things without the need to be the tough guy or girl.

But we naturally have two basic ready-to-go responses to these hard things we come across: run away or come out swinging. Both do more damage and keep us from the joy that is already ours in Jesus.

We tend to respond in fear, not faith. We either tend to deny pain and hurt; pretend that nothing has happened, and nothing has hurt, deny we had anything to do with it to try and escape it. “She’ll be right, mate”, we say.

Either that, or, “It’s all your fault!”. We come out swinging. When our aspirations are dashed, our goals end up rubble, our good name under attack, we tend to blame others for everything bad that has happened. It is everyone else’s fault, not mine; not ours.

In your efforts to either escape or fight, there is no possibility of the grace of the Lord Jesus rising in it to transform it all. Why?

Because there is no room for asking that critical question Jesus directs us to ask elsewhere in his word – to ‘take the log out of our eye’. In other words, to ask ourselves, “What is my part in this, if any?”. Jesus calls us Christians to own our own contribution to the difficulty, however small, so that we learn, and so that genuine reconciliation can occur, and life can still be lived in Jesus joy in and beyond this hard thing.

If anyone had a reason to blame someone for something really bad, it was the people around Jesus in the city temple area the day he said this magnificent building would all fall down! Right in the heart of their personal, family and national life, in the place of ‘blessed assurance’ that God was still theirs, Jesus says this whole place will be rubble one day soon.

That is really saying that all they knew to be solid and true, all that gave them aspirations for their life; all that held them together as a people and as families would be gone. THE place of blessing, prosperity, family, community, place in the world… your life as person of God in a nation God has made will be rudderless, placeless, like Adelaide without the Torrens or the Oval; like Australia without Uluru or Sydney Harbour or Melbourne without the MCG; Perth without the Swan River.

The Jerusalem temple was begun in 19BC by Herod the Great. As this grand design is still being built fifty two years on, with its giant gem encrusted columns and gold-plated capitals, Jesus shockingly declares that this whole place and all it represents will end. Not one stone will be left on another.

That happened just thirty or so years after he said it would. The Roman military finally did what they had been threatening to do for years. Five years after this temple’s 65 year building program was finally completed, they razed this magnificent building to the ground in 70AD. Now there is a horrible thing that someone needs to be blamed for!

But I notice in Jesus’ words or Luke’s reporting of them that there is no hint of blame. This is remarkable since Luke is probably writing this account of Jesus’ words after AD70. The temple is already destroyed. But even then, still no blame!

So, what is here instead? Opportunity. Jesus says that even this catastrophe is an opportunity for his grace.

He goes on to say a whole list of other hard things are opportunity for his grace; an opportunity for him to reveal his undeserved love; his grace; his kingdom transformation to do its transforming work on people.

Friends, hard things; unfair things, hurtful things that happen to us are not to be ignored, denied or filled with blame. Jesus says here that tough things are to be received as moments of witness to him and his promise of life in us. No blame; but opportunity to tell of his grace; opportunity to bear witness to Jesus’ grace and love for sinners. No hiding away in fear. No coming out swinging with angry blaming words and retaliation, just receiving of an opportunity to speak of him and his forgiveness.

But how?! It is hard to resist the blame game!

Well, we often can’t but he always does. Jesus took all the blame for my mistrust and ignorance of him. He took the pain and the tragedy about to befall him, which was worse than a building being torn down. It was his body that was torn down.

It was the full darkness of human hatred and blame shifting weakness he took to the grave. And when he rose from that dead building, he became the new living building; the new place of divine presence; the new person of divine peace and life who hears our praying and responds to our seeking.

He has made us his building, his living stones making up his vast moving, breathing body powered by his grace to be grace in all the suffering and loss.

Friend, the only way we can move away from pretending, denying, sweeping the damage under the carpet in fear or fighting and damaging and hurting each other is him. He shifts blaming and shaming to opportunity to the possibility of grace; undeserved love.

His undeserved acceptance and love are the way through tough things, tough times and tough people.

And there is final justice for all wrong. He promises that nothing goes unnoticed and not one part of you will be lost. Every hair on your head will be intact in him. You will be with him and remain in him no matter what because he is aware of you, understands you. He has been where you have not been yet, and he lives where you live now.

This whole word is about trust. The only way you and I can receive conflict, hurt, unfair criticism, betrayal, ill-health and all other hard things mentioned here and experienced daily by human beings is him. The only way we receive these things as opportunity rather than threat is trust in him and his peace; his wounds for us; his blood for us; his love for us.

With his promises and the hope it brings us, we can do something again this morning that takes us away from blame and shame and hiding and running:

14 … make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves

We don’t even need to plan to avoid tough things (as if we could). Our calling is to make up our minds to not even bother about avoiding bad things, being ahead of bad things, having a strategy to deal with bad things – not in our own human way anyway.

Friends, “If he calls you to it, he will get you through it”, they say. Jesus will get you through it.

Bad things will happen. We will hurt each other at times. Others will betray us, criticize us, dismiss is for our faith in Jesus.

The world will experience disasters, bushfires, tsunamis, earthquakes, loss, death, evil.

But Jesus says to you that there is opportunity here. His opportunity. There is opportunity for the harvest – for the good news of God’s long and wide and high grace to be experienced by you and the other person.

Praise the Lord that no matter what, you remain in him and he in you. Nothing is lost or unnoticed by him. Even every hair on your head is known, no matter what comes to you or us as a church.

Stand firm, friend. These hard things are not fear-filled things, but his things; they are an opportunity for God’s grace to rise from the dust and transform the situation back to grace and joy in Jesus, in you and hopefully others.

So, stand firm in making for his peace in as much as it is up to you without defending yourself or fighting back or running away or pretending. In his truth and his present love and power you will win life, today and tomorrow.

Life to Stand In

Sermon. Pentecost 23rd C, Sunday November 10, 2019. St Petri 

 Luke 20:27–38 The question about rising from death 

Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” 

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” 

It was hard hearing all those names read out last week at All Saints Day. We remembered those whom we have lost by name and thanked God for them. There were a lot of names.  

I wonder what that does to you – whether you did not really know many of them or most were life-long acquaintances or friends or actual loved close family members.  

Today’s words from the Lord will help us.  

We have this strange little conversation between Jesus and a particular group of people in this “heated up” final part of Jesus’ journey to death in the city of Jerusalem.   

Jesus is asked about his belief regarding what happens when we die – whether there is nothing at all after death or whether there is something truly different, totally unlike anything we have ever known this side of death.   

One thing he makes clear in his response: God is God of the living whether they are living or have died!  

“God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” 

But our natural questions about death and life beyond it are with us always. They might be; 

  • Where are our brothers and sister in Christ who have died and what will the resurrection be like? 
  • Is Jesus saying we won’t know our friends and families, or even our partner in life? 
  • Is Jesus’ resurrection the same thing as this belief that we all have an immortal soul that flies off to some place when we die? 

Various groups with different beliefs about death and life are all there in the city around Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Zealots and etc . Things are getting to the pointy end. All these groups are very aware of Jesus. They are all trying to figure out if he is friend or foe. Is he good news for the nation or really dangerous! So, the Sadducees group ask their thorny question….  

If seven brothers were all married to the same wife in succession because they were keeping the law saying their duty is to marry/take in the wife of a brother who dies to protect her and give her a safer future, and none of these seven brothers have any children with this one wife, at the so called ‘resurrection’ (which we think is just fantasy) whose wife will she be? Won’t this be terribly awkward in this so called ‘heaven’?   

