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Basket Cases

Sermon, Pentecost 9th A, Sunday August 2, 2020

 Matthew 14:13-21

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’

16 Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’

17 ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.

18 ‘Bring them here to me,’ he said. 19 And he told the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Jesus is empty – loss of a loved one

 

What a gathering – both here in this building for the first time in ages, and this day on the grassy slope by the sea.

In these last months, I wonder whether we have been like the people on that grassy slope with Jesus. Have we been like them, like the disciples and even like Jesus himself on this day – empty; feeling and knowing that word, ‘empty’.

They all seem empty on some way.

  • Jesus is grieving the loss of his cousin, friend and spiritual mentor, John the Baptist. Grief makes you empty.
  • The crowd are homeless and hungry as they gather.
  • The disciple come up short. They know they have not got what it takes to meet the pressing need of people.

They all seem a bit empty as they gather. All seem incapable, at a bit of a loss; powerless.

Maybe we have all felt this way – empty or powerless in the face of this threat. I suspect we have found out we are indeed powerless – or at least not as powerful as we thought we were.

We have lost things too; our expected, known way of life. Many have lost more: personal freedoms, jobs, relationships, staff, income, sense of security, financial security.

We wish someone would just find an easy cure. I wonder whether the crowd that day wanted the same.

We want a return to easy living. Our threat is not over yet. We are bracing for the impact of the real cost economically that will impact many lives and livelihoods.

It’s all here on this grassy knoll by the sea: loss, grief, tiredness, and powerlessness.

Jesus is empty. Empty grief emptying his soul.

The disciples are empty. They have no supplies or ability to supply the need right in front of them.

The crowd are empty. They are out of bread and without a bed. Like many in our world in our time, these people live within a much smaller margin of error. This is close call.

We know what he does. It is magnificent. Only by him, the day is filled, transformed and turned into a huge gain for everyone.

We know who does this to who too. Jesus fills them. It is his bread being passed around.

Just like that manna in the desert of so long before, everyone gets some: little kids to grandmas and grandpas, the saintly ones and the sinning ones, the doubters and the believers and those who just want some bread without any mention of religion! We marvel at that. We thank him for that.

But how does he do it? This we don’t know. Not fully. But we do know that how he does it involves us. We are part of the supply chain.

You give them something to eat.’ he says.

Jesus allows his empty incapable ‘basket case’ friends to participate in his overflowing ability and authority to bring the filling, the satisfying, the contentment, the miracle of life saved and continued with thanks for another day.

Jesus does not do magic tricks that merely pull all the attention and adulation to himself. He shares the glory and power and love for the people and asks his disciples and us, his disciples now to show some guts doing the same.

As they start to step into that sea of people by the sea with those rather empty looking baskets, these incapable ‘basket cases’ get to deliver his bread from their baskets as they go.

Can you hear this? As they simply do what he does and say what he says, these empty followers get full to overflowing themselves, as they simply give what they have been given.

Either way, everyone gets filled to overflowing; all are satisfied – those employed in the supply chain and those on the end of it.

This is how Jesus feeds life, saves life, transforms lives and lives with people: He fills them all and works through people to do it, and the people giving get too – enough to take home for the family – there is more than enough bread with Jesus.

What’s the bread? It is Him: His underserved forgiveness; unearned and unearnable love when you can’t or won’t even talk about religion or faith; his deep satisfaction in the heart when all you chase is more stuff, looks, self-discovery, personal power, positive thinking…….

You can hear here that when Jesus feeds you, you get more than you bargained for – like when I purchase a freshly made loaf of sourdough from Linke’s early Saturday morning, I get more then the bread, I get the craft of Baker Chris and Tamra and the whole Linke family!

With Jesus gifts, you get him, all of him, not just what he can give you.

And with him comes his calling. And that is the truth here for us –

You only receive as you give, not before.

You only grow as you go, not before you go.

You are filled more as you fill others, and not before.

Friends, Jesus has filled us with his life, fed us with his word of life, satisfied our lonely and hungry souls and we are still here, even in this uncomfortable interrupted and worrying time.

Jesus is still the resurrection and the life running through our veins, and beyond this COVID time and even beyond our graves.

Even more. Many of us who know we are ‘basket cases’ have stepped out into the crowd trusting Jesus to keep the bread of his life and love coming.

I know many of you have responded to the call of Jesus to take his bread to others. He said ‘Go’ and you went.

Many of you have in your own way gone to others and filled them with Jesus’ grace by being there for others and doing what was right and good for people in this restricted time.

I thank him for the bread and for all the ‘basket cases’ (including me) made new, by his bread of life!

Like the crowd on this day by the sea, I reckon we may have come away satisfied in this time of extended interruption.

Like those disciples enlisted in to supply chain of life, I suspect many of us have grown because we went. Jesus gave us his words and we took a small basket of them with us as we were out and about or on the phone or at the keyboard giving out the bread of his words, his stories his grace, the hope that is just in us.

And so, like The Twelve, we keep going. As they went with empty baskets trusting that they would filled enough for the filling of others, so Jesus sends us among people here with whatever we have, however small, knowing he will make us enough for the filling.

His love is to fill them all with the bread from heaven, the bread that not only fills the stomach but fills the heart – his underserved, love that resurrects a person from death to life, from empty to fill, from self to other, from worry and fear to hope and love for God and others.

So, the gospel call goes out among the crowd and rings in our ears: You will grow AS you go, not before.

You can step out into the crowd with what you have been given already and share it and it will go around and be more than enough for more than a few.

Eat and be satisfied. Go. Share. You have got what it takes because he has what you take.

The Spirit of Change

SermonPentecost 7th A, Sunday July 19, 2020 

St Petri 

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. 

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, ‘Abba,[b] Father.’ 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[c] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 

 The changes are coming thick and fast, aren’t they? How are you going with this time of significant change at every level; world, nation, community, family….? 

One thing is true. We are God’s people right in the middle of all this change, and we need to respond as best as we can 

Adapting to change is always challenging. Sometimes we just want to run away. Sometimes we try to pretend nothing has changed so we can just be how we have been and do what we have been doing. Sometimes we can over-react and change too much and lose ourselves 

I know it is a lot easier to just stay with what we know. Sometimes we need to do that for our own well-being. But then there are times when we need to adapt. We have adapted quite well so far. We need to keep adapting.  

In this COVID time adapting has been easy in a way. It has been forced upon us. We just have had to change things. But adapting is harder when it is not forced- when we don’t actually have to change.  

COVID is still here and may be for some time. And yet, at least here in SA, for nowthings are lifting. It is now that our trust in God’s grace and responsiveness to his calling will be tested. Are we up for it? 

Change is hard. Change is messy. Change can make us feel like you are losing precious things and that you are all at sea. You might feel this way at the moment 

Someone said that change is hard not because of the change itself but because of what you feel you lose in the change. Change is in large part about grief, not so much change.  

