Following Christ’s Example

A message exploring the true aim of life, no less, following Christ’s example in Philippians 2:5-11 (Palm Sunday, Years A, B or C).

Introduction

Today is Palm/Passion Sunday.  We have had five Sundays in Lent and now we turn to Christ’s final week before Easter.  Philippians 2:5-11 is not from that time/place, but it captures the essence of it.

Christ’s Example Then…

Paul is writing to a church that is doing good things, partners “in the gospel from the first day until now”.  Yet they are in enemy territory – a strongly Greek/Roman city (pagan).  Paul:

  • Urges the church to be of one mind, united in humility, working to complete their salvation as pure children of Christ “shining like stars in the universe” (v15), to ‘run the race’ if you will, so that his own efforts might not be for nothing.
  • Says “…Christ Jesus…did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing”
  • Describes how Jesus is humbled (vv6-8) then exalted (vv9-11).

… And it’s Opposite Today

The context for us today is just the same.  You are good people, better than the Philippians, even!  You’ve run the race of life, stuck with God and the gospel, you still shine like stars in the universe!

We, too, live in enemy territory, where things that are not god are worshipped:  

  • Individualism – it’s all about me and MY needs, MY feelings;
  • Consumerism – I am valued because I have $$; and
  • Materialism – ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’.

These three things work in an endless, aimless cycle, until we die.

Conclusion

We don’t have to reject the things of the world, just not worship them.

We have them AND the true, living God, who is alive in us.  Our aim is to be humble like Jesus, because we have a job to do alongside Him, and then we will be exalted with Christ.

Amen.

Meeting Our Needs

A message about allowing God to help us meet our needs, based on Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-42 & Romans 5:1-11 (Lent 3A)

Introduction

We are going to hear from three pieces of scripture today, but I only have time to read one – Exodus 17:1-7.

Old Testament Scripture

So God’s people are wandering in the desert and there isn’t much water.  They get annoyed with God and take it out on Moses.  At his wits’ end, Moses cries out to God, and He meets their needs – in style!  Moses doesn’t let the people forget their moaning…

We usually call this place the ‘desert of sin’, which makes it sound like it’s the people’s fault that they are there, but their rebellion and 40 years’ wandering in the desert is yet to come.  It may be that God took them that way for their own protection, to avoid conflict.

New Testament Scripture

In John 4:5-42 Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well and asks for a drink.  Rabbis don’t talk to women, or Samaritans and they certainly don’t get water from them!  Jesus is breaking down barriers here, and offers the woman ‘living water’, just what God did for Moses.

Finally, in Romans 5:1-11 Paul reminds the Roman church that Jesus was willing to offer us not just water, but to spill his own blood for us.  He dies to lift us out of the desert of sin and bring us close to God.

My ‘Needs’ – a Personal Application

Maybe you’re like me; I like my comforts and when times are difficult my first instinct is to grumble, instead of taking my concerns to God.  I like to be in control and solve my own problems, but the truth is that I can’t solve the big problems in life, and I only get angry trying to.  Perhaps I need to get closer to God and allow Him to help me.

“Therefore…

…since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 5:1) Amen

Witnessing with Confidence

A message about witnessing, based on 1 Peter 3:13-22 (Easter 6A).

Introduction

In Chapters 3-4 Peter told Christians, scattered around the world, to live in harmony, to do good and to live for God; at the same time, he also repeatedly talks about suffering.  If God’s people do these things, then why would we suffer?

I was talking to a Crows fan yesterday, who said the Team had the perfect game plan and won their first two matches, but that the other teams watched and learned how to beat them.  And that made me think:

  • We are on a team;
  • We have a coach, who we love and trust; and
  • There seem to be other teams, and some oppose us!

Peter’s Advice on Witnessing

Peter tells us to be ready to say why we are confident in Jesus, our coach, and trust him above all other coaches, but we are to do this humbly and with respect for the other people (and their coaches).

