Tag: lent 2A

Renew Mission Life – WHERE LOVE COMES

Sermon, RENEW Mission Life: Where Love Comes to Life

Sermon Two: WHERE LOVE COMES 

Reading: 1 John 4:7-10 

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

We are talking about the love that renews us this Lent. Last Sunday we heard the Apostle John say, ‘God is Love”. We heard that because God is love, God is Life. We heard that God is on a mission from God! He is on a mission to love people out of death to life.  

That’s what we want to see. This is what we are part of. We do want to see all kinds of people in all kinds of ways coming to life in God’s love.   

But we didn’t really get too specific about what love actually is. I know that Forest Gump famously said to his beloved “Jenny”; “I know what love is”. But did he, and do we?   

  1. What is Love? 

Our New Testament wasn’t written in English. When John uses this big word so much, he is speaking common Greek of his day. Unlike our English word ‘love’, the Greek language had more words for ‘love’.   

Some of you have would know these words. Plenty of people may not yet. When I first came across the different types of love expressed in the Bible it really helped me understand more about my relationships and how I can love others, and how widely God really does love people and me.   

John could speak about friend love; love for a friend or a fellow brother or sister in Christ, or erotic love; romantic love for a couple, or family love; love and respect for parents and family. He could use a different word each time in his language. But when translated into English, we are stuck with one word – ‘love’.  

In our culture, we seem to hear that word, ‘love’ in a particular way 

  1. Individual and 
  2. Emotional 

 When people use the word ‘love’ they seem to mainly mean it in the romantic or emotional sense – love means affection, feeling, and is linked to sexuality.   

 We hear it when we speak of family love and friend love too, but it seems to me that we mainly hear it as the stuff on Married at First Sight or Farmer wants a Wife kind of love.   

And we hear it as an individual experience of this emotion. Love tends to be about getting my needs met emotionally by another or by things.  Either way, it is very emotion based and individual, not communal or action beyond emotions, so much.   

The problem with hearing it mainly these ways is that we transfer that feeling/romantic/individual kind of understanding of ‘love’ to our relationship with God and church – as if God’s love is much more a feeling and emotion for me individually than about action, doing regardless of feelings, community, responsibility…  

If God is love, then he is more a way to get to feel good than do some good when we may or may not feel good about it. Things like friendship, loyalty, commitment, duty, public serving without any accompanying good feeling, real actions of kindness despite what I am or may not feel tend to be put on the bench, and we chase this emotional satisfaction kind of love only; as if God is here to make us feel ‘loved’, ‘feel happy’; be our personal waiter meeting our every waking need.   

John sees so much more! God’s love is as communal as it is individual. It is deeply personal and surely does include emotions but is not dependent on them, and is a verb – a doing thing, not just for the individual in the personal sphere of life but the actions in the community sphere of our lives.   

“Love is not only a feeling. It is primarily an act of your will despite feelings”.   

How do I know? John has another word for love. It is the one most used and the one used repeatedly here in this teat and throughout this letter.   

The word he finds in his language shows the expansive, complete action orientated love, and it is all God.    

“Agape”: That is the word ‘love’ here. “Agape, agape, agape…..” says John to his community.  

What is this? 

Agape is unique. It has no human parallel and comes from no human source.  

Where does agape come from? 

For John, Agape is from God. “Agape (love) is from God” (1 John 4:7). God is “agape” (1 John 4:8). It is divine self-giving, self-sacrificing love – the love for us broken people and this broken creation that drove the Father to give up his only Son for the life of the world (John 3:16).  

This love is our life as church. This love is how we love in every area of our lives. It is not dependent on how we feel or what we get from loving. It comes not from inner feelings, but God’s promises and makes us unstoppable. We love because are loved like this.  

This love drove that first church to change the known world.   

The New Testament churches had no large impressive buildings and few resources to speak of. They had very little by way of earthly power. Many of the people in their small local communities were battlers. Lots of them were slaves too.  

Often they were persecuted. Suffering was often a daily occurrence. It was often the case that because they were followers of Jesus, they lost the family farm, the family property, the inheritance and the sure future they once had. Paul and the Writer to the Hebrews give us a glimpse of this They tell us that early Christians in these communities were mostly misunderstood, misrepresented and often ridiculed (Hebrews 11, 1 Corinthians 4).   