Maybe we are all grieving loss of various things – easy lifestyle, freedom to do what we want when we wantability to be with whoever we want, where and when we want, connection to your fellow disciples of Jesus  

Maybe we are grieving what church used to be. Not just in this COVID time, but in this last 20 years when our culture has been changing rapidly, but in ways that are harder to see and understand or accept, than in these restricted times 

But we are here now. We believe we need to adapt to the changes that are upon us as a church. We believe we need to honour what we all have learnt these last months 

Strange, isn’t it? On the one hand, it is hard to adjust to changes in precious things. On the other, there is also a hint of exhilaration that the Lord is moving us into his precious plans in his future for us here.  

So, whether your quietly disturbed by all this or quietly exhilarated by this moment, why change? Why adapt? Why take this harder road? 

Well, if I hear anything in this word of Paul’s it is that we people of Christ’s kingdom adapt and change for the sake of him, and for the ones he has sent us to love. That is why we accept the challenges and adapt – for the Lord and those to whom he sends us.  

And that is the spirit of any changes we make now: in our church building and in our church communityWe change things in response to God changing us. We are straining to hear God; his voice, his Scriptures, his Spirit nudging us all on into his future for his world 

We are always serving, loving; always focused on people, so that they may know the love of God in Jesus and the hope he brings to life and to this world. That is why we adapt and change.  

We hear this call to adapt everywhere in this letter of Paul to the Christians in Rome.  

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law (or powers) of sin and death. (Romans 8:1) 

We ourselves have been changed – by God! We always are! 

9 You, [now] however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if [or as] indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. (Romans 8:9) 

This is THE change we have experienced – transformed from ‘flesh’ to ‘Holy Spirit’. 

What does that mean? 

Paul is describing our new freedom despite our old flesh.  

“Flesh’ here is more than just the muscle on your bones, but a spiritual power at work in you. It is your broken desires; your basic self-serving; self-interest at the expense of God and others. It is the spiritual power that drives you look after number one at the expense of all other numbers. As we hear Paul say last week,  

I do what I don’t want to do and don’t do what I know I should…. (Romans 7).  

My flesh is all in me that pulls me away from who I am and what I have been created to be in Jesus. 

But there is another spiritual power greater than my flesh. This power is at work in you. It is the realm or the influence or place of the Holy Spirit in you, says Paul.  

As a fleshy person baptised into Jesus and sealed with the Holy Spirit, I live in the Spirit’s gifts, because he has made it so.  

He has changed you from fleshy selffocussed, dying, prisoner to searching for love you to ‘loved, alive, free and sent to serve and love, you.  

You now live in a relationship of love and grace with the Creator of all things.  

This relationship is one that God achieved for you. You could earn it, make it, do, it or find it on your own. God created it, earnt it, did it, found you and gifted you himself in his Son 

We are in God’s last will and testament. He has written us into his family will in a blood signature. We have a sure inheritance that cannot rust or fade. We are ‘Co-heirs with Jesus’, says Paul, no matter what changes and challenges come 

No, we no longer live under that spiritual power called ‘flesh’. We dont have to cave in or bow down to things of merely physical need or pleasure or desire.  

We now live in another place, another power, another kingdom’s rule – the Spirit; the Holy Spirit’s holy will, powerful word and divine calling 

Friends, can you see why I as pastor and we as leaders and fellow servants want to go accept the challenge of change and adapt? 

It is the harder road. Can you see why we take it though? Can you see why we want to spend time talking, listening, praying, asking and doing to adapt well to these changing times 

Can you see why we willingly go into the topsy turvy waters of change when it would be easier to just keep paddling along quietly and safely? 

It is because we want to live with our heavenly Father and love the Saviour Son.  

It is what living in the new realm; the new relationship; the greater power of God’s Spirit produces in us and you.  

We want to follow the Spirit’s lead in the Saviour’s love more than we want to keep things the same.   

Why? Because, as Paul says here, 

….we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:23-24) 

In this hope we are safe for this change and any change. Change changes but hope stay unchanged.  

Change is upon us. Let’s not run. Let’s not pretend. Let’s not dismiss. Let’s not search for safety in anyone more than Jesus and his presence and promises 

Let’s live in the Spirit, not the flesh.  

Let’s listen, pray, speak, and do – together 

Friends, I truly “…consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.(Romans 8:18) 

This is Spirit of change that does not change.  

Holy Spirit, reveal the glory of the Father’s grace in this place through us in these changing times. Amen.  

Singing When You Can’t be Winning

SermonPentecost 4A, Sunday July 5, 2020St Petri

Romans 7:15-25a  

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 

 21 So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

 So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[b] a slave to the law of sin. 

 Matthew 11:16-19,25-30  

16 ‘To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others: 

17 ‘“We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.” 

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.’  

25 At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.  

27 ‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  

28 ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’  

Ever felt that no matter what you did or did not do, you just could not win? I feel this way about the decreasing appearance of hair on my head! I feel that I can’t win when it comes to winning at Scrabble in my house. Very rare, and when it happens it is luck!  

But more seriously, maybe we are all feeling like we can’t win over this virus at the moment? It seems that it remains a threat and will be for some time, and possibly a very long time.   

When you can’t win, no matter what you think or do, you still have to respond to keep going. What do you do when you can’t win? There’s at least three options.  

  1. You can choose to stop trying to win. You just keep to yourself – just isolate yourself more and protect yourself from any further loss. There is a time for that. We have been living in that kind of time. 
  2. You can just try harder – be smarter, be stronger, be bolder – just power on. You might not win but at least you will not just fade away unnoticed either. But you still lose in the end. 
  3. There is another way to respond to not being able to win. You can enjoy another person’s win. You can sing their victory song. It is not your song, but can become your song because he allows that  

Jesus must have often felt that he could not win. Whatever he said and did he could just not seem to ‘win’ with them.   

16 ‘To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others: 

17 ‘“We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.” 

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.’ 

The kids are playing in the street. They yell out to the adults“Sing a happy song with us”. No one sings. Then sing a sad song with us”. No one sings.   

Whatever Jesus sings, people will just not join his song 

Like John the Baptist, who came singing that prophet’s song in the desert with  only bugs and honey for comfort, and then Jesus coming eating and drinking at parties with the wrong people, people will not join in God’s tune.   

Why won’t people join in?   

The people will not join in the happy song or the sad song not because they don’t like the particular song, it is because it is not their song  

People want to be the song leader of their life – happy or sad, good or bad – as long as I am calling the shots. People refuse to sing anyone’s song that is not their song.   

I picture a little girl who refuses to smile or join in with a lovely children’s song that Dad puts on – She is not budging because she wanted another song, not that one! She just stands with arms crossed, sad face and stomping feet in protest!  

Is that you at the momentYou’ve got your noise cancelling headphones of self-interest and pride firmly on and no matter what God says or does, you are not joining in….?  

When Jesus can’t win he keeps on singing anywayHe says that in the end,  

 wisdom is proved right by her deeds.’ (Matthew 11:19) 

He ‘does’ his song not just sings it. His deeds of loving victory over all the disease, death, destruction and despondency that defeats us are proven right by what he endures, what he goes through, what he wins for us in that cross and resurrection from death itself.   

