Mind the Gap

Dr Noel Due

Sermon transcript for Sunday 10th January, 2021 St Petri Lutheran Church

Matthew 2:1-12 

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem  and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:

‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

Mark 1:4-11

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’

 

 

You are my son “my beloved” with you I am well pleased.

Epiphany is not a word that you use very often. Epiphany refers to Jesus (God) appearing to the Gentiles.  Sometimes it is called the feast of the Magi.  These were the first group of non-Jewish people to come and worship Jesus.  Who were they?  Where did they come from?  Most likely that they came from Saudi Arabia.  The antecedence of what we call the Bedouins.  There is still a tribe from among those people today – a clan whose name means “the planet watchers”.  Throughout history as far back as you can trace they have been intensely interested in the movements of the starts and planets, comets, meteors and things.  It is from that area to the East that is across the other side of the Jordan that they came.  We had a reference in the Bible reading in Isaiah 60 where it talks about the kings of the earth bringing; gold, myrrh and treasures of the nations to worship Jesus.  These were the first people recorded outside of Israel’s boundaries who came to worship the Messiah.

In those days when they talked about folk coming from the East that wouldn’t have meant to them China or Singapore.  It would have meant East of the Jordan River which was the boundary.  If we speak here of someone coming from the West coast, we don’t really need to explain where that is.  It is like that.

In the Mark Reading, Jesus was baptised in the Jordan.  This was not only because there is very little surface water in Israel but he was baptised at the place that represents the boundary between one world and another world.  The Jordan was the boundary of the land that belonged to the people of Israel, the Jewish people and the lands that belonged to other people – the non Jewish people, the Gentiles as they were also called.

You will notice how much time was spent describing where Jesus came from or where his ministry took place and you will find that very often he is ministering on that edge border place.  It is emphasized that he came from Nazareth in Galilee.  Nazareth was right on the edge of the Jewish world and it intersected constantly with the gentile world.  When Jesus eventually rose and went before his disciples, before they received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, he said to them “tell my brothers that I will rise on the third day and go ahead to Galilee and there they will see me.”  Meet Jesus on the borders, on the edges, on the liminal space.

Have you ever seen one of those signs on a train platform “MIND THE GAP”.  You often hear it announced.  Why are they telling you to “mind the gap”?  Because you don’t want to fall into the gap do you.  Today’s message is all about “minding the gap” because the “gap” is where problems happen.  If you don’t mind the gap and you slip between the train and the platform you are in strife.

Some of you grow vegetables very successfully, my wife grows very good vegetables and I can grow good weeds.  Weeds are the things that grow better than the things that you plant.  Is that your experience?  A weed is also something that fills the gap. If you have a gap in your carrots, you will find that weeds will fill that gap.  If you have a gap between a husband and a wife, it gets filled with weeds. True?  Relational weeds; suspicion, jealousy, fear, envy. If you sense that there is any gap between any person in your family it gets filled with some very prickly weeds.  It gets filled with prickly pears which are very hard to remove.  And other things like cactuses which you can’t approach very easily.

If you think there is a gap between you and some other believer, that gets filled with stuff too, doesn’t it.  It gets filled with suspicion.  “That’s a Lutheran”.  The Lutherans have a history of a big gap.  A gap that went on for a long, long time.  Might still be?

Wherever there is a gap it gets filled with rubbish.  It gets filled with suspicion, it is a dangerous place.  The take-home message for today is the moment that you think there is a gap between you and Christ, you will fill it with all sorts of rubbish.  Self-righteousness, self-aggrandizement, self-promotion, or it will be filled with weeds like fear and anxiety, doubt and suspicion.  Instead of relating to God as your Father who is intimately concerned about you, you start to relate to this God who is a long way off.

Having a gap is a very dangerous thing and we are here to “mind the gap” today and I am here to tell you that the good news is that there is “no gap”.

What happened in Jesus baptism? Mark gives us a shortened version of the baptism but it includes the main elements. It is a revelation of unveiling (epiphany).  An appearing of Jesus in the fullness of who he is.  That is, the Holy Spirit comes from heaven and rests upon him.  The voice of his Father from heaven, declares to the whole world “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”.

That statement brought together two pieces from the old testament that had never been put together in that way before.   One part “you are my beloved son” comes from Psalm 2.  Psalm 2 is all about the great kingly reign of the anointed king.  His power and authority. The fact that he will rule over the nations with a rod of iron.  The fact that his will, always will be done.  Kiss the son lest he become angry when you meet him upon the way.

The second part is “in whom I am well pleased” comes from a different part of the Old Testament.  From Isaiah 42.  That is the beginning of a whole series of songs and poems about this beautiful and mysterious figure in the old testament called “the servant of Yaweh” (the servant of God).  Whom we know as the suffering servant.  This servant in which he is well pleased – in Isaiah 53 is the one who is marred beyond recognition.  The one that is accounted amongst the transgressors. The “suffering servant” is the one in whom he is well pleased.

The point is that no one had ever put those two segments together before in that way.  That is to say that this “Epiphany” (unveiling of) who Jesus is at his Baptism is a declaration to the world that the Messiah who will rule the nations is the suffering servant and he rules the nations because he is the suffering servant.  And he rules the nations in keeping with the character of the suffering servant.  In other words, he is nothing like any of our earthly rulers.  Not even the best of our politicians.  And certainly not like the worst of them – certainly not like Herod who was contrasted with him in the new testament.

This declaration comes to us but it came even more at that point to Jesus.  The word is “you” are my beloved son – “you” in whom I am well pleased.  And it is his anointing for ministry, it is his equipping with the Holy Spirit and he would need those words.  When he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  When he was betrayed, when he was handed over to the hands of godless men. When he was crucified – “don’t ever you forget my son, that I am well-pleased!”  I am so pleased with you.  You are my beloved son, even in the midst of that.

So, where does that leave us?  I Matthew’s gospel you have this additional piece of information about the baptism.  Many people were coming to be baptised.  They confessed their sins in the Jordan River and were baptised.  Jesus came along with them to be baptized.  Matthew has this exchange.  “I should not be baptising you” says John the baptiser.  You should be baptising me.  What did he mean?  John knows that Jesus does not need repentance.  He doesn’t need to confess anything.  He doesn’t need repentance and forgiveness.  John knows that “he does”.  He says that “we should swap places here”.  I will join the people coming down and you baptise me.  Jesus says “No, John”.  “It is fitting for …” not me but “us” to fulfil all righteousness.  Why did Jesus use the word “us”?  Why didn’t he say “no John, it is proper for me to fulfil the righteousness or the law” but he says it is fitting (appropriate and important) for “us”.  Who is the “us”?  The “us” is all the people coming to be baptised who were sinners.  Jesus is saying right at the outset of his public ministry “I and all these people who are coming are inseparable.  There is no gap between them and me.  What they are, I declare myself to be.  They come as sinners and I stand with them.  There is no gap.

That was the problem of course with the Pharisees.  There was always a gap.  Because it is easy to specify that someone else is a sinner.  But with Jesus there was no gap.  He was one in his heart and his mind and his actions with these people but not only was he one in heart, mind and action then, he was heart mind and action, one with them all the way through, every thing he did drew sin to himself.  It drew uncleanness to himself.  He the holy one touched the unholy, he took the unholiness into himself and purified it.  That came to it’s pitch on the cross.  When we are told by the apostle Paul that he who knew no sin was made sin he didn’t just bear some cosmic, abstract punishment. God help us if that’s the view of the cross.  He actually bore all of the rubbish that we use to fill the gap!  All of our self-righteousness and hatred, greed, suspicion and anxiety and fear and jealousy and envy and bitterness.  He – in some unexplainable way became that on the cross.  That is why when referring to Psalm 22 “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”  That Psalm goes on to say “I am a worm and not a man”.  He was marred beyond recognition not because of the suffering of the cross.  There were thousands of people crucified.  Anyone living in Jerusalem knew what that looked like.  But he was marred beyond recognition because at that point he became our sin, and when you see that it is unrecognizably horrible.  There is no gap between Jesus and his baptism, and Jesus and his ministry and Jesus on the cross.  There is no gap between him and us.  He is one with us all the way through.