But one thing they had was love. Agape. Love that crossed cultural boundaries, broke down dividing walls, and which transformed cultures and communities, one person at a time; one family at a time. This is the love which enabled them to stand in huge upheavals.   

God is still love and still loving with this love and it is this love that brings people and churches and families to life. Maybe Christians living in other situations often know this better than we do.   

A Muslim man becomes a Christian and loses his family, his inheritance, and possibly his life. The daughter of a spiritualist medium is cut off by her family and experiences dreadful demonic opposition in her daily life. A prominent Hindu, named after one of the most powerful of the gods, becomes a Christian; he’s ostracised by his family, rejected by his village is ridiculed in public. His barn is burnt down. The son of a village witch doctor believes the gospel. The village cattle get sick and the villagers take revenge for the curse they think he’s brought on them by burning his house down.  

But n hint of guilt here, friend. Just love – agape love – God sacrificing himself for you today again right where we live in this Valley and at this time….  

In any tough place or situation, this is THE love that will enable you to love the unlovely, do kindness at cost to yourself, to be Jesus’ love and life loving people to life; your partner, your kids, your staff, your boss, your teacher, your lecturer, your parents……   

It is why we are church and how we keep going. Agape – the self-giving; self-sacrificing action of a God who wants dead sinners and enemies to be alive friends making friends of dead sinners and enemies.   

Question: Do you know this love of God? Have you been ‘agaped’ by his self-giving, self-sacrificing Son; his forgiveness and acceptance for you?  

If so, how did he come to you? If not, how does he still?     

Agape isn’t a good feeling, or a warm fuzzy emotion. Its “red hands, clotted with blood, thrusting us up to God”!1   

Friend, God is still love. God is still agape love – self-sacrificing, self-giving acceptance for you and those around you. Like a couple ‘in love’ his love brings new life into your life. We strain into an unknown future with anticipation and joy, not fear and timidity, because we are loved with this agape love.   

God has breathed his agape into us in baptism and sustained us all in his love to this point.   

That’s where love comes – Jesus immersing me in his love in baptism. All the Son did to love me when all I could love was myself and my idols has been freely gifted to me and freely sustained in me all this time.   

Is this you, friend? Have you known this agape divine love in yourself and are you living by this in all your sins, all your shortcomings, all your concerns and needs and fears? You can. We can. God is love and God is here in all his self-giving acceptance and love.   

Did this happen to you at some point but somehow seems far away now? It isn’t. He isn’t. Where even a couple of people gather to listen and pray with Jesus, he is here. Divine love is here now.   

Is this strange to you – something you are still trying to get your head around? Can you believe that God is self-sacrificing love for you – that he really has done the unthinkable and the impossible – healed you, restored you, loved you with a love beyond you? No need to get your head around it. You need to open your heart to him first.  

God is agape and because he is, these things are happening here…. 

 

Better Together Under the Cross – Our Keeper

Sermon, Lent 2A, Sunday March 12, 2017

St Petri (Pastor Adrian Kitson)

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains –

    where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip –

    he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel

    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you –

    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,

    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm –

    he will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going

    both now and for evermore.

I don’t know how many times I have prayed, spoken, declared and hung on to this Psalm. In hospital rooms, prison cells, back patios, lounge rooms, park benches and church buildings – this song is a source of immeasurable com fort when the journey is rough and the future uncertain.

It is a psalm for our journey in Lent. Let me explain…

Kalbarri Gorge in WA restrains the Murchison River. The place is rough, at times harsh, even deadly, but beautiful; red ochre cliffs, patterned sandstone rocks, white sand, water holes and ghost gums. A popular place for hikers.

Anyone hiking the gorge knows that you need crucial things in order to stay safe in the journey. Water, footwear and food, and of course, protection from the cold moonlit night and scorching Aussie sun by day.

This psalm is for a journey. It is called “A song of Ascents”. This is a song for a person of faith in the God of creation to sing while hiking up to the temple mount in Jerusalem. It keeps them in relationships with him on the journey.