What keeps him going, when he can’t win?   

‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  

His Father keeps him going, when he just can’t win.  

He says that ‘Unless you become like little children, you cannot inherit your winning inheritance of acceptance, love, hope and joy in me”.   

There are people stomping their feet in protest about not being able to play their own tune in life. It really cheeses them off that they cannot win over the disease, the virus, the politics, the war the dying and death. They know they can never really totally win over their fears and foibles. It really gets on their goat that they have to rely on Jesus’ victory over everything for them. Is that you? It is me, at times.   

There are people who have stopped singing; given up any hope of getting through that weakness, dealing with that destructive behaviour, that hurtful thinking, that relationship that seems defeated. Is that you? It is me at times.   

There are also people who are like a child playing in the street. We join with Jesus singing. 

‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  

 We sing Jesus’ song to invite others into this song of HIS victory over any sin, his healing in my suffering, his hope in these COVID times, his future for this global ecosystem. Is that you? Thankfully, it is me at times.   

Whoever you are, hear now where Jesus sings; hear what his song is about:  

27 ‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 

 We keep singing the faith because we are chosen by a loving Parent who has let us in on his plans, his future, his new possibilities, when WE could not have sung a note of them.   

Friends. We cannot win many things. We cannot win this war going on inside of us that Paul describes in Romans 7  

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. …… 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing (Romans 7:15-19) 

 But when you can’t win, now the best news you will hear this week.   

28 ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  

 In the battle of your soul going on inside and the many things that seem to beat you on the outside comes these words from Jesus:  

‘Come”. Come to me and rest today.   

You will get a rest that is way more healing, satisfying, peaceful than even this COVID time rest.   

29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ 

Amen 

 

 

Happy Farmers

SermonPentecost 6ASunday 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. 2 Such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 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.’ 

Seems to be some pretty happy farmers around at the moment here in the Barossa. Rain has fallen. Seed is in the ground. Green feed growing. Smiles all around!   

There are some very happy people around Jesus too. Disease healed. Mental illness and evil oppression within gone. New life and freedom for some families and individuals. And all by just his words! His words. Oh, they are like honey dripping from the hive! Sweet and alive.  

But not everyone is tasting the honey. They are judging his words as just sour sap.   

Jesus hears about the plans the ruling elite have to get rid of him and he responds. He responds not by holding a protest march or even gathering arms and people to use them to protect himself. He responds by teaching them who he is, who God really is  

The crowds gathering around him are so hugeJesus is in a boat moored just off the sandy shore of the lake. Good plan. Sound skips across the water clear and true for a long way. This is a PA system without any cables!  

And so, the Teacher who knows boats and fishing, now shows he also knows seeds and soil. He speaks of farming.   

This is the only parable of Jesus that has a full explanation for the listeners. It is easy to get the story.   

God, the farmer of life, sows his words into human hearts and some of those human beings hear the words and then sow those words into other people’s hearts.   

Not everyone hears. Some people hear but then stop hearing. Only a few hear and keep hearing and so, produce other hearers and doers of this new life in words.   

So, the obvious question Jesus raises here is, “how do I hear? And “what does he mean by hearing’?   

This hearing is not like hearing the news or hearing a good joke or a great story. The original word eisakouo used here is ‘understanding/hearing is ‘deep understanding and doing. Once you hear it you just do it. This is hearing that translates into living.   

This is hearing like you do in school when the teacher says, “This will be on the test”. This is hearing like when you are with your loved one at the last and they speak of what their will is for you as you keep living your life with their blessing.   

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.’ 

This listening leads directly to doing. It is ‘obeying’ in the sense that the words have an immediate effect in how you go about living  

So, Jesus is after is a deep attentive listening in the heart that translateinto actually living/doingDeep listening (the good soil) will translate into fruitful doing.   

But, just because he speaks does not mean everyone lives in his words. I think we know this. Just think of the people you know who have heard Jesus’ words….  

Some of God’s word falls on the path. 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  

Then gospel words can be received by another with great joy. They 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 or real trust in Jesus’ words. These are the thorns, overcoming and eventually choking the good seed planted in God’s good ground  

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

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.’ 

This is the deep listening that leads to understanding and doing. It is long lasting. This is the Divine word being heard and then done or “heeded”, or “obeyed”.   

Even better for us get to participate with this farmer. We are called to sow his Words like he does. So, this word becomes self-sowing and multiplying. Indeed, the fruitfulness can be massive – “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown”.  

So, I ask myself and you: how is the soil at the moment? How is the quality and amount of hearing – deeply hearing Jesus?  

I actually suspect we are listening more deeply that we have for ages. That is what I am hearing from many of you.   

But you may know that you are a hard, compacted patha wayward searching heart 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….. Oyou may know that there are just too many thorns; too many weeds squashing the life out of your heart like that toothpaste out of the tube at the moment  

But, do you notice that this farmer sows anyway?   

Jesus just keeps throwing out that seed no matter where it falls – path, rock, thorns, good ground. He just keeps casting out that seed. Not a very efficient way to farm!  

Friend, Jesus is still sowing his words in you. He is as we speak.   

Thank God he is He is wastefulindiscriminate and irresponsible farmer  

His Word does its work on you. His law is a hammer. That hard path can be jack-hammered into a more receptive place for the gospel to find 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 yummy chips happily consumed can continue!  

He is deep. He calls, “Deep unto deep”. He calls you who may be in a rocky place to go deeperIn this disrupted time, I am sure the Spirit is calling you to search deeper prayers, deeper songs, some old some new, alone and with others.   

As for the weeds and thorns – the issues and the worry? His seed will take root and because it is His words, his power, his transforming voice, you are able to outgrow the weeds and thorns. We don’t have to pull the thorns out. By attentiveness in the heart to his words and ways we outgrow them, overcome them, steer clear of them. Like excellent fertilizer, Hgets to the roots and reignites us and inspires beyond the thorns.  

And, as a young apprentice tiler lays the tiles like his boss showed him; a young farmer farms the place the way Mum and Dad taught him or her; you fish like your dad or uncle of grandpa taught you to fishso for us. We ‘farm’ like Jesus – sowing indiscriminately on all the kinds of ground we find here in our community.   

We just sow. We just love. In the freedom of his love despite the worries and the misplaced goals and the hard -heartedness, we just go everywhere with the words of the Sower.  

What happy farmers we are!  

Amen 

  

 

You did not dance

SermonPentecost 4A, Sunday July 5, 2020

St Petri 

Romans 7:15-25a  

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 

21 So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[b] a slave to the law of sin.  

Matthew 11:16-19,25-30  

16 ‘To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others: 

17 ‘“We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.” 

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.’  

25 At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.  

27 ‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  

28 ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ 

 Ever felt that no matter what you did or did not do, you just could not win? I feel this way about the decreasing appearance of hair on my head! I feel that I can’t win when it comes to winning at Scrabble in my house. Very rare, and when it happens it is luck! 

