Tag: worship

Church: Shaken and Stirred

Sermon, Pentecost 11th C, Sunday August 25, 2019, St Petri

Hebrews 12:18-29

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

I suspect that you thought you were just ‘going to church’ this morning. That might be where you start but I hope it is not where you finish this morning.

For the last couple of weeks we have been in the “Hall of Faith’ (Hebrews 11). We have been urged on by stories of the many who have lived a life of faith in the Lord’s presence and promises.

This preacher loves using this ‘lesser to greater’ technique to show us the magnificence of that has happened in Jesus’ death and resurrection. EG.  Moses was the great prophet in the Old Testament, but Jesus is THE great prophet for all time. The Temple in Jerusalem was a great place of meeting between heaven and earth: God and his people, Jesus is the new temple not made of bricks but flesh and blood and etc….

So, because we are now baptised sons and daughters of the Lord already living in the new country, the new temple, under the new and great High Priest, the Lord calls us into his presence in worship. The Spirit gathers us in the new city; the holy city; Zion, the place and time where time and earth meet eternity and God’s heavenly presence.

And you thought you were ‘just going to church”?

In this passage he uses a similar technique to help you and I trust that we never ‘go to church’ but we are gathered as church into the presence of Jesus the King.

The preacher speaks of two mountains. One is Mt Sinai, the other is Mount Zion. Sinai is the holy place where Moses and the people of God received the God’s word in the form of the Ten Commandments; the ten guidelines that were to shape them as a unique, called, holy people in God’s world.

He tells of seven (of course it is seven!) things about Mt Sinai the people experienced;

  1. A real mountain that could actually be touched (12:18)
  2. A blazing fire (12:18)
  3. Darkness (12:18)
  4. Supernatural gloom (12:18)
  5. A storm cloud ((12:18)
  6. A blast of the trumpet horn (12:19)
  7. God’s voice (speaking the commandments) (12:19).

The people of God at Mt Sinai experienced the hidden God in these tangible, touchable things on an actual mountain. The way he revealed himself was by his voice; his words, which they well and truly heard!

Now we New Covenant people also live at a mountain; an invisible one. It also has seven features that match the old mountain;

  1. It is ‘Mount Zion” (the mountain; the city of God (12:22)
  2. It is inhabited by a myriad of angels (12:22)
  3. It is the assembly of the firstborn children of God (12:23)
  4. It is established by ‘the Judge’, who is God of all things (12;23)
  5. It includes the spirits of the righteous who have died and been made perfect (12:23)
  6. At the heart of the gathering is Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant between God and people (12:24)
  7. And Jesus’ blood for sprinkling (forgiving of sin) speaks in the assembly – a blood pure and more powerful than that of Abel (which cried out from the ground” to the one who had killed him – Cain). (12:24)

Again, you just think you ‘come to church’?

No way! You are drawn into this festal gathering on this new mountain with this great crowd of witnesses to Jesus’ truth and love in the presence of a myriad of angels and the “spirits of those already made perfect” in the new creation; the new city of God.

This two-mountain story is told to help you marvel at the privilege you live in; the privilege and the gifts of worshipping together; the high status you enjoy and the high calling to which you are called within God’s church; God’s holy community.

The preacher needs to do this because we usually don’t get this. We, like the people to whom he writes, have this tendency to live in our own little world and be good little consumers, users, moaners, groaners, criticizers and judges of everyone else and God. We tend to reduce everything to ourselves, including the magnificence of God’s grace present and active in this worship assembly.

Either that or we just shrink into ourselves and get lost in our own troubles and thoughts.

Heads up today! God is revealing what is really going here in worship. He is galvanising us, drawing us together, helping us help each other and trust Jesus. Jesus is the pioneer of this great gift of gathering. He got us to this new holy mountain of God and promises to lead us, teach us, call us and lead us through all valleys where death’s shadow comes over us.

All these gifts are here, and like the first mountain with its tangible, touchable things, the Lord has also given us similar things in this Divine Service gathering.

We hear real words from real brothers and sisters. We hear God speaking his real words through real people. We see real symbols and actions of God’s presence and promises as we see the sign of the cross, make the sign of the cross, see the textile art and colour and the furniture that symbolises God’s presence and God’s grace. We even taste, touch, smell, see and hear Jesus himself, coming to us real bread and wine with his real body and blood for real forgiveness and return to our holy and high places as God’s loved sons and daughters.

These things are magnificent. And what is our end of the deal? To listen. That is how we receive all of this grand festal banquet and all its gifts – by listening to his words.

“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks”.

Can you now sense that you never just ‘go to church’?

Friend, you have not just ‘come to church’. You have been again drawn to the new city, the new covenant, the new country of the new creation by Jesus the creator, the writer of your life’s story and the one who sustains you with his magnificent gifts that will keep you through death door to the entry gate of the new city, the new land promised for all those who run the race of life in Jesus’ love with perseverance to its end and its grand new festal beginning which will never end.