But this means something else – it he is one with us through all the way through to that point, he is still one with us now.  So he is one with us in the cross and the death and the burial as he bears our sin but then to put the thing slightly differently – we are one with him in his resurrection!

… and the voice of God the Father says to the son “You are my beloved son”.  “I am well pleased with you, I am so pleased you are on the earth”.  That voice now comes from heaven to us, to our baptism. That voice now from heaven comes to us today by faith, if you will hear it by faith, that says “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.  In you I am well-pleased.  I am so glad you are on the earth.  I love you so much.  Even if you pass through the deep waters, I am with you and even if you go through the fire it will not burn you and even as you face the deepest aspects of your suffering do not forget for a moment that I am well-pleased with you.  Your suffering, your hardship, is not evidence of my displeasure even more than any evidence of Jesus suffering and hardship was evidence of God’s displeasure with his son.

So, what does God think of you today?  How does he feel about you?  Is he really, really, really pleased with you?  If you say “I can’t believe that” then you are going to have a gap and you are going to fill it with rubbish and weeds will grow in it.  But, if you say that is the place where I am, one with Christ, united with him in baptism, united with him in his death, united with him in his resurrection.

Let me ask you just this, “Where are you sitting just now?”  for wherever you are sitting now, you are seated with Christ in the heavenly places.  You are not just like going back home to your loungeroom.  You live already in some sense, in heaven.  Having been crucified with him, having been buried with him, having been raise with him through baptism he doesn’t leave us there, he takes us with him and has seated us with him in the heavenly places.  That is the place of battle and fight and all sorts of things go on there if you read the scriptures.  But it is the place of absolute security and it is the place of eternal blessing and it is the place of all places where there is no gap.

So, by faith today, can you hear that there is no gap?  If you look at any of the weeds that have been growing in your garden internally, spiritually, if you look you will find somewhere it is because they have filled a gap you have put in there.  The best round-up that you can have spiritually is the gospel.  The gospel which tells you that there is no gap for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Something’s Happened

Christmas Day Message 2020, St Petri.

John 1:1-14

The Word became a human being and lived here with us.
We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son
 of the Father.
From him all the kindness and all the truth of God
 have come down to us.

Hebrews 1:1-4-12 

Long ago in many ways and at many times God’s prophets spoke his message to our ancestors.

This may be a Christmas in which you hear him more than you have for many. This might be so for you because of the year we have experienced that threatens to continue for some time into 2021.

When the going gets tough, the weak get praying!

Maybe this COVID experienced has finally shattered the cocoon we so easily put around ourselves in the usual comforts and movements of living life in beautiful Australia.

Two things have shattered this illusion of life under our own steam without serious reliance on the promises and presence of this boy in the manger.

  1. A silent enemy has done as it pleases with us, and still is. We have seen the end of our own abilities, our mortality, our lack of control over things, and
  2. We have felt the barbs of a super-power picking on us for not just reason.

Maybe in the usual rhythm of making your own way – making your own choices, building a life, coping with trouble without reference to a God who has gifts for your journey has finally been interrupted enough for us to actually pause at this little boy’s bed and wonder.

For all our illusions and self-attentions, the God of universe would be quite within his rights to walk away and leave us to ourselves.

He does not have to give his divine life of forgiveness of all mistrust, cleansing of all regret, cancelling of all shame, undoing of our wrong doing and the pain they cause everyone.

He could simply stay splendidly isolated in his holy heaven and either forget you or just watch you from above like a laboratory assistant watching the mouse getting worn out as he meaninglessly and endlessly turns the little treadmill for lack of any better ideas.

But it is Christmas Day. This God does not stay in his ‘bubble’. He enters the dis-ease, the dirt, the bacterial pot pouri at great risk to himself.

It is Christmas. Something has happened. Something in motion for a very long time has come. We might be more ready to take it seriously into the heart and mind than we have in a generation.

But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the universe by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son. God’s Son has all the brightness of God’s own glory and is like him in every way. By his own mighty word, he holds the universe together. (John 1)

“Your God reigns!” cries Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7). God returns to this world of trouble. Like a woman who could never leave her child, or a son who could never abandon his mum, or a child who has to put up with all the weird and wonderful friends and relatives in a full house at Christmas, God returns to you, now personally; now humanly, now unmistakably in this boy in the shed.

Someone saw this and invites you to truly see this boy; this gift; the hope.

The Word became a human being and lived here with us.
We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son
 of the Father.
From him all the kindness and all the truth of God
 have come down to us.

Babies in wombs leapt for joy when this Word in the flesh came near. Elizabeth got it right when Mary, the carrier of this man of truth in neutero came to her house.

“Blessed are you who believe what the Lord says he will accomplish in you”

Friend, as this COVID year ends and another unknown year begins,

“Blessed are you who believe what the Lord says he will accomplish in you”

COVID or not, we hear him today. Our heart skips a beat. Hope is alive. We are alive. God’s presence in my world is real and he is accomplishing this child’s mission to call them all in to come and see what the Lord has done will roll on into 2021.

Like the kids around the Christmas tree gift-giving, leap for joy today, not because you deserve anything good from God, but because he pours out his best goodness in his best boy to you today.

Whether you have been self-isolating from God or feeling like you have been in lock down from his presence, or whether you have been wondering whether God has anything good to say to you anymore, he has and is now.

“I have come so that you may have life, and life to the full.”   (John 10:10)

Life lived with peace in the heart, love in your words and deeds, hope in your now and tomorrow, meaning in the mess and calling in any chaos are his gifts under his tree. These have got  your name on them written large in his blood.

Pick the up and enjoy his gifts today! They are very costly for God but free for you. When received you will give your life to him and that will bring life to you and them.

And then walk away tall from his tree of life taking these gifts into your tomorrows.

His grace become your grace. His truth become your truth. Your words become his words and the gifts just keep giving.

By the cry of this little guy in the trough we are still together, and the world has a chance of life in any circumstance.

By the dying and rising of this boy who became a man, you are still together, and you have a life to live in any circumstances.

Let the news sink deep now

The Word is a human being who lives here with us.
We see his true glory, the glory of the only Son
 of the Father.
From him all the kindness and all the truth of God
 are here with us.    (from John 1:1-14)

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Day Hope Town

 Sermon, Christmas Day 2020, St Petri

Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.

There is something eerie about stepping around an abandon town. Towns left abandon are not called ghost towns for nothing. The people of the past have left their mark, but that is all that is left of a vibrant place where people laughed, sung, socialised, worked, went to school and lived life together.

The last ‘ghost town’ I stepped around was the far northern SA town of Tarcoola. It is on the Indian Pacific railway line. It is about 700kms north west of us, right out in the sparse flat country where water is scarce and rain a major event.

It would have been an oasis of safety, relief from isolation; a welcome source of human community for those who live out bush. You can almost hear the kids playing in the abandoned school playground, imagine them sitting at their desks to the hum of the abandoned big air conditioning units now long silent.

You can imagine the busyness in the general store/post office and telephone exchange when the train made its stop every week. For a few years, one of our departed people, Rodney Rosenzweig, and his wife, Judith and the kids were in that store.

Then of course, there is the pub. You can imagine the Friday night happy hour, station workers, railway employees, school teachers, store owners and everyone else carrying on into the hot summer night – now all gone, all silenced by time. The wind blows. The buildings sit in varying states of inevitable destruction as the sun beats down. Life gone.

Isaiah speaks to God’s people existing in a place like Tarcoola. It is a destroyed once-great city. He also speaks to many more who are now living in forced isolation far away from their beloved city and centre of life – Jerusalem.

The isolated ones in Babylon are under foreign rule in a foreign land. They are stuck there. Like a person stuck in a hotel room doing forced self-isolation, they know they are stuck in their isolation because there is nothing to go back to even if they did try and make the trip back.  Their land and city is a wind-swept waste land – a city in ruins, slowly disappearing into the rocks and sand….

