Author: Adrian Kitson (page 1 of 22)

Christmas Dilemma

Sermon, Advent 2C, Sunday December 9, 2018

Philippians 1:3-11

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

Luke 3:1-6 All people will see the salvation of our God

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.”’[a]

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’

10 ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.

11 John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptised. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’

13 ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’

He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with[a] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

We Christians find ourselves in this dilemma at Christmas.

We live between two stories. One is told with earthly authority and considerable force; the other comes from other-worldly dreams and words of biblical proportions.

The mind says go along with the worldly story for it is easier and more fun. But a heart of faith says we are taking the harder option and the long way home with the other-worldly story that comes via the Voice of biblical proportions.

Today John the Baptist is that other-worldly voice.

John announces with beautiful words from Isaiah about a level path ahead for planet earth, mountains lowered for us, valleys lifted for us; clear and straight and easy journeying with God into his future …

This is a beautiful good news story because our current ways are anything but smooth, straight and safe.

The other story at this time of the year seems to rise up like a mountain every year. The Christmas tunes played earlier and earlier. The decorations the same. Songs of living faith once, reduced to muzak to accompany the real Christmas preparation for this alternative Christmas story – shop ‘til you drop!

But to hear this other-worldly story of God we need something else to happen first. We cannot hear it by our own intellect of effort. We need God to shout it to us. We need the Spirit to prepare us, and that is the part of the story we may not like much. The world certainly does not like it.

It has been a long time since I laid an axe at the root for a tree where the roots begin ready to lay the first blow to fell that whole tree. But I have done this with my Husqvarna chainsaw lately – it is quicker and more fun!

This is the picture John used to describe how God needs to prepare us for Christmas. Some preparation! Death and complete destruction. This tree cannot live in God’s new future as it is.

John tells it like this for a reason – to prepare the world to receive what God is doing: to prepare people for God’s new story of biblical proportions.

John is a CFS siren. He is the not the Nuri fire alarm predictably sounding out three times on Thursday at 7.30 pm, which surprises no-one. He is the siren sounded twenty times on Saturday afternoon at 1.30 pm. He gets the town’s attention!

Has he got your attention?

He says something in us has to die for this complete birth and life of a person; a Someone, who is coming to bring about something new for people that will make us new trees – strong and true, is to be truly received and loved.

Why so brutal?

Because we believe ourselves to be strong trees despite this new King and his kingdom coming. We tend to believe we are already all we need to be.

Even more, the people John spoke to believed themselves to have the right family tree – the right family name, the right behaviour, the right roots, the right goods.

They were the good people and they were very keen about their goodness. Everyone else should be very good like them.

So keen were they to maintain their own name and place in God’s good books, they became blind to those who did not or could not. In their pursuit of goodness on their own terms they could not see the vulnerable in society. They don’t really care either.

That is the tree that needs to be felled. In their self-focus, self-reliance and invincibility they had not just missed the vulnerable, but the Lord and his heart for the vulnerable – including them.

That was the offensiveness of John – daring to suggest that the good people with the right name and family tree and behaviour were vulnerable and in need for a new day, a new way, a new man …  How dare he suggest that!

Sounds like our world. Sounds like that alternative Christmas story. How dare you Christians interrupt this happy story with all of its happy songs! How dare you speak of death and destruction at this happy time. How dare you speak of faith more than food, discipleship more than drink, the smell of cow dung and the scratch of straw more than the warm crackle of fireplaces and stockings and eggnog in the lounge room!

Surely we do not want this alternative story to be THE story because we know him and his story of biblical proportions that has come to us, for real.

He has come to us by more than dreams but by a real act in real time – baptism, the worship gathering of God’s people, the gift of body and blood a thousand times … Forgiveness, healing, hope for the vulnerable, peace for the unsteady, life for the dead, strength for the tired and new for the old.

We know what it has cost our God to fell us and then re-grow us – the death of this boy on the tree.

We know what tree was felled so that a new vineyard, a new forest, a new landscape of strong and true trees of the field has come to be

And this is why we clap our hands at this time of year – because of the wonderful acceptance and love of a God who is with us and for us and working through us and will come again to complete everything.

Friend, God’s axe;  God’s word is striking at your very roots today. Not to destroy you but to wake you up, so you may be renewed so you stand strong and tall in grace this Christmas.

And when you are strong and true in the gospel of Jesus, you are happy not to have two shirts but keen to give away one to a one in need of a shirt.

You become happy not to make a lot of money just for yourself by any means, but you are content to play fair with integrity in business for the good of all.

You are happy to not get your way by any means; means of using power and stand-over tactics, but you are content to stick with the truth of things and let that be enough no matter what it costs you.