But more seriously, maybe we are all feeling like we can’t win over this virus at the moment? It seems that it remains a threat and will be for some time, and possibly a very long time.   

When you can’t win, no matter what you think or do, you still have to respond to keep going. What do you do when you can’t win? There’s at least three options.  

  1. You can choose to stop trying to win. You just keep to yourself – just isolate yourself more and protect yourself from any further loss. There is a time for that. We have been living in that kind of time. 
  2. You can just try harder – be smarter, be stronger, be bolder – just power on. You might not win but at least you will not just fade away unnoticed either. But you still lose in the end.  
  3.  There is another way to respond to not being able to win. You can enjoy another person’s win. You can sing their victory song. It is not your song, but can become your song because he allows that

Jesus must have often felt that he could not win. Whatever he said and did he could just not seem to ‘win’ with them.   

16 ‘To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others: 

17 ‘“We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.” 

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.’ 

The kids are playing in the street. They yell out to the adults“Sing a happy song with us”. No one sings. Then sing a sad song with us”. No one sings.   

Whatever Jesus sings, people will just not join his song  

Like John the Baptist, who came singing that prophet’s song in the desert with  only bugs and honey for comfort, and then Jesus coming eating and drinking at parties with the wrong people, people will not join in God’s tune.   

Why won’t people join in?   

The people will not join in the happy song or the sad song not because they don’t like the particular song, it is because it is not their song  

People want to be the song leader of their life – happy or sad, good or bad – as long as I am calling the shots. People refuse to sing anyone’s song that is not their song.   

I picture a little girl who refuses to smile or join in with a lovely children’s song that Dad puts on – She is not budging because she wanted another song, not that one! She just stands with arms crossed, sad face and stomping feet in protest!  

Is that you at the momentYou’ve got your noise cancelling headphones of self-interest and pride firmly on and no matter what God says or does, you are not joining in….?  

When Jesus can’t win he keeps on singing anywayHe says that in the end,  

 wisdom is proved right by her deeds.’ (Matthew 11:19) 

 He ‘does’ his song not just sings it. His deeds of loving victory over all the disease, death, destruction and despondency that defeats us are proven right by what he endures, what he goes through, what he wins for us in that cross and resurrection from death itself.   

What keeps him going, when he can’t win?   

‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  

His Father keeps him going, when he just can’t win.   

He says that ‘Unless you become like little children, you cannot inherit your winning inheritance of acceptance, love, hope and joy in me”.   

There are people stomping their feet in protest about not being able to play their own tune in life. It really cheeses them off that they cannot win over the disease, the virus, the politics, the war the dying and death. They know they can never really totally win over their fears and foibles. It really gets on their goat that they have to rely on Jesus’ victory over everything for them. Is that you? It is me, at times.   

There are people who have stopped singing; given up any hope of getting through that weakness, dealing with that destructive behaviour, that hurtful thinking, that relationship that seems defeated. Is that you? It is me at times.   

There are also people who are like a child playing in the street. We join with Jesus singing. 

‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  

We sing Jesus’ song to invite others into this song of HIS victory over any sin, his healing in my suffering, his hope in these COVID times, his future for this global ecosystem. Is that you? Thankfully, it is me at times.   

Whoever you are, hear now where Jesus sings; hear what his song is about:  

27 ‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 

We keep singing the faith because we are chosen by a loving Parent who has let us in on his plans, his future, his new possibilities, when WE could not have sung a note of them.   

Friends. We cannot win many things. We cannot win this war going on inside of us that Paul describes in Romans 7  

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. …… 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing (Romans 7:15-19) 

But when you can’t win, now the best news you will hear this week.   

28 ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  

In the battle of your soul going on inside and the many things that seem to beat you on the outside comes these words from Jesus:  

‘Come”. Come to me and rest today.   

You will get a rest that is way more healing, satisfying, peaceful than even this COVID time rest.   

29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ 

 Amen 

 

 

Something needs to be said 

Sermon, Augsburg Confession Day
June 28th, 2020, St Petri 

AC V and Isaiah 55:10-11 

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 

8 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
9 ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    it will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Augsburg Confession, Part V:  The Office of the Ministry

1 To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. 

2 Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. 

3 And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this. 

4 Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that the Holy Spirit comes to us through our own preparations, thoughts, and works without the external word of the Gospel. 

 

Sometimes something needs to be said about what you believe. You find yourself in situations where you just know that people are either looking to you as the nearest representative of the Christian Faith to say something on an issue or about how God sees things, or, you feel  in your conscience that you need to offer a word of truth into a conversation. 

I suspect you might get this kind of invitation now and again. You just sort of get to fill in a pregnant pause in the conversation or you just get a direct question from a person about God kind of things. That is the moment on offer from the Holy Spirit to speak God’s words of hope and truth so that his Word can do its work and never return to him empty, as Isaiah says.  

Problem is we seem to break out in a sweat, get very nervous, and try and switch the subject as quickly as possible! Why so? 

I guess that is because we know from the word, history and from experience that saying something about God and who he is an how he works can cost us – friends, family members, colleagues, status, even livelihood and maybe in extreme situations – our life. 

As a result of this fear of saying something when needed, someone suggested that  

“In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering” (Howard Henricks). 

The deeper issue is lack of faithWe struggle to believe Isaiah – that when God speaks, things happen. God’s word is like the rain. It falls to the ground and life grows. It does not return to the sky before achieving the purposes for which it fell.  

We struggle with that. I think we believe that we have to get it all right or never get anything wrong or that we have to be some bible expert to be able to be the rain of peace for a thirsty hearted person 

I have learnt that don’t need to be an expert in anything much when it comes to saying something about faith and God and hope when the moment allows.  

I have learnt that whatever I can say is a Holy Spirit moment. He is always at work in people and I get to join in with what He is already doing. The pressure on me is off me, and the joy is joining in with him in the moment. 

I have learnt that there are two things that help me more freely take the opportunity the Spirit often gives to say something when needed and appropriate; 

  1. Hope I have: I speak of the hope that is in me as a result of the relationship I have with Jesus 
  2. I speak of what I know, not what I don’t: I speak what I remember of Jesus’ words – his actions, his stories, his parables, his sayings. 

don’t need to be scared of getting it wrong or failing at being some bible expert.  

I do need to simply trust Isaiah when he says that God’s word does what it says and I get to be the mouth through which he speaks that word and does his things in a person and in me.  

So, I speak of my hope, as Peter says; 

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…. (1 Peter 3:15) 

And I speak of what the Spirit has already planted in me – those parables, those sayings, those actions, those stories from the whole Bible that have been poured into me by the Sprit. Use them! 

And I do need to actually use words, not only actions.  

I know it has been a good thing that we have believed that ‘actions speak louder than words’ and so, that we serve and give and help as witness to the good news in us. Of course, ‘faith without any works is dead’, as James says (James 2:20).  

On the other hand, we are to use words – God’s words, as we participate with the Spirit to ‘make disciples by teaching and baptisingWords are the means by which faith is born. We need to do AND SPEAK and the two matchSaying something is important. It is how church is born, how faith comes to a person, how faith stays with us.  