Now the big issue that divides the two major groups; Pharisees and Sadducees, is different belief about whether or not there is anything after death for human beings  

It is not actually a question much to do with marriage. It is all about resurrection. This is not even an honest question seeking new understanding. It is ‘set up’ question aimed to get Jesus to trap himself in words. They need some ammo to get rid of Jesus from their lives.  

Sadducees say there is no resurrection from death. For them, only the first five books of the Old Testament are authoritative, and they reckon those books do not mention anything about humans living on after death. Pharisees take the whole Old Testament and believe there to be much about life after death spoken. There is resurrection from death.   

Whose side are you on Jesus? Jesus has already humiliated the Pharisees just prior to this conversation. They tried to trap him with that other tricky question about paying taxes to the hated Romans and their fake god, Caesar. That was good viewing for the Sadducee’s!   

Jesus replies mysteriously; 

“The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” 

So, plain and simple: There is life beyond death. The Sadducee’s are wrong. A lot of people today are still wrong about that.   

Jesus gives no specific details about this life beyond death. He does make it clear that is different to life now.  

It is different in the sense that the ordinary events that shape our lives now and track our journey through life – birth, childhood, teenager time, young adult time, work, marriage, etc, do not characterise the life beyond the resurrection.   

Somehow, we will be us, but we will be different, as Jesus was different but still himself after his death when he was raised from death.   

But what about knowing your marriage partner, or anyone else? Will we know each other? Will we know our spouse, see our family, be reunited with them?   

Seems a bit like we won’t. 

“The people of this age marry and are given in marriage…” [but not so in the next] 

But Jesus is not really saying anything about not knowing each other. He does not say we will not know those who have been dear to us, only that resurrection life will not be marked by the same features as this one.   

He goes on to say;  

“Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” 

 So, it seems that the relationships defining our current life remain in the resurrection life we will share; definitely with the Lord himself, and very likely with each other.  

And one very important thing Jesus says is that we humans do not have some ‘immortal soul that will leave the body and fly off to some other spiritual place we might call “heaven” when we die.  

I know, a lot of people I know have that belief and it does bring some comfort to them, particularly if they are unsure about Jesus and his resurrection and his promises.   

If you have little or no faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for you and his definite word that there is indeed life with him forever beyond our death with all others who have believed what he says, then the next best thing is to believe that there is this eternal non-visible essence of us that somehow lives on.   

The problem is, this text and the whole New Testament dont say that. They say a whole lot more that is a whole lot better!  

Jesus says that there is life after death. His life for you.   

He says it is different to life before deathand marvelously so – no more tears, suffering, dying.  

But it is ‘the same’; it is human and communal – we will know him. It seems that we will know people – even Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.   

Friend, this message is for you, no matter what or who you have lost. This is hope for you for today  

Why? Well, this resurrection life is not mere theory for Jesus. He is living it in this city. He is about to pay the ultimate price for this new hope for us all. It will cost him dearly. It will cost him real pain and violence and dark struggle to make this resurrection life possible for all of us humans.   

So whatever he says about death and life after death, it is personal, it is hard won and it is human and real.  

And this is all ours now. You died and rose to this life already when the Spirit sealed you with this life in your baptism. You are raised and one day will arise with all the living and the dead to receive the final and full reward Jesus is and has.   

Resurrection gives you a place and reason to stand. You can stand firm in anything because Jesus is standing beyond the grave in glorious light.   

Resurrection gives you an anchor point. Like a little toddler holding to Dad’s leg to stay upright, you can hold on to him as you “hold fast” to what you have been given, what you have been taught, what you still receive all the time from Jesus through his people.  

Resurrection gives you guaranteed victory and strength to overcome. As you hold on you keep walking, even with the flaming arrows of the “Lawless One’ (as Paul calls him) who tries to set himself up as God in your life. (1 Thessalonians 2:13-17).  

Resurrection gives you meaning and purpose in your life. You are going somewhere good with God. You can trust that you are always God’s called one – no matter what your job, what your age, what your health, what your losses and scars. (1 Thessalonians 2:13-17).  

Can you as a ‘Living one’ with all the other ‘living ones’ who have died, sing that song now? 

Every day I will praise you, Lord 

The Lord is near to all who call on him, 

    to all who call on him in truth. 

He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; 

    he hears their cry and saves them. 

The Lord watches over all who love him. 

 In Paul’s words:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 

 

Re-Form Me

Sermon, Reformation Day, 27-10-2019, St Petri

John 8:31-36   

31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

33They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 

34Jesus replied, Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 

God did something big five hundred years ago that got his people back to himself. He re-formed his whole church. It was a radical re-awakening inspired by people like Martin Luther, a Catholic monk. Luther was blessed to hear anew that God’s underserved love is good news that is delivered to us by the resurrected Jesus.

Luther and others did not only know this intellectually or theoretically but personally, in the heart. Luther himself was set free from a heavy burdened life of slavish serving an angry God which was slowly killing him. He was set free by God’s gracious acceptance to a life freely lived in love and forgiveness. Is this your story too?

This re-forming was painful for everyone. It did not appear to be very freeing at times. It seems that we Church folks don’t like being ‘re-formed’, even if it is by good news of new freedom!

Maybe we are like a prisoner who has become so used to the confines of prison that the thought of being set free in open society is too scary to know!

Today we hear how the Jewish people who had begun to believe Jesus’ words objected to being re-formed by his truth and its freedom.

Jesus goes beyond their religious observance. He goes much deeper. They don’t like it.

They believe they are ‘all good’ when it comes to God. He says, “only the truth will set you free”. That implies they are not free; they are still slaves to someone or something.

When Jesus says that they “slaves”; that they are under the control of another master that is not the God of Abraham, they are upset. They don’t like where this is going.

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 

They believe they are free already. They are children of Father Abraham and therefore God’s children. They are this because of their family heritage and their good behaviour. That assures them that they are “free”; that they are accepted by a holy God.

They have the right name, the right story, the right traditions, the right temple, the right Law and they keep it. That is what assures them of their acceptance by their ultimate Father – the One God.

Jesus says different. True freedom from the Father is not based on political or ethnic family lines or on people keeping God’s rules. His freedom is not based on mere right belief to a set of words or moral behaviours.

Jesus says that their trust in their family name, ethnicity and good behaviour shows they are still slaves: slaves relying on, trusting in and seeking their own version of truth according to those things.

Their version of the truth about themselves and the world does not set them free into a living relationship of love and kindness with God their Heavenly Father but keeps them at a distance from him; not really experiencing his kindness in the heart.

They are like a dutiful daughter who is working hard in the business to one day get what her Father has, not for any love of her Father or free relationship with him.

Their trust in their ethnicity and good behaviour as what makes them free shows that their real father is not the God of Abraham but the father of lies, Satan. Tough words to hear! No wonder they don’t like it.

But this is the truth.

“…everyone who sins is a slave to sin”, Jesus says.

“Sins come from sin”. We do good and bad things because we trust other things way more than the good forgiveness Jesus brings in the human heart; in my heart.

Simply put, we have a heart that believes “I obey, therefore I am loved”. “I perform the right way, have the right name, do the right things, be the right person, and therefore, I am accepted and loved by God.”.

Jesus’ says the truth is actually the very opposite. Jesus’ truth is, “I am loved, therefore I obey”. I live and do and serve and give, not to earn God’s gracious favour and blessing but BECAUSE I already have them, or more accurately, I have him. He is all of this in human form for me.

This is bad news for the Jews who had begun to believe it seems. They are not free at all. The form of their faith needs to be re-formed.

It is very good news for those with the wrong form; those without family name, right behaviour, right nationality and unholy standing around Jesus. They welcome the re-forming of their heart and life. They could not get enough of this truth. Which is it for you today?

