Tag: faith

Bad Dreams, Big Ideas and Butterflies

Sunday 3rd November – All Saints/In Memoriam  – St Petri Church

Transcript of Message by Pastor Noel Due

Bad Dreams, Big Ideas and Butterflies

Good morning everyone this is a very special morning.  We have come through a year where one way or another, we have all suffered losses and finally we approached death itself through 1000 losses. We lose one thing after another and then finally we lose the connection altogether. It is really good to be able to take the time, a specific time and a special time like this in the church year, to be able to remember the significance of what has been and what also we are yet to face. Sometimes we get so stuck looking at what has been, that we never actually come to move into what is.

 

I want to speak about a few things this morning that you’ll all be very familiar with. The first is bad dreams. Daniel was having some. We have three readings today, which all in their own way and each specifically emphasise, not just the bad dreams but a big idea that trumps all the bad dreams. Daniel experienced that.

 

Then there is something else in all of those readings, something which is truly gospel, something which is promise. That thing is best represented by a Butterfly. It is just coincidence today that that Pastor Adrian put his stole on and I put on my multi-coloured Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat stoll, and they both have butterflies on them. So, in case you feel like you need now go to sleep – we’re talking about bad dreams, big ideas and butterflies.  I think we have had a bit of experience each with those things. Anyone here ever had a bad dream? You sometimes can think your life is a bad dream – probably not that. Dear Daniel wasn’t really suffering bad dreams, not in the way that we understand bad dreams, not nightmares, but he was suffering very troubling dreams.

 

When we face a loss we generally face the loss of something in a personal sphere. The loss of a person who is very close to us, even the loss of a pet who is very close to us touches us very deeply.  A loss of our livelihood. A lot of our farming communities in the drought stricken areas of Australia, the loss of their farm. Some have been on that property for five generations.

 

When we face loss, we can go into an emotional turmoil which is represented by darkness, it sometimes feels as though the darkness is pressing in. Sometimes like with Daniel’s dream, it feels like the winds of heaven are stirring up all of the breakers and the sea of the world and out of that turmoil are arising beasts that would seek to devour and consume us. We face that loss personally in one or other of those ways that I’ve mentioned.

 

Daniel had faced the loss of all things. His people had lost everything and were now in captivity and Daniel, through a remarkable series of events, was being raised by God to serve the ruler of that new country in which he lived, and also to be a prophet for his own people who were in exile. Daniel’s dreams were not bad dreams in the way that we understand nightmares or bad dreams but they were deeply troubling dreams because when you come through a time of suffering loss, one of the greatest issues is – Why? How did we end up here? Why did this happen? We can become unceasingly afflicted by, what I call the “if only” or the “what if’s”. If only I had … If only we had noticed earlier. If only I had gone to the doctor a month ahead of time. If only I had been home instead of away and what if? What if I had been there? What if that person hadn’t died alone? What if? and in the turmoil and the trouble we can sense that things or it feels like things are spinning out of control. But Daniel’s troubling dream (I won’t call them bad dreams any more). Daniel’s troubling dream was not the last word because the counterpoint for that is also a triumphant exalted vision of God on his throne. One like a son of man coming up to receive from him a kingdom which cannot be shaken. One of whom it said later “all authority is given to me in heaven and on the earth” and it is also said in Daniel that those who share in that kingdom receive a kingdom themselves which cannot be shaken.

 

The writer to the Hebrews takes that up. He says at one point, “once more the Lord will shape heaven and earth” quoting Habakkuk. But he says when that shaking happens, we believe, we know, we experience that we have a kingdom which cannot be shaken.

 

In other words the bad dreams, the troubling dreams. The wind which seems to rise out of nowhere to create havoc, the dark images of destruction that come in the person of those beasts in Daniel’s vision. They are not the last word. They have to be faced. You don’t make any progress in life by making out that they don’t exist. But they have to be face in faith. In faith, based on the revelation of a far greater and more exalted vision which is of the Lord himself who is in control of all things. Even it seems, in control of the darkness. That we are not spinning out of control, the world is not spinning out of control and that is the big idea which is at the centre of all of the readings. That big idea can be summarised in one phrase – it is the kingdom of God.

