Tag: John

Away in a Manger – Wide Eyed and All Ears

Sermon, Sunday December 8, 2019Away in a manger

Advent 2A

 Matthew 3:1-12 

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

“Prepare the way for the Lord,

    make straight paths for him.”’[a]

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them

: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 ‘I baptise you with[bwater for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with[cthe Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’

The young boy standing in that stable is wide-eyed and all ears. He stands with wide eyes and open ears just taking in the scene and listening to the words. He takes in words of the Mother of this baby as she reflects on the magnitude of what God has given to her for the world.

Wide-eyed and all ears. That is the advent call. Wide-eyed and all ears.

The problem is that we long term Christians are often bleary-eyed and plugged ears when it comes to taking in the scene and listening to the Word speak. Like a shop owner so used to her shop and so focused on sweeping the floor that she does not even notice the cheers of the crowd as the Queen’s cavalcade drives past her shop!

But every year the Spirit sends out a breaking news bulletin across the bottom of our screens. The ABC radio fire announcement siren goes off for a moment in time. We may or may not be wide eyed and all ears…..

He comes in from the wild. He is trying to get us to be wide-eyed and all ears to the things of the Spirit again. His name is John. He is that wild man with a wild heart trying to arrest out attention back to this wild gift of God named Jesus.

If you choose to ignore this call to notice and receive this Gift; if you choose to lessen this gift by claiming yourself or your past or your family name or your nationality or your money or achievements in life a better thing; a gift you have earned or achieved for yourself, then he cuts you down to size.

John is sent to cut us down to size to make sure we are wide-eyed and all ears to the truth that we are not as good as we believe ourselves to be; I am not God’s gift to the world by myself, but this boy is God’s gift to me and only he makes us truly God’s gift to the world.

Some around John choose to dismiss this gift or be their own gift. They say; “We have Abraham as our father.”

Out comes the axe!

“I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”  (Matthew 3: 9-10)

Why? To get you back to being that young kid, wide-eyed and all ears taking in the scene and hearing the words spoken; receiving him in the heart.

John knows that this gift brings life after his axe. There is hope from despair, forgiveness for a wayward heart in this baby boy.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him –

    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

    the Spirit of counsel and of might,

    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord –

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,

    or decide by what he hears with his ears;

but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
 with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.  (Isaiah 11: 1-3)

This boy will see beyond our human eyes and listen beyond our ears into the heart. He goes deeper, into the heart and does his work there in us.

But the way we receive him and his great gifts are by our eyes and ears. They are the windows to our very souls.

Just like Mary wants this wide-eyed boy with listening ears to hear the true magnitude of the gift Jesus is, so John is the same. John wants us to be wide-eyed and all ears to receive him in the heart because only there will we be transformed by all his gifts into who he has created us to be. From the inside out with his deeper seeing and hearing he will revolutionise who we are and how we live for the better – quite a promise! What a gift!

Is it working? Are your eyes wide open and ears attentive yet? Are you open to receive him, know him, hear him again despite all the distraction and self-focus and personal bubble of busyness or illness or pain or pride or fear?

Mary asked, “Will they come?”. She hopes you do and they too. Why so?

Mary tells the young boy not to be put off by the lack of power or wealth or royal show. She impresses upon the boy taking in this scene: it is all for love.

“Whatever you tell them about this shed, this humble place and my humble offering to this scene, tell them this boy is above all, a gift of love. Be sure to tell them that above all he is a gift of love”.

Love. To know love. To know this is all for love. This is divine love beyond all loves to rule over our wayward loves. This is the power of love displayed in humanness; in things not powerful or emotionally attractive or intellectually satisfying or visually amazing or politically correct. This is pure self-giving love given in a way any of us can really get – a everyday human way.

This is costly love; risky love. He has no guarantee that you will open your eyes and your ears to his words of love in action, but he does them anyway. You might even drive in a nail or two at times, but he still ‘does love’ for you. You might withhold love from him out of anger or doubt or distraction or unbelief. You might simply love other things, other people and your cherished dreams and visions for your life way more than his dream and vision for your life, but he still ‘does love’ for you.

His baptism of you still counts. His word of love still speaks. His community of loved people still exist and still live out his love in their everyday weaknesses.

Here comes the King of love with the true love, the right love, the largest and highest and widest perfect gracious love in real action (not just theory or idea or angelic distance); here comes human love divine in human action – God in the straw, bloodied arms spread on the wood, body risen with wounds, “Peace be with you, friend”.

Are you wide-eyed and all ears yet? Is John’s call working? Are Mary’s words speaking?