They needed and we need the real truth and nothing but the truth, please help us God. The trust was with them in a person. He is with us now.

The only truth that is actually the truth is him. The only truth that truly sets you free to be at peace with a holy God and his free witness in his world is Jesus and his teaching; his words.

Freedom not only comes via Christ alone, as we Lutherans are big on saying. Freedom comes by Christ himself.

It is not only Christ alone –to the exclusion of all others—who brings true freedom from this chasing after other words and people and promises; it is not only Christ alone that can deliver true and lasting belonging in divine peace, belonging to a community, self-giving love and lasting good future even beyond suffering and even after death, It is also that Christ himself does this for us.

How do you get it? Experience of him in his word.

This freedom is deeper than mere behaviour or right thinking or human vision. Freedom does not come from a strong will to do more or to resist more bad things or be very, very good. It does not come from or rest on your church membership or family name. Freedom does not come through mere overflowing emotions or intellectual agreement. Freedom only comes to the heart by experience of him and his words – by “abiding”, staying with, living with Jesus and his words.

If you hold/abide to my teaching, you are really my disciples”. 

Friend, Jesus is abiding with you, holding you, staying with you and he calls you to return, to stay, the live, the listen and know true freedom from all that binds us.

With his holding and staying and abiding you don’t need to be squeaky clean, keep up appearances, never make a mistake, be really smart, win the argument, find emotional highs to be happy in life.

He is not saying that you simply subscribe to a news service, sign up for a Facebook account, join a club or fall into line with a set of intellectual propositions to be free. He is calling you to one thing: Himself. He demands and offers nothing less than an encounter with himself. His abiding, holding, living resurrection power to re-form you is what sets me free.

That is his “teaching”. His teaching proclaims that “I am loved; now I can do and be; now I can freely obey from love not from fear.

It is Reformation Day. Jesus is re-forming you. Jesus is always re-forming you. He always reforming his people; his church.

It can be painful. We tend to default to the “I obey, therefore I am loved” way. So, we might not like his truth. But it is worth it to get that freedom of his.

Ask a little German monk! Ask a whole global community of faith in this Jesus! Ask a friend who knows him in the heart.

And when you who know him and love him are asked about his truth and his freedom, tell them.

You are loved today. Now you can go and live in him as he abides with you.

PRAYER

Lord, re-form me! Re-form us in your truth, for your Word is truth and sets us free.

A Name for the Struggle

Sermon, 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Sunday October 20, 2019. St Petri.

Pastor Adrian Kitson

Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5, Luke 18:1-8 

Genesis 32:22-31

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’

But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’

27 The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’

‘Jacob,’ he answered.

28 Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[a] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’

29 Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’

But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[b] saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[c] and he was limping because of his hip.

 

I thank the Lord for these three words about being persistent in praying and not losing heart; not giving up on him or each other. Just by speaking them our God shows that he knows it is easy to do them – easy to give up and stop praying to him, trusting him.

Truth is that we can be worn down enough to give up on him, each other, and our future hope he has given us in Jesus. Truth is, we can be the cause of wearing down each other.

I wonder what would help you keep on praying and not give up on each other and God’s presence and promises for us all? Maybe what will help begins with a question I will ask of you: “Who are you”. “What is your name”?

This scene from Jacob’s life is about persistence in the struggle. Jacob persisted in this wresting with this strange “man” in the Jabbok at night, and eventually got the man’s blessing. But I reckon it also about another major gift – a new name.

Names matter – for Jacob’s time and ours, but more in his time. For Jacob your name was given to you by others to describe your character and tell others your founding story. So, speaking your name to another person was risky. Your name gave that person access to your story and insight into your character, wanted or not – like a photo of you on Facebook.

For Jacob, his name showed that he was a tricky man, a deceptive character, a ‘heal-grabber’, literally. He was the second boy grabbing the heal of his twin brother as he came into the world. Jacob was not only the younger son he was slighter in stature than his hunter, strong man brother, Esau. Jacob learns to live by his wits rather than his strength. Of course, as the eldest, Esau is heir to his father’s blessing and fortune.

There is sibling rivalry from the start. Jacob’s cheating ways erupt most fiercely on two occasions. Jacob tricks Esau out of his ‘oldest son’ status; dad’s family blessing (inheritance – wealth, future security and status).

A few years later, Jacob deceives his Dad. Dad is old and half-blind and dying. At the crucial moment of the giving of the final blessing Jacob is right there to get it instead by pretending to be Esau. He falsely gets the blessing.  Esau is rightly distraught and enraged. Damage done; relationship broken.

Jacob flees to his uncle Laban’s place. Eventually, by his usual trickery, over a decade or more, Jacob manages to rip off Laban and acquire most of his wealth.

Jacob is fleeing again. We hear that he is en route back to his homeland. He hears that his brother Esau is coming to meet him – but with an army of four hundred men! Oh boy. This blessing could be a curse!

Jacob hides away half of his wealth. He sends three caravans of gifts ahead to Esau. He hopes this gets him some way back into his brother’s good graces.

Jacob even sends the rest of his servants and immediate family across the Jabbok river, hoping that even if Esau refuses the caravan of gifts he may, at least, take pity on Jacob at the sight of his defenseless wives and children. Worse comes to worse, he would get a head start on doing a runner!

And then it happens….  Pacing around by the dark and troubled river, Jacob is attacked by what can only seem like a demon. They wrestle all night long. As day is about to break Jacob seems to be on the verge of surviving. This mysterious “man” who is obviously more than a mere man dislocates Jacob’s hip and demands Jacob release him.

“Not until you bless me,” Jacob cries. This man is special; divine. The man says, “Tell me your name.”

Jacob knows the risk. He knows his name is not good. It means “cheat, liar, manipulator”.

Jacob knows by giving his name, especially to an enemy, he is giving away too much. He is ‘fessing up’ to his many flaws and sins.

The sinner is getting his just judgement! We all cheer! So would Laban and Esau if they were there!

But there is not judgement.

28 Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’

This special man; the Lord in human form, we trust, does not punish the pretender but re-names him instead. In so doing, for his own reasons and plans, the Lord reshapes this sinner’s character, his present and his future.

The name? “Israel”, the one who has wrestled with God and with human beings and has prevailed.

The struggle has its price – Jacob limps away at dawn with a hip problem. But he limps into a promising new day; into a new future. Sound familiar to you? I hope so.

This new name from the Lord creates new present and future. Jacob and Esau will be reconciled in the chapters to come. From Jacob will spring a new nation by his twelve sons. They and their descendants proudly bear his name even to this day.

Who are you? What is your name?

Now a descendant of Jacob came later. In a river of tears at night, and with blood on the wood as his body is put out of joint, Jesus, the Man of God, the Son of God, wrestles with all evil and dark death and seems defeated by them.

With those wounds that show the visible price of his struggle, he marches out of the dark at dawn in victory over not just a cheesed-off brother, but a dark, hell-bent, dangerous and deceiving Satan, a wayward self-orientated heart in each of us and a black future without hope that used to be ours.

But that death, that Deceiver and that deceiving heart are no longer what shapes us now or God’s future for us.

And all of this flooded into you when he poured out his life into you in that cleansing stream in that font on that day. It still floods into you when you gather with others and listen and pray and sing and receive him. It is poured into your body in the blood and in the bread of this Man of God.

Who are you? What is your name? Will you trust his new names for you and refuse to live in the old ones? This will help you pray.