He also tells us to keep a clear conscience – to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’.  After all, if we speak gently and live holy lives, what could people say against that?

Message for Today

Sometimes I get annoyed at how some people want to have a go at our team, and say nasty things about us.  And I have to remind myself that people are free to trust whichever coach they want.  After all, our team has made plenty of mistakes over the years; we haven’t always walked and talked in a way that made our coach proud.

Our coach also reminds us that in the past, when our team built the ark, there was lots of time to for everyone else to see what they were doing, ask what was going on, and be saved.  But only eight people, Noah’s team, were saved (but ALL the ‘dumb’ animals were saved!).

Finally

Finally, let’s remind ourselves why we can trust our coach, why we “set apart Christ as Lord”:

  • Christ, the righteous died to save us sinners;
  • He has preached to the living and the dead – no one will escape from his Word;
  • Jesus is risen from the dead;
  • He has ascended into heaven and sits at God’s right hand;
  • All natural and spiritual power will answer to Him.

Amen, Jesus is Risen over all!

Stand Firm in the Lord

Encouragement to ‘stand firm’, in response to recent terrible events, based on Philippians 3:17-4:1 (Lent 2C).

Introduction

We’ve heard two awful things recently, that George Pell[1] abused children, and of the murder of 49 Muslims in NZ. How should we respond as Christians?

Scripture: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Paul has just cautioned believers: “For it is we … who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”  Phil 3:3-6 (NIV)

Instead, Paul encourages the faithful to focus on the cross, Christ and heaven, and the transformation of our weak (willed) bodies in heaven.

Application: Stand Firm … in What?

Pell and the NZ killers had all fallen into the sin of pride.  They had so much confidence in their strength, so much zeal for their beliefs.  They did not fear God; we suspect they did not really know Him.  They had way too much confidence in the flesh, i.e. their own desires and their power to apply them.

Contrast this with the disciples’ advice to us in the Bible:

  • Paul: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” Phil 2:3 (NIV);
  • Peter: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV); and
  • James: “…human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:20 (NIV).

This is the opposite of the terrible things we’ve seen.  

Conclusion

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” Phil 4:1 (NIV)

We don’t dare stand firm in anyone else, certainly not ourselves!


[1] This is not a dig at the Roman Catholic church; no church, no institution, has been immune to abuse and abusers.

Thanks be to God, who Delivers Me!

Let’s be honest: God delivers me from my sin. A sermon based on
Romans 7:15-25a (Proper 9A).

Scripture

Paul is having trouble understanding his own behaviour:

  • Isn’t he one of God’s people? 
  • Isn’t he saved by Jesus sacrifice on the cross? 
  • Doesn’t he have the Holy Spirit living in him? 
  • Isn’t he a man of faith, risking his life to preach the good news to the gentiles? 
  • Hasn’t he travelled half the known world for God?

Yes, to all of the above!

Yet he still find himself doing selfish things that he is ashamed of, that displease God.  And he has a shrewd idea that everyone else is just like him – well almost everyone.

Modern Application

We live in a consumer society, where the consumer is king.  (Well, the consumer’s money is king, but that’s another sermon.)  And kings don’t like being told that they are wrong, that they are sinners.  So, our message of salvation from sin is not popular: “I haven’t done anything wrong,” some people say, “I don’t need to be forgiven.”  We are popular if we tell people God loves them, and if we care for others – they’re happy for us to do those jobs.  Just don’t tell them that God is holy and will judge them.

If we do, we are likely to be called hypocrites, because we are.  We want to do the right thing, we say we want to do the right thing, but we often don’t, or we do the wrong thing: just like St Paul.  We are no different to anyone else, except a minority of people who have no conscience to restrain them – psychopaths.  They are not conflicted.

God Delivers Me!

But we, like St Paul, do know that get it wrong.  Thank God we have Jesus to save us!

United in our Differences and in Christ

A short message on being united, based on Romans 14:1-12 (Proper 19A).