With this boy and his calling to be him among our friends and family this Christmas we are definitely going to take the long way home as we follow him.

There is no easy way to live in the Christmas Dilemma. It takes faith and courage born of repenting and believing daily. But we have serious help.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

Let the axe fall where it needs to today. He will prepare him room in your heart and you will be strong and true in him again.

John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Who needs a judge?

Sermon, Day of Fulfilment, Sunday November 25, 2018 

John 5:21-29

21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.

24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.

 

PRAY: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord that we may know you better through this word. Amen

I don’t like being judged. I don’t think anyone likes being judged, be it fairly or unfairly.

Sometimes people judge you unfairly, making you out to be something you are not – a liar, a cheat, a power junkie, a failure, a smooth talker, and etc….. Sometimes people judge you quite fairly. You might know that their judgement of the situation and of you in it is fair and true, but it is still not something you enjoy!

Here we have Jesus as our judge.

            “….the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son…”

This is not nice and cuddly Jesus! This is not “nice’ religion or spirituality. This is not what most people want from their religion or for their life.

We tend to want “no judgement” from anyone on anything. The worst sin you seem to able to commit now is to make a judgement about someone’s actions or attitudes- even if it is actually fair and true.

On the other hand, we now seem to be so quick to judge and condemn anyone who is different in belief, behaviour or even ethnicity.

If you disagree with someone’s attitude or actions and beliefs, then it seems like it is open slather. Go ahead, plaster it all over Facebook, with a photo or two for extra effect on Tumblr or Instagram as well! Tweet about how terrible that person is for who they are or what they have done – and feel very smug about it!

Our judgments of each other seem to be rather fickle. I guess this is because we can only know so much and see so far.

The Scriptures declare that there is a Judge of all attitude, behaviour, good bad, right wrong, cultural group, cause, movement, world system and all government, and that he is human and yet Divine.

The final judge who has the final and full word on how we are, who we are and how we live in all facets of life – from our homes to world systems of economics and power is this ‘Son of God’, the man, Jesus Christ, dead, risen and ruling with full vision, excellent hearing, great wisdom and insight into people. He is coming to finalise all accounts, sort out all debts, make a final call on you and me and everything that has breath.

We say we believe this often. We speak it in the two great Christian creeds, Nicene and Apostles’. “He shall come to judge the living and the dead”.

This is not welcome news normally – even for people engaged in church. News that Jesus is the final judge tends to be seen as either primitive at best or dangerous at worst.

Talk of God being the judge of our lives is often believed to be old fashioned stuff that we have spent our adult years trying to get away from in the church!

All this talk of God being the judge of the world is very much seen as part of the problem we are facing in our day. All religion, especially Islam, Judaism and Christianity, are lumped into the same basket as being full of judgement that leads to violence that leads to death and suffering. Religion and its God is therefore judged; judged to be a dangerous thing to rid the world of.

But I wonder whether we don’t realise how much we actually need a final authoritative judge.

What if you were in your imaginary law court one day and you finally had the courage or the inquisitiveness to look up to the judge’s bench? And what if when you did that you got the shock of your life. What if you finally saw that the judge’s chair was empty?

You would be crushed by the reality that all along, there was no judge seeing your good efforts. No one was watching, no one was counting, no one was judging you on how good or influential or wealthy or productive you were. That would be a moment of despair!

After the initial despair, you might then feel quite liberated. You might say to yourself, “Finally I can do what I want! Finally, I can shake off this primitive and dangerous ‘judge of all’ idea and be myself, be free, live the way I want”.

At the start it feels good. There is lightness to denying that there is a final judge of our lives.

But what about the injustice and cruelty that just seems to go on and on in a never ending spiral of pain and conflict and trouble that breaks up families, destroys the planet and us along with it!

In that very same moment of wanting to be free, we find that we are not. We might then be very glad that there is a final judge. If there is a final judge of all then there is real meaning in how I live and who I am.

This is especially the case if the judge is any good! He is. The final judge of my life is Jesus, and not some merely human judge who can be blind or narrow or corrupt.

He can’t. He isn’t. he’s proven that to you.

According to Apostle John, this judge is driven by love for you. He is love, perfect love for you and for his whole world. That makes a huge difference! This final judge is the One who is pleased to give life, not meter our death!

            “….the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

This Jesus judges to give life and peace and joy to undeserving sinners.

So, there is a judge at the bench. And he is very wise, very good, very loving and coming one day to finalise everything well.

            “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has   eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

By faith in his goodness and grace, given already in all he has done and said and still does and says, you are off the hook already!

Without him you are back in the dock alone with only yourself to give very feeble defense. With him you are not in the dock and you don’t need a defence because he is your defence.