Get those old names and bin them today – or let him bin them for you:

Names people try to give you (loser, ego-head, weakling, no good for anything, dumb, too old, too young, divorced, defeated), those names society lays on you (consumer, user, taker, buyer, weakling in need of a spiritual crutch, hypocrite, unintelligent) and names you take on yourself (unworthy, irresponsible, unfaithful, incompetent, worthless) that still rage within.

You have been ‘Christ’-ened” (Christened; Baptised), and given his names for you: “Son of mine, Daughter of mine, Child of mine, Co-heir with me, priest of mine, witness to my grace, person of hope, faith and love; follower, student, teacher of mine. Worthy, forgiven, graced, purposed, hopeful, lively, useful no matter the strength of the opponent or the length of the struggle or the place of the wrestling.

Your Father says, “You are Christ! To me you are Christ! He gives you his Son’s name to live in and pray in – “In Jesus’ name”, we pray.

Can you pray again now? Can you walk out of here with that limp and a few left-over scares (like Jesus from the tomb) but full of trust in his name and his names for you that define you now, not those old names?

Please do. You can because he has made it so.

Proudly limp out of here with your various wounds and weakness with head held high and a caravan full of this forgiveness to be shared, given and done as much as it is up to you. Anything less is just going back to that old sibling rivalry, that old anger, that old broken relationship, that old ego and that old future.

Limp with joy in your bones to live another day of his blessing; to live in Jesus’ new day of grace; to pray and listen and live with persistence in the struggles.

In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Prayers of the People

Sermon, Pentecost 15th C, Sunday September 22, 2019.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle – I am telling the truth, I am not lying – and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

We again join Paul in his encouragement to Timothy at Ephesus. Paul began with a reminder of two foundations of being pastor and people in mission:

  1. Everything in the church depends on the sound teaching, or ‘healthy words’ or, The Word of God – Jesus’ word, and
  2. Jesus wants all people to be in his gracious community of love and is immensely patient with the lost, the found and those who are called to lead the found.

On those foundations, Paul now gets into the nitty-gritty of encouragement to a Pastor and his church. Guess where he goes first – prayer! Obvious in theory, not so easy in practice!

“….first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made         for all people.”

 Paul urges prayer – prayer for everything and for everyone – the Jesus followers and those not yet following.

 ‘First of all” suggests that this is the first thing in a list of what is crucial for being church. But if you read on after this text, you will find no ‘second’ or ‘third’. This is not ‘first of all’ in the sense of first in a list, but ‘first of all’ in the sense that this is PRIMARY – a thing of utmost, primary importance across all aspects of being church, being leaders, being a people in gospel mission.

So, whatever we do, we pray a lot, pray often, pray everywhere, all the time in all kinds of ways.

Paul describes four kinds of prayer that are primary in all we do:

  1. Petitions: This is specific appeal for a particular need.
  2. Prayers: This is general prayer for many things in a place of prayer – in worship, when we are together somewhere.
  3. Intercessions: A more urgent ‘coming together’; a bold request for another.
  4. Thanksgivings: Words of thanks to God for anything and everything.

So, prayer of all kinds is crucial for all things all the time.

And who for? Interesting that Paul begins at the top here.

“….for kings and all those in authority…”

Why pray for those in civic authority?

In 510 BC, Rome had been a republic governed by two consuls who were elected to their positions. This system was in effect for five hundred years. But it was then changed in two significant ways. Under Julius Caesar, the republic became the Empire ruled by him alone! And then gradually Rome introduced the deification of the emperor. The emperor was now a god.

After his assassination in 27 BC, Julius Caesar was soon proclaimed divine and accepted among the gods of the state. He was now able to be publicly worshiped throughout the vast Roman empire (including in Ephesus). At the time of the New Testament writing Emperor worship was a general custom everywhere.

Here comes Paul to Pastor Timothy serving in the important Roman city of Ephesus saying that he and the people should pray for kings. Note that he does not say pray TO kings but FOR kings. Christians don’t pray to anyone except God, Father, Son and Spirit, and yet, we do pray FOR leaders of all kinds.

This prayer is based on the truth that even self-declared god-kings only ‘rule’ because the Lord calls them or allows them to and that even their authority is dependent on the Lord, whether they acknowledge this or not (Romans 13:1 – Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God”).

And why does Paul urge this prayer for governments and leaders of all kinds first? Is it to uphold someone’s power or stroke someone’s ego or keep in place some corrupt rule? Never.

The whole point of Christians praying for all leaders is not just for the leader him or her, but for the whole community, the whole country and for the whole church that everyone gets to

“…. live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”.

Friends, we pray all the time in all kinds of ways and we pray for pastors, mayors, local, state and federal leaders, leaders of our schools, our health services and every other leader – even our boss, even other world leaders not to keep them in power or to manipulate them or to have power over government or leadership but so there is peace and the possibility of godliness in relationships, business, education, commerce, care for the vulnerable and the like but even more for the gospel to run free…. Because;

This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 

We pray for our country and our community and its leaders for the sake of the well-being of all people but also for “holiness”; for the free reign of the good news of Jesus. That is way we pray and that is what we pray.

As a community of Christians, we pray every Sunday in this public gathering in the public space. It is here that we do our ‘public service’ in God’s world. We are ‘public servants’ as we pray the Prayer of the Church. We even symbolize this by having other people lead our prayers with the pastor. This is a prayer of the whole church, not only the Pastor!

When the first Christians tried to find words in their language that could teach others what Jesus’ resurrection really had done, They borrowed words they knew and filled them with Jesus. So, the word ‘ekklesia’ was a word used for what often happened when the Mayor called a meeting down at the Institute and the whole town came. The word ekklesia was used for ‘church’ – a public gathering in Jesus’ presence. When we gather here in Jesus’ presence, we are doing a public meeting in the town square on behalf of the town.

So the ekklesia gathered in public for the public. They gathered to do work on behalf of the community. This ‘work’ was called’ ‘liturgia’ – ‘Liturgy”. The Christians gathered in public  to do their public work for the public prayer or “Liturgy”.

Can you see how everything we Christians do when we gather is never only for us, but for the community. What we do here as ekklesia (church) is our public work, our public service, our liturgy in Jesus’ presence for all the world to see.

Friends we don’t just come here to get something. We come here to do some work – some prayer for others. We pray for the world and its leaders for the gospel – that it may run freely as we carry it into Monday in our words and actions.

Just in case you don’t think you have any part in this, think again, friend. You are automatically involved in this pubic work. No matter who we are and what we have been, we are public servants of the good news of life in Jesus. If you need proof, Paul gives that….

“….for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle…”

 Paul, a violent, angry, harmful lost man was called to his part in this mission. He says that he was called to be an announcer (Herald) and a sent person of God (Apostle).

If it is good enough for a bloke like that, it is good enough for you who think you may be too bad for the job or too good for the job. One thing is for sure, now you cannot be indifferent about the job!

Friends, let’s keep praying. Let’s never gather here just for me or us but for them!

Pray together. Pray alone. Pray for everything, be bold and get specific when needed. Let the gospel run free in this community because

“….there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human, Messiah Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people”.

May we praise him as we pray for them.

 

.

 

 

 

Patience

SermonPentecost 14th C, Sunday September 15, 2019

1 Timothy 1:12-17 

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 

 You have to be immensely patient to be a parent. You have to be immensely patient to be an educator. Same for being a life-long partner. Sounds here like you have to be immensely patient to be a pastor and people working together in the mission of God. Good news is that God is “immensely patient” with us!  

Paul writes to his young apprentice, Timothy, about the craft of pastoring his people. He calls Timothy to pay close attention to what he teaches concerning God’s grace in Jesus and assures him that the Father is immensely patient with him and his rather ‘interesting’ people.   