 

The kingdom of God is the big idea which runs all the way through the scriptures. The kingdom of God means God’s reign and God’s rule. We say at the end of the Lord’s prayer; for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Interestingly enough, that phrase, that little segment, is not in the earliest versions of the Lord’s prayer in Matthew and Luke – but the church felt it was so important to be memorialised in the context of that prayer that for 2000 years or so we have included that phrase or that paragraph. It is a testimony to what we, as God’s people, have held and believed and which has kept us as a whole church over thousands of years, in the faith.

 

There are bad dreams, there are troubling dreams, there are deeply perplexing things, there are deeply painful things – but they do not have the last say. There is a bigger idea, a bigger reality, a bigger truth beyond all of the trouble. And that is the utter assurance of the sovereignty, the kingdom, the rain and rule of God. And if you want any evidence that that is so, you only need to look at the cross. Because in that place, through the person of Jesus Christ, you see once and for all, enacted in human history – the inescapable reality that God’s kingdom trumps everything. Even death itself and God himself in the person of his son went through the valley of deep darkness so that we might participate in the surety and the security of being in his kingdom.

 

I don’t know if you picked up from the reading in Ephesians that it talks about the holy spirit being a “deposit” and a “seal”. Do you remember that bit in the reading? Now, those two words come from the language of the marketplace,, and we are a little bit familiar with them in our own way of doing business. In those days when you put a deposit down it was the absolute guarantee that that thing against which you place the deposit; be it a jar of olive oil, one of those amphora of wine that you see being carried up from the bottom of the Mediterranean,Sea at archaeological digs or a big jar of olives or a couple kilograms of grapes. Whatever you put your deposit on, and then you went off to the other parts of the marketplace – that was yours no matter what.

 

God has made a deposit in us of the Holy Spirit. We are His, no matter what.

 

The other word that is very close to it conceptually is the word seal. He has placed a seal on us, and again that’s from the language of our ancient Greco-Roman markets. When, let’s say it was a barrel of herring or something really wonderful like the fish sauce that the Romans used to prize so much. When a seal was placed on that by a trader it had his mark on it. That barrel of goods or container of goods could not be touched by anyone else except with the express permission of the owner. It had to be presented in a written document to say “I give permission for Joe Bloggs to touch this thing and move it” but apart from that, that seal meant that the item was sacrosanct and no one else could get near it. That’s the way God relates to you! He has put a deposit within you of the Holy Spirit which says that you are his is no matter what. And He has put a seal upon you, which means that nothing can come to you except if it first come through God. You might think of the dreadful suffering of the old Testament person called Job. Even all that happened to him, could not happen without the express permission of God to say “you may touch this one even though he is sealed”.

 

For us, therefore this time of perplexity and pain and confusion, this darkness, this raging of the wind in the rattling of the shutters at night time and the trouble that gets us like Daniel turning on our beds. (A bit like a rotisserie chicken 2 o’clock in the morning?) All of that we actually now face by faith, because if we had to face it in our own strength and with our own resources and just in the life span that we have – and nothing beyond it, nothing under it, nothing over it, then we of all people would be most to be pitied. It would be truly hopeless.

 

God is granted as a great assurance of a kingdom which is an everlasting kingdom which cannot be shaken and which goes beyond death itself. Which takes me to the butterflies.

 

Now, this is probably a question you might not want to put your hand up for, but the first part is okay. Did any of you have silk worms growing up? They were good fun. They were not butterflies, but at least they hatched into a moth and that’s close. Did any of you growing up see? Do you still get them here? Those wanderer butterflies which came in the beautiful blue and silver chrysalis?

 

Now this part is probably what only boys are going to put their hand up for. Did anyone ever try and cut one open to see what was inside?

 

Well, I had a friend. I still have a friend. He ‘fessed up to me during the week. He said he found one and him and his dad and his brothers, decided to cut one open and see which bit had turned from the caterpillar into the butterfly.

 

Now, what happens? How does that process take place? Getting from the caterpillar to the butterfly. Does it happen bit by bit? Do you have half caterpillar and half butterfly? or do you have some butterfly feelers and caterpillar legs? How does it happen?

 

Well, my friends said they cut this one open and to their surprise it was just all grey mush inside. They said – and their dad agreed – “This is probably a dead one, it has gone off” ‘cause they couldn’t see any butterfly bits. In fact it wasn’t a dead one, it hadn’t gone off, because the way in which those transformations happen – from caterpillar to butterfly, is a complete and utter undoing of one thing and an entirely re-doing of a new thing out of the soup that is in the chrysalis. It’s not as though it changes bit by bit from the top down or from the bottom up or from the legs outwards. The whole lot is  dissolved and then the whole lot is reconstructed. So why am I telling you that?