The trumpet horn does not blow here though. It is the bell in the key of G. It rings. The Spirit gathers his holy but battered, bruised, sad, angry or mad people in from the places he has sent them, and the angels gather, the saints surround, the Saviour speaks, and his gifts of healing, forgiveness and new joy are given. The hope they give you goes with you back into the places the Spirit takes you.

Friends, we don’t just turn up looking to ‘get something out of the Service’ like good consumers do at the shops. We are shaken by God here, says the preacher.

“Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”

In this gathering, anything not grounded in the Lord is shaken out of us – like dust out of a mat. And once shaken, we are stirred: stirred to take his gifts and use them – go and grow in him among others.

The sprinkled perfect and pure blood of Jesus is given to us and we are re-set in ‘the kingdom that can never be shaken’.

And why does the Lord do all this? Is it to make us a holy huddle in the world so we go to heaven and the others who did not listen go to hell?

No. He shakes us, stirs us and sends us not so we be a holy huddle escaping the world, but his holy people carrying his grace to his world as we go and grow.

And you thought you were just ‘going to church’!

May you be shaken, and may you be stirred as you are sent to go and grow.

 

 

 

The Good Life: Happy, Whole or Holy?

 Sermon, Lent 3 March 23, 2014The Good Life

John 4:5-42 Jesus and the Samaritan woman

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

The Disciples Rejoin Jesus

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.”

Many Samaritans Believe

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”

Friends, I wonder as we continue to reflect on the pretty good life we are living in terms of ease of communication, use of technology, availability of affordable transport, fresh food all year ‘round, and etc, even if we know that not everyone shares this good life both here in our own country and overseas, we are getting a sense of the mind of Christ on life – the mind of the one who humbled himself and became obedient even to death on a cross for us?

We have talked about the good life and how we Aussies are generally going pretty hard at trying to attain the symbols of the good life in one way or another and how it seems that in our 21st century culture in the West, the pursuit of happiness is all consuming for many.

We have acknowledged that us followers of Jesus can get caught up the endless pursuit of what makes us happy and this pursuit becomes very much individual, worldly things centred and a tad self-centred And as we concluded last week, happiness is quite elusive, transient and futile.

We have concluded so far that the good life and its pursuit of personal happiness that so many are slavishly following has placed us, at least in part, in “the age of Entitlement” where everyone seems to believe that everything and every institution and every other person owes them some entitlement – to make us all happy….

So if the good life from the mind of Christ perspective is not about finding the feeling of being happy a lot. Then what else could it be about at its core?

WHAT ABOUT WHOLENESS?

Well, in the psychological world, the other word used in “wholeness”. Psychologists have long offered the view that wholeness is the thing to strive for in this life. It’s a better word – a fuller word.. a more helpful word.

Pursuing wholeness does require courage because it admits that there will be plenty of experiences that will build your character and understanding that will NOT be those of FEELING happy. So, I guess for the more mature approach in living the good life we would want to go for wholeness not just happiness.

But what about the mind of Christ on wholeness? And what about this very dense and intriguing dialogue between two very unlikely people – a Jewish rabbi and a Samaritan woman? What does Jesus teach her and us about his view of our life?

I wonder what this unnamed woman might have been searching for in her interesting life?

Of course, she is of a completely different era than you and I. To suggest she would even be remotely interested in happiness or wholeness as we understand these thing now is stretching things a bit.

But on the other hand, and without “modernising her” in our image too much, she seems like she was searching for something. In fact, her search and her life might be a lot like a lot of people living in your street. Her story might be a bit like yours and mine – more than we know.

She has a story we can relate to now days…

She knows suffering and brokenness and has her eyes firmly fixed on the daily tasks at hand.

She has had multiple serious relationships and none have gone the distance – either through death of her husbands, divorce that her husband carried out, or because of their own self-centredness or because of her unfaithfulness or whatever. Whether her story of broken relationship is her fault, their fault, or both, she is broken.

It also seems she is quite disconnected from her community. Why else would you be heading out in 35 degrees in the heat of the day with heavy buckets to carry water in from the well when everyone else in town would do that in the cool of the early morning or evening?

And she is focused on the things around her – tasks, survival, getting things done, enjoying what she can, keeping her life going along OK….

Whatever her story, she got more than happiness and more than simply a human located wholeness that day she met Jesus. In this unlikely conversation we can see that this unnamed woman gets gently led into a new understanding of her very being and what the good life really is and where it comes from.

She is enabled to see for the first time that the good life is not located in the things and tasks in front of her and her effort, skills, earning, intelligence, suffering, her dreams and visions,….. No, the good life is located in a Living Water she has never been able to see but now sees right in front of her and hears in her very own ears. The Living Water that gives the best life – the divine life is with her and the good life she longs for comes from his word and is given in the worship of him.

The woman herself does not actually know the depth of her thirst. She starts out looking for a drink of water. When Jesus says there is life-giving water on offer she says, yes please. That would mean plenty. She would not have to keep coming out here in the middle of the day to get water all the time, for a start!