The walking traveler has to navigate rough country that has its natural and other dangers in that part of the world. The Judean wilderness is a treeless, up and down desert of steep hills and slippery rock gorges. Unstable sharp rocks, heat, snakes, wolves, even bears are known dangers. Of course, little water is THE danger. There are human enemies too, such as robbers with plenty of places to ambush you. Remember the Parable Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan?

And there is another danger. It is a spiritual life killer. On many of the high points of those hills would be statues and other things of stone of wood representing gods of various kinds claiming to be the gods who shape the universe and control your journey.

If you leave some figs or grapes or dates at a few chosen idols along the way, it may go better for you on this journey. You sacrifice precious resources to these idols in the hope that this will bring safety, security and peace on the journey.

Can you see why this song for the journey to God begins the way it does?

 I lift up my eyes to the mountains –

    where does my help come from?

Good question for us, the pilgrim people of God, on the journey ascending to our final destination of life forever beyond the grave with our heavenly Father.

The ancient travelers saw the gods as they journeyed on. As we journey on in a life that has its pain, loss, health issues, relationship issues, anxiety about our world, our cynical and secularizing Western world, we search for and see the gods of our age.

What precious resources are you sacrificing to these idols in the hope that this will bring safety, security and peace on the journey?

You can tell you are dealing with idols when you hear this within yourself or others…

“If only….”

If only I could have that assurance that my life will count to someone

If only I could look like that

If only I could earn that kind of money and one day have that life

If only I could be like him.

If only I could find a trustworthy man for life

If only I could find someone to love for life

If only I could get rid of that debilitating weakness.

If only I could live like they all want me to live

 

These gods we make attempt to derail our ascent with Christ. They are used by the Evil One to get us to trust them more than Jesus’ word, for the things we need.

If I trust that by doing this activity and rub shoulders with those people, my life will count for something.

If I do this or that, then I will find satisfaction and meaning for which I crave.

If I tread on only a few people, ignore God’s call to live justly, ignore the needs, even blame them for their silly behaviour and lack of life skills, then I will create that financial security for myself and my family – and that is everything.

And so it goes.

 

So, we look to those hills and imagine how we can make the journey of our lives better, more comfortable, more successful, more fulfilling, more meaningful, all the while shading our eyes from the promises of Jesus that will do more than they could ever do.

We dice with the doubt and danger by leaving a few figs here, a few grapes there, a few dollars to that heart-felt aspiration in the hope that it will go better for us.

This is what has to happen, for the gods of the world demand sacrifice – and sacrifice in ever increasing amounts.

As we look to the hills instead of looking the God who created those hills, the relationship of trust between us is broken. Without hardly knowing at first, we put ourselves on a head long journey to emptiness and loneliness down in the dark shadows at the bottom of the gorge.

Why? For one reason: the gods of stone and wood and fame and fortune and self-focus and human glory cannot deliver what they promise. They are fake. They are imposters. They are a lie and in looking to them for life, we die that little bit more.

But, thanks God, the song goes on; and quickly!

My help comes from the Lord,

    the Maker of heaven and earth.

 In a flash, our “what if” longings are focused on the Creator Lord who created our life and holds it still.

Unlike the gods on the hills, the Lord God is a real person with a real history of love for us. The Lord sees, hears, acts and speaks. He is breath, spirit and truth.

It was a common belief among Israel’s neighbors that their gods “slept” (or died) during winter months and at night time, but revived in the day and the seasons of growth and harvest. But the song writer proclaims that Lord does not sleep – ever. Therefore our God is able to keep constant watch over his travelling people.

Friend, that is who he is and what he is about for you in your journey now – your “keeper”.

He will not let your foot slip –

    he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel

    will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The Psalmist probably could never have imagined the stumbling feet of the Son of God covered in dust and blood ascending to that cross at the hill of Golgotha when he sung this song, but who know this Jesus can. Jesus’ foot slipped. Jesus feet bled.

Under the scorching sun he falls. In the darkness that shrouded the world that day, he plunges to his human death with his back to the wood. And as he does we hear God speak, we see him act, we see our Great High Priest who is familiar with all our ways. We see him bleed, we hear him teach, we sing with him. We see him rise and ascend and rule and invite us into his rule of grace.