We have been judged and condemned and then pardoned and set free to truly live. This first happened on the day you were drowned in the water of the font and raised to breath new air in your lungs.

This baptism water flowed from his wounded side on the cross. This holy meal of love flows from his pierced hands, feet and torso – and the blood is life – the life the judge grants when you had no hope, no chance, no future.

I am grateful that there will be a final accounting of my own life and this world with all its injustice and pain. I am glad he is watching me because I know that he does this to keep me in his life, not banish me to a godless death.

I am relieved that I am not the judge of you too. Nor you of me. Jesus is the final judge of us all and his judgement is wise, full, understanding and perfect truth – his judgement is life.

Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out…

Amen

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Read the bible text carefully (John 5:21-29) noting down anything that raises a question in your mind or makes you imagine things. Share those questions/pictures/thoughts…..

Each person gets an opportunity to share without comment from the others at this stage.

How does the thought of God watching every move you make and keeping a tally of wrongs and rights to be read out on the final day of judgement make you feel? Share your thoughts.

Among your circle of friends/family, do people fear this whole thing of a final judgement day, or do they laugh it off or never really think about it?

What did you think about the scene of the person finally looking up to the judge’s bench in the big courtroom only to find that there was never any judge at the bench? Read this version of it and share your thoughts at the end…

The person has spent the whole of her life trying to prove that really is OK in her own right. She has made choices, tried to be good, and tried to prove to everyone and herself that she really is worthy, wise, happy or healthy.

Can you imagine her horror when she figures out that she did not need to prove anything to anyone and that no one has ever been keeping the score of her life? At first she would feel angry and shocked. But then she might feel free. She might enjoy the fact that there is no judge over her life for a time….until someone wrongs her or something bad happens to her or someone she loves or she gets sick of all this ISIL terrorism and what it is doing to the world….

Then she might wish there was a judge on that bench overseeing the world and overseeing her life.

If she could ever hear that there is in fact a judge on that bench and that he is Jesus – the One who gave his own life for hers and declared her not guilty and will one day right all injustice and terrorism and pain and suffering, her life would change.

Does this story relate to you?

How would this person’s life change if she heard that Jesus is the Judge and he judges people not in anger or hate but in love and grace? What difference would it make to her trying to prove herself all the time?

Jesus shows us that God is indeed the final judge and that he is ‘pleased to give life’ not meter out more death and destruction.

The word for ‘judgement’ in the New Testament is not so much punishment but fulfilment or restoration. God judges not to condemn but to save (John 3:16). If people receive his promises in his word and live in that word of grace, then there is no judgement on them at all.

The Apostle John tells that Jesus is the one who has been given all authority to judge all people and that if anyone has heard the word of Jesus and placed their faith in him and his Word, they have already ‘crossed over’ from death to life. So, we who have been named by God in baptism and are on the journey of being his disciple have already been through this judgement day and the judge declared us free, not guilty and dearly loved!

Do you think the Christians you know think of God’s judgement this way? Share your thoughts…

Have you ever realised that Jesus is your judge and he has already judged you not guilty? Wouldn’t that change your whole way of living from having to prove yourself or be someone special to simply loving him and serving him as you give your life in service and love for others and leave the judgement of others to him? Share your thoughts……

PRAY

Jesus, judge of the world and Saviour, keep on speaking to us and help us hear what you say and put it into practice as we hear of these rumours of wars and the pain we experience so that we have confidence and hope in you. Amen.

 

 

 

Free Falling

Sermon, Pentecost 26B, Sunday November 18, 2018, St Petri

Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25 Let us confidently draw near to God
Mark 13:1-8 
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

A few years back I remember trying to take in the enormity of what happened on September 11, 2001 in Manhattan as I walked around what is now “Ground Zero”: a memorial to that fateful day.

Unlike Jesus’ disciples who were looking up the stone columns with golden gold capital’s in the enormous Temple that Herod the Great commissioned and built over 60+ years, I was looking down at the two massive holes in the ground where those mighty Twin Towers used to be footed, but now had completely vanished.

I marvelled at how human beings can reach to the heavens as they construct these enormous buildings.

It made me reflect on how we human have this need to build things that seem permanent – be it a career, a portfolio, a body, a house, a farm, church or whatever. I was confronted with how the mighty and the seemingly permanent can fall so completely; how fragile it all can be.

For the citizens of the USA and the Western world, the Twin Towers were not just a building, but a symbol – a symbol of power, financial dominance, western civilisation’s solid footings in history past and future. Similar for the good people of Israel.