But Jesus gently leads her into an awareness that she needs more than water – even a permanent spring at her home. But to give her ears that can hear Jesus needs to show the extent of her need for her to understand the thirst she really has…

Thus the pointed question about the trouble of her life – 5 husbands and now living with a man who is not her husband. When her story of brokenness is exposed (gently) by Jesus she moves to change the subject. It is an obvious subject to move to. Here is a Jewish man (a rabbi even) not only in the presence of a “questionable” woman, but a sworn enemy by nationality. She is Samaritan and he is Jewish. She is usually a person held in very low regard if not just plane derision by Jewish men!

The point of the national hatred is history and the place of the temple and where people are meant to find God’s good life. Mount Gerazim in Samaria or Jerusalem in Judah.

Jesus does not go there but begins to describe a new place, a new good life – beyond wholeness and happiness and human manufacture. This life is not dependent on feeling or even human understanding, the acquirements of the “good life” as we might see it. This life is beyond the human experience and capability and it is good…very, very good.

This life being spoken of here by the One who declares himself to be life itself lasts beyond the age of entitlement, the next Centrelink payment, the next Vintage, wool or grain cheque. This living water that quenches the human hearts desire for meaning and for life itself is just offered – right here, right now.

This life is a life lived in the very presence of a Holy God who pours out his blood for the life of his world and invited Samaritans, Sinners and Sadducees to be baptised into his life and made saints – holy people of God who worship God, Father, Son and Spirit in truth.

What a moment for this woman. The Living Water Jesus, opens up a way for this broken sinner to live with her God in new way – unheard of before – even to Jews. God will now be able to thanked, prayed to, sought after and received as kind and loving Father with whom we share a bond of love which unites us together.

Can you see it friend? The good life is something given to me by this God of love, my kind and loving heavenly Father. He is the one to whom we pray “Our Father in heaven…give us what we need and help us forgive, keep us from too harder testing and from evil temptation.

This is the divine parent who promises a future beyond his death and ours – a future of life in light and love and glory for those who drink from the well of his Son’s death and resurrection.

This God is a God who does not exclude people or draw lines in the sand about how we all should be happy or whole or not, but is constantly seeking and creating people who will be in his holy presence in spirit and truth. He creates our life in him and gathers us together in love to be with him.

How would this woman who has never found this kind of constant love and kindness in her life to this point receive this new “God life”? How would she hear the promise of no more exclusion, no more derision, no more playing games, telling lies or searching for fleeting happiness or merely human wholeness?

You can tell how she receives it. She actually leaves her precious old life support (water) behind in jars and rushes off to do his inviting. “Come and see” she calls to everyone. Come and hear” she yells to those who have hurt her, ignored her, derided her and maybe even loved her. Come to Jesus” she tells anyone who will listen.

Being created by the Spirit of God to be people who can live this life as in God’s very presence by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us frees us from the constant search for feelings of happiness and the over-dependence on only human experiences to learn and grow and live well.

Jesus, is this woman’s wholeness. He is the world’s wholeness. His living water poured out i his holy gifts of water and word,  holy meal of love and every day at work and home is the good life we really need – the life he gives so that we may live life to in all its fullness (John 10:10) because he loves us not condemns us (John 3:16) he really is a man for the world. He really is for the men and women who have their eyes largely focused on water, food, work, houses and the things of the world who live in your street.  – people just like this Samaritan woman was – until she Jesus met her.

Friend, will you take your eyes off the plough, off your daily concerns and pause to stay a while in the midday sun with Jesus and let him gently lead you to himself and to his gifts he has been offering you for years?

Will you journey with him in these remaining days through his suffering for you and to the cross for you and await his light and new take on life for you, at Easter dawn?

Let him meet you here and let him renew you in his life then live! Live the good life with worship as your centre and you will be saved from the endless pursuit of fleeting feelings of happiness and the self-orientated search for human wholeness. Instead let him make you holy – forgiven, acceptable and set apart for his work in his world through you – set free by his grace to live this God-life of love and service in Jesus’ name.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. Share a high and a low for your week.
  2. Read the text carefully noting what questions it raises for you and what catches your ears and imagination and share these things.
  3. It is not clear if the traditional view of this Samaritan woman is a woman of “disrepute” as we often think. Apparently Jewish men were “allowed” a maximum of 3 divorces and in her world only the man was legally able to enact a divorce. So, it may have been some very unkind men who had caused this woman plenty of brokenness. Then again, this woman may have simply been a widow – five times over. in which case, she is a woman of great suffering. Or, this woman might have been very difficult to live with! She may have indeed had some major character flaws that made relationships very difficult. Whatever the case, her fault, their fault or both, she is broken and isolated and focused on getting through the day and doing the things that daily life requires. Does this sound a bit like people in your street? Chat about the people you know and compare and contrast them to this Samaritan woman….
  4. Skim the text again and note Jesus’ leading of this woman – from a person totally focused on getting her daily task done to a person who is so impacted by this conversation with Jesus that she runs off into town leaving her own water jars behind to tell people to come out and see and hear this man! Note his gentle words just at the right time and in the right order to help this person engage in a faith discussion – this may be very helpful for us all in our daily conversations with people focused on anything but Jesus!
  5. From this extended conversation two things come to light. Jesus is more than happiness and even wholeness he is life and gives life to any sinner who wants it. The other thing is that he is the new place of worship – not Jerusalem or Gerazim. Hie life is given in the gathered community called “church” What gifts of life does Jesus give us there?
  6. We ended up saying that the “God-life” is not happiness, merely human wholeness but being
    Holy” – forgiven, acceptable, set apart for Jesus’ ongoing work of helping people in our street receive him as their Living Water and come to worship him with us in his presence. How do you feel about this and what can you see this meaning for St Petri, and what does it mean for your group?

