Category: baptism

Asylum Seekers

Pentecost 11C
Sunday August 15, 2010
Ocean Forest
Asylum seekers
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

“Stop the boats” has become a central election slogan for both parties in this election campaign. That name “Asylum seeker” has come to be associated with negative things, like cheat, illegal, stupid, unfortunate, preyed upon, misled……

We hear the stories of people leaving their own country and being named, “Asylum seeker”, and wonder, what would you have to be hoping for to be an asylum seeker? What would you be certain of? How motivated by a hope would you need to be to trust some dodgy person with your life savings as you step on to a very rickety and severely cramped boat for a 2000km sea journey with your loved ones in tow? You would have to have a great hope of finding a better place – a place of asylum, safety, prosperity – life.

This word from the writer to the Hebrews speaks of God’s people in the past (before Jesus) seeking “a better country”, a better place – seeking asylum with God in the world.
“People are looking for a country of their own……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”.

Friends, are we seeking God’s asylum these days? Unlike the home country of people wanting to run the gauntlet and reach our shores because of poverty, oppression and hopelessness, we are happy to be here for the most part. Are we or should we be desperate enough to risk all for God’s new heavenly country called, “The Kingdom of God”, as Jesus named it?

Whether we are still seeking God’s new country as intensely as assylum seekers on boats, or have even a minimal interest in what God is offering, God is not ashamed of people looking for something – a better country, a heavenly country, a place of belonging. God is not ashamed of asylum seekers who seek his better place.
I got to thinking…….

What seen or unseen things am I absolutely certain about?
• I am alive right now.
• I will always pay tax.
• I will always be an Australian
• I have people in my life that love me, depend on me and will always do that.
• I have people around me that I will know for some time – short or long.
• I will experience conflict, hurt and pain of all kinds in the future.
• I will experience some good moments – achievements, places, mile stones of myself and my family.
• I will experience grief and loss in various ways – some very painful, some not so.
• I will die sometime – it could be any time.
• I don’t know where I will live or work in the future – maybe you do.
• I don’t know who I will work with in the future – maybe you do.
• I don’t know what will happen to me tomorrow or after that – I know you don’t know that for sure either – even if you have planned it out.

When we think like this two emotions might be near – One is exhilaration: The future is open. Good things can happen in our lives. We can see new things, live new experiences and find new people and joys. We can see God in new ways.

The second is deflating for the ego. We hit the realty that we don’t know much really. We hit the realty that we can’t see much and that we certainly cannot control much! I am not as big or as important or as good as I think I am.

As a modern person I tend to put my faith in technology and work. If I get the right stuff then I will create conditions for illusive happiness. If I work a lot and make a lot then I will be able to get a lot of the things I need to create the conditions for “happiness” for myself and my family and friends – maybe even the country or the world!

But when I hear this “Faith Hall of Fame” that the writer to the Hebrews speaks of, I hear nothing of working hard or buying technology or things. Obviously in the Creator’s scheme of things, his “better country”, has not much to do with either hard work or achievements or things.

He says our hope comes from a “faith that is being certain of the things we already hope for and certain of things we do not even see”.
So, what do we hope for and what don’t we see? Let’s think about that now…..
What am I really hoping for?

• To see more of God’s world.
• To enjoy life with family.
• To work in a role that fulfils my aspirations
• To contribute something good to the world
• To live a long time?
• To see the grandkids come along
• To ride my bike tomorrow.
• To witness another WC Eagles Premiership (wait a long time for that one!)
To……(your hopes….)
So it seems that we are all asylum seekers; small and great and God is not ashamed of us. In our pondering of life and the future and our certainties, we are actually seeking God and his presence. With the promises of God in our ears – the promise of belonging, community, life, forgiveness – we are actually all seeking his better country, his better city he has prepared for us. We have a deep longing inside of us to search for a find God’s certain hope of a better way, a better place, a better life in him.

All these people the writer to the Hebrews holds up as people who hoped for things unseen and who were certain of the things for which they hoped did so because they were in relationship to God. We need the same.

He goes so far as to say that all these people of faith only saw the better country from a distance because they were waiting for us to join them before entering it in full. They knew God’s power and grace. We know it more than them because the new country has come to us – Jesus has brought God’s heavenly country to us in person and it is there we live and move and have our being – with Jesus.

By the cross and the tomb, Jesus has opened up the new country for us and these OT witness of God’s grace. We are not just looking at the new country from a distance, we are in it already – in part, but soon, fully. By our baptism we entered it and by God’s sustaining word we are sustained in the heavenly country.

Friends, are you longing for this new country of God’s these days? Are you still seeking his all embracing love and acceptance in your very soul?. In your list of things hoped for, is God’s affirmation and love for you and his promises to keep you in his future for you there?

You may have given up on anything good in your future. You may have replaced God’s future with your own – thereby going it alone and “hoping for the best”.
God calls out to us today and invites us back into his future for us. He calls us to receive certainty of his presence, his enduring and broad love and kindness for each of us. He reminds us that we have a place at his table and share his family name and that we have one foot in the new country and one foot still on the journey to it with him.

A wonderful prayer by Thomas Merton goes well with this reading, and we can almost imagine the letter-writer including it as a closing: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone” (Thoughts in Solitude).