Herod’s temple was not just a building, but a symbol of power, solid future: something surely immovable because of its largeness, magnificence and beauty and because of what happened there on daily basis, rule of law, economic power house, centre of international relations and centre of family, spiritual and national life.

I don’t think Jesus could rip the rug out from underneath their feet any more brutally than he did right there that day. Jesus reveals that even what seems so solid, immovable and “future proof” will fall and the fall will be complete and final. It would like you going down to Adelaide oval on game day and saying that even this will all fall the the ground – don;t bet your life on all of this.

Jesus’ truth today is that even the greatest symbols of our human power and might or our attempts to be God, replace God, capture God or limit God to our own experience and understanding are never enough to last forever. They will fall. “Everyone brick will be thrown down”, Jesus says.

Jesus’ community struggle to take this unsettling news in. Self-preservation mode kicks in. “Tell us, Jesus, how to avoid this or at least be ready for it when it happens as you say.”

Jesus’ does not give them what they want. he does respond, but his response is only general at best.

Conflict, war, poverty, famine, disasters of earth and sea, death and injustice will show you that we are heading in this direction, he says. No specifics, just fair general warning that we are all heading somewhere.

What is he saying? On the one hand, all of this that seems so solid and strong and future proof is not. On the other, nothing is meaningless or outside Jesus’ awareness. We are moving somewhere together, and he will be there standing when all else is not.

How does this work for you? If everything eventually falls, why will I cling to now? If all will fall, why try and build anything? – a home, a school, a community, a church, a life…?

And then, why does it have to be this way? Why does it have to be so painful as a woman in labour pains. Why can’t it be easier or smoother or less pain-filled?

There is more to hear here. Whatever happens, whatever we do, whatever we go about there is something that will really count when all the bricks lay on the stand. And this thing that simply is, that lasts longer than anything else, is worth building and will sustain this world through anything.

And the ‘thing’? the gospel; this good news, this human man of love; this new place of God, this new holy temple of human flesh and bone and holy words – his words. That is permanent. That is worth building life on, that is what will keep us rock-solid and true, no matter what.

10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.

This gospel lasts and simply must be spoken and done by those who have received it from Jesus. It is the only thing that remains when the stones of your life’s work are all thrown down. Because it is the last thing standing, so are you. You, fallen person will stand when all else falls – with him, the last man standing.

That is why we build anything. The permanent gospel of Jesus is why we build, care, try, love, act, engage with others, with this town, why build a church building, why change it, why work hard to build a school community, a career, a family, a marriage, a life.

That is our life’s project: To proclaim him – the new temple, the new place of God’s grace, the good news of his grace for lost, untidy, broken, cracked, dark, prideful, miserable, shameful, people.

But how?

9 ‘You must be on your guard……. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

We go about life in Nuri as Christians with two things;
1. Laser-like vigilance attending to God’s word. It is the only thing by which we are sustained, and by which we will last beyond the pain, the loss, the ego and the dirt of your grave.
2. Trust in the Holy Spirit: Our words and actions are powered by, given by, sustained by and made effective by the one and only Holy Spirit of God, our Counsellor, our Advocate and our future.

Friends, I hear freedom today: freedom from trying to buld permanency, freedom from self-interest, from fear of disaster, from competitive “keeping up with the Jones’s” here. I also hear purpose in it all.

The freedom is this: even war and the violence and the poverty are heading toward something – or actually Someone. We build foundations we think will last but don’t. God has built a foundation that has and will last beyond the falling of civilizations, families, people and world.

Even the worst things are not bad enough to stop Him in his tracks. Not even the most tragic thing, the darkest thing, the most painful thing, the most evil thing can stop God’s movement, God’s plan, God’s desire, God’s activity, God’s future from coming to be.

The purpose is that you, baptised son and daughter of God, and holy community of God, St Petri are travelling to be completely fulfilled – fulfilled in Jesus.

So, if we have freedom to serve and love and give no matter what, and we have the One who will be standing when we and all else is not: and if we have the Spirit’s power and presence moving us on toward a complete joy, a complete love, a complete reward, then all we can do is proclaim Jesus with everything we are and have.

We build a family, a marriage, a career, a farm, a job, a business, a church building, a better invention, a better community to do only this one thing – the proclaim him and his Word.

We don’t build bigger barns a more solid future as our life’s goal because the barn and future could never be solid enough. You do all these things to proclaim him because only his word will last.

We don’t get too surprised by changes in our life-time in any sphere of life – business, marriage, parenting, education, architecture, machinery, art, health, body,….. because none of them are ever permanent. They don’t need to be anyway because we are permanent without them because we are permanent only in Christ. He is our permanent life and hope. His word is our only solid footing because it is his word; not mine or yours.