PRAY

Heavenly Father, pour out your living water of holiness on us as we gather in your name and receive your holy gifts at St Petri so that we leave our daily tasks and earthly bound focus and invite people to come and hear and see you. Amen

What’s the point of going to church anyway?

Sermon, Pentecost 14C, Sunday August 25th, 2013. WTP-copy

Luke 13:10-17

For Rest and Freedom

 10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

 14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

 15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

 17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Do you ever wonder what it’s all about? Sunday, I mean. The gathering, the worship, the singing, reading, and preaching — why do we do it? I sometimes wonder if we get so caught up in preparing for Sunday, or just the weekly rhythm of Sundays — after all, they come every seven days, ready or not! — that we lose sight of what Sunday is really about in the first place.

A lot of people have certainly lost sight of what the worship gathering is about, or they have made up their mind that it is not about much!

This little account of another moment f compassion and healing for a woman with major back issues is all about worship. See, there is one big word that is THE point of this little moment in Jesus’ ministry. It is “Sabbath”.

Yes, Jesus again heals a person who is in real need of healing and yes, this speaks of his compassion and his power and this is a great thing – especially if you are the person needing the healing – or a close friend or family member!

But really, as happens often with Jesus, by his actions he raises a big issue for people and how we live and what we believe. The big issue here is “Sabbath”; Rest; Rest with the Lord – regularly and intentionally. Jesus heals on the Sabbath and this is in direct challenge to the belief and living of the day.

Today’s Jesus raises the issue of why bother gathering in the synagogue on the Sabbath, or for us, why bother being in the worship gathering on Sunday.

Now, in Jesus’ day Sabbath really has two major meanings or purposes attached to it. One, recorded in Exodus 20, links the Sabbath to the first creation account in Genesis, where God rests with his creation after six days of hard creative work – like an artist who has finally finished a masterpiece.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…… 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

So, the reason we practice Sabbath is to rest with God and he with us. As God rested, so do we with all of our households and even animals rest – and in a regular rhythm – every 7th day.

The second tradition, in Deuteronomy 5, however, links the Sabbath to the Exodus; that is, it links Sabbath to freedom, to liberty, to release from bondage and deliverance from captivity.

12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy… 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

So, in the Old Testament before Jesus came God’s people kept the Sabbath for the reason of rest with God, like God rested in creation, and for the reason of remembering who the Lord had made them to be – how he had called them to live in fellowship with each other and him on that fiery Mt Sinai.

Sabbath is for rest with God and remembering of our calling.

Here in this gospel word, Jesus is talking about this second meaning of Sabbath when he beautifully frees this woman with overbearing weight on her shoulders! As he heals her he likens the releasing into freedom and healing for this troubled woman to a homeowner releasing his animals into the freedom of drinking water in the trough. Just as a local homeowner would untie his animal so it could have a good drink – even on the Sabbath Day, so God sets a person free from disease and pain on the Sabbath.

He actually characterizes the woman’s ill-health as being “bound by Satan.” So, to Jesus, of course it is just fine to set someone free on the Sabbath, because the Sabbath is all about freedom.

This is not a belief shared by many, as this little account reveals. Those running the show are angry – “indignant” – very angry that Jesus sees it this way and does it his way!

What’s their problem?

The Sabbath was absolutely central to the life of the Jewish people in Jesus’ day. It was the most obvious sign of your belonging and status as a Jewish person. It was 7 day rhythm of all life in the nation. This came from the most authoritative part of the scriptures – the first five books – the Pentateuch – Genesis through to Deuteronomy.

The Sabbath was directly commended by God in the ten commandments given to Moses and the people on Mt Sinai. It was the ordering of the community’s time and life as it lived with the Lord. It was like a school timetable or the shift hours for the day. Every seventh day, was a day of meeting with and resting in the Lord – bringing gifts (offerings), seeking forgiveness, bringing requests to the Lord, hearing the Torah – the Word of God so as to let it shape the other 6 days.

The problem was that as human beings are very capable of doing, they had turned the Sabbath into work not rest. The Sabbath by Jesus’ day had become a highly regulated day of rules. It is one more thing you had to do to be authentic – to be really OK with God. There were strict rules about exactly what could and could not be done to keep the third commandment;

“Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy”.

So, instead of the Sabbath being received as a gift from God for rest and freedom in his grace and love, it was now completely in the hands of human beings to make it holy in the way they did it. Instead of worship being a gift to be received with thanks and a moment to be enjoyed, it was now a rule to be kept, lest we incur God’s judgement on our disobedience or laziness or lack of concern.