We are here because someone said something, and in a big way.  

On June 25th, 1530, in the southern German city of Augsburg, the newly gathered ‘gospel centred’ (evangelical) community forming from within the Catholic church said something about who they had become.  

The tone of the Augsburg Confession is quite invitational. It is not speaking stuff about some new extremist cult rising up. Neither are we.  

It is founded faithfully on the bible and the three great universal creeds (Athanasian, Nicene and Apostle’s Creed). This is the faith of ALL Christians. So is our faith here.   

Its gift is that it is centred around that golden light at the heart of our relationships with God– we have peace with God only by God’s gracious act of love in Jesus Christ, only received by faith in Jesus by the power of the Spirit working through the Word. May this be us forever! 

We are speaking in ways we have never spoken before at the moment. We are now speaking digitally to a very large audience. We can’t know exactly who is listening and we may never know many of the people listening, but people are listening.   

We can know some of the people now listening to God’s Word through us in two ways 

  1. We can share what is being said with others. 
  2. We can talk about what is being said with others. 

We are sharing what God is saying through digital means. I hear stories of DVD’s going all over the place – from to the neighbour over the back fence to friends interstate by post! I see people forwarding on emails and Facebook and You Tube links…. Let’s keep sharing because God’s word does things in people – people we may never know, but he does.  

We are talking about what God is saying through us. I hear stories of so called ‘chance meetings and conversations’ at the CoOp or at school or at the coffee shop or at home with people who you are surprised to discover are listening to us. 

It seems right and good for us to keep speaking in this new digital space that has been opened up in this COVID time.  

We are trying to figure out how we can continue to say something of God’s grace, as those Reformers did in their day by public confession of their hope and understanding of God and by the newly invented printing press 

We have a new ‘printing press’. It is called the internet! We should find ways to use it for God’s Word to rain down into people’s hearts. 

Our front door is now very large. There are listening people and God is speaking into their lives and doing what he intends – to speak truth, to confront sin, to invite repentance, to forgive and restore, to create new life and new love or us all until he finally completes all things in his way and his time.  

Of course, our exciting challenge now, is to participate with the Holy Spirit in helping the many people listening at the front door into the kitchen and even give them rights to go to the fridge and find a snack. 

The Lord is calling us to offer contact and community and belonging in our homes and in these streets; to turn at least some of the largely unknown listening community into a real, person-to-person community of faith, hope and love in Jesus.  

We need to say something. We don’t need to be perfect or to be an expert. We simply need to trust Isaiah – that the Word the Spirit sends do their work as we speak them.  

Long may you be spoken to by the Lord as he gives you hope for these times and long may we use our words with our actions to speak his words so they fall and life grows here.  

The CALL of COVID

Sermon, Pentecost 3A, 21 June 2020, St Petri

Matthew 10:24-39

Do not be afraid; take up your cross and follow Christ

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

As Jesus addresses the team before they take to the mission field, he makes it clear that being his sent person won’t be all ‘beer and skittles’!

It is not all ‘beer and skittles’ for us at the moment. Seems to be way more of the ‘sword’ being wielded in the world than there is peace being brokered.

As I hear Jesus sending his disciples into their troubled world I hear him sending us out into ours with this team talk, and I wonder…..

I wonder if the we are exactly where the Holy Spirit wants us to be in this restricted time? Has he got us where Jesus sent these disciples: right out into the community.

We are right ‘out there’ now. Even the very thing we all enjoy, have great respect for, hold as dearest and put most time into – worship: is now being done right out in the streets and homes of this Valley.

Is this COVID time how Jesus has got us back where he has always wanted us to be; with people in homes, streets, workplaces, recreational spaces – and not just for some of our life but all of our life?

Our text is only part of a much longer stirring and troubling team talk that runs right through Matthew chapter 10.

All of a sudden, the disciples have been changed from watching the “Jesus Show’ to doing it; from students (disciples) to practitioners (Apostles) of this new movement of God.

Is this what COVID time is teaching us? Are we being changed from watching the “Jesus Show’ to doing it; from being junior students (disciples) to practitioners (Apostles) of this new movement of God now?

Being Jesus’ sent people puts us right in line with Jesus. He got right out of his comfy ‘heaven’ and on to the stone road of the Via Delarosa up Calvary’s slopes with a heavy, brutal cross on his shoulders.

Being sent is carrying that cross. If Jesus, the Master Teacher or Head of the House, copped this abuse and suffering for his love of his Father and the love of the people, so will we because;

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul (evil), how much more the members of his household!

It is crystal clear. His team are to share in his poverty and homelessness, taking with them no money or extra clothing, and depending solely on the hospitality of others for shelter and sustenance (10: 8b-13).

They will not be welcomed everywhere (10:14-15), and they can expect to experience the same hostility Jesus often does, for he is sending them out “like sheep into the midst of wolves” (10:16).

They can expect to encounter persecution and trials (10:17-23), for “a disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master” (10:24-25).

They need also be prepared for painful division within families, and to be willing to put Jesus’ mission above family loyalties (10:34-38). For all of this risk and suffering, Jesus promises, “those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (10:39), and this is their ‘cross’ – their burden (10:24).

Friends, is this a time when we mind ‘find our life’ again, as church? Will we find life and love and joy again anew because we have ‘lost’ being church the way we have gotten very used to and very comfortable in?

Is this the Spirit teaching us that we can learn to work with people, listen to and be with people different to us, even when the welcome is not warm and the situation not easy to control?

Whatever you make of this time, we are definitely ‘out there’ now. At least more than we have been. We have always been a church who cares, and we have done and now do some fantastic gathering of people – not for our sake but for theirs. But has the Lord shown us how to do this for the current times by kind of ‘forcing’ us to see some things? Feels like that to me.

We are feeling plenty and learning plenty too. I have had some excellent conversations with our people in homes these last weeks.

No one seems to be wanting or expecting that we can or should simply ‘go back to normal’. People generally seem to be OK knowing that ‘normal’ has just changed. I hear people saying that we need to adjust, learn, pray, seek God’s direction for what worship and what St Petri (or any congregation) needs to now be and do post COVID.

What a church to be a part of! People are not asking ‘what is normal’ but ‘what is next’, and I love it. I think it is the right question for the sent people of God.

Yes, people miss seeing others. I have heard that. I do miss shaking your hand and connecting with you on Sundays. I miss the gathering, the song, the prayer, the space, the chat.

The disciples may have been the same as they stayed out in the streets for extended period. But how good was it when they eventually gathered and shared their stories of what the Lord had done through them. Jesus said as they shared their stories, he ‘saw Satan fall like lightening from the sky”! (Luke 10:18)

And that is the good part about this team talk from Jesus. There is reward in this time too.

Those sent disciples, despite the difficulty and the weight of responsibility (the cross), got to be part of extraordinary moments of transformation – and not just watching it but doing it, and doing this together.

They lived beyond any fear because the One who actually holds their life and death in his hands had already made them live like they could never live before his love came to life in them.

