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.

A Reckless Love – Dr Steen Olsen

A Reckless Love Mark 12:38-44
St Petri Nuri 11/11/2018

38  As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39  and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40  They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41  He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42  A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43  Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

What if Jesus came here this morning to watch how much each of us put in the offering plate?

The cheek of the man! Who does he think he is?  Doesn’t he know that is confidential?
He is breaking the Privacy Act!

A few years back in my first parish we managed to buy a modest church from the Exclusive Brethren.

At the dedication someone put a cheque for $2,000 in the offering – a vast sum in 1979!
[At the time a pastor’s salary was $7,570pa + car allowance of $1,050 and 4.7¢/km]
I just managed to intercept the treasurer running out the door, shouting at the top of her voice
“Who is this generous man?” – She was so excited

 

1) Jesus also observed many rich people giving large sums – that is as it should be!
Those who are wealthy should also pray for the gift of generosity – nothing wrong with that!

It is also not surprising that a poor widow should want to contribute something – that is also right
It is surprising that she should give everything she had to live on.  What is mind-blowing is Jesus’ comment is that
“this poor widow gave more than all the rich people.  ”What sort of reckless love is this demonstrating?

2) This woman is not tithing.  She is not saying, “10% for God, 90% for me!”
She is not at all concerned about doing her Christian or religious duty.  She is not worried about fulfilling the law of God.
Her life is not about obedience – it is far deeper than that.

3) We begin to understand the widow by contrasting her with the Scribes Jesus says that they are
all bound up in honour, respect, position and power.  And along the way they make a show of praying long prayers and rob poor widows no wonder “they will receive the greater condemnation.”

But these are among the respectable church people.  They are the sort of people we want to count as our friends
It is easy to look from afar and criticise

The Scribes have their lives in order they do their duty and fulfil their obligations they are a bit like me!

The widow is reckless.  She gives away all she has to live on
Does she die of hunger? Or perhaps head down to the Salvos?

We are not told what becomes of her and it is not important for the story.  It would take us down wrong paths, discussions about social welfare and the like.

4) This poor widow has no one to rely on but God.  Her faith is that God will not fail her
Perhaps it is a ‘hope against hope’ and she has reached the point of desperation there is nothing else she can do except throw herself on the mercy of God

Perhaps she recognises what the rich often miss, that our lives are totally dependent on God, even when things are going wel.

The poor widow didn’t make a donation, she offered her life.

You have probably heard the story about a pig and a hen:
Early one morning a pig and hen were walking down the streetThey to an open café that had a sign in the window “Bacon & Eggs”
The chook said, “I famished – let’s go in and eat.”
The pig replied, “No way birdbrain! It’s ok for you. You are only being asked for a donation. For me it is total commitment!”

Rom 12:1-2 – “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

5) So who do you personally identify with? Think about it. The Scribes or the poor widow?
Do you see something of the Scribe’s attitude in your own life?  Concern for self, how others look at you?
Are you more concerned about yourself than showing mercy to the needy?
When I look in the mirror I see a Scribe lurking beneath the respectable exterior. all is not well with me, and if I am honest the condemnation of which Jesus speaks is richly deserved.

6) Does the poor widow remind you of someone you know?  When I look in the mirror, I have to confess that I see too little of her.
I would like to be more like her than I am.

Today it reminds us of the end of The Great War, exactly 100 years ago sadly a second conflict meant The Great War became the first WW
They went to war & millions sacrificed their lives, also a reckless love  Over 400k Australians enlisted out of 5M and over 60k were killed 1 in 7 they gave everything for others, including life itself – no small offering

But the poor widow also reminds us of someone else – the one who is telling the story – Jesus
Like the poor widow Jesus foolishly-lavishly gives every last bit of himself for us
By human standards Jesus death was insignificant – one among millions of unjust executions but like the widow’s mite it is more significant than all the rest.
Jesus lived and died for others  He totally depended on God  When he died he took our sin upon himself …
So we are forgiven, even for being Scribe-like  That is good news, because we can’t do anything about it ourselves…

7) You can’t make yourself like the widow by an act of your will like making a decision or a commitment
just as we can’t control things around us and make sure everything goes well for us so we can’t make ourselves better people we are totally dependent on God and his promises

8) The good news is that by his Spirit at work in us, Jesus empowers us to be more like himself – and like the widow dependent on God concerned for the poor and needy trusting that God will provide,
that his plans are always good and for our blessing.  What that means for each of us will vary depending on God’s call to us and the circumstances he places us into.
We may not be called to lay down our lives for others in a war or even to give away all our possessions
But we are being empowered to be more like Jesus who died for us, so that we might be forgiven and live in him

This is the reckless love of a Christian we don’t know exactly what the future holds
even our best, most careful plans can go wrong and the shadow of the cross falls over them.
But in the spirit of the poor widow who laid down her life as an offering to God we too can trust God and let our lives be an offering.  Amen.