And the rules went on and on and on – actually binding people up and locking them into endless judgementalism, forcing people into mental gymnastics to continually make sure they were not performing any “work” and that they were “resting” properly; keep the commandment of Sabbath keeping. Every seven days and all the days in between which were always meant to be lived in freedom now become days of bondage! The day of rest had become a day of rule keeping before an angry God ready to catch people out on any ‘breaking of the rest rules”. The religious leaders in the temple and synagogues had become worship police, keeping people imprisoned in the keeping of the law.

How revolutionary is Jesus when he heals sinners (unholy, unclean people) on the Sabbath?! How bold is he as he quotes stories from the Old Testament story of situations when the Sabbath rules were intentionally broken to save life or do good that had to be done (eg. see 1 Samuel 21:1-6 quoted by Jesus in Luke 6:1-5).

He heals on the Sabbath. He restores, he loves, he preaches the Word, he renews faith in the original intention of God for the Sabbath; to be a day of rest with him and celebrate freedom in him. He restores the day of rest and freedom – given by God to provide a regular rhythm of resting in him and enjoying the privilege of being together with him in complete freedom and joy.

Jesus boldly states

“The Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath(Mark 2:27)

 That’s the point. The regular gathering in the Lord’s presence is a gift of God’s grace to be received with joy and thanks, not a thing to be achieved, done, or earned by whatever means we determine.

Jesus declares,

“the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

 Yes. Jesus is the Sabbath now. He is the presence of God, the grace of God, the love of God, not bound to buildings or human effort to be holy, but freely giving himself to us when we were his enemies. It is by his grace through faith in him that we are now forgiven, restored and made holy and pleasing in the Lord’s sight, not by our own sacrifices in whatever form.

He is the place and the person and the name in which we gather and by his power and grace we are made holy, we are freed and we are free to rest in his Word, eat at his table and eat and drink the body and blood of the new temple, the new synagogue, the Christian church – a building of living stones.

How is your heart when you come to worship?

Is what happens here a work to be done?

Is this you keeping others happy. Keeping some unwritten rules?

Is this us determining how God is to be pleased; how God is to be praised?

Is this where we make judgement about others and their behaviour?

It is none of those things.

What happens here is pure gift and pure privilege.

We share in the freedom from bondage to our own worship of other things, people and ourselves to receiving the good news again that God is with us and for us and drawing us into his holy presence as we gather in his Son’s name in the power of God’s Spirit.

We feast, we rest, we listen, we experience the feast of angels, the Bread of angels, the life of the Saviour and we are blessed.

Our day of worship, while called “a Sabbath to the Lord,” isn’t finally for the Lord but is for us, for all of us who need rest and release, renewal and re-creation.

If all of this is true, then it is really important to be here!

If all of this is true, then this Christian life is a life of a seven day rhythm with God – resting in him, being freed by him to help others rest in him and find freedom in him.

We gather and we go in rest and freedom to be rest in God’s grace and freedom in his love.

As we gather and as he sends us to go we be the community through which this whole community is blessed by the Lord.

Then Sunday is new, inspiring, full of grace and a day of love and concern for anyone stooped over with the trouble of the world and St Petri is a place of rest and freedom for the many whom the Lord Jesus is drawing to himself; the many whom he so much wants to be saved into a life a rest and freedom with him.

Let’s reclaim Sunday not as a day of religious obligation but a day of rest and freedom, of release and of deliverance — in a word, a day of Sabbath for us and for those the Lord is gathering.

Talk about cause for rejoicing!

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CONVERSATION STARTERS

Imagine the scene of this gospel encounter with this woman who has suffered for so long with some kind of ailment that does not allow her to stand straight. She is sttoped over. How would that be? Ponder her predicament as if it were you….

Imagine how it must have been for her when she was enabled by Jesus to stand up straight for the first time in so long! Share your thoughts on this…

All of this happened on a Sabbath. Call to mind Luther’s small catechism and the explanation to the Thirds Commandment as shown below;

Third Commandment

Remember God’s special day and keep it holy.

(You can read this in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5)

What this means for us

We should honour and love God,

and so we should not

despise God’s word

or refuse to hear and learn it.

Instead, we should recognise

that God’s word is holy

and be glad to hear and learn it.


Recognising God’s word to be holy is no generally held thing in our society these days. Gladly hearing and learning the Word and gathering around it in public worship is also no given thing for many people these days.

  • Share your thoughts on the top three reasons why you bother coming to worship at St Petri.
  • Share some of the reasons you have heard for not worshiping the Lord from people who do not regularly bother with participating in worship.

 How do you find yourself responding to these reasons for not bothering with church? How do these things make you feel and what do you find yourself motivated to do as a result?

Have you ever heard anyone say that worship is all about “worth-ship” – that is, we worship to tell him how much he is worth to us? If/when you have heard this, how does that understanding fit with Jesus’ word that;

“The Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath(Mark 2:27)?

Often you may have heard it said in Lutheran churches that worship is not only about us telling God he is worth a lot to us, but that it more about God telling us that he values and loves us. This teaching of Jesus on the Sabbath day being a gift to be received and not a rule to keep to avoid God’s judgement is where it comes from.