He prays for us, we pray to him for each other. He is our ‘keeper’, “protector’, and friend.

The Lord Jesus watches over you –

    the Lord Jesus is your shade at your right hand;

 6 the sun will not harm you by day,

    nor the moon by night.

The Lord Jesus will keep you from all harm –

    he will watch over your life;

 Friends, with a Shade, Shelter and Saviour like Jesus, the “what ifs” of life become, “Who cares”!

It is true; full life, new life for everyday, true hope for a life that counts, a better marriage, more meaningful and satisfying work, better watching and leading of our kids, our congregation, our friends and the strangers the Lord puts on our journey all are found in him in total.

We live in the light and shade of Christ and him crucified – the power of God at work in us and his world for freedom, love and compassion.

Take your eyes off those “what if” gods on the hill and look to the only God who speaks and acts in love for you at great cost to himself in the Cross of Christ.

the Lord will watch over your coming and going

    both now and for evermore.

 Amen

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Read the Psalm slowly noting the images used, the challenge and the comfort in the psalm. Share these…

Share about a time you went on a hike. What were the dangers. What was scary and what was beautiful?

 

This is a psalm for a journey. What are the dangers of the journey mentioned throughout the psalm. List these.

If we picture our life in Christ as a journey, what dangers have we to face.?

How does your foot “foot slip” spiritually?

How do you “look to the mountains’ (and gods) more than look to Jesus? You could reflect on those “What if” longing I mentioned here and discuss them as they relate to you or those you know.

How do we find our way in the dark (when we just don’t know what to do or to whom we can go for leadership).

How do you stop from being burnt by the sun spiritually. Where do you look for shade when you are feeling a bit ‘burnt’?

 

Can you place Jesus in this Psalm? If you speak the psalm adding in the name of Jesus after “Lord”, that might help you find great encouragement for us who are modern day travellers.

I mentioned Jesus feet ‘slipping’ as he ascended that other hill named Golgotha. What comfort does trusting that Jesus is our keeper who knows how we can so easily slip and lose our way give you. Describe your trust in him and even share an experience where he did stop you from falling into a dark or dangerous place.

Thanks God for his ‘keeping’ of us and pray for his ‘keeping’ in whatever specific places/situations people find themselves in at the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Good life: Undeserved but Given

Sermon: Lent 2 March 16, 2014The Good Life

The Good Life: Underserved but Given

 John 3:1-17  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[e] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 

We have been speaking about the Aussie “Good Life” this Lent and how in various ways to varying extent, we all want to live a good life. We all have our dreams, or goals, our values, our ideas about what the good life looks like and should be. We all pursue these things to a lesser or greater degree.

We have been pondering the notion that in Australia, as with all Western democracies in the 21st century, we are living in what seems like a golden age with great medical technology, communication and information capabilities and the like and how this has created what some sociologists call the “Utopian dream”. We know that we are very lucky to be living in the lucky land because we see over the fence that the rest of the world is not living like us and so if anything we are finding that people in our workplaces, families and local community are going harder at trying to acquire the things of the “good life”.

Into this we have been asking what is it to “Have the same mind as Christ…. Who emptied himself and became a servant to the point of death on a cross….” (Phil 2). In the good life, what is the mind of Christ?

I recall the now Treasurer of Australia, the Hon Mr Joe Hockey, while in London giving a speech to the institute of Economic Affairs In April last year giving a name to the recent age we in the Western democracies have been living – “The Age of Entitlement”. He in fact suggested that we in the West and so, in Australia, at least under his government, that we come to the “End of the age of entitlement”.

“Years of warnings have been ignored but the reality can no longer be avoided.

Despite an ageing population and a higher standard of living than that enjoyed by our children, western democracies in particular have been reluctant to wind back universal access to payments and entitlements from the state….

Let me put it to you this way: The Age of Entitlement is over”.

(Hon Joe Hockey, (http://www.joehockey.com/media-files/speeches/ContentPieces/100/download.pdf)

So, Joe used this term in an economic sense and suggested that for economic and political reasons, as well as for the health of democratic nations and democracy itself, there needs to be a winding back of entitlements to millions of citizens in this country. Good luck Joe!