Like the few people who would have remained in Tarcoola for a few years more, there a few people eking out an existence in the abandoned city.

Both the isolated and the ruined are wondering if things will ever return to anything like what once was. Bit like us: will the world and the church ever return to anything like we have known it to be after this COVID year; after all the changes of the last 30 years…..

Both the isolated ones and the deserted ones who just want to get back home are waiting. As they go about their days, they wait and wonder and watch for the messenger to come an announce something.

What have you been waiting for? What announcement from God are you longing for?

There is a twist here. The people are not waiting to return to their home but actually, more – the return of the Lord to them. They know they need the Lord to be with them more than any city or building or any ‘old normal’.

They know that if the Lord relents and returns to his people, wherever they are, at home or far away, that will signal that life can return, hope remains, future is possible in any city or town, and joy might come back to them.

Have you been looking for some joy to come back?

Isaiah wants you to know that everything is completely dependent on the Lord. It is all his choice. Either he will return to the people and to the city and the promises land, or he won’t. If he doesn’t, the drudgery of scratching around in lifeless places will continue. If he does choose to return to his people and their heartland, there will be joy in the new morning.

Isaiah, in his wild imagery, sets up a picture for the people. It is a vision of God’s preferred future for his people and his world.

There is a battle going on. It is a battle for hope and life and promise for the now and the future.  God is fighting this battle against all that is attempting to destroy these.

And then, from the battlefield, a messenger emerges far off coming to the city announcing that victory has been won.

The watchmen up on what is left of the watchtowers of the abandon city and in the streets of the cities of Babylon are straining to see the one who is coming to them. They are desperate to see a spark of hope, a glimmer of light, a hint of good news.

The messenger keeps coming. He is yelling out the best news they will ever hear in their lifetime.

Not only is a messenger coming to announce a victory from the battlefield, but God himself is coming in triumph. The Lord returns!

“Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.

This is big! As Lenin once said, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen” (Paul Kelly, The Weekend Australian, 19-12-2020)

We hear that the battlefield is not just any confrontation between two armies but the field of history itself in which God is triumphant, for it is not only Jerusalem that is redeemed but also all the nations.

Finally, the watchmen who have been watching and waiting for so long sense the moment. They can’t contain themselves! Even before the messenger arrives they recognize the news and sing it out!

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good news,
who proclaim freedom and peace.

They say to the exile wanting to get home and those doing it tough at home,
“Your God reigns!”

Friends, this is not just peace for a certain people in a certain time and place. This is for now, for us, for all.

The battle for deep peace in the heart and joy in your spirit with which to live in any place and through any thing is now over, once and for all.

So much so that all reasons for battle, all reasons for warfare, all reasons for hatred, pride, self-justification are eliminated. They are no longer necessary because the Lord has chosen to return to us.

And how did he return?

This boy. Those singing messengers of glory, those workers with mouths wide open, those star gazing travellers – all in amazement at God’s return in at this child.

Now can you see what God has done? Now can you hear the messenger bringing good news of this birth in the shed? Now can you feel the weight of it, the scale of it, the hope of it, not just for the people of old but the people of now – you and me?

It is Christmas.

Listen! You watchers, lift up your voices;
together shout for joy.
The Lord returns, you have heard it with your own ears.
Burst into songs of joy together,
you battle worn, weary, ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has saved and restored his city, his people, his world.

The Lord has lay bare his holy arm in Mary laying her arm bare nurse Jesus.

 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Those little baby feet are beautiful! They are stepping around this town.

You are not left abandoned. This town is full of his life. Your heart is full of his life in you.

God is in this town, in this city, in this house, in this heart. He is this boy; this human boy crying in the shed.

It is all God’s choice and all his doing.

Watchers, have you heard?

People have you seen?

He is striking up his cosmic band. It is time to sing his new song.

You are called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you are now called Sought After,
the City No Longer Deserted. (Isaiah 62:12)

See him as he is

Sermon Advent 4B

Sunday December 20, 2020, St Petri.

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 It is difficult for people like me who have never experienced occupation by a foreign military power to imagine the anger, fear and frustration of having your autonomy and the autonomy of your people lost; walking the streets of your town with soldiers standing at the entrances to the Mall, at the lights near the Vine Inn, at the crossing near the Cottage and etc….; soldiers who view you as one of the spoils of war; soldiers who can enter your home at any moment, to do whatever they will with your God-given dignity. No move that you make goes unnoticed by the force that shouldn’t be in your neighbourhood in the first place.

This is the kind of community in which this this boy was born. This is the community in which Mary received this truly ‘unprecedented’ call.

We have had an ‘unprecedented year’, as we have often heard. Two things are indeed new for the current generation in Australia:

  1. We have been occupied by a silent viral force which has rendered us powerless.
  1. We are being openly picked on by a military super-power.

 

I have been reading an excellent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In his struggle under an all-consuming and dark military force called National Socialism, Bonhoeffer learnt that oppression, disease or suffering does not create a new reality that did not exist before this happened, but actually just deepens your awareness of what was always true and real before and after it, it is just that before this suffering, you could not see it.

He likened the struggle he was living under to time lapse photography. Pictures are taken over a long time but seen in quick succession. You see the thing that was always like this, but in more detail.  You see the real picture of the thing you are seeing. You see the detail and the colour and see the thing in so much more depth.

Because of the War, they could see things as they actually are. We can see the promises of Jesus more clearly and because we can see him more clearly we desire him more fully. (Bonhoeffer, Eric Mataxis, Chapter 23, page 11)

Is this true of us this Christmas?

  • Because of the isolation we can see the gift of fellowship and community in Jesus more clearly and desire it more.
  • Because of the fears for the future, we can see the promise of Jesus’ sure future more clearly and desire it more?
  • Because of the suffering and grief of people, we can see the comfort and care of Jesus more clearly and want to be this for others.

We are seeing the promises and presence of this God in our flesh more clearly as a result of what we have experienced this year.

Like Bonhoeffer, Mary receives the calling of a lifetime in a time of suffering that was but more in-your-face and dangerous than ours. So, her response to the Call of God is the same. And Luke wants us to see this. He wants us to see Mary as THE model of faith in our time and any time.

God, the Holy Trinity, turns up in Mary’s everyday life with a life-changing and rather ominous announcement. The ‘Most High’ God, by means of his Spirit announces the Son. Mary will be the one who bears this Son.

Mary’s mind must have been racing; her heart jumping.

But the “Most High” keeps speaking and Mary can move to a more settled and faith-filled place.

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God.

What I am being gifted and called to in my time is a gift of favour not rejection, blessing, not curse; a gift of love and kindness for me. That helps ‘calm the farm’, as we say.

“So, what is this gift that is going to shape my whole life and demand my total consent?

Oh, nothing much – just a biologically impossible and socially illegal pregnancy that will make living in small town Israel very tricky.

And a gift that puts her in a vulnerable and often dangerous place in terms of health for any young woman in ancient times (pregnancy).

And then of course, a bit of ‘world domination’ – a new King that has been promised for a thousand years arriving now to bring in all that stuff the community leaders go on about at the Synagogue and down at the big city Temple; stuff about a new kingdom across the world that will outlive the world! Nothing much!

So, what is Mary going to do with being chosen for this impossibly huge, world changing, life changing calling in her tough times?

She could try and run away like Jonah did. It did not work for him. God will make his promises stick. They will be fulfilled in his world’s future.

She could try and make all the excuses that Moses made in front of the burning bush when the Lord called him to a similar impossible task of facing off against the superpower, Egypt – bit like asking the Federal minister for Trade, Simon Birmingham, to go to China and demand that the Chinese Government take our top-quality products!

Mary probably knows Moses’ excuses well. When God calls there is no excuse  we can put up that God would accept to revoke his call or his promises.

So, Mary trust. She moves from not being sure about all this to being very sure about God in all this. She moves from not really knowing what the Lord was asking of her to knowing for sure that he was asking for all of her.

