A Name for the Struggle

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

Pastor Adrian Kitson

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

Genesis 32:22-31

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

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

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

‘Jacob,’ he answered.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there is not judgement.

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you? What is your name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Give Thanks – Pastor Steen Olsen Sermon Notes

Give Thanks – Luke 17:11-19
St Petri Nuri 13/10/19

Sermon Notes:  Pastor Steen Olsen

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

This is rank disobedience to a clear command of Jesus  – Jesus’ command had been very specific:
“Go and show yourselves to the priests”
As they went they were healed of their leprosy
Nine continued on in obedience to Jesus’ word
One degenerate did not
– he disobeyed the command of the Lord of heaven and earth
this blighter strays from the straight and narrow way to return to Jesus
to praise God and give thanks
Jesus condemns the other nine:
“Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?
Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Jesus commends the disobedient Samaritan:
“Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.”
This Samaritan-once-was-a-leper reminds us to “Give Thanks”

1)      Giving thanks is part of our relationship with God
To have faith is to be in a relationship with the living God
He has established that through baptism and the Word
“So faith comes from what is heard,
and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” [Rom 10:17]
Faith is a God-given trust in God
Christ died in our place, took our sin upon himself,
so we are now the forgiven children of God

2)      This relationship is not all about rules
The 9 obeyed all the rules
Before they could return to normal society
– before they could approach people up close
they had to fulfill the law of Moses

3)     Fulfilling the law began with a visit to the priests as outlined in Leviticus 14
The priest was to examine the leper outside the camp
If the disease is healed a complicated sacrifice is to be made
involving 2 clean birds, cedarwood, crimson yarn & hyssop

Then the ex leper shall wash his clothes, shave his head and bathe
Only then is he declared clean and allowed back in the camp
But wait there is more: for seven days he is to live outside his tent

Then more shaving and washing he is finally considered clean
The point is the 9 healed lepers set off to obey that law

4)      The one leper sees that he is clean
and rather than first go through the ritual to be declared clean
he rushes back to Jesus and invades his personal space
in regard to a leper, in those days, that is rather important

But no, the cleansed leper barges right up to Jesus feet
and falls down before him
and Jesus commends him
This leper has not only been cleansed of his leprosy,
he has found faith and salvation
and come into a relationship with God

5)      If we make our relationship with God all about obeying rules we miss the point
I am not saying that disobedience is good – far from it
The point is that we have a relationship with God, not with a set of laws,
not even with the 10 commandments
Simply trying our hardest to keep all the rules does not make us Christian
or mature us in the faith

It would be a bit like trying to live in a friendship ‘by the numbers’
– for example:
1  greet hello friend
2  affirm you’re looking well
3  petition please make me a cuppa
4  thank thanks
5  praise that’s a wonderful cuppa
That’s no way to build a relationship
Trying to live by the law brings death, not life

6)       Giving thanks is a very important part of our relationship with God
not because the law says so …
but because we are set free from the law,
free to be spontaneous in our love and gratitude
just like the one leper

As we give thanks we grow in thankfulness and gratitude
which builds a healthy outlook on life
and positive attitude in regard to God’s place in our lives
and the world

The one leper seems to have understood that this is a relationship
not just a task to be done – fulfill the requirements of the law
or a prize to be claimed – healing and a normal life
but the truth that my Lord loves me and I love him in return

7)      Being a Samaritan-leper is a bad combination if you had to live in 1st century Palestine
cut off from human fellowship and the worshipping community
The Jews had no time for Samaritans,
and lepers had to live their lives at a distance
Life was hard – they had lots to complain about
They come to Jesus and cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Jesus heals their physical leprosy
but only one of them appears to understand
the deeper healing that was necessary
the healing from the leprosy of sin …

8)      The 9 were healed, but they would get sick again – maybe not leprosy –
but a sickness would bring death
The one is truly healed because his freedom from leprosy
has become a sign of the gift of faith
and the wellness that is salvation
This deeper healing has become far more important for him
than the outer healing of his leprosy
the priests can wait
first, Jesus needs to be thanked

9)      We are here so that people might receive that deeper healing
That is why God has placed us in this community
So that the gospel may be proclaimed
So that people may come to faith and their lives be healed
That is why we are here today
To thank God for this community of faith
and for our relationship in the gospel
We are working together so that people may be healed
through the forgiveness of their sin

We thank Jesus for healing us from the leprosy of sin
and all the other lesser leprosies along way
As we journey through life we may sometimes be healed of leprosy
or one of its modern equivalents sometimes we may not be healed
but may need to keep bearing the burden
Some of us will enter heaven without being healed in this life
healing will only come then …

Others will be healed of some disease in this life
irrespective, we still need that deeper healing that leads to thanksgiving
So lets give thanks to God for the healing that is ours! Amen.