But Hugh Mackay uses this term a little differently to name an attitude that seems to have grown up in the last 25 years in Australia that comes from what we called the Utopian Complex.

Here’s how it goes.

  1. We are in a golden age of technology, communication, transport, food supply and etc in the West.
  2. We are also aware that this golden age or the good life we live is not lived by everyone.
  3. Our response to this is to go harder at trying to live the good life and attain the symbols of the good life we are striving for.

Add to that a general attitude among Aussies that happiness is our default position. We all should be happy all the time and pursue what makes us happy without apology.

“all that everything we do is – perhaps even should be – calculated to maintain a chirpy disposition and a state of perpetual wellbeing” (The Good Life, Mackay chapter 2 page 1)

Then add to that a never ending chorus of advertising telling us that we deserve this, we need this, you can have this stuff. “Life will be good if you have this. You can have a better time of it if you have this. You can be a healthier and happier person if you jump on this wagon” and etc, and we have an irresistible environment of entitlement.

The age of entitlement we speak of is this: I deserve to be happy. The government should make me happy. My husband should make me feel happy. My wife should always make me happy and never challenge me. My pastor should always make me happy. My job should be making me happy….God should make me happy!

Oh dear. Should he? Is our personal happiness God’s highest goal for us?

You have got to give something to the opponents of Jesus. At least they were not focussed on endless feelings of happiness and their own well-being all the time. The Pharisees were certainly not striving for individual rights or freedom or wealth and definitely not viewing the word of God in terms of their own happiness. They had much higher and deeper goals than that.

They were seeking the coming of the promised kingdom of God. They were seeking the presence, enlightenment and blessing of God for a nation. They were seeking the promises of God given in ages past. The problem was that they were seeking these high things by the wrong means, like we do in our way.

They believed that we can have the presence and blessing of God through keeping the law – bring very, very good.

We seem to believe that we can have the presence of God through gaining the symbols of the good life – or, being happy.

But some of Jesus’ earnest opponents heard something new in Jesus and were sparked into action to seek out Jesus – people like Nicodemus.

He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus responds, “Nic, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again”

What is Jesus saying to a man who has been seeking the presence of God not only for himself but for his country, his people and the generations before and after?

“Nic, you cannot receive the gift of God’s gracious saving love unless you are re-born into it. You cannot achieve God’s kingdom by the pursuit of moral perfection – by being very, very good. You can only receive God’s grace by being re-born, re-created again, starting again from scratch in God’s new way”.

Feeling happy and gaining the good things of life as you see it will not be long enough, deep enough, complete enough for you to truly live fully as a creature of the Creator.

Same for us as we live in an environment where we are urged and exhorted and even manipulated to seeking the good life. We cannot achieve the wellbeing, the health, the success, the control, the influence, the high ideals we aspire to by merely by trying harder, working longer, paying more, even sacrificing more for our kids.

Seeking all these things for ourselves and even our children is misguided and futile anyway.

People of God,

….the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[g]

 Ah. Hear it? We don’t need the symbols and status and experience of the “good life” as our western democracy defines it. We need God’s life. We need the life of the one who was lifted up on that cross for the forgiveness and hope of the world.

And we have it. It is ours now. We are living in it. You are here because of it and you are invited today to grab it again and receive wit with thanks to the God of love in whose presence we sit now.

Why can you be so confident of this. Why can you leave here knowing you live in much more than the age of entitlement, trusting that you actually not entitled at all to God’s life and hope and love but that you have them anyway? This is why…

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 Who really needs the entitlement that comes from having lots of symbols of the good life now?

Friend, the good life you seek most fully and completely comes from a God who has not got the goal of condemning us but embracing us, giving us everything we really need – things that you cannot earn or buy – things only to be received – holy things, pure things, life-giving things – water and word, bread and wine and word, a gospel word proclaimed, a brother and a sister’s word shared in this community.

The age of entitlement is over. The new age of the new creation begun and continually given by Jesus is now.

Friend, go with him and all of us to dark Gethsemene and watch and wait for his light there.

As Easter morn breaks, the life you seek is there and it is underserved but given.

Amen