Friend’s you don’t have to build a life that lasts forever. You already have one in him. Now you are free to move and adapt and listen and love no matter what falls or rises….and eventually falls again. You are free falling. You fall freely in Jesus and rise too – all in him with feet planted on him – The Rock of Ages.

We rise and fall and rise again under the Son. We do so like this;

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:23-25

On Christ the solid rock I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

Speak well of him

Sermon, All Saints Day, Sunday November 4, 2018, St Petri

John 11:32-44

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.

‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’

37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 ‘Take away the stone,’ he said.

‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.’

40 Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth round his face.

Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’

Dear saints of God, on this All Saints day, again we gather with Jesus in the Spirit’s power to remember and give thanks for those who have left us for the glory that awaits all who put their trust in Jesus.

It seems that we have been in a bit of season of sending off the saints this last few weeks with several funerals requiring our attention. With funerals comes grief and loss. All Saints Day aims to help us in our grief and loss. So it is timely today.

We remember those who have departed in faith and their witness to what it is to live this life in the undeserved, unearned favour and acceptance of the God of life and death.

We know that none of those we remember today are saints or “holy ones” because they were particularly well behaved or super intelligent or hard working or anything else. They were holy ones because the Holy One chose them, loved them, gave his life for them and empowered them by his Sprit in baptism. Saints are saints because they are made that way by Jesus, not because they earnt the title.

They act like “saints’ because they were made saints by Jesus’ strong word – the word that called dead man Lazarus out of the darkness into light and life.

We remember them all because they are worth remembering. And this is because they are witnesses. Their lives were a witness to God’s grace. They, in their own way showed us what it looks and feels like to actually live as human beings within the love and acceptance of God. Their lives were a living witness to grace and how He shapes and changes us all the time.

In one way those we remember today are “martyrs”. Not in the sense that they were thrown to the lions in the Colosseum or killed in a mass shooting in Arica because they were Christians, but because in their lives they did the same things as any martyr– they ‘bore witness” to Jesus. That is what the word “martyr” (marturew) means – to bear witness to someone or thing. We remember the holy ones of God in glory who bore witness to Jesus’ grace in real human life and we were privileged to see and hear that grace in their life.

The people we loved and remember today probably did not have that ‘high calling”, of ‘martyrdom’; of giving up their life in extreme circumstances for their confession of Jesus as Lord.

There have probably been millions of baptised Christian people who have given that kind of ultimate witness. We know of some of them. A very famous martyr is a guy named Polycarp. The account of Polycarp gets me every time….

Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John and an early church leader whose life ended when he refused to betray his Lord. Asked one last time to disavow his Christ, the old man replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of my King who saved me?”

Here is his martyr’s prayer, as recorded by the ancient historian Eusebius.

“Father of Your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of You, I bless You that You have counted me worthy of this day and hour, that I might be in the number of the martyrs. Among these may I be received before You today in a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as You have beforehand prepared and revealed. Wherefore I also praise You also for everything; I bless You; I glorify You, through the eternal High Priest Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through whom, with Him, in the Holy Spirit, be glory unto You both now and for the ages to come. Amen.” Eusebius adds: “When he had offered up his amen and had finished his prayer, the firemen lit the fire.”

Polycarp knew the Apostle John personally. John witnessed what Jesus could do for people personally. He says,

“We declare to you what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our own hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and bear witness to it….so that you may have fellowship with us…our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ  (1John 1:1-3).

 John witnessed the raising of Lazarus, of which we hear today. Surely John would have told and retold the account of that incredible day when Jesus raised a man who had been dead for four days.

Without any magic words or hokus pokus of a Halloween spell, the simple but deafeningly powerful word is spoken by the King of kings – “Come out! Come out of your death you dead person. Arise, O sleeper, from the dead!”

A man in a mummy cloth shuffles out unable to see through the cloths wrapped around his head! No more smell of death here – just the sweet taste of life!

It is not so difficult now to see how an old Christian man named Polycarp, at the age of at least 86, just one generation after this event, could resist the call from the world to give up his faith in the resurrection of Jesus at threat of death and instead, respond to the call of Jesus and give up his life, when the “firemen lit the fire”.

We feel the flames of cultural change firing up and we feel the threat to our life in God’s grace more pointedly even here in the Barossa. We wonder about injustice or violence that occurs in other places and may come our way in some shape or form in days to come. But as we hear Jesus weep and then call a name and by that power raise that dead man, we trust that in the threats and the flame there is faith and life and hope beyond any threat, any death, any injustice.

Bearing witness to the grace of Jesus is simply put really. In the pressured moment of threat from all that threatens the good news of Jesus present with you, you could say what Polycarp said; “With my life have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of my King who saved me?”