Pastor Steen Olsen
steen.olsen@lca.org.au
Blog: bring Jesus (subscribe at www.lca.org.au/enews – You find it under ‘LCA Districts’)
Assisting the Church to become more missional in its culture, theology and practice.

Gift – Pastor James Winderlich

Sermon Transcript – Pastor James Winderlich  –  Sunday 6th October, 2019

Gift

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

2 Timothy 1: 3-5

St Paul writes, “I thank God whom I serve with a pure conscience as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers, night and day – greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy when I call to remembrance the unflamed faith that is in you. Which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois. and your mother Eunice and I am persuaded is in you also.

I do a lot of travelling around visiting congregations throughout the South Australian area, although we do serve the whole church. It is much easier to do relief preaching on a Sunday just in the local South Australian area. Something I have consistently noticed is – change.

Those congregations I visit are changing. Many of those congregations were numerically large not all that long ago. They were very, very active, able to do many, many things both within the life of their own, congregational community as well as the wider community. They are now, in what almost seems just like a blink, in a brief moment in time, are experiencing dramatic change. As the average age of the people in those communities increases, they’re finding that there are less and less of them who are able to do what was always done, who are able to keep up with the various programmes and projects which that community might have had. Some of them can’t even get along to church any more. When you look out into those church buildings that were built large, buildings that anticipated a growing future. You see a handful of people.

One thing I consistently notice amongst those people and amongst those diverse communities is this; they are not discouraged, they are not discouraged even though you could say “well they have every right to be, because they’ve stuck with their congregation for all these years and have worked hard. Other people have fallen by the way and disappeared. You could build an argument for resentment, but I’ve not seen that.

These communities I visit are full of hope and as they are confronted by their changing situations they’re finding new ways of doing things.They are able to identify what is important to them, right here, right now, and they find a way of doing it. They find new ways of serving each other, they find new ways of sharing life together in this special and unique community that is theirs. They find joy in each other, and that’s remarkable. That’s remarkable because it leaves me scratching my head, thinking well surely this is not how you thought things would end being for you.

That doesn’t matter. Their expectations don’t matter. What matters for them is the here and the now. Who they are in the here and the now.

We all face difficulty as we look back to the past, because if we look back to the past we can see the building process, can’t we. We can see in terms of our congregations the growth of our congregations as we started with not much at all, and built things up and built things up until we have arrived at the here and the now. As we look back over that past – and they’re wonderful pasts – a sense of expectation about the future is also created. We look at the trajectory of the past and we think that just has to continue on into the future until we are confronted with change. A change that we have no control over.

So what of those little congregations, those little communities dotted all around the country rural South Australia teaching me? I am learning that it’s never a better time than now to be a Christian church, a Christian community, a Christian person in the life of Australia. Why? Because through all the changes that we are experiencing, we have been given a wonderful opportunity to focus on what is really important.

What really matters? Not yesterday, not tomorrow but what really matters, right here and right now?  Because right here, and right now is the only place that I can bear witness to Jesus Christ. I can’t bear witness to Christ tomorrow and yesterday’s witness is finished with. Right here and right now is the only time and the only place that I can serve according to that witness. I can’t do it tomorrow because it hasn’t happened yet. Can’t do it yesterday because yesterday has been and gone. Right here, right now.

What matters? What is of critical importance?

I shared with you a reading from 2 Timothy 1. It is a hopeful reading. It is a positive and optimistic reading. St Paul is writing to his understudy, his trainee, his apprentice Timothy, offering him all sorts of encouragement. Telling him how much he is missing him. Telling him how much he is giving thanks for Timothy. It is a wonderful thing to read but it is even more wonderful when you hear it against the background in which it is written. Paul wrote these encouraging, life-filled, life encouraging words to Timothy from prison.