As they got wrapped up in going where he sent them and spoke what he spoke they were transformed from spectators to practitioners, from receivers to givers; from mere ‘church members’ or ‘worship attenders’ to disciples, apostles, doers of God’s grace.

Same for us. We will gain everything needed for life and love as we give up everything for his life and love, as he does for us.

This disruption to our lives now is worth it. Following Jesus where he goes and going where he sends is worth it at this time, and at any time.

It is worth the difficulty, the loss of some loved thing, the effort to think differently, to pray, to take a risk and invite a conversation with a friend, to welcome a stranger, to care for a fellow saint; to take responsibility for being a church; to be more of a practitioner of the good news than a mere spectator or the ‘Jesus show”, lovely though it is and beautiful though the praying, singing and sharing be.

I am not too concerned about not gathering for large public worship in our building for at least two reasons;

  1. Jesus is with us wherever even two or three are gathered in his name for his work and will.
  2. Jesus does not just send us out he stays out with us. He gathers with us in homes and streets and other places. He always has.

I believe the Spirit is saying ‘Pick up that burden of ‘sentness’, St Petri. It is worth it’.

Find your life in what’s next. Find your mission in him again at this time.

It is only as we give up things, lose things that we find him and his life right here.

Hear the Spirit speaking to us as a church in Jesus’ mission in this Valley:

“whoever loses their life for my sake will find it”.

May it be so.

In the name of Christ. Amen.

An ‘Ordinary’ Visit

Sermon. Pentecost 2A, Sunday June 14, 2020, St Petri

Mr Stephen Radke

God visits Sarah in an ordinary way and grows trust and laughter (and a baby). 

This morning’s reading about a mysterious visit of God to Abraham and Sarah is right in the middle of the Abraham stories at the start of the Bible. Abraham and Sarah lived over 1700 years before the time of Jesus. God first spoke to Abraham when he was 75 and living in Haran. God told him to leave his family, his country and his gods and go to a country he would show him. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation and that all peoples on the earth would be blessed through him. The big stumbling block to this promise is that Sarah can’t have children. Sarah at one point arranged for Abraham to sleep with her slave girl Hagar have a child by her. At the time of our reading this surrogate child Ishmael is about 13 years old.   

Over these 25 years from God’s first visit to Abraham, God built a friendship with Abraham and Abraham prayed to God and began to trust him.  Just before this reading God made a special visit to Abraham to make it very clear that his promise would come through a child by Sarah his wife not through Hagar’s son Ishmael. Abraham laughed at God’s promise. In today’s reading it is Sarah’s turn to laugh. 

Genesis 18:1-15  

18 The Lord appeared to Abraham at the sacred trees of Mamre. As Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the hottest part of the day, 2 he looked up and saw three men standing there. As soon as he saw them, he ran out to meet them. Bowing down with his face touching the ground, 3 he said, “Sirs, please do not pass by my home without stopping; I am here to serve you. 4 Let me bring some water for you to wash your feet; you can rest here beneath this tree. 5 I will also bring a bit of food; it will give you strength to continue your journey. You have honored me by coming to my home, so let me serve you.” 

They replied, “Thank you; we accept.” 

6 Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quick, take a sack of your best flour, and bake some bread.” 7 Then he ran to the herd and picked out a calf that was tender and fat, and gave it to a servant, who hurried to get it ready. 8 He took some yoghurt, some milk, and the meat, and set the food before the men. There under the tree he served them himself, and they ate. 

9 Then they asked him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” 

“She is there in the tent,” he answered. 

10 One of them said, “This time next year. [a] I will come back, and your wife Sarah will have a son.” 

Sarah was behind him, at the door of the tent, listening. 11 Abraham and Sarah were very old, and Sarah had stopped having her monthly periods. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself and said, “Now that I am old and worn out, can I still enjoy sex? And besides, my husband is old too.” 

13 Then the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Can I really have a child when I am so old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? As I said, nine months from now I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” 

15 Because Sarah was afraid, she denied it. “I didn’t laugh,” she said. 

“Yes, you did,” he replied. “You laughed.” 

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father open our ears to hear your word and our hearts to receive you. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

While working on a remote aboriginal community in central Australia. I went to visit someone and an aboriginal lady was making breads for her family. She sat cross-legged on the ground with a sheet of mesh in front of her over hot charcoal. Beside her was a massive bowl of dough and she would take a handful of dough from the bowl, stretch it out in her hands then put it on the grill. It would start to puff up almost immediately and she would deftly flip it with her fingers to cook the other side then flick the flat bread onto a growing pile she had already made.   

I can see Sarah doing the same, with her bare hands and a life time of experience stretching the dough watching it cook and flicking it at the right moment and then straight onto the next one until the whole bowl of dough is used up. It is significant that Sarah cooked the bread for these three strangers because they had come to visit her. This reading is about Sarah and the God who visits her and promises a miraculous baby. This God who visits will make her a little frightened but will bring laughter and will grow trust in her heart just like the bread dough grew over the hot coals.  

Abraham and Sarah don’t know who these visitors are, they are ordinary hungry strangers who have turned up at their camp. We know who they are because the narrator tells us they are the Lord (or God). 

Abraham gives the strangers a royal welcome, he puts his face to the ground and says, ‘sirs, do not pass by my home without stopping; I am here to serve you. Let a little water be brought and wash your feet, rest under the tree while I fetch a little bread… Abraham’s hospitality is over the top, a huge pile of fresh flat breads, a freshly roasted calf and yoghurt and milk drink reminds us of when we have been shown generous hospitality. This reminds us of all the strangers we have met and shown hospitality to. Abraham is a compassionate man who lives as a stranger himself; owning no land and moving with his servants and livestock from place to place negotiating for somewhere to camp and graze his animals. It can be dangerous living as a stranger in other people’s country.  

God’s visit gets personal 

Suddenly these strangers get personal and ask, ‘where is Sarah your wife’. How did they know her name? This question digs into Abraham and Sarah’s relationship which was not a beautiful Christian marriage. Many years earlier Abraham had passed Sarah off as his sister in Egypt when they went there to survive a drought because he was frightened that Pharaoh would kill him to have his wife. Sarah is exceptionally beautiful and Pharaoh’s took her into his harem until he found out the truth and sent Abraham and Sarah out of Egypt. To this day Sarah remains childless her the surrogate son Ishmael and his mother Hagar caused jealousy and did not make for a happy family life. 

The visitor says to Sarah through Abraham, ‘I will surely return next year and Sarah your wife will have a son’. Now Sarah and Abraham know that God is here visiting them in these three strangers. God is in the flesh visiting her. 

God’s visit stirs up fear, trust and laughter. 

Some time ago I was talking to 3 students in a senior Science class and we talked about science, about where the universe came from then about faith. One student asked me if I believed in God and when I said yes, she asked questions about right and wrong, sexuality and whether there would be a day of judgment. I explained that I believed there would be a time where God would separate good from evil and end evil. That God will bring in a time where there will be no more tears and suffering. She said that this made her shudder and feel fearful inside. Then she talked about the conversion of the rapper Kanye West and the music he had written. We listened together as she played one of his Christian songs on her phone. 