We hear in these Pastoral Letters that what we believe and teach each other really matters. God patiently teaches us. We patently teach each other and through us the world is taught the good news of grace in Jesus.  

Why the patience? Because there is teaching that is sound and true and good for people and there is teaching that is not. And it is hard to tell the difference sometimes.  

Careful attention to what we teach and confess from the Word of God is not a straitjacket limiting our freedom, but the source of true freedom in all circumstances.   

Paul speaks about what he calls ‘sound teaching’ or ‘healthy words”? He knows that the problem we have is that we find it difficult to stick with those good words of God. It is real battle.   

The inclinations of our broken hearts and our needy bodies, the pull of  popular belief trotted out in a million places every day, and the work of the Deceiver always upon us, make God’s healthy words hard to hear.    

Paul believes and knows from experience that sound teaching is the foundation of a strong forgiving, loving caring family and church; with deeper brotherly and sisterly love and unity of purpose in Jesus.   

Jesus is God’s healthy word; God’s sound teaching:  

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” 

 That is our core. From this gospel core comes a very good thing; a wide thing; a thing of hope…. Grace received; grace known; grace lived…  

The Father’s whole goal of teaching all of us Jesus is – that all may know the grace of God. Faithful teaching and confessing and doing is the heart of fruitful mission.   

Paul’s ultimate goal in encouraging Timothy (and us) is that he and the people would enjoy the blessing of “living peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. [Because] This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1Timothy 2:3-4).  

Sound gospel centred teaching and living creates outward looking and loving people and Jesus’ kingdoms grows….  

Sticking with the good words of Jesus is obviously is no easy thing. You can tell this by these letters.   

There is unsound teaching that creates unsound practices IN THE CHURCH. And when the church is disordered, disunified, unsure, unclear and unencouraging, it has little chance of being useful in the mission of Christ.   

The exact details of the unhealthy teaching being peddled by some in Ephesus is hard to pin-point here, but there are hints.  

And the stakes are high. Apparently, this unsound teaching is even causing some people in this Ephesian church to abandon the faith (1 Timothy 4:1).   

There are some pretty strong people in the church community who are convinced of some things that are contrary to the sound teaching Paul taught Timothy and the church when he planted it and nurtured it for about three years.  

  1. The physical does not matterA belief that the physical things of life, the material world, God’s created earth and stars and sky and human body and all creatures are somehow almost useless; valueless compared to the ‘spiritual things’. This flies in the face of God’s good creation in all its spiritual AND physical glory.  
  1. Jesus is not really human: Because physical things are unimportant and easily done away with, Jesus must not have actually been really human – just a spirit living in a human body for a while. And not raised physically – only spiritually. And so, the same for his baptised people. We are not really made new in any other way than spiritually and when we are resurrected we are not raised bodily, only spiritually. This is the old “Soul taking flight to some cloud in the sky or other world somewhere to float around forever” kind of belief we have talked about this year. Healing ministry is diminished. God does not really know our suffering.  
  1. Knowledge is all important (not faith). Because of only spiritual things being important for being accepted by God, the only way to be OK with God is to UNDERSTAND certain things or have certain KNOWLEDGE of spiritual things. The more knowledge of spiritual things you have, the greater the likelihood that you will return from when you came – the ‘spiritual world’. Faith takes a back seat and we become our own saviour’s by our knowledge of secret mysterious things….. and you have no assurance that you are ‘saved enough! 

Welcome to being a pastor, Timothy! Welcome to being a community of unified, loving and fruitful Christians in mission! It all sounds pretty hard for both of us, doesn’t it?   

But the Lord is at work teaching us, right from the beginning and will do so until the end. “I am with you always as you baptise and teach each other and others beyond, Jesus says (Matthew 28). And everyone has hope because grace is at work in real time for real people. Just ask Paul….  

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 

 Thank the Lord today that even the most unhealthy words and skewed teaching and behaviour can be recovered. Even those who have been led off down a dead end can be brought back to the highway. Even a church in conflict with some strange ideas can return to unity of purpose and be of great use in the Lord’s mission to bring all people into his grace.   

How so? By what Paul names as the gift of God’s “immense patience”. 

16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him.” 

Paul holds up the story of how the Lord was so immensely patient with him as hope for Timothy in a tricky community, and hope for us striving to be his faithful church here in tricky times.  

 We all struggle to trust that this Jesus is that patient with us! The mistakes I keep on making, the weaknesses I keep on displaying, the past sins I keep on remembering, the regrets I keep on replaying…..  

The Lord Jesus knows all of these and knows the circumstances and the psychology and is still ready to forgive me, assist us, help uslove us, advocate on our behalf when we have no case to offer, no self-justification good enough to speak. This is grace and this is everything for this imperfect pastor and this imperfect church  

Imperfect we be but the Lord’s we still are. Grace still reigns and we have a chance to be part of his grace changing lives, one moment at a time as we patiently speak God’s good words; God’s healthy words; God’s gospel sound teaching.   

Your kind and loving heavenly Father has healthy words for you. He patiently teaches you his words of life as you go in his name. He calls you and trusts you as he trusted Paul and Timothy.   

He has appointed you to be his woman, his man of gospel healthy words where you live.   

And when you don’t listen and get side-tracked, he calls you again and forgives you and us together for past wrongs. He is still patiently directing us.   

So,  

13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep these words until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time – God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might for ever. Amen.  

Faith is meant for Love

SermonThirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18), Year C

This Faith is Meant to Love 

Philemon 

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, 

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker – 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier – and to the church that meets in your home: 

3 Grace and peace to you[a] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. 

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul – an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus – 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,[b] who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. 

12 I am sending him – who is my very heart – back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favour you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for ever – 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. 

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back – not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. 

22 And one thing more: prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. 

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. 

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. 

I don’t think there is a more personal snapshot of Paul anywhere else in the New Testament. The more you read it, the more you are impressed by Paul, and even more by the power of the gospel to transform people and their relationships. 

It is Paul’s shortest letter, comprising only 335 Greek words. But it is a little letter that reveals rare insights into Paul’s abilities as a Christian leader and friend. It also gives you and me gospel direction in working at our relationships. It shows us what it is to be church. It shows us that this gospel we love is for love. Faith is for love.  

Philemon is a man of means who lives in the city of Colossae. He became a Christian through Paul’s ministry (19b) and hosts a church in his home (2).  

One of his slaves, also from Colossae, named Onesimus (which means “Useful”), has ran away. But this runaway slave encountered Paul in prison in Ephesus and became a Christian through Paul’s witness (10). This man named “Useful” becomes a ‘very useful’ helper to Paul in prison, but is now not so useful to his rightful owner.    

So useful is ‘Useful’ that Paul would have loved Onesimus to stay with him in prison (11, 13) But Paul chooses to send this runaway slave back Philemon (12). Paul is obligated to do the right thing here, even at cost to himself. Everyone in the ancient world was obligated to send a runaway slave back to his/her owner.   

Now, to us who do not live with slavery and ‘people being owned’, at least not here and not obviously or legally in Australia, this all sounds rather mundane. But it is not for these Christians in their time!   

In their world, almost everybody could become a slave. About 35% to 40% of the population was indeed enslaved. As the property of their masters, slaves were considered animated tools and could be bought and sold at their master’s discretion. Slaves were often abused; they could be expelled from the master’s house when they were old or sick. That made them extremely vulnerable to corruption, ill health and injustice.    

Most important for understanding the urgency of Paul’s letter to Philemon is the information that a master had the right to kill a slave when he or she was caught for running away.   