“How can I speak evil of the King who saved me?”. “How can I stay silent or not respond in the same love as the King who saved me?”. “How can we as a church ever be comfortable with ourselves in apathy or indifference, and not ‘press on toward the goal’ of our faith in Jesus?”.

Remember these holy ones made holy by the blood of the Lamb. Remember the martyrs like Polycarp. In the face of your own death, your own trouble, your own weaknesses, speak along with them about the Lord Jesus: “The Lord has done me no wrong so far, how could I deny him?”

Actually, Jesus has been martyred for you. The One who raises the dead man became a dead mean and then was raised to life to triumphed over death for all of us. He now lives to tell the world this story. So do you.

Until our second death and resurrection to life with Jesus, we speak well of him for how he speaks well to us and keeps raising us from the dead; already once in Baptism and one day again forever at the final resurrection.

In the fire, the fear or the threat, speak well of him.

There is a song of the saints of God,
They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
In church, or in trains or in shops or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I am made one too.
Lyrics: Lesbia Scott, Melody: J.H. Hopkins., The 1940’s Hymnal #243

 Amen

Out of the Whirlwind

Sermon, Pentecost 22B, Sunday October 21, 2018, St Petri

Job 38:1-7

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind. He said:

‘Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone –
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

I have been in some whirlwinds this last two weeks. Pushing into a 30 knot cross wind riding our bikes across the Hay Plains feels like you are in a whirlwind.

Leanne and I could hardly talk because of the 40 knot head wind rushing through the assorted gear on the roof rack of the Landcruiser on the way back from the West Coast too. It was just a hard, silent push.

From what I hear in this Book of Job this morning, I know that God speaks in whirlwinds winds like these.

As Pastor Trevor said last Sunday, God and Satan and this man named Job and his three friends have a long conversation in the Book of Job. We hear today that the conversation ends up in the whirlwind.

The conversation is about living through suffering. And surprise, surprise, that is where God is – in the whirlwind. It is from the whirlwind of suffering God speaks to Job.

I suspect, like me, you believe and prefer that God will speak in other places more comfortable, manageable, logical, understandable – not in the whirlwind, the cross wind, the head wind hammering you.

At first Job finds no voice of God in his suffering. He certainly finds no hope in the words of his three friends or his wife.

Job’s three friends do well at first. They don’t speak! They gather around Job to “console” him.  Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar see Job’s suffering and sit with him for seven days and don’t say a word.

Sitting together with family around faith-filled saints of Jesus like Elva Falland or Lorna Vogt who are in the whirlwind of serious illness of facing dying is always best done with minimal words. Caring is usually 90% presence; just being there.

Job’s mates do this well …… for a week. And then they don’t.

All three basically suggest that job is in the whirlwind of suffering because of his own fault. Job has sinned, knowingly or not, or is being a hard-head and not admitting his sins to God and so is cursed or being punished by God.

In their search to fix this, explain this, get this under control, be happy again or find answers to their own doubts about God, they blame Job. One says that Job should just “curse God” and get it over with – just end the suffering and die.

Job has none of it.

Job says that the suffering he is experiencing is not because he did something wrong. This suffering is not God’s punishment. He is not cursed. This is God’s doing for God’s purposes of which Job has little capacity to grasp.

In the whirlwind of suffering Job and God speak. Job boldly says, “Please Explain”!

“I cry to you and you do not answer me;

I stand and you just look at me.

You have turned cruel to me,

With the might of your hand you persecute me…

You toss me about in the roar of the storm…, says Job to God. (30:20-22)

Ever felt like that – tossed about in the roar of the whirlwind, like God is punishing you or that he has no feelings for you, no understanding of you or that person you love? I bet you have. I know I have many times. And how does the conversation go with God – if you dare to have one?

Do you think asking God to “please explain” is being far too disrespectful or even sinful? Many do. Many opt for keeping quiet about it all and either try to find the secret cause of theirs or their loved one’s suffering, or simply get angry and give up on God.

Not Job. Job does two things. He names his complaints to God and he seeks response from God, and both are the ways we are being shown to live with faith in suffering.

Name your pain to the Lord; make your complaint to him with all you’ve got. Ask your honest question – brutally if necessary. Even sing a sad song if you are bold enough, and then wait and listen to the Word from the whirlwind of it all.

From the whirlwind God speaks boldly to Job in response to Job’s bold “please explain”.

“Get yourself ready and take this like a man, Job.

I am going to question you now…

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?

Tell me if you have any understanding.

Have you ever commanded the dawn since you have been alive?

Have you entered the source of the sea and walked around in its dark depths?

Have the gates to death been revealed to you?

