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

Part of the Solution

‘Part of the Solution’ is a sermon based on Haggai 1:15b—2:9 (Proper 27c).

Introduction

Haggai’s audience were trying to rebuild the temple after the exile, and who felt that all they had managed to build looked like a pathetic little shed compared to the glory of what had come before.

It is easy to get discouraged if we look back and compare our glory days to our present situation We could:

  • Think about the churches we used to belong to – how great they were;
  • Look back on days when Australia was a simpler country to live in, where we felt we had all the answers; or
  • Remember the days when we were strong and needed, felt better, or could simply remember stuff!

Meaning

Haggai does not criticise their efforts, or pretend that their new temple looked magnificent. It didn’t, but so what? “Take courage, all of you, says the Lord, for I am with you. My spirit is among you; do not fear.”

He says God is promising to do something new and the treasures of many nations will fill this house with splendour, for “the silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord.” Let’s take note that:

  • God is not asking us to build something better, but is promising to fill what we have built with good things. It is not what we build that matters, but what God does with it and what God fills it with.
  • We are not responsible for filling it either. Everything that will go into it already belongs to God and will be put where God wants it.
  • The final splendour of God’s home on earth consists of the treasures of all sorts of people and places. We are just one little contributor among many.

Haggai the prophet was speaking to the high priest, the governor and the people.  We might feel weak and insignificant, but we are ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ (1Pet2:9) and ‘For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building’ (1Cor3:9).

We CAN be Part of the Solution

We’re not the whole story, but if we play your part and make our contribution, then we will be a meaningful and fruitful part of the kingdom of God through which all the world will be blessed.

Amen.

Investing Wisely

‘Investing Wisely’ is a sermon that aims to ask: where is our treasure and what is our perspective? It’s based on Jeremiah 32:1-15 and Luke 16:19-31 (Pentecost 18)

It’s 587BC and Jeremiah is in a tight spot

  • He’s been falsely arrested for Treason because he prophesied against the King.
  • He’s imprisoned in the Guardhouse of the Royal Palace.
  • Jerusalem is under siege, surrounded by Babylonian troops.
  • Then Hanamel his Nephew appears and asks him to buy a field – three miles behind enemy lines!  
  • Jeremiah could have pointed out the absurdity of what Hanamel was asking, but:
    • The Word of God has told Jeremiah that this would happen.
    • It is the law that he should buy the field and keep it in the family

Luke 16:19-31.  Now we have a very different picture

  • Jesus tells a parable, perhaps reusing a familiar folk story.  Note that:
    • It isn’t orthodox in the Christian sense – it doesn’t say salvation is by faith!
    • Jesus uses current belief – the focus is on right living rather than right belief.
    • Lazarus is the only named character in a parable of Jesus.
  • The rich man shows no interest in Lazarus, although he lives under his nose.
    • He has food to spare and Lazarus would gladly eat it – but no luck.
    • He doesn’t even think of others until he is in Hell (and then it’s his brothers).
  • In v31 Jesus ironically refers to Lazarus, raised from the dead, and perhaps himself.

Message for Today

  • The obvious message from the parable in Luke is a warning to us in the rich West.
    • Here we are indulging ourselves to death, while others die for lack of clean water.
    • The faithless might use such (tabloid) stories to say “there ain’t no justice” (or God).
    • I am fearful of what God will allow to happen to our society. (How angry is God?)
    • That’s perhaps what you would expect me to say – and it’s true!
  • However, when put next to the Jeremiah passage another view emerges.
    • Jeremiah could have needed that silver to keep him alive (bribes for the guard).
    • His far-sighted actions would enable his heirs to claim their land after the exile.
  • The message for today is what are we investing in?  Where is our treasure and our hearts?

Conclusion: investing

  • Jeremiah was in prison in a city under siege; he knew the enemy would win.
  • We are imprisoned in physical bodies, in a materialistic society in a physical universe.
  • We are not going to win this fight (a thought typical of Jeremiah)!
    • We will not live forever.
    • The church will not win over society and save society from itself.
    • Occasional miracles aside, God will not intervene to save our planet from us.
  • People without faith expect God to act in a timescale to suit them – they’re dead wrong!
    • God will act when and where and how He deems best for His purposes.
    • We are called to invest our hearts and treasure in God’s purposes and his timescale.
  • Our privileged relationship with God allows us to see things from His perspective.
  • “Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven, Amen.”