So, Paul does what he can from prison in Ephesus. He provides a letter that would go with the runaway slave and another ‘fellow worker’ Tychicus (Colossians 4:7-9) back to Philemon.   

This letter has always raised the thorny issue of slavery. Here, Paul does not suggest that Philemon, the slave owner, should free his runaway slave. Some think Paul should have done this.   

But Paul is not interested in overthrowing the social structure. He is showing that the gospel of Jesus transforms the whole social structure. It is only because of the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ for sinners that a slave and master have a transformed relationship beyond ownership and slavery. Even these two men from such different sides of the tracks can relate as equal brothers in the love of Jesus.   

So, based on the good news of God’s grace for sinners in Jesus, of whom they have all partaken, Paul calls on Philemon to forgive Onesimus and receive him back as a brother (15-18), and then return him again to Paul (13-14, 20-21). This would return everything to its rightful place and further the gospel and maintain loving relationships.   

Paul uses all the skill and deft touch in the world to do this. He does not back away from the wrongdoing by Onesimus. And yet, he does not try and manipulate or “guilt” Philemon into doing things his way, even though as a brother in Christ and a man of authority in the church, he could do so.  

“…although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.  

I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love”. See how Paul is after love not control? Control and power over others etc might resolve the conflict but will not bring a return to freely shared Christian love. Paul is after love between us, not control by some over others. If only Robert Magabe had been after this in Zimbabwe all these years!   

This is our encouragement and calling today – to ‘prefer to relate to each other in love’ – the love of Jesus who loves us all.   

And this means making some choices. You actually have to choose to live in the love you have received. It is not up to everyone else to love you no matter what you do or say. It is not control and power to make people act the way you want that leads to genuine love. Only the good news of God’s grace in Jesus transforms us into people of love. I see here that this love is to be done and said in real time among real people in real situations like this one.   

We need this letter. So often we Christian don’t always let the love we have received from the Lord Jesus be lived. We tend to withhold it, miss it, misunderstand it or just leave it somewhere else when it comes to relating to people. You probably have a thousand good self-justifications for not doing this self-giving; self-sacrificing loving of Jesus with people most days! I know I do!   

But despite our excuses, our weaknesses, our pain, our wounds, our trouble with trusting Jesus and our short memories, this acceptance and love is possible.  

It is possible because this kind of love does not come from within but from Jesus. That is where Paul got it. Remember that day on the road to Damascus?   

Jesus broke into Pharisee Paul’s “rightful” antagonism of Christians to transform him into a man who would write a letter like this for a man down the pecking order in life, deserving of nothing good when it comes to the world or his boss. He writes to the boss too. Both the runaway and the boss are led into the love of Jesus’ so they can learn love and stay in that love.   

This is for us who run away from God out of fear of loving that might end up hurting or pride that loves self far too much and does not let others love self.   

Jesus has written you a letter. He shows it to a holy and just God who cannot abide your misplaced fear or pride or unwillingness to love and be loved.    

The letter is signed not in ink but in blood. It is written on your heart, not on paper. It is written on your heart as you gather here with fellow runaways who are invited back home by the Servant King who became a slave and prisoner, so we don’t have to remain a slave to our idols or be imprisoned by them.   

I have never met a runaway slave or a runaway prisoner, but I have met a lot of people running way from things – from responsibility for their family, from hurt caused by years of put downs from people who should have known better, from violent partners, from the pain of divorce; from the shame of past regret, from the scrutiny of a good hard look at who you are and how you are called to be; from the possibility that God is love.  

Friend, you have a love available to you this morning that does not come from you, but from the one who created you and paid for you with the high price of a Son made slave and killed.  

You have a love available that is forgiving, empowering, sustaining you in any running away from any conflict or any pain. It is the loving Holy Spirit who calls you home to Jesus’ love for all the unlovely things about you.  

The Holy Spirit, The Advocate speaks to you to call you back like Paul: 

“….although I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do,yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love” (v 8-9). 

Hear this love. Live this love in real time among your people. This love is meant to be lived.   

As we live it here and there, love returns to relationships and we grow into it more. Love done like this opens us up more and more to the love of our heavenly Father and Saviour and Advocate and we grow.  

We get to name each other beautiful names like “dear friend and fellow worker”, “My son; my daughter”, “Partner”.  

Friends, I am praying that our partnership in the faith may be effective in deepening our understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. And that our love gives many great joy and encouragement, because we refresh each other’s hearts and those of all the Lord’s people. 

Church: Shaken and Stirred

Sermon, Pentecost 11th C, Sunday August 25, 2019, St Petri

Hebrews 12:18-29

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

I suspect that you thought you were just ‘going to church’ this morning. That might be where you start but I hope it is not where you finish this morning.

For the last couple of weeks we have been in the “Hall of Faith’ (Hebrews 11). We have been urged on by stories of the many who have lived a life of faith in the Lord’s presence and promises.

This preacher loves using this ‘lesser to greater’ technique to show us the magnificence of that has happened in Jesus’ death and resurrection. EG.  Moses was the great prophet in the Old Testament, but Jesus is THE great prophet for all time. The Temple in Jerusalem was a great place of meeting between heaven and earth: God and his people, Jesus is the new temple not made of bricks but flesh and blood and etc….

So, because we are now baptised sons and daughters of the Lord already living in the new country, the new temple, under the new and great High Priest, the Lord calls us into his presence in worship. The Spirit gathers us in the new city; the holy city; Zion, the place and time where time and earth meet eternity and God’s heavenly presence.

And you thought you were ‘just going to church”?

In this passage he uses a similar technique to help you and I trust that we never ‘go to church’ but we are gathered as church into the presence of Jesus the King.

The preacher speaks of two mountains. One is Mt Sinai, the other is Mount Zion. Sinai is the holy place where Moses and the people of God received the God’s word in the form of the Ten Commandments; the ten guidelines that were to shape them as a unique, called, holy people in God’s world.

He tells of seven (of course it is seven!) things about Mt Sinai the people experienced;

  1. A real mountain that could actually be touched (12:18)
  2. A blazing fire (12:18)
  3. Darkness (12:18)
  4. Supernatural gloom (12:18)
  5. A storm cloud ((12:18)
  6. A blast of the trumpet horn (12:19)
  7. God’s voice (speaking the commandments) (12:19).

The people of God at Mt Sinai experienced the hidden God in these tangible, touchable things on an actual mountain. The way he revealed himself was by his voice; his words, which they well and truly heard!

Now we New Covenant people also live at a mountain; an invisible one. It also has seven features that match the old mountain;

  1. It is ‘Mount Zion” (the mountain; the city of God (12:22)
  2. It is inhabited by a myriad of angels (12:22)
  3. It is the assembly of the firstborn children of God (12:23)
  4. It is established by ‘the Judge’, who is God of all things (12;23)
  5. It includes the spirits of the righteous who have died and been made perfect (12:23)
  6. At the heart of the gathering is Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant between God and people (12:24)
  7. And Jesus’ blood for sprinkling (forgiving of sin) speaks in the assembly – a blood pure and more powerful than that of Abel (which cried out from the ground” to the one who had killed him – Cain). (12:24)

Again, you just think you ‘come to church’?

No way! You are drawn into this festal gathering on this new mountain with this great crowd of witnesses to Jesus’ truth and love in the presence of a myriad of angels and the “spirits of those already made perfect” in the new creation; the new city of God.

This two-mountain story is told to help you marvel at the privilege you live in; the privilege and the gifts of worshipping together; the high status you enjoy and the high calling to which you are called within God’s church; God’s holy community.