The sermon said, “Our day of worship, while called “a Sabbath to the Lord,” isn’t finally for the Lord but is for us, for all of us who need rest and release, renewal and re-creation”.

How do you respond to this? Respond to the following prompts as you are able….

How is your heart when you come to worship?

Is what happens in worship a work to be done?

Is this you keeping others happy; keeping some unwritten expectations and rules?

Is this us determining how God is to be pleased; how God is to be praised?

Is this where we make judgements about others and their behaviour?

 

If our Sabbath day really is a gift of God for our benefit – our rest and continuing freedom, then our Christian life is a life of a seven day rhythm with God – resting in him, being freed by him to help others rest in him and find freedom in him.

We gather and we go in rest and freedom to be rest in God’s grace and freedom in his love. 

How can we rest and allow the Lord to free us in worship so that we can bring those precious gifts to others we come across during the week? Share your thoughts….

Cloud Connected: Feeling the difference-Hearing the support

Sermon: 13th Sunday after Pentecostcloud_connectB

Sunday August 18, 2013, St Petri

 Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2 / Luke 12:49-56

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

It was a pretty normal gathering with a few friends around the kitchen table late one afternoon. There were about eight of us – all in our early 20’s just sharing a casual meal and talking about all kinds of stuff.

All of us were church connected and yet, all of us had been on our own journey’s of faith and life since leaving school, studying at Uni or working.

As is often the case, the big topics come up around the table– sport, politics, and yes, religion. As the conversations went on we came to a show stopper – one of those conversations where one two of three people are engaged in a disagreement, with the others listening in – and beginning to feel a little uncomfortable.

The issue was the how human beings can be right/OK with God – how a person is “saved”. One side was saying there are many roads to peace with God and that Jesus is only one way to be OK with God. The other was saying that it is only by God’s grace given in Jesus, received by faith in him that a person can be OK with God. The critical bible text, as I remember, was that one where Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me and that he is The Way, The Truth and The Life (John 14:6).

As a few of us kept working it through the other stayed very quiet. The debate was not heated but it was telling. There was no malice, just visible difference. It became obvious that we had parted company on Christianity and Jesus. We had taken different forks in the road and neither was wanting to go back to the junction.

Old youth group ties were somehow broken that night. The relationships and faith we once shared were no longer in unity. Confessing faith in Jesus as the only one from who real life, hope and love comes cost that night. It always does. At least that is what I hear Jesus saying this morning.

From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.

I am thankful that Jesus never sugar coats the life he gives with false promises or expectations. It is best not to sugar coat things because if you do you can set people up to fail. The best sugar free advice I got was when I was considering a call to a place once. The president at the time painted this picture of what we would be involved in if we took the call – “You will be paddling up some wild and isolated Papua New Guinean river in a leaky canoe with one paddle!” We took that call. We could not resist!

Jesus is the fiery prophet here – no sweeteners in sight. We are allowed to sense him struggling with his own fate and the sever cost of it. He is like a Yr 12 student who has been building up for that final exam only to arrive in the last study week before the actual exam and be so restless – just wanting this thing be over!!

Jesus has quite an exam! He calls it a “baptism” or an “emersion” in God’s judgement and wrath for all human sin and evil. He knows that his obedience to his Father and the fulfilment of his mission to “draw all people to himself” will be painful and cost him dearly.

He says that he is “constrained” by this. In other translations the Greek word is translated “stressed”. Here is Jesus, the Son of God, stressed, struggling, impatient: So very human. So like you and me!

It must have been so tempting to give up his faith, his mission at times. It is quite tempting for us to do the same – avoiding the difference that is between us and our colleagues, friendship group or even own family that is just “there” because of a living faith and hope and mission of Jesus.

There are lots of ways of dealing with the “baptism” of difference.

  1. Fire up and become quite judgemental as you take your impatience with sin and evil (nearly always seen in others more than yourself!) out on unsuspecting people who are just “not Christian enough” for you.
  2. Blend into the crowd. Sit at that dinner table and not say a word. Sometimes that is the wise thing to do. Sometimes more is called for. Knowing when to “hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em and when to walk away and when to run” is never easy, as Kenny Rogers sung in that famous song, “The Gambler”.
  3. Give up on Jesus’ claim to be THE way to life and hope and real love and settle for others people and things promising these things (but unable to deliver).

Which one do you seem to do?

Jesus is telling us that following him means being different, and that this will cost us – sometimes even in our closest relationships. We will not always “win friends and influence people” as we faithfully share our story of Jesus’ forgiveness and what that means for people. Jesus, in this text is like the doctor telling the patient that things will get worse with the treatment before they get better.

The writer to the Hebrews is so aware of this! He knows how it is to be different – to live according to a different way, to walk to a different rhythm and to share a concern and a connection of the heart with Jesus in a world that largely discounts his very existence.

As this writer speaks of the life of discipleship, being fully aware of the cost of such a life, he brings out the greatest of encouragement to his people and us.

What enables us to stay the course and remain true to our Savour and who he had created and called us to be in his world on our journey of life?