When I read here that Sarah had laughed to herself about God’s promise that she would have a baby next year and was afraid because she lied to this visitor turns out to be God. I thought of the conversation with this young person and the way she felt when she realized that God was much closer and more real than she thought. In Kanye’s West’s song Jesus walks’ he raps about a very ordinary visit of God. A God who comes in the flesh and visits you and I when we lose strength and the will to live. God who visits us when we don’t have a job or a house. God who visits us when we don’t know if we will have love again or laughter. The same God visits our remote aboriginal communities where many people live off very little. He visits our nursing homes during lockdowns. God visits our daycare centres, our schools, our youth detention centres and in our prisons in very ordinary ways.  Like Abraham’s visitors, God comes as a thirsty, hungry, tired God in need of a meal and conversation. As Jesus many years later says, ‘I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink.’ 

Yet this ordinary God announces a miracle to 90 year old Sarah way past menopause that her and her 100 year old husband that they will again be intimate and be able to conceive and give birth to a child together. God did return and Sarah had a son, Isaac and Isaac means, He laughs. Sarah in this story had laughed at God’s promise as Abraham had in the previous story to this and soon they will be laughing again at the birth of son and God would be laughing with them.  

Faith 

1800 or so years after the time of Abraham and Sarah the NT tells us that Abraham is the father of all who believe in Jesus. St Paul in the NT says Abraham believed God and God considered him to be in a right relationship with him. Like the loaves of bread Sarah cooked on the hot coals God grew trust in Sarah and Abraham.  

This relationship of trust meant God was their friend they were right with him and had nothing to fear. God did NOT judge Sarah or Abraham for laughing at his promise of a child in their old age.  He accepted them with their weak and imperfect faith. He does not judge you or me with our imperfect trust in him or our poor understanding of him but accepts us as his friends. You and I know this for sure because there was another miraculous birth promised to a young girl Mary, a descendant of Abraham and Sarah, a child Jesus. He is God with us in the flesh. He is God who visits the earth. This is God who himself suffered and died in your place and mine, on the cross. It is his death and coming alive from death that sets in stone the fact that God does not judge you but forgives you and accepts you as his friend because of Jesus’ cross. All of your failures and mine have been nailed to that cross and you and I are God’s friends. This friendship with God begun when we were baptised and continues to give us life beyond this life, a life forever. Life that stretches beyond this world of suffering and unfairness, a time when God will make all things right. 

Abraham and Sarah were lucky to have those visitors but so are you, God is visiting you today and is growing this same trust in you. Like the breads Sarah cooked that trust in God is growing in your heart.  

Please pray with me. 

Lord as you visit me today, grow in me that trust you grew in Sarah and Abraham. Amen. 

 

 

What you doin’?

Sermon: Holy Trinity. Sunday June 7, 2020. St Petri

2 Corinthians 13 11-14

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 “What you doin’?”

These were the words I most remember from Terrence Floyd’s speech to the crowd in Minneapolis this week as he urged the destruction and violence to stop in the aftermath of his brother, George’s murder at the hands of the police.

“What you doin’?” Terrence asked. “’What you doin’ is not helping and not wanted” was his message to the looters and destroyers.

You might ask, “What we doin’” as we face these times.

Paul starts off strong.

“Greet one another with a holy kiss….. love and peace be with you…”

Seems so out of reach or out of touch in this moment! Some would say, so out of touch.  

Love and peace seem to have disappeared. ‘Greetings’ seem to inflicted in unholy tear gas, rubber bullets and the directive to dominate.

What a mess. Our hearts go out to the family of George Floyd and to the tens of thousands of everyday people who have peacefully protested against this injustice.

All of this may be a largely US story, but as we know, we have a similar kind of long story of injustice that has caused and still causes the same kind of pain in our country.

So, “What’ we Christians doin’?”

As far as we know there were no rubber bullets and tear gas in Corinth, but there were vicious hurtful words and excluding behaviour in the church aimed at Paul.

This church had story of discrediting Paul on several fronts, and they even got personal. Their kiss of greeting had often been more like the kiss of a betrayer.

And yet, he writes to them again. Through the smoke and conflict, Paul calls them to something new, something better, something holy and good among them and in him.

He calls them to new community, not mere old community, to divine community, not their broken one; Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the One God and yet Three – totally new revelation of who God is in all the troubled history of his people and the world up to this point.

I want to call you there today.

Paul says, they and we still belong to this community despite the trouble and forced isolation. This makes them and us useful and helpful and valuable to the world and its suffering.

Paul knows this new community and what belonging to this community asks of him and them.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (1:3-5)

We are comforted to comfort. This Holy Trinity Community and those adopted into it by baptism, knows suffering and comfort and shares it. Paul knows he shares his suffering with Jesus. Jesus is in this suffering and with Paul in this suffering.

Same now; for the innocent and the guilty, the black and the white, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in the US and here.

And this new community God is always bringing good out of bad, healing out of damage, hope out of despair:

If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance. (1:6)

Paul’s distress is all for their comfortable place in this Holy Community. His life under pressure is for their peaceful home in Jesus (salvation).

Hasty blaming and condemning of others is impatient giving up on who you are and who God is.  They and we can find the new in the old, and help the world be new.

This is the Spirit’s call now friends: patient endurance. It is a call for those who have lived with the injustice of racism all their lives, and those who need to listen and learn to do better – there and here.

Paul knows the pressure. He knows what it is to feel like the end is surely near. Maybe this is what you feel at this time as you watch riots on the Whitehouse lawn?

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. (1:8)

Sounds pretty rough! Many in our community know what he is talking about: a serious diagnosis, a major conflict, a major loss…..

But, like the warm embrace of coming home, there is hope and usefulness and meaning in what has happened. Paul says;

“… this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead”.

Reliance. This time and all hard times raise the reality of reliance – on who do you rely?

Here’s what Paul relies on.

Resurrection. Death is dead. Suffering does not need to lead to it for those who learn from their suffering to rely on Father, Son and Spirit for life.

Reliance comes from Resurrection. Pauls says it;

“…we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself”. (4:14)

That is our hope at this time, friends. Resurrection. It always is. It is for all the citizens of this holy Trinity/Holy Community:  – black and white, rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile.

That is where Paul ends up. That is our text

14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 So, ‘What you doin’?’

Living with three gifts from the One in Three for you today:

Grace: undeserved, unearned, divine forgiveness, healing and acceptance into a community beyond me and you and this world; a community that is right here in this world but not of this world, not distant on some other planet or universe but hidden here but spoken by words and done by actions of those who hear him speaking.

Love – self sacrificing love; love that gives itself away at great personal cost to another – for the other – like Terrence Floyd, asking looters to stop looting and destroyers to stop destroying for the sake of the family and the community.

Fellowship: belonging, safe place, safe conversations, time to listen, time to learn, space to rest, time to eat and sing and enjoy the good things with Jesus in your life and in your home.