The preacher needs to do this because we usually don’t get this. We, like the people to whom he writes, have this tendency to live in our own little world and be good little consumers, users, moaners, groaners, criticizers and judges of everyone else and God. We tend to reduce everything to ourselves, including the magnificence of God’s grace present and active in this worship assembly.

Either that or we just shrink into ourselves and get lost in our own troubles and thoughts.

Heads up today! God is revealing what is really going here in worship. He is galvanising us, drawing us together, helping us help each other and trust Jesus. Jesus is the pioneer of this great gift of gathering. He got us to this new holy mountain of God and promises to lead us, teach us, call us and lead us through all valleys where death’s shadow comes over us.

All these gifts are here, and like the first mountain with its tangible, touchable things, the Lord has also given us similar things in this Divine Service gathering.

We hear real words from real brothers and sisters. We hear God speaking his real words through real people. We see real symbols and actions of God’s presence and promises as we see the sign of the cross, make the sign of the cross, see the textile art and colour and the furniture that symbolises God’s presence and God’s grace. We even taste, touch, smell, see and hear Jesus himself, coming to us real bread and wine with his real body and blood for real forgiveness and return to our holy and high places as God’s loved sons and daughters.

These things are magnificent. And what is our end of the deal? To listen. That is how we receive all of this grand festal banquet and all its gifts – by listening to his words.

“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks”.

Can you now sense that you never just ‘go to church’?

Friend, you have not just ‘come to church’. You have been again drawn to the new city, the new covenant, the new country of the new creation by Jesus the creator, the writer of your life’s story and the one who sustains you with his magnificent gifts that will keep you through death door to the entry gate of the new city, the new land promised for all those who run the race of life in Jesus’ love with perseverance to its end and its grand new festal beginning which will never end.

The trumpet horn does not blow here though. It is the bell in the key of G. It rings. The Spirit gathers his holy but battered, bruised, sad, angry or mad people in from the places he has sent them, and the angels gather, the saints surround, the Saviour speaks, and his gifts of healing, forgiveness and new joy are given. The hope they give you goes with you back into the places the Spirit takes you.

Friends, we don’t just turn up looking to ‘get something out of the Service’ like good consumers do at the shops. We are shaken by God here, says the preacher.

“Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”

In this gathering, anything not grounded in the Lord is shaken out of us – like dust out of a mat. And once shaken, we are stirred: stirred to take his gifts and use them – go and grow in him among others.

The sprinkled perfect and pure blood of Jesus is given to us and we are re-set in ‘the kingdom that can never be shaken’.

And why does the Lord do all this? Is it to make us a holy huddle in the world so we go to heaven and the others who did not listen go to hell?

No. He shakes us, stirs us and sends us not so we be a holy huddle escaping the world, but his holy people carrying his grace to his world as we go and grow.

And you thought you were just ‘going to church’!

May you be shaken, and may you be stirred as you are sent to go and grow.

 

 

 

On Track

Sermon, 10th Pentecost, Sunday August 18, 2019

St Petri

Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I would like to meet a few pioneers. I would like to meet Robert O’Hara Burke of ‘Burke and Wills’ fame, or infamy. I would like to know what the man was really like.

I would like to meet Edward John Eyre, the first person to cross this vast continent from East to West.

I would like to meet John McDouall Stuart who pioneered the centre of this country and all his long dangerous pioneering journeys, never lost a man.

I would like to meet Vincent Lingiari of the Gurinji nation who became the leader of the birth of the Aboriginal rights movement in 1966 at Wave Hill Station – “From little things big things grow”.

I would like to meet Mary Helen MacKillop, first Australian to be sainted by Rome. Not that I am into that whole ‘sainting’ process, since all who are baptised into Christ are God’s holy people. But with faith in Jesus, she did significant things when it was hard to do so.

What if one day you did meet a pioneer. Not one like these but someone who had pioneered your life. Unbeknown to you, this person had already seen your life; lived your life, been where you are going, and was here ready to share with you what is to come to you – the good and the bad.

Maybe you’d like to know what your career, your contribution, your family’s future would be. You probably would not want to know about the hard things, the suffering things – illness, dying, failures, hurts, regrets, mistakes….. Maybe you would say to this pioneer: “Ignorance is actually bliss. Don’t tell me anything!”

The writer to the Hebrews speaks of a Pioneer of life and your life, and will not let you be blissfully ignorant! He talks at length about THE pioneer of your faith and life and shares this catalogue of those who have lived life in faith in The Pioneer.

This is like looking at the faces of your family in the photos along the hallway or on the mantel piece or on your computer.

There are seventeen photos that tell the story of faith. Faith is mentioned twenty times in this one chapter.

Why does this writer show us the hall of faith photos?

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

He shows you the photos of your life to urge you to ‘throw off” things that hinder you and hold you back from receiving the life Jesus pioneered for these people of the past and has pioneered for you.

These stories point you to, remind you of, and inspire you on toward the goal of your life so you can truly live the life he has blazed for you now.

These people and their stories sustain you in your suffering, your pain, your questions, your fears and doubts and struggles to stay on the trail already blazed through all these.

What are these things we need to throw off? They are essentially one thing: a lack of trust in Jesus’ grace and power for living a (Hebrews 12:1). “Get rid of them!” he calls.

Throw off:

  • Lack of love for each other in the church (13:1)
  • Lack of hospitality and welcome of strangers among us (13:2).
  • Over-reliance and over-attraction to glitter of money and wealth and things, the result of which is a lack of compassion and care for people in need (13:3, 5)
  • Lack of respect and faithfulness between marriage partners, the result of which is sexual promiscuity and a lot of pain (13:4).
  • Lack of care and respect for those called into leadership in the Body of Christ, the result of which is disunity and lack of love in the Body (13:7).
  • Being carried off course by teaching that is not Christ-centred; gospel founded, grace hearted; the result of which is a lot of unnecessary rules and a judgemental spirit among people (eg. food laws) (13:9-10).
  • And just plain hardship and suffering, even injustice as outlined in this hall of faith and what happened to God’s people (11).

What are your hindrances and how can you ‘throw them off”? Sounds like hard work!

Here’s the good news. It is not all on you to do the hard work of de-tangling, throwing off and getting rid of stuff that keeps you from living in the joy of Jesus’ freedom in your life.

Jesus is not only the pioneer of your life of faith, he is the creator, sustainer, ‘perfector’ of your life of faith (Hebrews 12:2). He is the one who throws these things off you to give you clear air and clear pathway. He wants you to get there with him.

How do you know? “Look at all these photos of faith!”, says the writer. “Look at those who have gone before you to see that Jesus is everything you need and everything good you will receive.

The writer has already spoken long and strong on just how BIG Jesus really is. He is the ultimate prophet, greater than Moses; the ultimate ruler, greater than David, the heavenly place of worship, the ultimate high priest and pastor. Jesus sacrifice of blood in our place is the ultimate sacrifice that achieves full life, once and for all people and all time.

But we are still on the journey with Jesus to our complete joy with him. So, this Christian life is not tourist travel. It is ‘a long obedience in the same direction’, as the author Eugene Peterson once named it in a book of that title.

It is not as if we can just cruise through this life saying we are “Christians” without throwing off anything or struggling to get free of entangling things. Saying ‘Yes’ to Jesus automatically means saying “No” to a lot of other people and things.

There are real inward desires that hinder us. There are real outward pressures that scream for our attention. There are real dangers from false teaching to fake news to flawed hearts and minds that rob us of the joy Jesus longs to share now and later on.

I need help. I need you to help me throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles me. I need your help to run with perseverance the race marked out for us all, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Friend, meet Jesus, that pioneer here for you today. He has seen your life and your death and your new life forever. He knows the trail and he is the water that keeps you alive. He has been where you are going.