Please say so if you know.

If I am Job, and I have been at times, I have to say, “I don’t know, God”. In the heavy crosswind of trouble I face I want to say to God with Job;

 “See, I am of such small account!

I will put my hand over my mouth now.

I have spoken once, and I will not answer now.

Twice, but I will not got any further.  (40:4-5)

I know that you can do all things

Therefore I have said things I didn’t understand

Things to wonderful for me, which I didn’t know”. (42:1-5)

Can you hear this morning that:

In the whirlwind is the place you need to speak to God.

In the whirlwind is where he will speaks with you.

 

That means that the whirlwind is not to be avoided or dismissed or considered something from which to escape as fast as you can. Quite the opposite: it is the place to listen and receive God.

Why so? Making your case and complaint against God is actually an act of faith. You may be angry with God or unsure if he exists at times but as you speak these words of pain and doubt you are by default, trusting that he is listening even if you can’t trust that he is responding. That comes in time….

Oh how we need more songs, more silence, more prayers and conversations that don’t avoid the questions and pain but that express them so we hear God in the whirlwind – in the suffering.

We need more laments. But alas, in this culture of endless happiness searching and controlling of life (like Job’s three friends) we will not allow it.

But we can allow a sad song to God, can’t we?

We have a God who has been through the whirlwind of our shame and pain to the full and calls us through it with him now.

We have a risen great high pastor who is familiar with all our ways, a suffering servant of people and a friend of sinners and man of human sorrows who prays for us and with us daily.

And as Job rightly said about the suffering upon him, all of this was not our doing. It was the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes. Once we were not a person of Christ. Now we are the people of God in Christ.

You may be heading into a heavy cross wind today – a long, hard push without many words.

Speak. Speak to him. Complain. Speak a sad song. Ask your questions. Don’t hold back.

Go to the God in the whirlwind of suffering (not apart from it). He is on a cross hanging there in blood and pain for you – in pure, pure love for you. He is standing with raised arms and wounded hands and feet showing you his glory and his grace.

After the singing and the speaking and the silence and the questions the will speak as he did for Job. He speaks in the whirlwind.  Amen.

wise woman worthy

Sermon, Pentecost 18B, Sunday September 23, 2018

Proverbs 31:10-31

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.

11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.

12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.

14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.

15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.

16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.

18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.

19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

I feel like I am taking my life into my own hands in listening to this first word from Proverbs. It is a last poem about ‘A wife of noble character’. Sounds so sexist to our modern ears!

I was going to avoid this text. All the more reason to not do that. I am glad I didn’t avoid it. There is good news in it – for woman and men.

This poem draws a strong response. It is either an affirming word to women or the dead opposite. Some find great affirmation of who they are and what they are called to do, and others find this is a totally male dominated word that expects the impossible from woman.

This ‘noble woman’ is perfect in some people’s eyes and in others, she a woman to be pitied for being oppressed and subservient to so many unreasonable expectations and wrong views of women!

This one woman, who is the “ideal” one, is also one that “a man cannot find”. No wonder! She’s working too hard!

She’s working hard everywhere (v 4, 15-16);

bringing her food from afar.

getting up while it is still night;

working for family and employees.

Buying real estate, planting vines. (v14, 16)

She is working on everything (verses 15a, 16, 18a, 19, 24a),

Food, land purchasing, business, making clothes

She is working for everybody (verses 12, 15b, 20, 21b, 24b, 27a).

Husband, family, staff, those in need, colleagues in industry

 

Is this picture of some ‘ideal’ woman a terrible work of patronizing male arrogance or something more?

I can see the question. Some site this poem in praise of wives and mums. But it is also easy to hear it as a male commendation of women and “woman’s work.” – a real put down of the value of a woman and her contribution to life in all spheres.

But in a closer look, I notice two things about her.

  1. This “perfect wife” is not contained to the kitchen scrubbing dishes.
  2. Nor is she some quite subservient mouse who never says anything.

While she clearly takes care of her husband (v 11-12) and household (v 15, 21, 27) and excels at household activities (v 13, 15, 19, 22) she is quite active in her world.

  • She is a successful businesswoman. She knows real estate, grapes and viticulture.
  • She works hard and plans ahead.
  • She knows how to dress for success, how to run a business and can match it with captains of merchant industry.
  • The reason her husband is well known has a lot to do with her character and contribution.

And she has a heart. She “opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy”.

This woman is also far from a silent partner who does not say boo. She speaks with wisdom and the “teaching of kindness” comes from her mouth.

 

This is no mere condescending male appraisal of what a woman should be to make his life better! This woman is an equal match for anyone. She does it all. and with wisdom and grace. This woman looks and sounds a lot like Lady Wisdom herself.