No need to come to this gift of a real love in a baby boy claiming your own goodness or rightness; your family privilege or place, your own deeds of grace.

John says, “just come”. “Repent and believe. Just come. Receive the one who gives a whole lot more than me”.

Why? Because he’s loved you the most when you have not loved him first. He loves you to make you a person of real love for your spouse, your kids, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours and even strangers.

Mary says, John says, just come. Come with eyes wide open and all ears taking in the Christmas scene of life-changing love.

Come in faith to this boy this Advent. He is full love for your empty soul, complete forgiveness for your uncompleted faith, pure gift of grace for your impure self-reliance on your own graces; inclusive truth for your indifference.

O come all you faithful,

Joyful and triumphant

O come all you citizens of heaven above

Come and adore

Come let us adore him.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”. (Romans 4:13)



Sermon, All Saints, 11th November 2012.

Remembrance Day and Memorial Rite, St Petri


1John 3:1-3

 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

I remember being in absolute awe of all the saints as a kid. When we little grade ones and twos at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic primary school in extreme NE of the WA Wheat belt (about 450km’s NE of Perth) went into the big (it seemed big then!) dark dome- topped church next to the school in the town of Mullewa (population – about 1200) for Mass I could feel the eyes of the saints looking at me in those statues and icons – and I was worried!

I felt a great distance between me and the saints. They were holy and eternal and I was not. They were wise and great achievers – obviously – to be named “saint”! I was not those things in my opinion.

Monsignor O’Brien, a great old priest, led Mass in full vestments and he and the other priests lived in the cloisters attached to the church and that was mysterious too. What did they eat? “What did they do? They probably prayed all day and tried to get close to God….” They were on their way to being a “saint”, I thought. I wasn’t on my way to sainthood. Maybe I was on my way the other way!

So, for me, and I suspect for most people these days, especially those not too connected to a church, the saints were “other people”, dead people, but people that really had “made it” in religion. They had not sinned – not much at least – not as much as us!

In their life-time, they were obviously really close to God. As a result they had done amazing things – including miracles. And this just proved that they were the very “special people” way beyond the average Joe and Josephine. I reckon I felt that there was no way that I could ever be a saint. I reckon most average Australians would feel the same – and many would not even bother to care about saints and all of that stuff.

But I then, like lots of people now didn’t mind not being a saint. Especially if it mean i had to pray all day and not eat a Rump steak or drink a red wine! I liked my family and our house, and school and if I couldn’t be one of God’s very special people, then I would just do the best I could and hope that this would be good enough to avoid that “other place” sometimes mentioned by adults in the school…..”Hell”!

Looking back, I am amazed at how off the mark my young belief was. Looking back I also feel some disappointment at what I was taught about being a Christian as a kid. I have to say that I really did not hear that I was a saint because God had already made me one. I had no certainty of God’s approval. And as we know, when this approval is not given, it makes you either want to give up and resign yourself to the fact that you’re no good or fire up – developing a rebellious kind of stance against God and all his so called “saints”. “No thanks God. No thanks Church. I’ll live it my way and hope that’s good enough” is where you can end up when you are not sure of your status and a saint.

But on a day like today, All Saints day, I hear much more about saints and whether or not I am close enough to God and whether or not God approves of me enough to let me live beyond my grave like “all the saints”. I hear that I am a saint in God’s books. I hear that the only reason I am one of God’s “holy ones”, one his “specially called and chosen people” is because of his lavish love in making me a saint. I am not a saint because I achieved the status. I have been given the status when Ii was not holy, not good enough.

 “See what love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God; and that is exactly what we are, says the Apostle John.

“Lavished”. Not just given but “lavished” upon us. When do you “lavish” someone with self-giving friendship, care, protection, love?

• When it is your wedding anniversary.

• When it is your child’s first birthday or their 21st birthday?

• When your child is confirmed or graduated from School or uni or gets their ticket for their trade…..

• When your best friend gets very sick.

• When your friend or your partner is suffering

• When someone you highly value and love is dying…….

This is when you lavished love on another and/or are lavished love upon! This is the kind of self-sacrificing love the Creator has lavished on us by adopting us suffering, weak, idol chasing, idol making sinners into his own family and giving us his own name – “child of God”, “Holy Ones of God”, “Saints”, chosen, called, appointed, loved….

Surely one of the great longings of our time is for belonging. Surely so many people, even in the prosperous Barossa are lonely and feeling un-adopted, disconnected from their families, the church, all the other people around town that seem to be doing so much better than them. And this is not just the people we might expect – the “needy” or the “poor”, but the wealthy, the people of means – any kind of people….