Now prison 2000 years ago is somewhat different to what prison might be like today, and I don’t want to diminish what prison is today because it’s a horrible experience. Prison 2000 years ago was horrible in another entirely different way. First of all you didn’t get fed. You had to take care of that yourself. So, if you didn’t have family and friends who were prepared to look after you while you were in prison, you would starve and you would die. As simple as that. The other thing about prison is that prison wasn’t a punishment. It wasn’t there to pay off a fine. It wasn’t there to set the balance right in terms of your life in community. It was God’s waiting room. The only reason you would go to prison would be to await your execution. That’s what prison was for. So you knew what awaited you. You knew what was around the corner, and that’s where Paul was.

This is Paul, that in a matter of a few years, had poured his entire life and soul and being into the mission of Jesus Christ. Into proclaiming who Jesus Christ is, for the sake of people. Paul had given himself over to that, Paul had abandoned; his previous status, his previous power, his previous prestige, to take up that Mission. Paul had emptied himself for the sake of Christ. Paul quite remarkably is responsible for the spread of the Christian church throughout the Gentile world, in fact if Paul hadn’t done what Paul did, you and I quite possibly wouldn’t be people of Christian faith right here, right now. And what did he have to show for it? Prison!

Now by any measure that to me doesn’t sound like much of a trophy, that doesn’t sound like much of a reward for all of that hard, faithful work. And that’s where Paul was. He had every right to be embittered. Every right to be discouraged. Every right to be angry, snarky and cynical. And what did he write to Timothy? “I give thanks to God for you.” “In fact the memory of you just moves me to tears.” He wrote from that prison as the clock was ticking down.

And, what to give thanks for in Timothy? Well, in Timothy you have another failure. If Paul seemed like one great big failure sitting in prison – well, Timothy wasn’t much better. Why? What’s the value of a son in ancient communities? Your son was your hope for the future. Your son would be the one who provide for you in your future, Your son would be the one who would carry the family name forward, and everything about your family, forward into the future. And what did Timothy choose to do? Follow Paul. To all intents and purposes, Timothy was a bit of a dud as well. He didn’t live up to expectations except for his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. In Timothy, something amazing came together, the witness of the Apostles through Paul and the witness of family came together in the person of Timothy. And Timothy would take over from Paul, the mission would continue. In the here and the now.

So, that’s why Paul gives thanks for Timothy. Not because Timothy was an outstanding son. Not because Timothy was a prominent person within his own community, but because of something that had been planted in Timothy. And Paul said, ”Timothy fan that flame.” “Take care of that flame.” “Let that flame build within you, because in that flame there is hope!” “Hope for you, and hope for those whom you will serve.”

Fan the flame. That little spark that’s in you right now. That little spark that moves me to gladness, to thanksgiving and that moves me to tears before God.

Fan it! … and how do you do that? Well Paul gives three things; power, love and self-discipline. That’s the plan! That’s as good as the plan is. How does that work itself out? Quite surprisingly. Because we hear power and we think yes! Power, that’s what is needed for the future mission of the church. That’s what is needed for our congregation. That’s what’s needed for all those congregations that I go around to visit who seem to be diminishing, who seem to be shrinking, who seem to be losing their way … and yet have joy. They just need that power. What is that power? That power firstly gives itself away. That power doesn’t hold on to itself but that power gives itself away for the sake of the other. That power is a power that willingly empties itself. Why? Because the future is no threat. Why do we hang on to anything? Because we are anxious about the future. But the power that Paul talks about is a power that willingly empties itself for the sake of the world, for the sake of the other. It is a power that doesn’t talk about hope. It is a power that gives hope. Because when we keep power to ourselves, we steal hope from those who are desperately searching for it.

Love – You would expect to hear love in this list of instructions wouldn’t you? And what does that love look like? Love works with power. Love works together with power and that love is a love that takes delight in the other. It doesn’t begin with itself, but it begins with its source in God. A love that is delighted in God and who God is, and what God does for us. You hear that in Paul’s words, that delight. It also takes delight in each other, in those little congregations that I have told you about, it is the sort of love that – it’s eyes light up and says “You’re here today. You came along today! It is good to see you. How wonderful at you are here with us today.” “What’s your week been like?” “What’s been happening for you, because I am interested!” Yes, I know we could do all the organisational stuff, is all this rostering stuff that has to be done behind the scenes, but, I am going to stop that right now and I’m going to ask about you because that’s where love takes me.

How are things for you? Because it is so good to see you right now.