Many say that this is not a poem about a mythical perfect woman, but about God’s wisdom itself. I believe this is so. This woman is us – men and woman of faith in the Lord’s word in our daily world lived in his wisdom. This is who we all become more and more when we listen to the word of the Lord in our everyday.

But if this also at some level a poem about an ideal woman, then there are three things that are very good news for us all.

I read this comment from one female commentator this week;

“As a woman living in the 21st century, I am struck by an awful lot about women that Proverbs 31 doesn’t say, and that is worth noting, too”.

First, it doesn’t say that a wife’s worth is derived from her husband’s worth. She is not a woman who needs her husband to give her meaning, purpose and worth. She has all of these already – from the Lord. Her status in the world and before the Lord is sure because the Lord has given her this status.

As a result, she willingly makes her contribution to her partner, family, employees and business partners. I don’t hear any hint that her virtue lies in her submission to her husband, and his direction. Her own direction as a person of God is legitimate and she willingly offers her time and effort to him and all others for making life happen and caring for those in need.

In other words, she is free to lead her own life rather than following someone else’s. Yet she values her partner enough to care for him; her children, to care for them; her employees, to look after them.

Second: It is most unusual that the poem does not say anything about pregnancy or childbirth. In lots of other places in the Bible, and in ancient writing generally, these gifts of bearing children and being a mum are held up as key credentials for womanhood.

The poem only mentions children once in verse 28, “her children rise up and call her happy,” and when it does it does not refer to the mother-child relationship at all. Motherhood as a state of being or source of identity or virtue is not held up in the entire passage.  I am hearing that a woman’s status before the Lord and in our community is not dependent on whether or not she is a mum.

This woman is a mum but she is also many other things. All she contributes to family and community are valuable. She generates life in lots of ways, not only in having a baby. This woman “seeks,” “rises,” “buys,” and “provides,”. She is creating and cultivating a lot, and they obviously all count in God’s eyes.

And third: This picture of an ideal woman does not say one thing about her appearance or physical appeal. In this culture of ours that is fixated on just these things – appearance, body, looks, youthfulness, beauty, weight, muscle, etc, etc, etc,….what a relief to know that this is not held up as being central to our worth before the Lord. There is nothing about weight, shape, clothes (except in a savvy business sense and in the sense that she provides these for children), make-up or make-over, hair, fingernails, skin and etc, etc… This woman knows that her worth, value, meaning, purpose and place are not dependent on her looks. They are dependent on the Lord’s speaking.

For us who know Jesus the ultimate wisdom of the Lord in a human person, who we are begins with the noble things done by that Noble Man. Like this poem says,

            29 “Many women do noble things,

                        but you surpass them all.”

From our view post-resurrection, we can say that the ‘you’ is Jesus.

Many people do noble things

But you, Jesus, surpass them all.

  1. Woman, men, young people and children: your worth is not derived from someone else. You are free to love others.
  2. For women specifically, your worth and status in the world is not dependent on bearing children or being a mum, but you generate life in plenty of other ways, including those gifts if that is the Lord’s calling for you.
  3. It is not your looks, shape style or fashion that creates you or makes you, but the Word of Jesus you listen to and what he says about you – which is: “loved child of mine”.

 

“Many human beings do noble things,

    but you Jesus, Bridegroom of the Church, surpass them all.”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;

    but Jesus the Lord is to be praised.

Honour him for all that his hands have done,

    and let his works bring him praise at this city’s gate. 

Listen to Live

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

Proverbs 1:20-33

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

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

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

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

23 Repent at my rebuke!

Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,

   I will make known to you my teachings.

24 But since you refuse to listen when I call

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

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

26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;

I will mock when calamity overtakes you –

27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,

when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,

when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

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

they will look for me but will not find me,

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

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

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

32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,

and the complacency of fools will destroy them;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How long will mockers delight in mockery

    and fools hate knowledge?

23 Repent at my rebuke!

    Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,

    I will make known to you my teachings.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here is what I find so good this morning.

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

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

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

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

That is good news for fools like me!

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

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

He dazzled his listeners with his wisdom).

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

He claimed to be the new Solomon with ultimate wisdom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We listen to live.

A few crumbs

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

Mark 7:24-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some context might help…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what I noticed though, is that Jesus says,

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

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

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

I also notice what Jesus says in verse 29:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wise bread for a Wise Head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And POOF……

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

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

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

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

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

Solomon decides. He asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Imitate

Sermon, Pentecost 13B, Sunday August 12, 2018

St Petri Ladies Guild 90th Anniversary.

 Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

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

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

 John 6:35,41-51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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