At the Potter’s House

‘At the Potter’s House’ is a sermon on Jeremiah 18:1-11 (Proper 18C)

Introduction

God prompts Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house promising that he will see something interesting.  Jeremiah immediately discerns God’s message in what he sees. 

Message at the Time 

God’s message in 600BC is to a people who notionally belong to him, but worship him in name only.  Instead of relying on God and being obedient to Him, they have politics, money, international trade and alliances with foreign powers.  Jeremiah warns God’s people again and again, but they ignore him.  They ignore all the warnings and their nation is destroyed.

Message for Today

I wonder if we would do any better today?  The message is that God shapes nations and peoples as He sees fit to get the best results He can. So the first question is the best result for whom?

  • Given that we worship a god of love I suppose it’s obvious we would conclude that the results would be the best for us.
  • But being reshaped by the potter sounds painful doesn’t it?
  • Perhaps it’s the best result for everyone for the whole nation, for the whole community.

The other question Is that how white people react to the shaping?

  • Some deny that there is a god who is interested in us at all.
  • Many more imagine an angry God they want to hide from – they work hard to hide from Him.
  • Others will say it’s my life no one else can tell me what to do, or tell me how I should live my life.
    • This is understandable, but again it denies a loving God.
    • It also says more about them: “I know what’s best for me – nobody else knows me better than I do.”
    • It’s an arrogant and self-centred approach; also it’s doomed to fail: do we know better than any/everyone else? Better than God?
  • We’re all tempted to avoid a broader perspective, because taking the broad view might mean making personal, painful sacrifices.

Conclusion

Of course, we should avoid all those mistakes!  We know God personally and know that he has plans to prosper His people and not to harm us.  We know that we make mistakes and that we need correction.  Sometimes Nations get it wrong, and ordinary people suffer the consequences – war, famine, disaster.  Whatever befalls, we know a loving God who helps us to understand why these things happen.  Perhaps we will even change – and be better!

Whole Worship

A sermon on a whole life as whole worship, based on Isaiah 1:1-10 (Proper 14C).

Aim:  To see that a whole life offered to God is worship.

In Isaiah 1:1-10 we have part of his first message to his people from God.  It doesn’t start well.  God begins by comparing His people to the rulers and people of Sodom and Gomorrah, towns so immoral that God destroyed them!

Surprisingly, God then goes on to say He is fed up with their sacrifices, festivals and prayers, which is odd since God started these things through Moses!  Surely God wants us to keep praying to Him?

Meaning at the Time

This message is typical of the Old Testament prophets. Not just Isaiah, but many others say the same thing.  It’s as though God’s people are using incense as a smoke screen to cover up their wrong doings, they are using the many sacrifices and festivals to try and distract his attention from their day-to-day lives.  And we can see from Isaiah message, their ‘ordinary’ lives were not pleasing God.  He wants v16-17 instead.  God is just sick and tired of all the Temple worship, because it is fake.

Meaning & Application for Today

So, what is our response?

  • Worship.  We ask forgiveness, we give him thanks, we praise Him and we pray for others.
  • Work.  We follow the example of the prophets, Jesus and other disciples, bringing healing, justice, friendship and care in the world.  (‘But we’re retired!’)
  • Witness.  We share the Good News – this is not something we hoard for ourselves, but rather we want everyone to enjoy what we have!

I note that the world loves to accuse us of being fakes, but they don’t want the whole package either, and they never did.  Jesus and the prophets were killed because they offered that. We should not expect the godless to behave with grace.

Isaiah finishes on a hopeful note.  If the people stop doing wrong and come to God for forgiveness, they can be clean again.  If they’re willing and obedient they will have the best the land has to offer, but the disobedient will be destroyed.

Conclusion

We worship a whole God – father, son and holy spirit – and we don’t bring half a life of worship.  We commit our whole selves and a whole life in worship, because through the grace of Jesus Christ, we can.

Keeping it Simple

A simple message: God gives simply and gives simplicity, based on 2 Kings 5.

Scripture

Weve just heard a great story of the Old Testament.  The purpose of the story is to hear a powerful and feared man, a “godless foreigner”, say: there is a real prophet in Israel.

It is also a comedy, a folktale, for poor folk, that pokes fun at the rich and powerful.  There are two Kings and a great general, Naaman, but they don’t achieve much and look foolish.  Even God’s prophet doesn’t do much.  It’s the three servants, unnamed, simple people, one a child, who make things happen.

This story contains so much but we will focus on only one idea.