These three gifts from the One in Three. Blessing on you no matter what you feel or what happens.

Go ahead. These gifts given require us to do some livin’.

We do these:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart….. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (4:16-17).

 

18 …..we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.(4:18). We look to the words of Father, Son and Spirit which reveal what is unseen to most but known by the eyes of faith in Jesus.

 In another way;

7 …… we live by faith, not by sight. (5:7)

 

11 Since, then, we know what it is to respect the Lord, we try to persuade others. (5:11)

We don’t lose heart. We fix our focus on the word of God and rely on his promises of new community, new now and new future for the world, and we live persuasively,

 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all…. We live for him who died for them all and was raised again.

What we doin’?

Livin’ in the grace love and community of the resurrection community for the sake of our community.

14 …..the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Church has left the Building

SermonEaster 5A (Mothers’ Day), May 10, 2020.

Acts 7:55-60 

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ 

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep. 

What a moment and what a vision in the moment given to Stephen and to us today  

Like Moses up on the mountain; Elijah in the rocks, God’s people looking up at a cloudy fiery My Sinai, Solomon and the people when the Temple was filled with the glory of God; like the Shepherds at night when angels sang at the birth of Jesus, like Peter, James and John that day on the mountain of Transfiguration: now Stephen sees the glory of God” It’s King Jesus. AStephen becomes the first of many Christians to be killed for their witness to Jesus in the presence of dying, angry, stubborn, ‘un-listening’, unjust, self-preserving people, resurrected and ruling Jesus is there  

And the Holy Spirit is filling this man and this space.  

I am sure Luke tells us of this moment to give us confidence in Jesus’ presence and his rule that is ever-present, even if hidden in the world.  

I have heard many a question asked about what God is up to in our time of testing – this pandemic threat. I have heard a few views on what the results of this COVID time will be: 

  • A ‘resetting of the environment on planet earth – 150,000 Flamingos in of all places, Mumbai! 
  • A re-evaluation of family – and how foundational family is – a time to truly ‘reconnect’.  
  • A pause for self-reflection – a forced time of self-evaluation – priorities, job, career, direction, losses, gains; what my life needs to be about…..

All good things.   

I read with interest a comment by an Aussie Journalist on Saturday. Frank Furedi said  

Most research carried out on disasters during the 19th and 20th centuries emphasise the impressive degree of social solidarity with which the community reacts.  He quotes Sigmund Freud;   

“One of the gratifying and exalting impressions which mankind can offer is when in the face of an elemental crisis, it forgets the discordancies of its civilisation and all its internal difficulties and animosities, and recalls the great common task of preserving itself against the superior power of nature,” Freud observed. 

Despite what the news services choose to tellpeople band together in times like these and become renewed in their awareness of and commitment to relationships and community.   

But the other thing about disasters is that they do change things.  

Furedi says, 

Time and again our fears of natural disaster have served as a catalyst for human ingenuity. 

 The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 encouraged the application of science to the construction of an urban infrastructure. After the floods that hit The Netherlands in 1953, the Dutch constructed an ingenious system of dykes that represents one of the technological wonders of the world.  

The sinking of the Titanic led to a review of passenger safety, leading to a significant reduction in the hazards of sea journeys.  

(The Weekend Australian, Saturday May 2, 2020) 

Might be the same for cruise ships after the Ruby Princess!  

He sums up:  

…..most important, this terrible pandemic can provide a timely reminder that belonging to a community is the most precious asset that human beings possess. 

Community becomes preciousThat is good. But there is much more, and Stephen and the others get to see it in their dark time  

They see Jesus there in this violence and injusticeThey, and now we, are allowed to see the first human raised from the dead present at the first murder of one of his followers – and Jesus’ presence transforms this death into life, this end into a beginning, this old way into a new way, this hate into forgiveness, this darkness into joy that lasts…  

And that is the thing: because of Jesus’ presence, this hard thing became a catalyst for a new thing.   

This death was pivotal for Jesus’ missionIt changed things, as any disaster does.    

From this day onward, we hear in Acts that the little first church was scattered. Under persecution, the Spirit scattered his people and their message far and wide  

The Holy Spirit used this tragic tough dark moment to revolutionise his church and move it from being a little ‘in-group’ in one measly city in the world, to fanning out into every known country in the world full of people from every nation and language in the world.   

Friends, I ask, is that what the Spirit is doing now? Transforming us into a new shape and space in his mission for this time? Our social distancing has actually re-connected us and we are more able to be together scattered and carry the gospel further?  

What is Jesus up to at this COVID time? I am not sure anyone can really answer that question fully. don’t think those first Christians would have has a clear picture of God’s big plans for his mission through them either. They just went and they took him with them wherever they went! Or rather, the Spirit took them with him wherever he went!  

Will we listen and be led into new places, new ways, new shapes of church  

I can imagine us being more connected as a community and at the same time being more scattered. We are connected people who know each other and care for each other, and we are scattered people being the gospel in our local streets and places  

Is the Spirit showing us that we are big church in small church? We gather as one and we go and gather as twos or fours or eights in groups.   

We are large worship gatherings, buildings, organisation, leadership, institution, solid, trustworthy, rightly ordered under Jesus, and we are small, closer relationships, agile, household based, on the lookout for people in our street, people at work, people at the club.  

We are a church as a network, a coop of house based gatherings around our area all connected together with the big church face-to-face, and now, like never before, able to access the larger gathering via digital means, and even in real time/live, in any given week  

Is this the lasting gift of COVID time? A big church that can be small; a network of small groups of Christians engaged in relating, caring, serving; all connected within the big group – and both where Jesus is present in his glory; forgiving, empowering, sustaining, revealing his new creation and converting people into it  

Friends, is the Spirit showing a different way to view ourselves – a big church small: Sunday worship always but people in my house in the week; conversations in my street, my club, my work, my park, connected Christians in smaller places where we can talk longer and deeper, we can eat together, we can listen to the Word, we can invite.  

Stephen is asleep with his King Jesus. Many are as they await the final great and glorious day of the final resurrection.   

We are not asleep yet. Sometimes we act like we are. So distracted, so busy, so settled with what is, as if nothing has changed and the world has not been rearranged.   

Even worse…. Sometimes we might be like those in Stephen’s time who just blocked their ears and kept on talking longer and louder than him to keep their needs and fears and vision of life.   

All the while they got angrier and angrier at the direct challenge to their comforts and expectations, and dreams and beliefs. They show that we would rather silence Jesus and his call than be challenged by him and change.   

Friends we are wise to not block your ears and keep on talking at this time as some did in Stephen’s time. We are wrong to kill the messenger who threatens our current way of living and being church. 

Better to simply hear the magnificent words of the First Martyr – the first one being killed for his witness. His words echo the Other One who has already been killed for his witness, and all to raise up dead sinners to the new life of his glory.  

“Lord, receive our spirit, today. Make us one. Scatter us and gather us as one. In it all let your rule reign so that our sins are not held against us but your good rule is proclaimed to this community”.   

 

 

 

 

 

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