 

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

Reformation Message – Bishop David Altus – Sunday 28 October

Sermon, Reformation

Sunday October 28, 2018, St Petri

Bishop David Altus

 

Romans 1:16-17

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

 

Every year at this time we get a reminder about what a Lutheran congregation stands for.

Do you know what you stand for and do you value it?

In life generally we’d rather know than not know what people stand for, even if it is only so we can shoot them down! We look at our political parties and leaders and ask “what do you stand for?” – that I should trust you and vote for you? When our AFL team doesn’t do so well fans lament that “We don’t know what our club stands for anymore.”

Someone  said: “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything”

  • So what do you stand for St Petri?
  • Why you here?
  • What matters, and matters most to you?
  • What are you known for and want to be known for?
  • What is worth “going to the wall over together?” Is it the walls of the church and which way round they are? Or what happens here inside them, or outside them?

People often want me to make more of a stand on moral or political issues to set society straight or to take stand on issues in the church – as long as I stand on their side!

 

Martin Luther was known for three words:  “Here I stand”

He said those words to the face of an emperor, and to his church. An emperor and church who had put on the table the books Luther had written and demanded a retraction. But Luther said “I can’t and I won’t recant!”

He stood there and would not budge because of what he had discovered in the gospel – the good news of God’s grace, God’s undeserved kindness and love for him and everyone in Jesus Christ. Grace that justified the unrighteous Luther.

He had first discovered that good news in passages like Romans 1:16-17 and it led him to say with St Paul  “I am not ashamed of the gospel”. He devoted the rest of his life and put his life on the line for that Gospel.

 

All of us have numerous experiences in life where we have felt ashamed. We can be ashamed of our thoughts words and actions and ashamed of our bodies. Ashamed of ourselves and each other. Ashamed of our public persona and our inner private world.

Some feel ashamed of our church right now, divided as we seem to be on some things. Some have left because of that. Some would have left if the recent decision went the other way a few weeks ago at Synod.

Luther felt ashamed before God and he feared God.

  • He retreated to monastery to live a “religious life”
  • He tried doing good things 24 hrs a day
  • He tried confessing his sins until he was blue in face and exhausted

Nothing set him free from doubt about himself and his goodness and doubt about God and what God thought of him. Nothing worked, except Romans 1:16-17

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

The good news of Christ is the power that blew away his shame and guilt, any uncertainty about where he stood with God, any uncertainty about entry to heaven when he died.

The Gospel of what Jesus did when he lived and died for him blew away like dynamite (that’s the Greek word for power here) – it blew up and blew away any self-doubt, any self-righteousness, any pride in his own goodness and standing before God.

Being set right, being able to stand and walk and run and live in God’s presence freely now and forever is a gift, he discovered.

  • God gives what he expects and wants for, and in us.
  • God gives his own rightness so we don’t need to be “self”-righteous.

We see it and I believe it when we look at the cross and Jesus dying for me.

To the proud that good news says “you can’t earn or deserve it”

To the crushed and broken it says “you don’t have to earn or deserve it”

The gospel of being saved by God’s grace alone, received by faith alone, in Christ alone.

  • Lutherans live and breathe that Gospel.
  • We stand and we walk in its power.
  • We die in its grace and hope.

That’s what enabled Luther to stand in front of his church and state when they challenged and condemned him. He was willing to go to the wall and die for it just as St Paul was.

 “Here I stand” – what else can I do, he said.

Our Lutheran confessional writings, the teachings we believe express the gospel clearly tell us that the church stands or falls on the gospel, on what we teach and believe about Jesus and God’s justifying grace to us in him. Full stop. Nothing else

 

The danger existed in Paul’s day and Luther’s day and in our day right now in our LCA to add a law to the gospel, thinking:

“We will only be a genuine church of Jesus if we ordain women”

Or “We will cease to be true church of Jesus if we ordain women”

As important an issue as this has been and will continue to be,

  • Don’t let this issue become either a new law or a new gospel.
  • Don’t let it overshadow Christ, as convicted and conflicted about this and other issues as we are.
  • Don’t make it the unforgivable sin – either way.
  • Don’t let it be what defines the church.
  • Don’t break the church that Christ died for any further than it already is.