Can you hear the Spirit’s call anew? Because of this year, can you move from being uninterested, unsure or uncertain about your calling, your place, your tasks in Jesus’s call to being very clear on who he is and his call for all of your life?

You have had time to view the time-lapse pictures and words of what has always been real and true about you and Jesus. Will you run? Will you make excuses or trust him in this uncertain time that is certainly his?

Mary models what it is to live in this gift of God’s promised bright future for us and his world in Jesus. This is what Mary shows me and why I marvel at her and marvel even more at the Lord.

Mary ended up saying;

“I am the Lord’s servant,”….. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”?

How could she be so clear and confident and welcoming of this life-calling? How can you?

Only because of one thing; one truth; one bankable basis for all of it and all of her. It is the foundation Christmas, and the whole Christian life of faith:

“…..no word from God will ever fail.”

No word from this God; Father, Son and Spirit, will ever fail; ever be unfulfilled; ever return without doing what it was spoken to change in any time of change.

Trust in this one truth; this one gift; this one foundation for all of our lives has always been true, it is just that our comforts and ease and self-reliance has covered it over. We have skimmed the photos and not noticed the detail and the beauty.

Can we notice him now? Can you welcome and want Jesus’ call anew? Can you see that shot of the baby in the shed and then the man on the cross and then the risen Saviour reaching to you anew and want it and him, as Mary eventually did?

Mary bursts into song. She announces that she has been chosen and it was not because of her goodness or greatness but God’s great grace.

She sings that Jesus will right everything. The self-seeking and the self-promoting people will be come up empty and the responsive and reliant, will be freed and full – all in God’s time.

This is true now as it has been all along, and now we can trust it; now we have a moment to see him, know him, want him whatever this means for all of our lives.

“…no word from God will ever fail.”

 

Now we go into COVID Christmas. We go into it with Mary. Go into it with a hope and a peace that says;

“I am the Lord’s servant,” ….. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

 

 

Christmas Eve Crossroad

Sermon: Christmas Eve 2020

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.


For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.


Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

It feels like our nation and in some ways the whole world is at a crossroad. Issues for how we live as a nation and how nations relate to each other have been brought to the surface to see in this disrupted and difficult year of 2020. Choices are being made in all spheres of life. We will either continue on our way or we will take another way.

This is new territory for people under sixty or so. For a large portion of the population, this pandemic year with all of its international tensions that are now directly affecting even us Aussies, is new.

We have seen racial unrest on an international scale, the beginnings of signs of dominance of the world’s emerging superpower that are pitted against even the people who live Downunder. We have seen political turmoil shaking the world’s remaining superpower to its core. We have seen and are seeing hundreds of thousands of people dying as a result of one virus.

Isaiah speaks. He speaks into this kind of place.

The nation of his day was at a major crossroad. The country had already experienced civil war and split into two separate kingdoms before this. In the 8th Century BC, the powerful and brutal Assyrians had been taking pot shots at the northern kingdom. Eventually they wiped it out. The little southern kingdom was now under more threat than just a trade war. God’s people were now a puppet state paying huge money to a brutal and powerful neighbour nation.  Businesses destroyed. Freedoms restricted severely, the system completely corrupt, working the farm and giving away the most of the income from your hard work to corrupt and violent officials.

Isaiah puts it graphically. God’s people are like a big cow with a heavy wooden bar tied on its shoulders being mercilessly and relentlessly driven around in a circle to draw the water from the well or crush the grapes in the press of the barley in the mill.

This year, we have felt so me kind of bar on our shoulders. We have had our ability to make our own future severely challenged. We have been overrun by an invisible killer. We have experienced an oppressive isolation to varying extent. We have felt a feisty challenge from a neighbouring country.

Can we hear these words as God speaking into our lives in this moment?

The words of God break the gloom, disrupt the worry and bring a hint of longed for peace. They are real Christmas words.

Isaiah speaks of a whole other story going on; a whole other movement; a whole other reality right there in the midst of the people in their struggle – if only they hear it and trust the One who creates it.

A child in the night. A new life in troubled lives. A hopeful moment in the sense of hopelessness. A joyous time right in the joyless time. A baby will be born and bring in a new kingdom, a new state, a new life, a new people.

This child is no ordinary human. This child is a human alright, but also divine presence and authority.

He will not wear that heavy bar of hopelessness, despair, fear, shape, guilt, anger, hatred, injustice on his shoulders like we do. He will wear the mark of authority over all of these destructive things on his shoulders. “The government’ of life will be what he has on his shoulders.

What’s his name?

….. he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Big names for a big God to a struggling people. There is hope coming to Christmas table.

The boy is royalty. The boy will be royalty with divine backing. He will never have to pay any dues to any human or earth-bound invader. He will never have to take a bribe to survive or play politics to keep power. He will be never have to strive to be a superpower crushing others as they make it to the top because he just is at the top – all the time. He is THE super-power over all powers.

This child is this because his authority does not come from himself, but from the God of all creation who has sent him to the people.

Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign….,
establishing and upholding his world
with justice and righteousness…

This boy’s rule and the people whom he rules will never end. No foreign power, no foreign virus, no trade war or real war or silent war will ever defeat this new prince and the peace he brings will be unbreakable, unstoppable.

Why can you trust his presence and his plan? Because;

The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

The God of all creation is the power behind this throne. His holiness, glory, justice and mercy are the foundations of this kingdom’s life.

Here we are. Christmas Eve at the crossroad of world change. It is a moment to trust. With whom will you move into 2021? Who will you trust for hope and future love and life?

Isaiah calls. God’s people around him mostly did not listen or trust this news of a new boy and new community, new hope and a new life for a new future.

They chose all the things we see on the news at night – politics, power, science, technology, family, friends, business, money, beauty, fashion, big government and etc as their point of trust way more than this word of God.

At our crossroads, will we be any different? At your crossroad, will you be any different?

But Isaiah cries out with everything he has tonight:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

And then the angels start singing;

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)

The Apostle’s speak;

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.     (Titus 2:11)

Friend, our hope as a nation, a western democracy, a family, a community, a human person is in this boy of good news.

He is the only one who can truly bring the peace for which we long, the love for which we strive, the justice for which we yearn, the underserved favour and blessing which makes us truly and fully alive.

He is the one who enlarges our hearts and our nation’s heart.

He is the one who increases joy within the human heart no matter the miles or the money or the muck

He is the harvest time worker’s release

The warrior’s moment of victory over fear and darkness and shame – now defeated and freedom and light and hoe renewed.

He shatters the things that burden you; lifts off the pain that surrounds you.

Trust the boy into 2021.

Place all other loves and trusting of things and people and self way down and enthrone him at the top.

And sing……

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the this boy, for he comes,
he comes to fulfill his promises of his faithfulness again. (Psalm 96:11-13)

The baby boy of the cross calls to you:

Receive joy increasing, peaceful heart beating, burden bar lifting and new hope breaking tonight.

Mary the Model

Sermon Advent 4B, Wed Dec 16 Sun Dec 20, 2020, St Petri.

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 Every year I marvel at Mary. I seem to have a soft spot for her. Maybe this comes from my early years in Catholic schools, where Mary is very highly revered.

In my teen years, when the Spirit called me to renewed faith in Jesus through the Lutheran community, I quickly discovered by rather stern words at times that “Lutherans don’t pray to Mary or worship Mary like the Catholics”. There was a fair bit of judgement and smugness in those words.

I could see the point. We don’t pray to anyone except Father, Son and Spirit because we don’t need to. The Father, Son and Spirit are the only God we live in and for. But need we be so judgemental of others and smug in ourselves? I know we don’t.

Later on, I discovered that there are many Christians, including many Lutheran Christians, who are not in the Catholic community, who highly regard Mary, including Martin Luther. They don’t at all raise Mary up as a god or a Saviour. But they do marvel at her unique place in God’s story; her unique calling that no one else got or ever will need to get again – to be the one who conceived, carried and bore the Saviour of the world in her body, and did so with a willing heart of faith, which Luke shows us again here.