 

Welcome to your life! It’s not just a picture of death and resurrection in the physical sense. Most of us, if I may say looking around this congregation this morning. Most of us have lived long enough (that means we are over 21) to have had an experience where the whole of our lives seem to be broken down – true?  It’s not just that sometimes we lose a loved one and we wonder what’s happened to them, but in the midst of that loss it seems as though within our own selves everything is deconstructed. You think, can anything ever come back out of this again? and what comes back out of that again is a new thing but it is connected to the old thing.

 

I’m convinced that we don’t get over grief. What happens is that that grief is used under the hands of God to bring as into a new future which is connected to all that has been. But it is not the same as all that has been, and in the process coming through that chrysalis phase, it seems as though everything is just dissolved and you wonder, can anything good ever come out of this? and the answer is “yes” because something good came out of that cross. When everything seemed to be dissolved, and they had suffered the loss of all things, and the disciples and the others scattered into the night. Their internal life and their spiritual life and their sense of God’s presence and their love for Christ was totally destroyed – and out of that a whole new thing emerged. That’s why throughout the history of the iconography, (the sacred art of the church) the butterfly has always symbolised not just resurrection but new hope.

 

The word that I want to bring to us today is that if you are still, or have been in that place where it is still bad dreams, don’t fear, because there’s a bigger idea beyond that. The reign and rule, the personal presence of God and the assurance that out of that which you have lost, God will bring a new future. That person whom you have lost is already experiencing it now.

 

We’re sort of stuck in the chrysalis waiting for it yet to happen but it will happen. Personally and corporately.

 

I serve in the Department of the church which works with churches which are suffering the loss of all things. Many on the verge of closure, some wondering if they have a future. I don’t know whether God will want to keep the Lutheran Church of Australia going, we are a bit of a funny bunch. But I am absolutely convinced that he will keep the church going and revive it!

 

We all live in that hope and it’s not just a wish – it is a sure and certain future. It’s a promised future. It has a deposit and a seal and you can be absolutely sure that God is bringing you into it even today.

 

So may the Lord be with you, particularly now, as we come from a time of remembrance and to share the Lord’s supper together in Jesus name. Am

Hopelessly Confused – Pastor Noel Due

Sunday 29th September, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a)    In whom is your faith placed?

b)    What therefore do you love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Jesus name, Amen.

On Track

Sermon, 10th Pentecost, Sunday August 18, 2019

St Petri

Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throw off:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“O soul, are you weary and troubled?

No light in the darkness you see?

There’s light for a look at the Savior,

And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in his wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.”

 

 

confidence and conviction

SermonPentecost 9th C, Sunday August 11, 2019.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16  

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. 

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.  

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. 

 

 

How are you going in the confidence stakes at the moment; bit shaky, or rock solid? And what about conviction; what are you very convicted of when it comes to living life? What would you never compromise; Your support of your elderly parents; your unwell partner; your study program, your search for a partner in life, your continued relationship with someone you love, your hard work to continue your career, your commitment to serve in God’s mission here….  

From where do confidence and conviction come? Faith: that is the source of confidence and conviction, says the Hebrew’s writer.  

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and conviction about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. 

Faith in what? Faith in things we are already confident in ((because we already have them) even though they are unseen. What are these ‘unseen things” we already have?  

This writer tells us to look at people who have lived in these unseen things with unshakable faith for the confidence and conviction we need to live as God’s loved people in the here and now.  

I reckon these words in Hebrews 11 are like a Co-Op catalogue. It is a list of goodies on offer at very good value that will bring great benefits to you.   

But here, the goodies are free and there is really only one ‘goody”, and that is faith in Jesus and all his gifts of grace already yours.   

This catalogue tells you that faith in Jesus’ forgiveness, his rule, his grace, his power for living is the only commodity that will get you through not just a cold night (new heater), or a cooking session (new fry pan), or a night watching the telly (couch, TV), but Jesus in all his fullness and with all his gifts will get you through suffering, pressure, darkness and even death itself.   