We talked about this Friday night with a group of parents of our children and young people – While the pressure, temptation, overwhelming choices, high expectations in body image, academic success, earning power and etc are increasing among our young, the structures around them of extended family and ongoing relationships with adult mentors is decreasing.

Kids are feeling isolated. Parents are feeling isolated. Grandparents can feel isolated.

Jackson Browne, the great singer-songwriter of the 70’s and 80’s said it well, “There is a God-sized hole in all of us”.

Into the breach comes us – the local church – not just a community of everyday people like everyone else – but a holy community of every day holy, chosen, set a part people, lavished by God’s love and named by him as his very own people; A community with divine connection. A local community with eternal links to the heavenly – the God-like.

So, you see, now I know that the distance between those holy saints represented in statues and paintings and spoken of with great respect is not very big. Now I know, by God’s choosing and his great love for me that I am a saint.

Now I know that my baptism day was my adoption day into the great hall of saints – the long room in God’s MCG – my name is up on the mahogany boards. I have my place in the annuls of God’s community achievements – beforeIi even knew my own name he did this for me through my parents…..

 Now I know that the reason I am a saint is not because I am good, but because I am new.

 Now I know that being a saint is being good, but it is dying to sin and rising to life with Jesus everyday – and that is new enough.

His love is enough. As we sometimes sing, “His grace is enough for me” or ‘Amazing Grace that saved a wretch like me”.

Break out the chisel and get to work on the statue. Pick up the paint brush and start painting! Not me, but yourself! We are lavished loves of the Lord of love – Jesus.

Even better, lets paint a picture of God as we love others in the way we have been lavishly loved. That will be a picture worth seeing one day when all the saints come marching in. We will be in the long line of joy with that old lady we heard about today too, who gave her very self into the hands of her Lord at the temple that day when Jesus was watching and approved of her for her true giving.

John was famous for many things. This letter, the great letter called the Bok of Revelation, for being one so close to Jesus and naming himself, “the one whom Jesus loved”; Quite a title to name yourself, “the one whom Jesus loved”.

But he is famous for something else…..

The story goes that in his old age (he was the only one of the twelve to see old age), he would preach in his little Mediterranean church community. He would rise slowly and shuffle his way to the little pulpit. People would be waiting with baited breath for the great loved one of Jesus t speak in long words about what he had seen and heard.

You could imagine all the “heaven seekers’ there; people wanting to touch the supernatural and experience “the third heaven”. People itching to experience the immediate and powerful presence of God and see the crystal sea and the cherubim and etc….

And the great man of heaven would get up and say, ‘Little children. Love each other”. And sit down.

Reaching the Heights

Sermon, Transfiguration Day

Sunday February 19, 2012.

St Petri.

 Mark 9: 1-10

Reaching the heights

Friends, being on top of the hill is a great place to be. It always amazes me how those mountain climbers go to such great lengths and put themselves in such dangerous places to experience the joy of being high on “the roof of the world”, as they call Mt Everest.

I have never been anywhere near Mt Everest, but I have enjoyed that great view on various high places. I remember being on top of Uluru on a fine sunny spring morning. I remember the view of that beautiful city of Paris that Leanne and I shared in the Montparnasse Tower. I remember viewing the patchwork quilt of paddocks in southern wheat belt in WA from the top of Bluff Knoll in the Stirling Ranges with our whole family and some friends.

Somehow being at the top of a mountain and taking in that sweeping view is exhilarating. I guess that is why we bother to get up so high.

Peter, James and John were led up a high mountain (probably Mt Tabor) in Israel. They were led up there by Jesus. They may have been thinking that this might be the time that Jesus was going to teach them the way he prays? They had often seen him disappear up a nearby hill at sunset and not come back until morning, and when they asked him what he had been doing, he said he had been “praying to my Father”.

Well, they got more than they could have ever bargained for. We heard the account Mark tells. Jesus changes. His clothes become whiter than white; whiter than any bleach could make them. This is “other worldly” white.

In this blinding array, two human figures appear. Surely they cannot believe their eyes. They are good Jewish boys. All their lives they have told and had re-told the stories of these two “greats” of the Jewish faith – and there they are. Instead of having Adelaide Crows or Power players on their bedroom walls, they would have had Moses and Elijah there!

We might liken this moment to being in the presence of a West Coast Eagles ‘legend’ like Guy MacKenna or Peter Matera! (maybe not here, hey?).

Leanne tells me that when the Queen visited Perth last year, it was this kind of moment. Tens of thousands of people lined the Perth streets and they were almost silent as Elizabeth II passed by and when she addressed the great throng.