In this self-discipline and the hope that Jesus gives, and the love that Jesus makes ours, through his own death and resurrection is a thing. It’s actually real. It is not just something we talk about, it is not just something we speculate about. It is not just an idea that holds us together but it is real – the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus is a real hope. Why? Because it is the only hope that speaks from death and silences death. And really that’s the thing causes us the greatest anxiety. Why do we want to hold onto everything? Because we are afraid of death. We are afraid of losing, and yet Christ speaks from the grave to us and says; “You know that thing death? Finished! Done with. It’s over. It has no claim on you.”

That’s what hope is. And it’s a real thing, and it needs to be said, and it needs to be promised. And that’s what self-discipline is – I am going to make sure that I say that for those who are crying to hear it, those who are trying to build up lives for themselves because they are terrified of the absence of life, they are terrified of their own death.

So that’s Paul’s advice to Timothy, but it wasn’t advice, it was encouragement. As Paul saw in Timothy that spark that had been ignited by the holy spirit. As Paul rejoiced at that and gave thanks to God for that, Paul encouraged Timothy “Mate, just do it now.” Just do it!

I know where I’m headed.

In chapter 4 of 2 Timothy it says “my life is being poured out as I write this to you” my life is being taken away from me.I know how this ends. But you get on with it. You do it, because that’s what matters. It’s the here and the now. Don’t be burdened by your past – look at my past. I, St Paul persecuted God’s Church. Don’t be burdened by that. Let go of it. Don’t be anxious about the future because who knows what the future is? But do it now.

So what does that mean for us? Well it’s the same for us. As we feel the extraordinary pressure to carry the past forward into the future, we overlook the here and the now. We forget to see each other. We don’t notice each other and when you don’t notice each other, where do you get to hear about hope?  If you’re not going to tell each other, who is?  This is an encouragement for all of us, to be hopeful about the future, but to live that hope in the here and the now.

So take St Paul’s encouragement to Timothy as your own. Because if St Paul ever got to meet you guys, he’d weep as well. He’d weep with that same joy and the same happiness and the same thanksgiving to God, because he would see that same fire, flame, ignited in you and he would say to you “Keep fanning it”. “Work away at it.” “See it grow in you, give thanks for it, know that Joy and be delighted to see each other. Amen.

Hopelessly Confused – Pastor Noel Due

Sunday 29th September, 2019

Pastor Noel Due – audio and transcript of sermon preached at St Petri.

We’ve got  three readings before us this morning.  As you’ll see from the bulletin notes on the front page, these are centuries apart.

One is the story of Jeremiah buying a plot of land. He is buying that plot of land immediately before the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem. So when everything is torn up and destroyed, he does the most nonsensical and counter-intuitive thing. He is commanded by the Lord to buy a piece of real estate that everyone else would regard as utterly worthless. But of course the issue is not piece of real estate itself. The issue is what does this purchase say and the purchase says that God is going to do something beyond the destruction.  In other words if your hope has been in all the things that you’ve spent your life building and that is destroyed, is your hope is destroyed. And for Jeremiah his hope was not destroyed because the word of the Lord came to him, and there was a promise of resurrection beyond the death and destruction of the invasion that was about to happen.

Then of course there’s the reading from Luke chapter 16, which is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Again it’s a story of misplaced hope that the rich man felt because he was rich because he had so much, because his life was so defined by his well that he was impervious to suffering, and of course death comes to us all – death reverses things and so those who had nothing in this life typified by Lazarus are the ones finally who inherit the kingdom. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Then you have the account of Paul giving some advice to a young Pastor called Timothy and his telling him about the danger of wealth and the necessity for generosity. and how it is that he, as a young Pastor, must;

a)    He himself must keep himself freely from the love of money which is the root of all evil

b)    To also instruct his congregation, his people, not to be trapped in the love of money which is the root of all evil.

It is significant I think that if you go through the entire scriptures from beginning to end, you will find at some point either the prophets, or the law, or Jesus himself or all of the new testament writers in one way or another – bring a warning about misplaced trust. And that warning about misplaced trust is very commonly expressed in that trust being misplaced because of our wealth, our riches, our money.

So how does a Pastor preach to a congregation about money, and wealth, and misplaced trust apart from wearing a suit of armour. so you don’t get stoned.

If you were here last week and listen to the Lectionary readings. In Luke chapter 16, the last verse of the Lectionary reading was this. Jesus said to them that you cannot serve God and – money. Some translations say you cannot serve God and wealth but actually it says you cannot serve God and Mammon (not marron, they are crayfish!). You cannot serve God and mammon.