A Simple Task

The formula, or presciption, was simple. A child could understand it. “Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan and you will be made clean.” But the person given this simple task was not a simple man.  His power and reputation mean nothing, and his great riches are useless.  He drives off in a huff, like an angry teenager!

Yet when he does as he is told he is completely healed physically, and he realises the truth about God.  Verse 15: “Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel’.”  

Application

Today, we are rich and powerful, like Naaman.  Also, like him, we got our wealth and power by conquering and taking from others.  God will punish the rich for their sins and exalt the poor.

We can all be saved by confessing our sins to Jesus Christ and surrendering to him.  Many people will be too clever, too rich or too proud to do this.  This should not be a surprise to us – it has always been this way!

We however, can give thanks that we are not clever or sophisticated, we have few possessions and we have to depend on others to look after us.  In our simple lives we have few things to get in the way of accepting God’s simple grace.

Conclusion

We can take pride in the cross of Christ – we don’t have to be clever or great to be healed (saved) from sin/mortality, in fact in helps if we are not!

In Desperate Need

A story of endurance and faith in desperate times, based on 1 Kings 17:8-24.

The Story

Elijah the prophet has told Ahab the wicked King that there will be no rain or dew in Israel, because “Ahab … did more to arouse the anger of the Lord … than did all the kings of Israel before him.”  That’s quite an achievement, if you look at the four chapters of murder, idol worship, etc., that his predecessors had been guilty of!

God tells Elijah to go to a foreign (godless) land to lodge with a widow, i.e. a woman with no means of support!  Does Elijah need to learn some humility? or to depend on God?  Elijah finds her and begs (with a stunning lack of sensitivity) for water and bread from her – she replies that she is in a desperate state (v12).

Note that God does not promise a miraculous end to the drought, or even a miraculous but isolated plenty in the place where Elijah is going.  God promises only enough for today, and then the next day, and so on; Elijah and his adopted family can see no way out, they have no security other than God’s promise in the midst of catastrophe.  

However, the situation grows even worse.  The widow’s only son dies and, with him, her only hope of survival after Elijah has gone and into her old age dies too.  Naturally, she is heartbroken and angry with the man of God.  Tragically, she assumes that she is to blame, and that the presence of the man of God has only brought God’s attention to her sins, and divine retribution for them.  Elijah cries out to God in genuine need – at last he has learned to identify and empathize with the plight of the ordinary people, rather than just himself.

Application

The rich, the powerful, the leaders who should be doing God’s will, have led the whole nation into sin.  Big issues are being worked out here, with big consequences. Unfortunately, even God’s prophet, and the innocent, must suffer the consequences. 

Today, we understand natural cause and effect (as opposed to early Old Testament (mis)understanding that God does everything directly).

A Christian Perspective

Jesus’ approach is to draw people to him, not to condemn their sin, but to bring them healing and to know the presence of God.  In Jesus presence we are saved from our sins, no matter how desperate the situation around us. We will be liberated from the consequences of sin in the world around us, as we look ahead, eagerly, to God’s Kingdom on Earth and the next life in heaven, whichever comes first for us.

Lord over All

Message:  To remind us that God is Lord over all things, time & space – based on Psalm 148 & Revelation 21:1-6.

Introduction 

Blizzards, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes – we have recently been reminded how powerful nature is and how we are subject to that power.  As the song says, “We’re not as smart as we’d like to think we are!”

Exegesis:What is the Bible saying to us today?

Psalm 148.  We hear a hymn of praise.  All of creation, heaven and earth, is to join in.  Nothing and no one is left out: angels; sun, moon and stars; the sea and its creatures; the weather; the land; all plants and trees; wild and domestic animals, birds and insects; and all people – royalty and commoners, men and women, young and old.

Revelation 21:1-6.  These last chapters of the last book of the Bible, we see the final vision of the last things, the end of history.  In this passage, the seer invites us to share a vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” (v1). The old familiar things – and their limitations – are swept away by God and replaced by a heaven and earth, the like of which has never been seen before!  Think about that…scientists tell us that in the Big Bang, not only was the physical universe created, but time and space itself came into being.  At the end God will repeat and renew this creation (v5).  “It is done” (v6) God’s plan is completed.  God is “the Alpha and the Omega” (explain Greek alphabet). There is nothing outside of, or beyond, Him.

In these passages we could draw many lessons, but one that strikes me is God’s power is universal.  He is God over all creation, over earth and heaven, over all time and space.