Introduction & Scripture

In the second half of his letter to the Roman church, St Paul deals with practical aspects of Christian living. In this section, he speaks to Christian’s who are divided. One set feels that they must obey certain rules, like not eating meat, to practice their faith; the other group emphasize the freedom they have in Christ.

St Paul is usually happy to give firm advice, and we might expect him to say which course of action is correct. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he offers no opinion on which side is better, but reminds people they must be gentle with each other. Neither side is to consider themselves superior when they are in front of the crucified and risen Christ.

A Modern Example

Recently, I met someone who had grown up in a family that belonged to an ultra-conservative religious group. This experience was so extreme that it had damaged her and others. She escaped from her family and had nothing to do with them for more than 20 years, because that was the only way she could look after herself and live a normal life. This reminded me of how destructive it can be to worship our own opinions.  Christ didn’t die on the cross to justify our narrow views, but to save us from our sins.

United in our Diversity

In our Fellowship at War Vets, I am pleased to say we are a mixed congregation. There are Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and probably a few kinds of Christian I haven’t heard of. We are not some hidden cult that thinks only we know the truth.  I am glad to say, brothers and sisters, that we are all different and all together in Christ.

Amen.

God’s Love Lived in Us

A sermon on living out the Gospel of love, based on Philippians 4:1-9 (Proper 23A).

Introduction

I saw an advert for an Atheist Convention, basically saying that all religion was bad.  I challenged this: isn’t condemning all religion, regardless of whether it leads to love or hate, just prejudice?  I will not share the nasty answers that I got!  Nobody even tried to address my question.

Scripture, Philippians 4:1-9

The Apostle Paul is not giving us a new law here, but he is calling us to be people who are characterised by rejoicing and gratitude, and to cultivate those attitudes within ourselves. Now, how we go about striving to cultivate these things is given in verse 8:

‘Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ Phil 4:8

Living the Gospel

It reminds us again of that idea of having the same mind as Christ Jesus because it is all about what you set your mind on.  Think about these things. Fill your mind with these things. Seek them out and ponder them. Meditate on them.

We might add: whatever is gracious, whatever is loving, whatever is hospitable, whatever is merciful, whatever makes for reconciliation and peace. Think about these things. Paul urges the church at Philippi to keep on imitating the good things they saw in him, as he kept on imitating the ways of Jesus, who is imitating the ways of his Abba, the God and creator of all.

Conclusion

That way our religion will result in good things, in good lives lived in love, hope, faithfulness, kindness and generosity.  This is our work, our worship and our witness.  Those that look upon us with open minds will see God and may be saved as a result!  This is our duty and our joy, now and always. Amen.

Leadership in the Kingdom of God

This sermon on ‘leadership in the Kingdom of God’ is based on 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 (Proper 28A)

Introduction

  • Probably Paul’s earliest letter, sent in haste to deal with specific issues.
  • Here he was trying to reassure Christians who had lost loved ones, wondering what would happen to them – at the time he expected Jesus to return soon (this view changed later).
  • He urges the church to remain alert and on good behaviour, because we expect the imminent, yet unpredictable, return of Jesus.
  • He first uses the military armour analogy for correct Christian character:
    • Is he thinking of a military-style organisation, which will carry out the Great Commandment?
    • As Christ will return soon and unexpectedly, there is no time to spare on anything but the Mission.  (In effect this is still true for each one of us.)

Leadership in the Kingdom

‘Leadership’ is dynamic, it’s about going from A to B, not staying as we are (c.f. ‘Management’ is about maintaining “business as usual”).

From the OT reading we learn that Deborah leads in three ways:

  • Judgement, to settle disputes by discerning right from wrong;
  • Prophecy, to discern what God wants for the future, perhaps by seeing events in the context of God’s will and plans.
  • Action, based on the results of judgement and prophecy.  

Paul does the same.  He looks at the church’s situation, considers the spiritual context and urges a course of action – in this case, resist pressure from the pagan world to conform.