This catalogue has seventeen examples of faith from five stages in the story of God’s people  

There are three stories from three very early people (Abel, Enoch and Noah) who are shown to be like Jesus; four stories from the life of Abraham as a picture of what it is to be a faithful person/community of God, three stories from three later patriarchs (Jacob and etc) as what it is to be heirs of God’s blessing, four stories from the life of Moses again, as being like Jesus, and three stories from the Exodus and later journey into the land as examples of how God saved people from slavery and evil. It is the best catalogue you would ever get in your mailbox! You’ve got mail now!  

All those people and their stories hinge around that gift called “Faith”; mentioned about twenty times in the chapter.   

It would be easy to believe that we are being told to simply try harder at having faith in Jesus. All these people of old lived in faith. So should you. So, try harder to believe!  

But that is actually NOT what this catalogue of faith says (what a relief!). Just the opposite. This catalogue does not ask you to do more or try more or buy in more to Christianity. It is a catalogue that shows you what God GIVES YOU in good faith so you can live by faith in him. And this catalogue is also like an instruction manual. It tells us how to receive this gift of faith.    

Faith here is a GIFT to be received, a future already begun, a city already under construction, a new country already here – all by Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.   

Faith is to be received, as these people of old received it, not achieved by their own or our own magnificence!     

The writer is convinced that God makes your faith, not you. You don’t have to try harder to have more faith. We only need to receive the stories of faith and trust these ‘things unseen’.   

But how? By HEARING the Word of God – words like these;    

  • By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command  
  • Abraham, when called (by the Lord) to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went. God creates and calls by his Words.   
  • Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. God shapes the rise and fall of us all by words.    
  • For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. God’s words design and construct us.    
  • Sarah, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. Families and futures exist and continue by God’s words of promise.  

But it is so easy to look elsewhere than God’s word for confidence and conviction to live life.   

It would have been the easier option for the people to whom this Hebrews writer writes. They live in small communities living in mildly or maybe hostile communities where their faith in Jesus brings them isolation and alienation.  

I think we can relate to this. We tend to search our own past and our own inner strength more than Jesus’ words of promise.  

We would rather stay in the dodgy country we already know because at least we know it and can control it a bit more than this future promised country we can’t fully see. At least we know our way around our town. Who knows what would happen to us if we went to another city like Sydney or London or New York?!  

Maybe we tend to look backwards too. Not at what God has done (as this writer does) but at what we have done or where our family has come from and the like.   

As you hear these stories of faithful people of long ago you notice that they deliberately chose to live with their heart in a home not here. They saw themselves as lifelong resident aliens in the world 

Their confidence and conviction did not stem from any nostalgic ‘looking back to the good old days’, or ‘the good old country’ for which they longed to return one day.  

They did not even cling nostalgically to their family or national or immigrant heritage, they longed for something far better than that.  

Friends, we are being urged to trust Jesus for our heart and our home that is in the unseen things and the unseen person from which they come; thing and a person who is largely misunderstood or dismissed most.    

We are being called to actually trust these unseen things of God because Jesus has said them, done them and promised them.   

Things like forgiveness, hope, the Spirit’s power, and the grace of our heavenly Father (Hebrews 11:1). These are already now available to us (Hebrews 6:18). They are things that will be fully inherited by us at the close of the age (Hebrews 6:11). 

They are the very good things (Hebrews 9:11), which are also the better things than we can manufacture within and in this old country (Hebrews 6:9)  

They are heavenly realities or spiritual powers (Hebrews 9:23), such as the world to come (2:5) and the age to come (6:5), complete salvation from our idolatry, weakness, sin, guilt, shame, dying, suffering…. (2:3; 6:9; 9:28).   

They are the everlasting eternal inheritance given in Baptism and sustained by His Word (9:15). They are our true heavenly homeland (11:14, 16), the heavenly city (11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14), the unshakable kingdom (12:26), the holy things in the heavenly sanctuary (8:2; 9:8, 12; 10:19), and the heavenly place of rest (4:1–11).  

Where are you looking to find some confidence and some conviction to deal with whatever you need to deal with? Are you putting real trust in things you can see (and control) or the one whom you cannot see, and his marvelous but unseen gifts only received by faith and no other way  

Are you even looking anymore? Are you unsure where to look? Are you simply tied to your own story, your own family story, of the past in general?   

Maybe you have stopped looking some time ago and are just going through the outward motions for lack of better ideas?  

Friend, no need to be ‘past bound’ so much. No need to look only within yourself to find the confidence and conviction you need to climb the mountain before you.   