What helps us live our lives to the full in Jesus’ way – his way of deeper love, greater service to others, clear meaning and purpose, freedom from evil and darkness? The fellow traveller; the fellow believer – both living here and the living in Christ.

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.

If you have ever run a race or won an award or shared your impatience, your stress, your fears and doubt with a trusted friend you will relate to this magnificent picture he paints of that “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding the earth-bound disciple of Jesus – not looking on to judge or embarrass, but to encourage!

The difference between faithful following and falling away is God’s people. The things that will help you the most in your walk with the Lord is his people. The greatest gift of God we have, besides our very existence is the “mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren”, say the Lutheran confessors. In other words, to truly follow Jesus in our decisions, our conducting of ourselves in our work, our business dealings, our relationships, our search for our vocation, we have each other – the Body of Christ.

The church is not some club or only some mere organisation – it is an encouragement machine. It is a cosmic, global, seen and hidden encouragement machine. It is that better country for which we long and which we experience here and now.

Somehow I am not scared by the times we live in – where Christianity is constantly put down and the church bagged mercilessly. Maybe I should be. But when I hear Jesus telling me this is how it will be for the faithful follower, I get the fact that this Christian life will not be easy and there will be tension between even members of my own family because of faith in Jesus.

Not that we deliberately go around picking fights and being hard-nosed. No, we be truth- tellers and livers always in love and service to other in Jesus’ name. But because he does not sugar coat things, I am more ready for it, more aware and more able to trust him to see me through – more able to truly love, even in difference.

And then when I hear the writer to the Hebrews telling me that I am never alone – because I have you and all those who have gone before us in the faith and stayed the course who now whisper that encouragement that can only come from those who completed the race, received the crown of life and heard those beautiful words, “Well done good and faithful servant”, I find it hard to be scared.

Friends, we are on this journey of living out faith in Jesus in our homes, workplaces, local community and world TOGETHER. We are in this stressful, different, often difficult “baptism” of Jesus’ life in ours together and with those unseen guests who have made it and live to encourage us on.

We are “cloud connected” like your computer or phone being connected to an unseen network of people. We are not all alone but connected and in God’s kingdom – supported and loved.

So, people, 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.

Focus on Jesus – practically. Talk about him. Read his word and hear his voice. Listen to his people a lot. Put his directions into practice for real and see what he teaches you rely on each other. Support each other. Lay aside anything which damages each other.

Even in our stress and difference. He will pioneer our new journey here and he will bring us to completion. Amen.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

 

Share a high and low for your week.

Read the text – quite slowly and deliberately: Luke 12:49-56

What words/pictures come to your mind as your hear these words of Jesus read. Share these…

I said, “Jesus is like a Yr 12 student who has been building up for that final exam only to arrive in the last study week before the actual exam and be so restless – just wanting this thing be over!! Maybe we could say he like a person waiting for major surgery. You know that soon you will completely in the hands of others in a risky thing and you just find yourself wishing the day would come and the surgery would be completed!

How is living as a disciple of Jesus like this for you? Share one or two main concerns or stressors you are experiencing at the moment.

Ponder the times when you have felt that difference that faith in the Lord brings into some relationships – even in your own family and how you have found yourself responding to the difference of faith, or opinion or understanding. Did you fire up, blend in or give up – or all three!!? Share you stories…

The writer to the Hebrews reveals a wonderful truth – the truth that we not here struggling on our own as we face stress and concern because of our faith in Christ. We are surrounded by all those who have lived by faith in God’s grace and promises.

Read the text quite slowly and deliberately noting the images and words that trigger your imagination and thought: Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2

Share your thoughts on what you senses, heard, and/or felt as you heard this text….

We are part of not only a local church community, but also a global community and even a cosmic community of faith in God’s grace. I said, “The difference between faithful following and falling away is God’s people”.

         How do you respond to this statement?

             Share the top three ways in which being part of the church has helped you stay the course of living your faith in Christ.

Nowhere do we have a closer connection to the great cloud of faithful people who have finished the race with their eyes fixed on Jesus than in worship, and especially during Holy Communion. There we mysteriously join in the angels’ song – the Holy, Holy, that Isaiah and the Apostle John both got to hear (Isaiah 7 and Revelation 21). We echo the words of John the Baptist when he encountered Jesus at the Jordan and that that echo in heaven proclaiming Jesus to be “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 and Revelation 5:8). When we gather in the name of Jesus together we somehow cross the boundaries between heaven and earth and we are actually in the heavenly sanctuary, according to the writer to the Hebrews (see Hebrews chapter 9).Share your experiences of encouragement that comes from our worship and especially the Lord’s Supper…….

 End with Hebrews 13:20

20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

A Few of My Favourite Things – music and worship

“A few of my favourite things”Worship-Music-Worship-Background1

Thoughts on Music and Worship for St Petri Musicians

Pastor Adrian Kitson, February 2013.

PART 1

Over the last 18 months, there have been a few times when different people have said that I should tell more of how I view music and worship etc…. So I am now attempting to do that, so we can keep talking about things and grow as musicians and servant-leaders of God’s people at St Petri.