Mammon can be understood as wealth, and it can be understood as money, but it’s not just that. Mammon stands for that whole system where you are at the centre of everything. It’s all about you accumulating things and stuff. It’s about you defining yourself by what you accumulate and how you accumulate it.  You providing a display to the world of your worth by what you accumulate and how you express that accumulation. Mammon is all about that activity which money can express, which is an expression of your own selfish ego. That’s what Mammon means it’s not just wealth and not just money. Don’t misquote what Paul says in Timothy. It’s not money that is the root of all evil, it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. Mammon is really not wealth or money but the love of money – that attachment to this stuff which is the expression of your hope.

Now you’ve heard another verse, not in the recent series of lectionary readings, but it comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13 and I bet if I started you’ll be able to finish this:  Now abide these three; faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.

If you think about Faith Hope and love, I think you will discover that the whole world needs them. Indeed the whole world seeks to express faith, hope, and love in some way. In other words, there is not a Christian world in which there is faith hope and love and another Christian world in where there is not faith, hope and love. Actually there is the kingdom of heaven where faith hope and love are properly centred. And then there’s everything else where faith hope and love are all scrambled.

So you think about the Jeremiah reading, faith hope and love all scrambled. Loving the wrong things, in the wrong way. So faith is misplaced and hope disappears when the destruction comes.

Think about Faith Hope to love and the rich man. Faith hope and love all scrambled. Loving the wrong things, Mammon in the wrong way for the wrong reason putting his hope in the wrong place. So his Faith is not in God, and when the destruction comes, he has no hope. He is, to quote Timothy, trapped! That is a very strong word in Timothy.

He is trapped by his love of money.  He uses the word trapped and also talked about people destroying themselves.  He talks about are making shipwreck of the faith and that’s because faith, hope and love are all scrambled. It’s not that they don’t have faith, hope and love – but it’s faith in the wrong thing. It’s love, loving the wrong thing and therefore putting your hope in the wrong place. So you and me and every other person that you ever need is a person who runs by faith, hope and love. The only question is;

a)    In whom is your faith placed?

b)    What therefore do you love?

c)    Therefore, where is your hope?  Does that make sense to you?

We live in a society in which faith, hope and love are all scrambled. Everyone in Australia is looking for faith, hope and love or even expressing faith, hope and love in a certain sort of way – but it is faith trust and confidence in the wrong things. It’s loving the wrong things and so, hope in the wrong place. And when, someone drops a brick on your glasshouse, how do you cope? Or, if someone called “God” dropped a big brick on the glasshouse of Jerusalem, by means of an invading army called “Babylonians”. Jeremiah says “Hope comes, not from our security, nor from our ability to defend our borders – but from God, who promised that there would be resurrection beyond the destruction.

Both Pastor Robert and I, in our respective ministries, move around the church a lot. I think that what we are seeing, if I may say bluntly, in the Lutheran Church is that God is bringing us face to face with the fact that we put Faith Hope and love in the wrong baskets. We put faith hope and love in our structures, and our institutions, and our theological formulations. In our liturgies, in our patterns of worship, and if we touch any of those we get all scrambled. We are, as far as congregations go, falling off a cliff.

Within 10 years on current trends, the number of people worshipping in a Lutheran congregation anywhere in Australia and New Zealand will be half of what is now. Within 10 years!

So if faith hope and love are scrambled – Where is the gospel in that? I read the Gospel reading this morning. There’s a bloke cooking in Hades, and there is a gap fixed between him and Abraham’s side and there is no crossing over. There is no redemption. Like there’s no second chance. That’s it, you are done. At the end of the reading I said, “This is the gospel of the Lord” and you said, “Praise be to you, O Christ”. Praise be to you, O Christ for what? What a hopeless picture where there is no second chances. Is that gospel? This is the gospel of the Lord. What that parable does, what that picture does, is actually to press the urgency of what happens when faith, hope and love get scrambled.

Remembering 1Timothy they become trapped! The gospel of the Lord, in that gospel reading, is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Not to the rich man, not for you and me. It doesn’t have to be that way – but you have to work it out now. Not then.

There is an urgency to this beloved, a real urgency and I believe the Lord is asking through the circumstances that he is bringing, where the church is collapsing institutionally. Where all the things that we put our trust in can no longer sustain and buoy us up.  I think the Lord is saying “Listen, there is a resurrection”!