No need to be so tied to your ow story or your family story to not be captured and made alive by Jesus’ story and Jesus’ gifts that bring you into his present and give you a solid future.   

No need to try harder to believe. Simply receive more of God’s Word and let him give you faith by which to live by faith and its gifts of confidence and conviction.   

Unlike it was for them the new country is close. Jesus is here. Our future in his love and acceptance is here now in part, one day in full.   

Seek the confidence and conviction you long for and need that comes from faith by hearing these stories of faithful people and receiving the gift of faith from the word of this Saviour. He is your confidence and conviction to live now as you journey on to the better country already real and ready.   

And one more thing: God is not ashamed of you?   

 God says to them and us that “I am not ashamed” to associate with you.   

God is proud of any person of faith (even mustard seed sized faith!) in Jesus. God is proud “to be called your God” (Heb 11:16). 

The better country

Sermon, Pentecost 12C,Sunday August 11th, 2013,St PetriTravelling man

 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.

3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old–and Sarah herself was barren–because he considered him faithful who had promised.
12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth,14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16)


“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

PRAY:  heavenly Father, by your Holy Spirit acting now in your word, speak to us of that better country to which the Good Shepherd is leading us. Amen.

 If you could design a world what would it be? Would it be a world of tropical beaches and endless cocktails and pineapples!? Would it be a world of royal babies and a lovely young princess and prince living happily in their palace among adoring subjects? Would it be a stage – the X Factor – you wooing the masses with pure giftedness? Is it the Barossa – food and wine, family values, healthy living, the land, the ground, the vines, not city, not corrupted by outside influences…a place to “be consumed”?

What do you wish the world was and how should people be to make the world better? Have you given up on the perfect world because you’ve seen too much of the imperfect and broken one?

The world is broken. At every level, the world is broken.

One of the people who most represent the brokenness of the world to me is the Zimbabwe President, Robert Mugabe. I heard the other week that he promised to step down from his role as President should he lose the election last week. So cynical and corrupt! He managed to rig the election to “win” a so called “landslide victory! After 30+ years of mostly corruption, cronyism, violent oppression, greed and the maintenance of absolute power at any cost – which has brought a once up and coming African nation to bankruptcy and a return to feudalism – and all with the facade of care for the poor, justice and happiness in the Presidential palace, this delusional leader continues his evil way and destroys his people and the land through which God feeds him.

He is like the people to whom Isaiah was sent to speak the word of the Lord. They are a broken people.

They do all the right outward things as leaders in God’s community – sacrifices at the temple, burning incense and praying in their homes, religious observations of festivals and days and seasons and etc – while those on the poverty line or below are left uncared for, those without parents or home left to fend for themselves; those with no income and no life partner exploited by lack of care, concern and real help.

Out of love, the Lord calls these broken people who are breaking their community back to himself. The call to repent and come home is also a call to seek justice, act fairly, defend those homeless, those alone, those vulnerable – and then, and only then, would he make the stains of their blood red past sins change to pure white wool (Isaiah 1:11-18).

Friends, we are broken people too. This brokenness is this ability to be two-faced or unbalanced – where our outward words and actions are not consistent with our inward belief and state of mind. We are masters of deception – not just in front of others but inside ourselves. We deceive ourselves into believing that everything is fine, or as John says, we have the ability to convince ourselves that “we have no sin” (1John 1:8).

So, the truth is that we are all dis-integrated in all kinds of ways. We can put on an outward show of faith in God and love for others while at the same time harbouring a heart full of hate and pain.

We can say all the right things that we think God and others want to hear and yet not lift a finger to actually do the right things God tells us he wants his people to do. That is our brokenness.

Into our deceptive brokenness comes Jesus, God’s good shepherd who can say in all love –

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Really? Do not fear the God who says “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood (Isaiah 1:15)?

Friends, if God can see our deceptive and broken ways; how we can say words of praise to him and then live like he does not exist and that his presence and grace have no demand on our life; and if he knows the injustice, hatred, greed and lust for control over others and his creation, we are entangled in at various levels, then how can we be at peace with him and trust that he is not going to “devour us with the sword” (Isaiah 1:20)?

Why can we have “faith in things unseen and confidence in things hoped for”? Because there is already Someone who has been devoured by the sword! There is One who has been chewed up by all the injustice, deception, hatred, violence and two-facedness we could have ever mustered.