Luke wants us to see Mary as THE model of faith; she shows us how we live this life in God’s choosing; in the Spirit’s moving; in the gift of grace by faith.

But it didn’t start out that way.

God, the Holy Trinity, turns up in Mary’s everyday life with a life-changing and rather ominous announcement. The ‘Most High’ God, by means of his Spirit announces the Son. Mary will be the one who bears this Son.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a big announcement about you by someone else? Maybe your Dad said to you when you were a young man as you looked out over the paddock with the rest of the family there, “All this will be yours one day, son”. In your heart you felt exhilarated to receive such a gift, and then you felt the heavy weight of the gift – the expectation, the hard work, the problems that will come with the calling to live with this gift.

Maybe as a kid someone said in the classroom one day that “You will go far, young woman”. You felt excited to be so highly regarded, but worried about living up to this expectation. You were not sure you could meet the high standard set.

Mary’s mind must have been racing; her heart jumping.

But the “Most High” keeps speaking. And because he keeps speaking his words of promise, Mary can move to a more settled and faith-filled place.

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God.

So what I am being gifted and called to is a gift of favour not rejection, blessing, not curse; a gift of love and kindness for me. That helps ‘calm the farm’, as we say.

“So, what is this gift, this calling that my life is going to be all about from now on?” Mary, surely asked.

Oh, nothing much – just a biologically impossible and socially illegal pregnancy that will make living in small town Israel very tricky. And a gift that puts her in a vulnerable and often dangerous place in terms of health for any young woman in ancient times (pregnancy).

And then of course,  a bit of ‘world domination’ – a new King that has been promised for a thousand years arriving now to bring in all that stuff they talk about in the Synagogue and down at the big city Temple; stuff about a new kingdom across the world that will outlive the world! Nothing much!

Not surprisingly, Mary finds it hard to deal with being chosen for this calling.

She knows about the birds and the bees and this is not how it works! Gabriel outlines how this impossible calling will happen. He even brings in the news that Mary will not do this alone. Her cousin, Elizabeth, will be on the impossible journey with her for support.

So, what is Mary going to do with being chosen for this impossibly huge, world changing, life changing calling?

She could try and run away like Jonah did. It did not work for him. Maybe she knows it won’t work for her. God will make his promises stick. They will be fulfilled in his world’s future.

She could try and make all the excuses that Moses made in front of the burning bush when the Lord called him to a similar impossible task of facing off against the superpower, Egypt – bit like asking the Federal minister for Trade, Simon Birmingham, to go to China and demand that the Chinese Government take our top quality products!

“I’m too young”, Mary might say. I can’t speak well enough. I don’t know enough. I don’t have enough power. No one will listen to me. No one will believe me……”.

Mary probably knows Moses’ excuses well. When God calls there is no excuse we can put up that God would accept to revoke his call or his promises.

Mary trust. Mary models what it is to live in this gift of God’s promised bright future for us and his world in Jesus. This is what Mary shows me and why I marvel at her and marvel even more at the Lord.

Why can she live in this faith? Why can she even get to a place of peace with all this uncomfortable choice that will alter her whole life? Why can she end up saying;

“I am the Lord’s servant,”….. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”?

Only because of one thing; one truth; one bankable basis for all of it and all of her. It is the foundation Christmas, and the whole Christian life of faith:

“…..no word from God will ever fail.”

No word from this God; Father, Son and Spirit, will ever fail; ever be unfulfilled; ever return without doing what it was spoken to change.

Trust in this one truth; this one gift; this one foundation for all of our lives, makes for a life of faith.

Only because Mary hears this awe-inspiring truth; that no word from God will ever fail, can Mary be at peace and take her place – her very unique place – in the living, breathing, human promise of our God to stay in this world, stay with his people, see his long promises through to their rightful end and give us the hope we need at this time.

Can you sense hope again today? God is speaking into our COVID world. He has been all year.

God is still calling you for his impossible calling – to bear him, to speak him, to share his words of love and hope at this time and in this Christmas.

This calling we share – like Mary and Elizabeth shared: to announce what Father, Son and Spirit have done in this cattle shed and on that cross and out of that tomb- is impossible for us to bear.

Mary knows this, first hand. It will not be your words, your loves, your visions, your brains, your gifts that will keep you when the going gets tough, the task gets too much, the ‘results’ don’t look great, the ‘progress’ is too slow, the expectations to high, the pride too great, the fear too deep.

Mary heard that her life support, her heart, her present and future survival, and the world’s survival and hope beyond all the mess and pain is this Word – this Living Word of a living God who speaks and breathes and cries like a baby.

“For no word from God will ever fail.”

Now we go into COVID Christmas. We go into it with Mary. Go into it with a hope and a peace that says

“I am the Lord’s servant,” ….. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

May the will of our God, who loves his world enough to enter its human womb, bring to birth unshakable trust in his calling on your life so we bear him well this Christmas. The world needs it. We can trust him as Mary trusted.

Big Announcement

 Sermon, Advent 2B, Wed Dec 2/Sun Dec 6, 2020

2 Peter 3:8-15a The day of the Lord

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.[a]

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[b] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him.

Mark 1:1-8 John the Baptist prepares the way

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God,[b] as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way’[c] –
‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.”’[d]

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with[e] water, but he will baptise you with[f] the Holy Spirit.’

This year’s COVID restriction announcements make me think of John the Baptist. When Professor Spurrier and Premier get on the telly to announce the big news of a new set of COVID restrictions, a hive of responses is set in motion. The announcement is made, and a trail of decisions and events get moving across the state.

That is like John the Baptist. He is the announcer of the new thing God is doing across his world – not a restriction of life but a resurrection to life.

John announces God’s promised Saviour to the world. A flurry of activity gets moving. Jesus of Nazareth’s life, teaching, dying and rising are now in motion. God’s end time has begun.

John got a big response to his announcement. According to Mark, thousands of city dwellers and regional people headed off to the Jordan river near Jericho – about 25 km’s out of the city (Sedan from Nuri).

They came to respond to the announcement of God’s new action. Repentance was the response. As the Lord makes his holy presence and promises known, the right and good response is to repent before him– in good faith, to turn around, to turn away from mere daily concerns, any self-interest, hurtful words and deeds, personal needs or even national concerns. By faith, the people went down to the river to be immersed in this new era, this new time of God’s promise.

It was a big response to a big announcement. It would be like us turning off the TV, leaving our COVID worries, anger, frustrations and questions behind, leaving our worries and anger about Chinese government’s actions behind, leaving our own likes, dislikes, disappointments, hurts and illnesses behind and simply heading out to the water; seeking the promise of the Lord God in this preacher man so as to enter fully into what the Lord is now doing.

Would you do it? I am not sure I would go out to Sedan and be dunked in Graetz Creek (if there was ever any water in it!). I am not sure I would drop everything and give up all my concerns and worries and sins and turn to this preacher of the beginning of end time coming of God.

Peter speaks to get us moving though…..

……you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’

Am I a ‘scoffer”: ‘To scoff: To mock a person or an idea,; to deceive, to deride, put down, dismiss…..

Peter is clear: there will be plenty of people who scoff at all this talk of the Lord doing something new, something final, something full.

There will be plenty of people who will dismiss Jesus and his promises, and instead, follow their own promises, needs, concerns, ideas, beliefs and plans.

Peter knows this for sure. He has done this very thing himself, we hear in the gospels. Peter’s seen this happen to the one whom John announced – Jesus was roundly scoffed at by most. He still is.

This is our danger too. Like when those COVID restrictions are announced and within a week or two we are forgetting to follow them or even starting to scoff at them.

We who live this life of long-term faith in Jesus’, often in tough circumstances, can simply NOT “look forward to the day of God”, as Peter encourages, and instead just get on with our own day, day after day.

We can catch ourselves saying, “Where is this promised coming of Jesus? Everything is just going on as it always has. Nothing much has changed and there is no need to take this word of John or the one he announces seriously in my life”.