If that thing goes, like Jerusalem, and in its entirety, there is still hope. It’s just that if you’ve got everything in that basket you won’t see this one. If you’ve got all your hope here you won’t understand the true hope.

When I was sometimes teaching students in the theological College, I talked about the difference between hopes with a small “h” and an “s” on the end, like hope that greater Western Sydney might win. I hope this time, this week, that I win the x-lotto. I hope that no my coffee is nice this afternoon. Short-term hopes. If that’s all you’ve got and they taken away, you are trapped and you’ve got nothing compared to hope with a capital “H”, whose name is Jesus.

The gospel is that God is doing everything to realign the faith, hope and love that is being misplaced and scrambled in us and has left us hopelessly confused. God is doing everything to undo that, so that our hope, faith and our love may be in Christ. Does that makes sense?

So even if those things seem to be falling apart it’s only because God loves us so much that there is a greater thing that he wants us to belong to. The question is simply “Do we trust him”?  Not even a question of “will we let him” because he is going to do it anyway. It is “Do we trust Him’?

As we come to the end of the sermon and turn shortly to the Lord’s supper. you have an absolute, sure, guaranteed token of God’s love, in which Christ gives himself and says “No matter what else happens, no matter what else collapses no matter what we have to do to unscramble your faith, hope and love when it’s misplaced, here is true love. “Here, take and eat”.It is where faith is, “Here, take and drink” that’s where our hope lies.

In Jesus name, Amen.

Prayers of the People

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

1 Timothy 2:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why pray for those in civic authority?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we praise him as we pray for them.

 

.

 

 

 

Patience

SermonPentecost 14th C, Sunday September 15, 2019

1 Timothy 1:12-17 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So,  

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

Faith is meant for Love

SermonThirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18), Year C

This Faith is Meant to Love 

Philemon 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Kind Of Father – Pastor Graham Harms

Fathers Day Message  –  Luke 15:11-32

Sunday 1st September    A new kind of father – Pastor Graham Harms

The Parable of the Lost Son
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinnedagainst heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your propertywith prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

 

The birth of a child turns a man into a father.  A child gives a man a future of a new kind that stretches across generations.  Today as we honour all fathers and lift up their role in our community, our text sheds new light on what it means to be a father, as we see the way God carries out that role himself.

It is very hard to lose a child.  Some children are lost when they die before their time.  Others are lost in a far country, Victoria, perhaps, as they wander off from their families, run away from home, or perhaps leave more amicably but settle overseas and don’t come home.  Others still are lost in the world of drugs and violence.  Still others reject their parents and bring hurt and misery to whole families.

God is pictured in today’s Gospel as a father who has two sons, and he loses them both.  They don’t die, but it’s not much better – the younger one fronts up for his share of the inheritance in a gesture which almost says,

“I wish you were dead”, and heads off for a foreign land that is as far away from his father as he can get.  The older one wishes he were anywhere but home.  What a miserable situation.  To lose both your sons in those days was to lose your future.

But this father is not willing to lose one son just because one is still at home.  Children are not interchangeable.  One does not substitute for another.  Good parents love all their children and are not willing to lose any of them.  So the father in the text is outside watching for the return of the lost son, the one who wanted to escape from his father’s house.  He is watching so persistently, that when the boy returns, he sees him before anyone else does, and runs out to shepherd him through the village to his home, yes, still his home, in spite of everything.

God is like that with us.  He has billions of children all over the world, but one does not substitute for another, and God wants everyone of us to be at home in his  company, to call his place “home”.  And if we wander off, as we do at times, he comes looking for us to make sure we are not permanently lost.

The other boy in the story was just as lost as his brother – lost at home in plain sight!  He resented being at home under his father’s eye.  He chaffed at the bit, and would have broken away, too, except perhaps he thought he had too much to lose.  I don’t know if you can see yourself in that picture, as children of God who have been given everything –  forgiveness, welcome, love, blessing –  and still resent the things we don’t have.  God reaches out to us again, as well, inviting us back into the feast, reassuring us that the whole treasure of heaven belongs to us.  Be at peace – God will not give up on you, whatever you do, or wherever you stray.

Pastor Graham Harms

 

Church: Shaken and Stirred

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

Hebrews 12:18-29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

On Track

Sermon, 10th Pentecost, Sunday August 18, 2019

St Petri

Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throw off:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“O soul, are you weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness you see?

There’s light for a look at the Savior,

And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in his wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.”

 

 

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