Luther had many issues with his church but never thought of leaving it. He thought a lot about reforming it from the inside out – and he endured the pain for that until he was kicked out… for proclaiming the gospel.

What we go to the wall over, argue over, leave the church over even, says a lot about what we stand for. What might those things be for you?

Buildings? (I know you have a meeting about buildings today)

Music and songs?

Theological issues?

Moral issues?

They are all important, but one day we will “hit the wall” when we all go to our graves.

What will we stand on then, what will matter most or at all as we are about to meet God who gave us life and to whom we are accountable?

On Tuesday I will stand at a graveside. You won’t be there, but you will, because I will be representing you at the funeral of NSW bishop James Haak who died suddenly last weekend in North Adelaide aged 59.

What we stand for and what he stood for will be made crystal clear at his funeral. I expect to hear from Bishop Henderson the gospel. Our confidence and hope in the face of death is not that James was male nor female, a pastor, a bishop even a family man or all round nice guy.

James died a righteous man because he died in Christ, and that’s all.

Our confidence is in Christ alone, who gives us God’s grace alone, and we will stand there at his grave with faith alone in God’s word alone.

That’s what I expect to here on Tuesday or I will be posting some theses of my own on the front door of LCA HQ at 197 Archer St on Wed morning!

The power of God will be at work in grieving hearts in the face of sin and death as Bishop John proclaims what Lutherans expect him to proclaim. There is nothing else that will be able to cut it on Tuesday than the gospel.

At the recent synod after the debate and vote and after reflection by delegates expressing sadness at division in church, it was Bishop James Haak who proposed a motion, which Synod passed almost unanimously and without debate: ‘that Synod acknowledges the deep hurt and harm to individuals and groups that has been occasioned over the past years in the course of the debate regarding ordination; repents of the hurt, and seeks forgiveness and reconciliation with one another’.

 

Repentance – that’s the call in the first of Luther’s 95 theses that started the Reformation.

Standing begins on our knees, in repentance, looking for and depending on God’s grace to us individually and together. Recognising our own need for the gospel and receiving the gospel, as has happened here today.

 

And standing on the gospel is not standing still. You can’t stand still when you experience the power of the gospel. You have to live it and express it and share it. It has its inbuilt power to want others to enjoy it too.

At same time as Martin Luther made his discovery and went to the wall and world over it, another Martin (of Basle) also discovered the gospel and he wrote: “O most merciful Christ I know that I can only be saved by your blood. Holy Jesus I acknowledge thy sufferings for me, I love you, I love you”. Then he took his witness to Jesus and hid it in a cavity of his cell wall in the monastery where it stayed for 100 years, while others around him were striving to find their own way to God. He enjoyed it himself but hid the dynamite of the gospel.

By all means say with Martin Luther “here we stand” by grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone.

Stand firm, but don’t stand still, and don’t be ashamed of the gospel, it is God’s power to save you and all who believe it. Our privilege is not only to live in that Gospel but to share it.

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.

Job – Resurection Faith – Audio Sermon Pastor Trevor Reu

St Petri Audio Sermon – Sunday 14th October

Job – Resurrection Faith – Pastor Trevor Reu

One of the great books in the Bible is the book of Job.  It deals with two of the greatest predicaments facing the human race.  The problem of human suffering and whether a person will live again after death.

Job is a good man who suffers greatly – he loses his children, his property and is afflicted with a dreaded disease.  His friends visit him and try to help him by attempting to explain his suffering.  Instead of helping and comforting Job they only make matters worse.

Whatever argument they put forward as to why Job is suffering, Job has a counter argument.

Job has his problems with God too, and he on occasions challenges him.  But he does not lose faith in God.  he still has confidence in his saving help.  He declares, “I know that my Redeemer lives … I shall see God”.

Going the Distance

Going the Distance – Audio Sermon  Pastor Robert Voigt

Sunday 7th October – Pastor Robert Voigt

St Michael & All Angels – Audio Sermon Pastor Robert Voigt

Audio of Sermon preached on Sunday 30th September – Pastor Robert Voigt

The Feast of St Michael & All Angels – St Petri Lutheran Church

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.

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