Broken Chains

Ascension Day/Easter 7C
Sunday May 16, 2010

Broken Chains
Acts 16:16-34

Friends, we hear of a young girl, a civil servant, some men on the take, an angry urban mob, some bigoted city counselors, Paul, Silas, Luke and others, a magistrate and a family and wonder where we ourselves might be in this account of the Spirit of the risen Christ on the move in people’s lives.

We are still in Philippi, with Paul and others as they plant the gospel in that Roman place, with great help from that new convert, Lydia.

In pondering all these people and what happens, and what Luke, the writer, is wanting Christians people of all time to receive in this eye-witness account, it seems to me that there is one common thing that holds all of the people in these events together. It is chains. All of the people of whom Luke speaks have various chains – literal and metaphorical, holding them down from the heights they could experience in God’s Spirit who is definitely on the move in their town.

That young girl is in chains – the chains of oppressive practices of the men who are using her and her special talent to rip plenty of other people off for profit.

But she is not alone. Even Paul and Silas seem to be chained in something. When Paul , Silas and the others are confronted by this girl and her special talent for seeing what many cannot see – the spiritual realm and the future (at least in part), Paul gets angry. He is “very much annoyed” because this girl keeps announcing to everyone who they are and what the Lord is doing – day after day she just keeps yelling out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” Good message, but very annoying if you are wanting to talk to people and say a little more or less than that depending on the situation….. Or, very thorny to the ego when you are the one who is supposed to be the great fount of all hope and missionary!

Paul shows he is capable of impulsive behaviour – not shopping, but exorcism! “Come out of her!” he yells to what is obviously an evil spirit, as far as Paul can see. The evil spirit comes out and that’s all we hear. One wonders how the con-men who owned this girl would have reacted to this, and where this girl would now end up without her “special power”. (We hear next how they respond initially at least).

It may be that Paul is in chains here. He is the chains of a driven life. He “on a mission from God” to tell everyone what is right! Has he forgotten about compassion and care and love? Are the chains of drivenness so tightly attached to him that he has forgotten what he is really here for and what Jesus is all about – not being right or saved but loved?

Has he got carried away with his own special power and forgotten that his every breath is a gift from the Giver of all good gifts, not a right to use as he wills; especially to have power over other people when they get under your skin?

Then we hear of those angry con-men bent on pay-back. In not time there is that angry mob spurred on by angry con-men who owned the girl. They feel they have been robbed by these “Jews”. Yes, the old chestnut of human bondage comes out to play – prejudice; specifically, anti-Semitism. We have a recent history of that. We know where it leads. We have an Australian history of this kind of deep prejudice and we see where that leads in our own country and life-time. The chains seem unbreakable and the damage unlimited and unstoppable……

And then there is this jailer. Even though is the dealing in chains, he himself is under chains of the spirit. The great bondage of fear is all over him. As he guards Paul and Silas, who are beaten up and thrown in shackles in a dark, damp cell with other chained crims, he has the worst nightmare that a prison guard could have.

The prisoners are freed of their chains and either kill him or escape. Either way, his life is over because the punishment for a Roman guard when a crim escapes is death! Abject fear abounds….

We have mentioned a few chains. Any of them lingering around you?
We have all got them. We long to be unfettered and free in our love, understanding, our job, relationships; yet we experience chains that hobble us and limit our ability to love and be loved – by others and God.

If you were standing in a familiar room, a room you love and it got dark and the darkness exposed luminescent words on the walls and the words were the things that are troubling you, limiting you, hurting you, chaining you, what would the words be….

Look around the walls….
The words are the things that get you down…………………….

The words are the things that hold you back from being who you know you really are…….

The words are the things that make you fearful or shameful……..

When that earthquake strikes and that worst fear for this particular man is released in this fear-filled man he heads to what so many of our young Australian men head for – suicide. He is on the edge of the great darkness. But his world is radically interrupted by the sound of prisoners not escaping!

“We are still here!” yells Paul. “Don’t do it!”

• Yes, “Don’t do it”, friend. Someone thinking of your well being, someone is saving you from the edge.
• Don’t listen to that voice inside your head and heart that keeps putting you down.
• Don’t keep heading toward self-put-down and shame.
• Don’t keep believing that you hopeless or of no value to anyone or not good enough in their eyes.
• Don’t believe that you are owned by anyone or that he or she has a right to own you.

Don’t do it. Don’t do it. We are still here. He is still here. Chains do not have to be lived in or with. They can be broken by Him. He longs to break them because of his love for you. He has the power and authority to break them and release you.

Oh, what a relief! I don’t have to go on killing myself, shaming myself, letting others do that.

“How can I find freedom?” How can my life be salvaged? The grateful jailer asks. “How can I be saved from this fear and those words on my wall? Who will loose the chains and let me be what I know I can be?

“Turn away from the words and the walls and the going to them all the time”, says the Spirit of Jesus.

Believe in the One who speaks different words about you
Beloved, son, daughter, bride, sheep beside still water, precious one, righteous one, child of the Most High, loved, ….

Friends, let him wash your wounds and patch you up and let him set your place at his table now.

Gather with the whole family and let your joy out and enjoy the moment, enjoy your baptism and all he gives in it, for you have “become a believer in God”, unfettered and free in his love and hope.

He enters our room and says those words that begin and end Easter – “Peace be with you”.