Peter has some clear words for us.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

It has been a very long time since God’s first advent – his first coming announced by John. It has been 2000 years since the end began! For lots of people in our community, it has been 70 or 80 or more years of living in the beginning time toward the end time.

We can get sleepy or a bit ‘scoffy’. But God’s thousand years of days is a click of the fingers, says Peter. So, a long time for us is no time at all for him. He patiently waits for his world rather than destroy it.

So patient, is he, that this Day of the Lord, this final and full completion of all things by Jesus seems to be a moving target. Peter suggests that God’s final appearing, Jesus ‘apocalypse’, or his ‘eschaton’ – his final ‘coming to us’ is not set in concrete.

Jesus waits. He waits in love. He wants everybody in that great banquet hall of peace and joy in the Father’s presence.

Hear today that he waits for you. He is waiting for you to again take his words seriously and live in them in any kind of day, even these days.

He waits for you to turn away from yourself and turn to him in honesty and humility. He waits for you to go back to the Jordan, back to that day when you were immersed in his promises and came up new – the day you were baptised into Jesus death and resurrection community.

Why? Because….

10 …the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

For Peter, the end will be like a bushfire laying our lives bare. Everything we know and are will be completely scorched and completely made new. Peter says there will be;

“new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 1:13).

 The whole New Testament agrees. They agree that some kind of cataclysmic event that everyone will experience will accompany God finally completing all things.

Truth is that 1) this Day of the Lord will surely come.2) There will be an end and the Lord will be the one ending it, and 3) This day is not merely an event it is a person!

That is the heart of the Bible’s view of the ‘end times’ and the ‘day of the Lord’, the ‘Apocalypse’, the ‘Eschaton’, or ‘Armageddon’ and the like. These are not hocus pocus or spooky events.

These words centre around, are done by and describe a person. They all describe this Jesus whom John first announced. They describe that this person is here and will one day be fully and finally present in all power and glory for all to see.

These Word of the Spirit are said not to produce fear in us who have been to the Jordan in baptism and faith, but to give us the light-filled hope over our who life, no matter what our worries, concerns, sins, disappointments or sicknesses may be.

Friend, go back to the Jordan today. In that water; that genuine scorching of all your darkness and idol making and chasing heart; that genuine re-birth of your body, mind and spirit; that moment of turning to Jesus, and all the other moments when you turn to him and take his words seriously; that trust in what he has done in you and still continues to do in you in his new creation. Go back there.

We can hear this big announcement. We can lean forward into this Day of the Lord. It is his day. It will be your finest day.

How do we live in this good day’s hope?

14 ,…. dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation,….

Friend, look forward and long for and live in this hope of this day for this world and you.

The big announcement is made.

His call to repent and trust is here.

His new creation mission is on the move, and you are part of it.

‘Two for One’ Christmas

 Sermon, Advent 1, Sunday November 29, 2020, St Petri

Isaiah 64:1-9

[a]Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to[b] our sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins for ever.
Oh, look upon us we pray,
for we are all your people.

This feels like it is dragging on now. This lockdown-open up, lockdown-open, COVID this and coronavirus that, cluster here and quarantine there. It is dragging on now.

Like a painful dicky knee or a being on a holiday you don’t really want, it is dragging on. We wish this would be the last of it, but we know that will probably not for some time. We grit our teeth as we watch and we wait…..

But friend, maybe there is gift of God here for us this Advent. Maybe we enter into what we usually miss in God’s Word in Advent.

Let me explain….

Advent is here. It is that time of listening to Jesus’ call to watch and wait for him. Nice idea. Must be important to someone….

But do we ever feel that longing? Do we feel the weight of Jesus’ words of longing? I am not sure we do – not like the psalmists and prophets do.

In our days, Advent works like a gradual build up to the much-loved moment of Christmas. For many, and for many a family, retail business, hospitality and accommodation outlet, the expectation builds toward that peak time of connectedness, holidays, much needed income – Christmas; especially this year after all the shut downs etc….

Now of course, there is nothing wrong with business or family or holidays! But there is something else in these Advent bible words we often miss. It is a deep longing.

The psalms speak of it. The prophets speak of it. Jesus himself speaks of this longing for the final and full completion of all things – that apocalypse, that final resurrection; the Messiah’s final appearing for all to see that ends all suffering.

After the year we have experienced, maybe we are closer to Jesus’ longing than we have been for a generation or two?

I was talking with my mate last week. His mother-in-law had just died. We had spent some time together with his wife and father in law in the hospital. As we came out to leave, we couldn’t help but notice the long and constant line of cars in the drive through COVID testing station set up right at the front door of the hospital.

As we pondered the life and death we had just shared and surveyed the scene before us; person after person getting a COVID test, my friend said that he has been telling his three high school and young adult aged kids that this is the first time in his 50 years that his and their Western way of life has been significantly challenged.

He was not around for the Depression, or WWII. He did not really understand Vietnam. He did have a moment of worry about having to sign up for military service when Operation Desert Storm happened in the first Gulf War in Iraq. But that was just a fleeting thought and the whole thing was a long way away.

But this pandemic has been close, personal, invisible, everywhere and genuinely disruptive to his life. He said that he has not really known what to do with it; how to respond to it.

The older people did know more than us, we concluded. They seemed to respond more easily. They have been there before. But not us.

But maybe we now ‘know’ our disease, our troubled world, our limited effectiveness to stop suffering and injustice more deeply.

Maybe we have been confronted in a new way with the ugly truth that that we seem very good at making these things happen, despite our best effort to be positive, our best science, our best entrepreneurial spirit?

Maybe we can truly join the prophet this today:

[a]Oh, (God), that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains would tremble before you!
……come down to make your name known to your enemies
    and cause the nations to quake before you!

6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

No one calls on your name
    or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
    and have given us over to[b] our sins.

Maybe this Advent and Christmas will draw us deeper into Jesus’ hope because of the year we have experienced and his Word now speaking into that experience?

  • We know our weakness and limited skills.
  • We know Jesus’ sure hope.
  • We live in the middle; we now we know it; feel it – and as a result we are closer to Jesus’ heart for us and his world. I hope so.

We know the story. We know the hope of a joyful end, a holy and loving God, a Saving Jesus.

We know hope: the hope of the apocalypse – the final and full appearing of this Messiah Jesus for all to see and know and tremble and rise.

We know that there is better for our time now. There is another way to be fully human and fully alive – not by power and greed and force and fixing our own diseases, but by humility and serving and loving as we are deeply loved. That is our freedom and faith in Jesus. He is our constant forgiveness, and he is our hope.

And we know our need. Our normal comfortability has been challenged. Our lives have been disrupted. Our mortality has been on the world stage.

If this year has taught me one thing it has reaffirmed in me the deep conviction that we human beings, and this planet earth have a deep need to be rescued from our own disease – spiritual, physical and mental.

It has also taught me that being a Christian is hard. There is this huge tension we live in. We live in all this disease and unease with all of its heartache and pain all the time.

But we live in the hope. There will be an end to this. And it will be a very good end and that end is not far off ‘over there’ or ‘up there’, it has already begun. Jesus has had his first apocalypse – his first appearing. It is what Christmas celebrates. He is already here – in part – as in a dimly lit mirror.

Because we are here and Jesus is here, maybe this Advent will build to a different Christmas – a ‘two for one’ Christmas – one that celebrates the first apocalypse – the arrival, the glory, the angels, the beauty and the delight of a new born in our midst.

And yet, also a second apocalypse; a deeper awareness of our hope in this baby’s second appearing – his full saving, his grand final appearing for not just those of faith in him but for everyone to finally and fully see.

This Christmas may be a very full ‘two for one’ deal. Gawking in delight at the first apocalypse – the first appearing with the baby in the manger and, deep longing for The Apocalypse – the final appearing; this Saviour finally saving; fully appearing and fully completing what he has begun.

We come to God and truly feel and know the lungful prayers of the ancient people. It is from Psalm 80;

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
     before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us! (Psalm 80:1-2).