What is the purpose of leadership?  Paul seeks to restore the people’s relationship with God:

  • Not just through preaching or Theology; also
  • Charity restores the bad done by an injustice in society.

Conclusion

We are all leaders now, as we have been given the Holy Spirit and the Bible. We can all judge the situation, discern God’s will in scripture and act.

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Right Thinking and Actions

A sermon on Right Thinking (orthodoxy) and Right Actions (orthopraxy), based on 1 John 3: 1-7 (Easter 3B).

Introduction

John, Jesus cousin, the disciple Jesus loved as a brother, urges us to think about the extraordinary gift of love the Father has given us in allowing us to be known as God’s own children.  The world around us has never recognised God, and so it doesn’t recognise us as being God’s children either [v1].

Right Thinking, or Beliefs

So, he reassures us, his friends [v2-3]:

  • We are God’s beloved children already;
  • What we are destined to become goes beyond even that, but the details have not yet been made known to us.
  • We know Christ will return to centre stage in clear view of everyone;
  • Then those who recognise who he really is will be just like him; so
  • Everyone waiting will work at making themselves pure, like Him.

You see, false teachers were trying to separate the spiritual from the mundane, to separate God from humans, saying religion was a matter of secret knowledge (magic?), not living ordinary life the right way.

Right Actions

Everyone who does what is wrong is rightly charged with opposing what God wants. ‘Doing wrong’ and ‘opposing what God wants’ are one and the same thing.  We know that [v4-6]:

  • Christ was brought onto the scene to wipe out our wrongdoing. There is nothing corrupt in him at all.
  • Those who live their lives in him do not do what is wrong; and anyone who does do what is wrong has obviously not recognised him and does not understand him.
  • We are God’s little children, so do not let anyone pull the wool over your eyes about these things.

How? By Knowing HIM

How do we know? We practice!  We read the Bible, we pray, we live together in community and tradition, we use our minds to reason about all these things.  Thus, we feel the Holy Spirit at work in us and we get to know Him.

‘Everyone who is doing the right thing is on the right track in just the same way as Christ himself is on the right track’ [v7].

Jesus is Eternal, not just for Christmas

A sermon on choosing Real Love in the Eternal Jesus at Christmas, based on Philippians 1:3-11 (Advent 2C).

Introduction 

We see lots of adverts and announcements in the run-up to Christmas.  Each one says “choose me!”  Choose this product, this activity, this charity (this image of happiness).  Often we are enticed with an image of love – a couple, a family, a community.  It’s all a bit idealised and not always very real; if people don’t already have love and happiness, then why should it be different on December 25th

Scripture 

Paul writes to his sisters and brothers in Philippi with real affection.  He is in prison, unable to go out or to do the things he would like to do, unable to apply the wisdom that he has learnt – rather like us in our mortal bodies, stuck where we are in time and space.  Being in prison means that Paul is waiting for execution, yet he has joy, hope and encouragement from the Philippians, because:

  • He can see what God has started in them – and that God will finish the job, making them perfect and ready for Christ’s return;
  • They have been totally committed to Paul – through thick and thin – (even waiting for death), he knows God’s love through them;
  • This is real love, not some mushy Christmas advert love;
  • Paul says that we can tell this love is real, because (five off):
    • Makes them alert, ready and determined to do God’s will;
    • Helps them to discern right from wrong;
    • It will ensure that sin can’t stick to them for long;
    • It enables them to work constantly with God for good; and
    • It shows the (true) glory to God to other people[1].   
  • This real love will prepare them for Christ’s return.

Application 

In this season of Advent we look forward to Christmas, to celebrating the birth of Jesus.  We also look forward to Jesus returning in power and triumph, when our freedom of choice will disappear forever.  Human beings will no longer be free to choose ignorance and selfishness, loneliness, war and cruelty. 

You who chose Jesus Christ will get your eternal reward, free from all the ills of the world, free from the limits of your mortal bodies, free from the limits of time and space – free of charge.  Amen, come Emanuel, come Lord Jesus!


[1] Whether they take any notice or not!