The three men are dazzled by this supernatural show of light. Amazingly, Mark says that these two towering figures of the Biblical story are “talking with Jesus”. They have come to talk with Jesus. They seem the lesser and he seems the greater.

After the initial terror that filled these men, Peter has to say something. Even though it seems that the words he says are spoken in his dazed state.

“Jesus, it is good to be here!” he blurts out. Then he suggests to Jesus that he and his two friends should be allowed to put up the three tents. Most people seem to take this as meaning that Peter wanted this inspiring experience to keep going for a little longer. Why not? After all, as he says, “It is good to be here”.

Peter’s very limited human understanding of Jesus and of how God works to hide his glory, lest we take it for ourselves and give ourselves the credit is on show here. His idea comes to naught. Even as he finishes speaking, God is already doing something else. God is in control of this rare event and he is the one who determines the mountain top experiences, not Peter.

The “cloud” descends. Ah. “The cloud”. We have heard about this cloud before. This is the “glory cloud”, the Shekinah” of God’s glorious presence with his people in that desert wandering time. The cloud descended on the newly build tabernacle as Moses and Aaron had prayed way back in Numbers. The pillar of cloud appeared in the great event of the Red Sea crossing as God freed his people, Israel. The cloud of God led them by day and the pillar of fire led them by night in that Exodus journey.

Now the cloud of God’s glory envelops them all. And in the misty great came that Voice. The voice that only Jesus had heard before – the voice saying almost the same word down by the Jordan when John the Baptiser baptised Jesus as his ministry began that day (Mark 1).

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him”.  This time it seems that not only Jesus hears these precious and powerful words from Parent to child.

The sense of the words suggests that everyone heard this stamp of love and approval and this command – this imperative word, “Listen to him”. Actually, the word means, “Keep on listening to him”.

And then, as quickly as they had been dazzled, it is all gone – except one thing. They are looking around for more or others and there is no more and no other – other than Jesus.

Jesus is all they can see and surely all they need to see and hear. The law, the prophets, Moses, Elijah, the OT Exodus events, all wrapped up in and fulfilled in this Rabbi from up north – Jesus of Nazareth who they believe to be God’s dearly loved Son and Saviour of the world – “Christ”, “Messiah”, “New King David”.

We get the sense that there is much more to come for Jesus and for his three companions. There is more to come and Jesus will need to draw on these precious words of affirmation and the three (and the other 9) will also need to stay very close – within earshot of Jesus for what is about to happen.

And then a great thing: Jesus not only leads them up to this great “life-shifting” experience and gives them a glimpse of what is to be part of their experience in their future, he also willingly and definitely now, goes down the mountain from this great moment. (Mark 9:9). He is resolute now. The moment is passed. It was important to experience it and hear the word in it – not just for itself, but for what is now to unfold.

Friends, Jesus is all we need. He is all that God leaves for us to know, see and hear. So, no need to look around for others, friend. You have him right in front of you – hidden yes, but revealed too; revealed in ways of his choosing: the preached Word, the shared word, the enacted Word of Baptism, Absolution for sin and Holy Meal; in the community of Jesus – the Church.

It is good to be here at St Petri for these things and for Him. Here we receive him and his gifts of affirmation and love. Here, we the Baptised hear those words spoken over us as we gather in Jesus’ name, “Son, Daughter of God, I love you and very pleased with you”. Listen to Jesus. Hear each other”.

Worship in the name of Jesus is powered by his voice – his word. It is our regular mountain top, even though to the senses it may not exactly “feel” that way at times!! But He is here. His word is here. The Law and Prophets and the great cloud of witnesses gather with us and all who have gone before us in the Faith and have entered the rest. Worship is cosmic in proportion!

But friends, how good it is that Jesus is not only here! How good is it that he goes with us into our way of the cross? He comes with us down from the high points and stays with us in the low. He goes to the end of our suffering and pain and triumphs for us!

Friends, we will begin this intentional focus on the Via Dolorosa, the way of the suffering as Lent begins this Wednesday. The Lord is calling you to enjoy the mountain today and marvel in your Saviour with all his glory and brightness, and then follow him down to the 40 day journey called Lent. I believe that as we pay attention to his voice in some time and tested ways, we will reach that other even higher event for us who are in need of such forgiveness, triumph and life – Easter Day: Resurrection Day.

Look to him. Listen to him. Follow him. He will lead you and stay with you through it all and bring you to end of it all in his light and life.

All praise be to Jesus, the suffering and triumphant Saviour of us all.