 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved (Psalm 80:19).

Would you pray this longing in this ‘two for one’ Christmas?

Would you make this prayer your prayer this Advent, not only for your own sake, but for this community’s sake, your brothers and sisters in the household of faith’s sake, for this environment’s sake, for Jesus’ sake?

Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved (Psalm 80:19).

It is going to be my prayer this Advent.

Restore me, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that I may be saved (Psalm 80:19).

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Amen

Shepherd Care

The Good Shepherd who rescues his sheep.

Steve Radke

Ezekiel 34:1-24, (Ps 137, Ps 42 and Ps 43, John 10:11, Luke 19:10)

 

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LordAs I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord10 Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

God, the True Shepherd

11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

17 As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

Introduction

Our reading is written at a time when Ezekiel the prophet and God’s people are in forced exile in the land of Babylon.  They were in deep grief because of their exile from the land God had promised them through Abraham and from the temple of God in Jerusalem. Their trauma is expressed well in the Bony M song from the 80’s (based on Ps 137), ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion’.

This year we are having a taste of exile due to the COVID pandemic. Some of you are exiled from family members interstate or oversees. Some of you are in exile from the familiarity of your work place, or from the workforce altogether. We are in exile from church as we knew it in the past and wonder how we will worship in the future. People in nursing homes have died in exile from their family. Infants have been exiled from parents in hospital interstate. Some of you have not been able to attend the funerals of loved ones and mourn with family and friends. Tens of thousands of Australians living overseas are in exile. They book flights that are then cancelled and must wait and hope to be home in their own country again.

Bad Shepherds, bad virus

Our COVID exile is due to a virus. The exile of God’s people in Babylon was due to a different type of virus, a much more destructive virus than COVID. A virus that kills the soul as well as the body. The virus of trusting in bad gods and worshipping them. Ezekiel’s job was to announce doom to the kings who had promoted the worship of false gods. ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel’ Ezekiel calls out.

The kings of Israel had failed their people whom they are meant to protect. These shepherds did not care for their sheep, but ruled brutally and greedily. They did not uphold the rights of the fatherless and the poor. Instead they profited from the sheep, eating the yoghurt from the sheep’s milk, clothing themselves with the wool and slaughtering the finest sheep for meat.

There was a nasty virus driving these bad shepherd kings. The virus of leading their people astray  after false gods. They ruled a tiny nation with the superpower of Babylon on the north with Egypt to the south. God’s shepherd kings felt strong pressure to adopt the religious customs of these nations that exercised power over their land.

The kings of Judah made the temple unholy by allowing idols and images into the temple. There were altars to the stars on the temple roof. There was worship of the god and goddess of fertility in shrines on high hills in Judah. Ezekiel says the sheep were scattered on the mountains and hills. It was the king’s job to stop these practices.

The gods being worshiped promised power over nature. They presented a way for people to manipulate the seasons and crops to their own advantage. People had sex with sacred prostitutes to act out the union of the god and goddess of fertility to make their crops good. People sacrificed their children to the god Molech. These religious practices were popular and addictive but they were destructive to the heart and soul of God’s people.

We know gods like that. Our destructive gods of ever growing wealth and greed are crumbling. We have made science into a god that is meant to keep us safe, cure all diseases and cause us all to live long lives.  COVID is teaching us the limits of science, and that it is no stronger than the smartest human being.

Following these gods is easier than trusting the true God who is a mysterious and invisible God. You and I can’t manipulate the living God with ceremonies or rituals. Nor can we conjure up God. The Living God has no idol to represent him. In fact an idol is an insult to God who sustains all of life and continues to be active in history until the end of time. God’s power is so often in his in invisibility and his weakness rather than in his strength.

C.S. Lewis in his Narnia children’s books portrays God as a Lion called Aslan. This mysterious Lion remains invisible to all but the pure of heart. C.S Lewis says Aslan is not a tame lion. Nor is our living God a tame god. He can’t be manipulated or conjured, and no one will stop him in what he purposes to do.

The mysterious living God evicted from his own temple by his own people. The bad worship and the injustice, the greed and murder that sprang from it filled the temple and the infected the whole country.  God was deep in grief and anger over his lost people and the virus of evil that had infected their bad shepherds/kings and the people. In a vision Ezekiel saw God’s presence leave the temple. And God’s people were ejected from the land of Judah to exile in Babylon. In a way God himself was evicted with them. God was certainly with his people into exile. Woe to the shepherds Ezekiel says.

Bad Sheep

But what about the sheep? Were they innocent? The strong sheep have been knocking around the weak sheep. God will judge between the strong bullying sheep and the weak sheep.  Ezekiel says, ‘Is it enough for you to drink the clean water must you muddy the rest with your feet.’ We all know what power struggles are. We have them at work as people manipulate others for more money or to get a better position. We have power struggles in marriages and relationship. Here we are talking about power struggles among God’s people. The stronger push aside the weak and the water is muddied for the lost people who are searching for God. People who are seeking God’s forgiveness and comfort.

The Good Shepherd, the ‘justice’ he brings is a promise of rescue.

What a mess, bad shepherds and bad sheep who have caught the virus of bad worship. What will God’s solution be? Ezekiel says God himself will be the Shepherd of his sheep. The Lord God says ‘I myself will enquire after my sheep and I will tend to them.’ God’s will judge between the sheep justly. But what does God’s justice look like? God’s justice here means something that is closer to the word ‘rescue’ than anything else. It is not justice as we know it (which we often think of as revenge), it is God himself the good Shepherd rescuing his sheep. God himself will look for the scattered sheep and lost sheep, he will rescue them and gather them from their  worship of destructive gods. God will seek and enquire after his sheep. He will find his lost sheep and carefully inspect his sheep because he cares for them. He will put an end to those who exploit the weak sheep. God will personally intervene to make things right. He himself will establish the rights of the sheep.

God’s idea of Justice or Rescue is even bigger than this, Ezekiel says, God will unite all his people under one shepherd David.  King David trusted God above all else and unlike many of the other kings of Israel and Judah did not foster the worship of other gods.

We know that the new king David, Ezekiel speaks of here, is Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the rescuing and saving Shepherd. Jesus says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep’, John 10:11. Jesus the true shepherd has laid down his life for the sheep and rescued them. His death on the cross has killed the virus of bad worship that has infected God’s shepherds and sheep.

When God’s own Son Jesus died and rose again the virus of wrong worship that we call sin is cured. Jesus reinvents justice by taking our failures on himself. Jesus entered into exile with us and took our failure as shepherds and sheep on himself. In Jesus’ cross and resurrection he forgive you and me all we have done wrong and all our wrong worship of gods other than him.

This evil virus ends at Jesus’ cross. We are not alone in our COVID exiles. As much as we may be in exile from familiar things and people we are no longer in exile from God. It is at the foot of this cross today that I invite you today to lay down all that burdens you. Leave there all the griefs and regrets you carry. Leave all your fears at his cross tonight. He is your true Shepherd.

We pray:-

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He leads me beside still waters he restores my soul.

Even though I walk through the darkest exile I will fear no evil for your rod and staff comfort me.

Amen

Keep on Sowing

Sermon, Pentecost 6A, Sunday July 16, 2017, St Petri

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’

 

18 ‘Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’

 

I heard with interest last week that the Barossa is no longer a “Lutheran” place. “No Religion” is now the way a huge part of our community name themselves. How do we who name ourselves disciples of Christ respond to this? Where is the Lord in all of this?

We enter the second large chunk of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s gospel today.

His ministry has begun. Things are getting a little large. So large that Jesus is in a boat moored just off the sandy shore of the lake to speak. I have been to where they suspect this kind of moment probably would have occurred. The slope of the open ground going up away from the shore and the water around his voice surely makes for natural amplifier for his voice. The day I was there I could hear a guy talking to his mate in the vineyard below us nearly a kilometre away. Jesus needs this amplifier.

And so, the Teacher teaches from the boat; about being a farmer sowing seeds.