Look at the photo of the family of faith. Hear these people of old who longed to know Jesus the promised Saviour, whisper their encouraging words for all you currently face.

Better still, have laser focus.  “Fix” them; fix your eyes on the Pioneer and Perfector of you. Help me do the same as I help you do the same.

Hear him in his Word most days in your home or at work or walking along the oath. Seek his counsel from a fellow traveller about that thing hindering you. Receive forgiveness for that troubling sin, here or one on one. Try some prayer practices again. Give generously and welcome fully. Be here. Receive him in the meal and in all the words done and said. See him in the faces of your fellow travellers here and everywhere.

He meets you on the trail today to let you experience the joy set before him. It is your joy too – today and tomorrow.

“O soul, are you weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness you see?

There’s light for a look at the Savior,

And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in his wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.”

 

 

confidence and conviction

SermonPentecost 9th C, Sunday August 11, 2019.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16  

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. 

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.  

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. 

 

 

How are you going in the confidence stakes at the moment; bit shaky, or rock solid? And what about conviction; what are you very convicted of when it comes to living life? What would you never compromise; Your support of your elderly parents; your unwell partner; your study program, your search for a partner in life, your continued relationship with someone you love, your hard work to continue your career, your commitment to serve in God’s mission here….  

From where do confidence and conviction come? Faith: that is the source of confidence and conviction, says the Hebrew’s writer.  

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and conviction about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. 

Faith in what? Faith in things we are already confident in ((because we already have them) even though they are unseen. What are these ‘unseen things” we already have?  

This writer tells us to look at people who have lived in these unseen things with unshakable faith for the confidence and conviction we need to live as God’s loved people in the here and now.  

I reckon these words in Hebrews 11 are like a Co-Op catalogue. It is a list of goodies on offer at very good value that will bring great benefits to you.   

But here, the goodies are free and there is really only one ‘goody”, and that is faith in Jesus and all his gifts of grace already yours.   

This catalogue tells you that faith in Jesus’ forgiveness, his rule, his grace, his power for living is the only commodity that will get you through not just a cold night (new heater), or a cooking session (new fry pan), or a night watching the telly (couch, TV), but Jesus in all his fullness and with all his gifts will get you through suffering, pressure, darkness and even death itself.   

This catalogue has seventeen examples of faith from five stages in the story of God’s people  

There are three stories from three very early people (Abel, Enoch and Noah) who are shown to be like Jesus; four stories from the life of Abraham as a picture of what it is to be a faithful person/community of God, three stories from three later patriarchs (Jacob and etc) as what it is to be heirs of God’s blessing, four stories from the life of Moses again, as being like Jesus, and three stories from the Exodus and later journey into the land as examples of how God saved people from slavery and evil. It is the best catalogue you would ever get in your mailbox! You’ve got mail now!  

All those people and their stories hinge around that gift called “Faith”; mentioned about twenty times in the chapter.   

It would be easy to believe that we are being told to simply try harder at having faith in Jesus. All these people of old lived in faith. So should you. So, try harder to believe!  

But that is actually NOT what this catalogue of faith says (what a relief!). Just the opposite. This catalogue does not ask you to do more or try more or buy in more to Christianity. It is a catalogue that shows you what God GIVES YOU in good faith so you can live by faith in him. And this catalogue is also like an instruction manual. It tells us how to receive this gift of faith.    

Faith here is a GIFT to be received, a future already begun, a city already under construction, a new country already here – all by Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.   

Faith is to be received, as these people of old received it, not achieved by their own or our own magnificence!     

The writer is convinced that God makes your faith, not you. You don’t have to try harder to have more faith. We only need to receive the stories of faith and trust these ‘things unseen’.   

But how? By HEARING the Word of God – words like these;    

  • By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command  
  • Abraham, when called (by the Lord) to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went. God creates and calls by his Words.   
  • Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. God shapes the rise and fall of us all by words.    
  • For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. God’s words design and construct us.    
  • Sarah, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Families and futures exist and continue by God’s words of promise.  

But it is so easy to look elsewhere than God’s word for confidence and conviction to live life.   

It would have been the easier option for the people to whom this Hebrews writer writes. They live in small communities living in mildly or maybe hostile communities where their faith in Jesus brings them isolation and alienation.  

I think we can relate to this. We tend to search our own past and our own inner strength more than Jesus’ words of promise.  

We would rather stay in the dodgy country we already know because at least we know it and can control it a bit more than this future promised country we can’t fully see. At least we know our way around our town. Who knows what would happen to us if we went to another city like Sydney or London or New York?!  

Maybe we tend to look backwards too. Not at what God has done (as this writer does) but at what we have done or where our family has come from and the like.   

As you hear these stories of faithful people of long ago you notice that they deliberately chose to live with their heart in a home not here. They saw themselves as lifelong resident aliens in the world 

Their confidence and conviction did not stem from any nostalgic ‘looking back to the good old days’, or ‘the good old country’ for which they longed to return one day.  

They did not even cling nostalgically to their family or national or immigrant heritage, they longed for something far better than that.  

Friends, we are being urged to trust Jesus for our heart and our home that is in the unseen things and the unseen person from which they come; thing and a person who is largely misunderstood or dismissed most.    

We are being called to actually trust these unseen things of God because Jesus has said them, done them and promised them.   

Things like forgiveness, hope, the Spirit’s power, and the grace of our heavenly Father (Hebrews 11:1). These are already now available to us (Hebrews 6:18). They are things that will be fully inherited by us at the close of the age (Hebrews 6:11). 

They are the very good things (Hebrews 9:11), which are also the better things than we can manufacture within and in this old country (Hebrews 6:9)  

They are heavenly realities or spiritual powers (Hebrews 9:23), such as the world to come (2:5) and the age to come (6:5), complete salvation from our idolatry, weakness, sin, guilt, shame, dying, suffering…. (2:3; 6:9; 9:28).   

They are the everlasting eternal inheritance given in Baptism and sustained by His Word (9:15). They are our true heavenly homeland (11:14, 16), the heavenly city (11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14), the unshakable kingdom (12:26), the holy things in the heavenly sanctuary (8:2; 9:8, 12; 10:19), and the heavenly place of rest (4:1–11).  

Where are you looking to find some confidence and some conviction to deal with whatever you need to deal with? Are you putting real trust in things you can see (and control) or the one whom you cannot see, and his marvelous but unseen gifts only received by faith and no other way  

Are you even looking anymore? Are you unsure where to look? Are you simply tied to your own story, your own family story, of the past in general?   

Maybe you have stopped looking some time ago and are just going through the outward motions for lack of better ideas?  

Friend, no need to be ‘past bound’ so much. No need to look only within yourself to find the confidence and conviction you need to climb the mountain before you.   

No need to be so tied to your ow story or your family story to not be captured and made alive by Jesus’ story and Jesus’ gifts that bring you into his present and give you a solid future.   

No need to try harder to believe. Simply receive more of God’s Word and let him give you faith by which to live by faith and its gifts of confidence and conviction.   

Unlike it was for them the new country is close. Jesus is here. Our future in his love and acceptance is here now in part, one day in full.   

Seek the confidence and conviction you long for and need that comes from faith by hearing these stories of faithful people and receiving the gift of faith from the word of this Saviour. He is your confidence and conviction to live now as you journey on to the better country already real and ready.   

And one more thing: God is not ashamed of you?   

 God says to them and us that “I am not ashamed” to associate with you.   

God is proud of any person of faith (even mustard seed sized faith!) in Jesus. God is proud “to be called your God” (Heb 11:16). 

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