This One triumphed over our brokenness and our dis-integrated heart with all its harmful actions or just plain no action. This One calls himself the Good Shepherd and he triumphed over all of our darkness with love, pure love – freely given to anyone who calls out to him in all humility and honesty.

All of his victory and his grace and his resurrection healing power has been freely given in the font of resurrection grace and everyday since. All of this old dark and stormy stuff was drowned in your font and your stained soul of rebellion against the Lord and worship of self was washed and removed.

Placed on you were the white robes of God’s light, peace and confident hope. Placed on your head was the royal victor’s crown of the servant-king. Written in his book was your name. Written on your soul was your citizenship in a new and better country of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks.

That is why Jesus, the Good shepherd can honestly say to you today;

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Ah, with the Psalmist of old we can sing,

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.  (Psalm 33:20-22)

Yes, Lord we hope in you – your grace and power shown in love.

And what now friends? What do we do with the grace of Jesus over running our very souls today?

Isaiah 1:17 –  Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

By faith, Abraham did. He believed God’s promise and he acted accordingly – not with part of his life or his wealth or his status among other but with everything.

That is the call from the Lord to you and me today. Faith is doing God’s doing. Faith is jumping in the wheelbarrow and letting the Lord direct our journey to his better country. Faith is not being a spectator of disciples but being a disciple in real life.

But there is a cost to be people of the Shepherd.

It removes us from the normal way of the world. It makes us feel like strangers. It unsettles us and makes us less comfortable, less settled, less happy with injustice, greed and the like.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the Old Testament people knew this and willingly paid the price. All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. “They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth…” (Hebrews 11:13)

Faith in God’s gracious love given in Jesus of Nazareth creates the reality within us that we don’t belong everywhere and with everyone. The call of Jesus puts us on a road trip. We become at heart, travellers heading to a destination somewhere else.

And this means that what goes with being settled, being safe, being sure, being comfortable, staying in one place all our lives – not in terms of houses and geography as much as in terms of our relationship with Jesus and other people – must be let go – in the heart – “for where your treasure is, there is your heart also”.

Many times I have known in my own heart that I don’t belong in some places. Many times I have wanted to join in and be like everyone else, have everyone else’s aspirations in my heart – but am unable to join in because of Jesus and his call.

But, I would rather stay in his call than join in with human ignorance and brokenness. Why? Because of the “better country” of which I am a part and to which I am being drawn to.

“They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth…..for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
….They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:14-16)

The better country is no shame, no judgement by, no fear of my Creator and yours. The better country is where Jesus, the Good Shepherd leads me beside places in which I can eat and drink and rest and grow stronger in faith, and in hope and in love.

Friend, Jesus is calling you to this better country and the call is both a gift of grace and love, and call to be the same.

We are all refugees/travellers/foreigners without real, home, impenetrable security or safety and yet we are citizens of the new and better country of God’s holy community in the world. We are a local expression of this better country in our town.

Friend, God is not ashamed to be called your God; indeed, he has prepared a city for you, and that city is right here – the local church – now, in part, one day in full.

He is calling you to that better country but to journey with Jesus means that you need to actually follow him…..

 

CONVERSATIONS STARTERS

Share something of the way it feels to know that you are different to others because of your faith in Jesus? How are you different? How does the different approach you have to life show itself when with people who would not call themselves followers of Jesus?

Do you think you find it all to easy to be hypocritical like the people of Isaiah’s day (see the Old Testament text – Isaiah 1:1, 10-20. How has this kind of “two-facedness” sometime shown itself in your life?

When you hear Jesus’ words “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32), how do you respond?

What encouragement do you hear from the Hebrews text (Hebrews 11:13-16)  when it comes to experiencing that sense of being a “stranger” and “traveller” looking for a “better country” as you live life?

In your view, what is God’s “better country” of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks? I said,

The better country is where Jesus, the Good Shepherd leads me beside places in which I can eat and drink and rest and grow stronger in faith, and in hope and in love”.

Si, it is to do with living in freedom and peace with God and others – without fear or any shame. Is that part of your view of God’s better country? What else?

The “better country” has already begun. We had our passport stamped at our baptism and re-stamped every time we have shared the word with a friend, received the Lord’s Supper, that word of Absolution, and hear the word preached and taught. How firm is your faith on this at the moment and what would help you believe that you are a citizen of God’s new country?

Pray the Psalm writers prayer to finish…

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

 (Psalm 33:20-22)