We hear that the farmer is God, sowing his words into human hearts. Some hear. Many don’t. Some hear at first then don’t. Sounds a lot like an “other religion” community a local church sowing the gospel among them!

Surely Jesus knew that his disciples, his church, would have to figure out how to respond to a mixed response to their sowing of his words. In fact, most often, people won’t receive his words, according to this parable. But listen and sow, those who have truly heard must. At the end of this parable we hear that supernatural fruitfulness will be present too. There will be at times a vast crop!

And it all depends on him speaking and people hearing……

The truth is here: there is different hearing and not all hearing ends up in lasting understanding and fruitful doing.

What does he mean by ‘hearing’? Jesus is speaking not of mere hearing of the news or a good joke or a great story or the watching of a movie as entertainment or the listening to a song in order to just pass the time. He is speaking of deeply listen to his words.

The Greek word eisakouo used here for ‘understanding/hearing can be defined as ‘to hear’, ‘to heed’, or ‘to obey’. These words are to be heard because they will be on the test!

So, the listening Jesus is after is a deep attentive listening in the heart that translates then into actually living/doing. Jesus ends the parable by telling the crowd that deep listening (the good soil) will translate into fruitful doing.

23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’

So, we get the pretty straight forward gist of the parable – on the surface anyway…

God sows his seed, his Word, into the human crowd. Or, his disciples sow the words of God into the community.

Some of God’s word falls on the rock hard, impenetrable path. The birds or, Evil one snatches the good words of God’s acceptance and love (gospel) as it is heard or even before it is heard. Like seagulls pinching your chips on the beach, so can it be that Satan can snatch that good gospel word away from a person, giving that word no time to germinate. It is over before it began sometimes.

But gospel words can be received with great joy. People experience the relief and the renewal of sins forgiven, regrets replaced and love experienced. But then stuff happens. The heat and stress is too much. Again, there has not been enough time or space for the words to be heard deeply. The gospel stays at surface level. This is the rocky ground of our hearts and theirs: No roots, no depth. God’s word getting burnt off by heat of life.

And then there is the word strangled out of the human heart like toothpaste out of the tube as the heart gets overwhelmed, overtaken and overly fixated on issues, choices, worry, self-concerns or concern for others, with little reference to Jesus’ words or trust in his promises. This is the thorny place, overcoming and eventually choking the good seed planted in God’s good ground.

But it sometimes also works well. There is good soil, which according to Jesus is a hearing heart; soft, open, receptive of the seed where the deep things of his grace and calling can and do take root and grow deeper and longer.

This is the deep listening that leads to understanding. It is long lasting. This is the Divine word being heard and then done or “heeded”, or “obeyed”: So crucial for a community of disciples sent into a world of these very mixed responses!

Even better for us who are called to sow his Words here: This word becomes self-sowing and multiplying. Indeed, the fruitfulness can be massive – “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown”. A lot or little, it is a powerful growing Word that does what says and says what it does.

As I hear this parable I always find myself wondering what my own heart is like. I can be all four types of ground – and that is before lunch time!

So where are you in all of this?

Am I a path where God’s Word does not even hardly touch me?

Am I rocky ground where there are brief moments of true joy in the gospel that soon give way to chasing a better deal, a better thing, a high experience, a new thing to “keep me going” in all my issues and troubles….. other than the simple, powerful wonderful gospel and gospel gifts on offer all the time with God’s people who are just like me.

Or are there just too many thorns; too many weeds squashing the life out of my heart like that toothpaste out of the tube? It can feel that way. There is so much to think about and do and be responsible for, family, work, school, study, relationships church….

Which ground are you today? Can your ears hear what he is speaking?

Now hear this. The best news you will hear all day is this: God is not a good farmer.

Did you notice that the farmer throws the precious seed around all over the place? We would not do it that way. We would get the GPS out and mark off the paddock and not waste a thing to maximise productivity.

Not Jesus. He just throws himself around on all the ground – hard, rocky, thorny and sometimes deep listening ground.

What a relief! God just keeps throwing out that word of grace and love and calling no matter where it falls – path, rock, thorns or ready ground.

That means that if your heart is a stone-cold path, or a craggy and cranky place, a thorny overgrown dark place or a deep-ripped open, receptive place for God’s good words, you still get the seed.

Jesus obviously wants to produce a good and large crop in you for the sake of many others.

That path can be jack-hammered into a more receptive place by God’s law so that the gospel finds some good open soil to grow in you.

The Evil One does not have to get a look in. By attentive receiving his love for you, that seagull Satan, can be warded off and the meal can continue in joy!

He calls you who may be in a rocky place to go deeper. He calls you to search deeper prayers, deeper songs; some old some new, go deep into his Word, alone and with others.

We don’t have to pull the thorns out. By attentiveness in the heart to his words and ways we outgrow them, overcome them and steer clear of them.

As he indiscriminately and patiently sows his gospel word in us, whether we are stone-cold heard, rocky, thorny or clear, it takes root, it grows. It multiplies. It is unstoppable.

Then we are like Jesus – sowing indiscriminately on all the kinds of ground we find here in our community. That free, joyful, patient, non-judgmental and generous sowing is our character as a person and as a local church in Jesus’ kingdom mission.

The impenetrable people, the rocky people, the thorny people and the open receptive people can all live here.

And the Sower keeps sowing, his words keep growing, his disciples keep throwing that gospel seed around all over the place, especially in the “no religion ground. The tonnage grown is not in our control or our concern.

We sow gospel not for profit. We do it for love and for joy.

Just keep sowing. It is where the joy is.

Amen

CONVERSATION STARTERS

 

Read the parable picturing the farmer and the sowing as you go. Stop at verse 9. Share any experiences of sowing you have had in life and how the story Jesus tells here is similar or different to your experience of planting seeds, harvesting on a farm, growing veges or gardening in general…

 

Note that we have already had one large chunk of teaching from Jesus in ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ (chapters 5-6 and beginning of 7. Now we have another large chunk of teaching. This is the beginning of it.

 

The first thing we hear is that there are now large crowds making things a bit tricky. What does Jesus need to do in order to be heard by the huge crowd?

 

Jesus has also done many healings and spoken many words in this northern area of Israel (chapter 8-9. And he has already sent out his disciples in pairs around the region to do the same (chapter 10). No wonder the crowd are large. A lot has been said and done by Jesus and a large group of disciples.

In a way he had already ‘multiplied’ himself by doing this.

 

Now read from verse 18. This is the explanation of the parable Jesus has spoken to the crowd, now ‘unpacked’ in the intimacy of his small band of brothers.

 

Note the type of ground, each one’s characteristics and what happens to the seed in each of them. Share about the kids of people/experienced you have met/had with each kind of person:

  1. Rock hard impenetrable people
  2. Shallow people who don’t seem to last through hard things in life. (NOTE: this is not rocky ground as in rocks on top of the ground but rock under a thin cover of soil)
  3. People overly worries and anxious about lots of things.
  4. People who receive God’s Word and do it over the long haul and reproduce themselves many time over.

 

Now reflect on what kind of ground you feel you are ow and what kind of ground you have been in the past.

 

If you could ask one thing from Jesus to make you that good soil that would receive his Word and work though you to produce other disciples, what would that thing be?

 

Did you notice that the farmer throws that seed around all over the place?! The left hand hardly knows what the right is doing it seems. The seed falls on all kinds of ground whether the ground 0wants it or not or receive it or not.

 

The message of the parable is that this is the way our Heavenly Father (the Sower) is with us. When we are hard and unreceptive, shallow and weak or fearful and disinterested, over-burdened with heaps of worries about all kinds of things that squeeze the life out of us and block out the word from our ears, or when we are open and deeply attentive to his Word, he still keeps on sowing that word! He calls us to adopt a similar indescriminent approach to relationships and bearing witness to his good news with people.

 

How does this comfort you?

 

How does this challenge you?

 

If there is one person who you have or want to throw the seed of the gospel to, pray for them, asking the Spirit to show you the way to speak and do the gospel word…..

 

 

 

 

 

« Older posts