 A. MY MUSIC BACKGROUND

I was baptized into a Roman Catholic family who had little connection to the worship life of any local church. However, for some reason, my Mum ensured that I attended church schools for most of my primary schooling. This gave me some experience of worship and music, but not much of a living faith!

My family was musical. Mum played in a local band from time to time (60/40 kind of band doing small gigs in rural towns…). My sister sang in a band for a few years, and I would watch and listen to these 17-20 year olds rehearse at our house. I loved it. I used to grab the spare drumsticks and play along with the band on a flat vinyl lounge chair cushion!

So music was around. I started guitar lessons in grade 5 but gave them up when family stuff got in the way. The music of my childhood was never religious music.

I came to a living faith in Jesus through the people in the WA Lutheran Youth camp community. Music was always big on the agenda at these camps. My first experience of Christian Music was at a youth camp where two young pastors were fulfilling the role of camp pastors, and they both led songs on a guitar. I must have loved it because I made sure I got myself in the school guitar/music class in year 10. I also then started to get lessons again and bought my first guitar around this time – a Fender 12 string with the high octave strings left off so I could play it more easily!

Then, with the very patient help of two guys in their mid 20s, at the local Lutheran Church in Perth, I began to play guitar in worship services and at youth camps.

I discovered that playing the guitar was a “chick magnet”! So I kept going and, with the help of these two mentors, began to develop good skills in playing, then eventually singing and then leading community singing.

When Leanne and I came to Adelaide to take up a youth work job in Adelaide, I found some music mates and we formed a band. We played most weeks at Flinders Street 11.00am Service. I became music coordinator for the various people involved in music as well. Eventually we then headed down the path of re-interpreting the All Together songs of the time at church gigs, and then writing original songs to play at various kinds of events. We eventually recorded some songs and that was about as far as we went.

In 1999 I eventually recorded and launched my own CD which sold a few hundred copies.

Since being ordained, I have played and led community singing in all the places I have served. By necessity, I have done this often solo (for lack of other musicians to play with!). For eight years in the last place I served (Lutheran School and congregation), I played most weeks in various chapel services and Sunday worship. I have found myself quite “over” doing the “one man band” thing – leading the community singing, liturgy and preaching all on the same day most days!

So, as you can probably tell, my bent musically is community singing in worship. I am not really a great band leader in the performance/gig setting. My heart is not really into that too much. I am more a supporter/leader of the community singing their faith. That’s what I love and what I have gifts to do and believe is the Christian worship way of singing.

So, having said all that, here is a random outline of various things I have come to believe about music in worship!

Here are some basic things I find myself believing about music in worship:

 

B. WORSHIP IN GENERAL

WHY PEOPLE COME TO A CHURCH SERVICE

I guess the reasons why people come to worship could be as many as “the grains of sand on the sea shore”! On the other hand, experience tells me a few things. It seems to me that in our day people come to worship services for four main reasons. Or, they come to receive four things above all other things.

1. A Good Sermon

2. To belong – feel welcome, find acceptance and experience hospitality

3. Personal ministry – to receive some kind of personal ministry from God whether it be in music, singing, prayer, conversation…

4. Story – to be a part of a bigger story – God’s story, the church’s story, other people’s stories (witness to God’s reality, love and power…)

A “Good” Sermon

What is that?! It probably is different things for different people but whatever it is people want to hear something from God in the bible when they come to worship. A sermon needs to be Word centred, personal, challenging and above all else good news. It needs to be grounded in everyday lives and yet, a glimpse God’s truth and reality with some practical application to life now.

Belong

There is nothing like being included, welcomed, served with good coffee and food in a warm and friendly atmosphere charged with the common bond of love shared between people who are loved by God! People need it and they will come for that reason alone. What happens before and after the Service is as important as what happens in the Service for most people.

Personal ministry

People want some personal spiritual touch of God when they come to worship. They want to know his presence and sense his forgiveness, healing, challenge and love in a way they can receive it for themselves.

For non-sacramental/liturgical worship communities this is often to be experienced in a bracket of songs with praying and time of personal ministry/prayer for individuals where gifts of the spirit like tongues can be publicly spoken and interpreted, and even a word of prophecy shared.

In sacramental communities that have a heritage of liturgical music, prayer and preaching, the personal ministry time can be in that word of forgiveness when the absolution of sin is proclaimed, a baptism experienced/shared and the sharing of Holy Communion. We might say that Holy Communion is our “time of ministry” at a very personal level – our “altar call” – but not based on my decision to come up the front but God’s decision to give his real body and blood to me for life and forgiveness.

Story

People find great encouragement in hearing the story of God’s people, God’s church and what he is doing in everyday peoples’ lives. I guess the way we have sometimes done this is in the use of “testimonies’.

Again in our sacramental/liturgical worship heritage, the story is easier to identify in the rhythm and flow of the ancient liturgy made modern. But that is not to say there is not huge benefit in hearing the “now” stories of what is doing in our own people’s lives. Both are good!

 

a few of my favourite things ….so far……