Application: Lord over All?

What should be our response to these visions?

  • Some people want to exclude God from public life, because they don’t understand faith, for example, the desire to avoid ‘Christmas’ for fear of offending Muslims, when, in fact, they revere Jesus.
  • Some want to say that there is a conflict between science and religion – I don’t accept that.  I believed in evolution and the big bang theory before I believed in God.  Whatever the scientists discover about God’s creation, it doesn’t stop us having a relationship with Him.
  • We need to remember that we can pray for everyone everywhere – no one can stop us!  Praying for people is a great way to avoid the temptation of judging them, which – sadly – what many people expect from us. 
  • Just as we should not judge, no one can judge us.  We can wear our religious symbols and talk about God: let’s stop asking permission to do this and just get on with it. 
  • Perhaps most threatening of all though is that God wants to be Lord over every part of our lives.  Dare we surrender everything to Him?  Can we submit all to His scrutiny, for His approval and blessing? 
  • Do we have integrity? Are we consistent in our private thoughts and public words?

Conclusion

When those without faith look at natural disasters around the world they look at so many deaths and see only tragedy.  However, the faithful know that there is more to creation than this physical world. There is heaven, and death is not the end for those who accept Jesus as Lord.  For us this physical life is only part of the story, indeed there is no part of our outer or inner world where God doesn’t belong.  Without God life is incomplete and our individual lives and community life lack meaning.

The Holy Spirit, Jesus’s Legacy

A sermon on Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Birthday of the Church. (Scripture for the day: Genesis 11:1-9; John 14:8-17, (25-27); and Romans 8:14-17).

Jesus’ Legacy: the Holy Spirit.

  • Not just a Birthday, but Our anniversary – a time for reflection and thinking ahead.
  • When we reflect we often think of our legacy – what have we achieved, what have we left behind us?
  • The Holy Spirit is Jesus ‘legacy’ (legacy = bequest, inheritance, gift, donation).

The Holy Spirit is… 

Who is this person we’ve inherited?  What are they like?  What do they do?

  • Holy – set aside for God’s purpose or work.
  • Of Truth – leads people to the truth about God and who Jesus is.
  • Reminder – of Jesus (person), actions, teaching and message.
  • Peaceful – allows us to rest in intimacy with God, rather than fear.
  • Counsellor – helps and advises us, especially to obey God because we love Jesus.
  • Advocate – our defender when accused (Satan = ‘accuser’).
  • Comforter – someone we can turn to for reassurance in trouble.
  • Adopter – lets us know that we are adopted, and receive God’s inheritance (legacy).
  • Has personality – not a characterless, distant force, but a person we can know.
  • Dynamic – changing and responsive to our situation; active in God’s plans.
  • Guide – leads us to do new things, meet new people and see new places.

Our Legacy 

In around 25 years’ time I will be retiring (I hope) and looking back upon a life of…What will I have achieved?  Where will I have fallen short?  [“because …”]

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Teddy Roosevelt, 23rd Apr 1910.

In 25 years’, what will our Church look like?  Many congregations will have died our entirely; their buildings will no longer be holy.  Yate and Staple Hill are larger and have families with children, so they should still be here.  We will endure; but, given what we know about the Holy Spirit, is that enough? 

We Chose to Celebrate

A sermon about chosing, based on Jeremiah 31:7-14 and several New Testament passages.

Introduction

People who don’t know God sometimes say that they can’t believe in Him because of all the bad things in the world (e.g. David Attenborough and the eyeball-burrowing worm; he choses not to consider the logical opposite, which is that good things in the world suggest that there is a God.)

Jeremiah 31 – Meaning at the Time

But God never promised us a perfect world, a world free from suffering and the effects of sin.  Notice what Jeremiah says:

“For the Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.”  (Jer 31:11)

God promises to ransom/redeem Jacob, His people in exile, from a stronger people, either the Assyrians or Babylonians; note that this is a concrete promise referring to real events, not some vague nicety.  However, God does not promise to make ‘us’ stronger than ‘them’, but merely to rescue us.  The stronger peoples, who do not know God, will remain.  We should not, therefore, expect a perfect world.  John points out that many Jews failed to recognise Jesus as Messiah, and Jesus himself tells us that poverty[1] and war[2] will always be with us.   Not everyone will know God.  Life is not fair. 

Meaning for Today

This unfairness also raises questions amongst people.  Some ask what have Christians done to deserve this favour?  Why, in this age, which worships individual choice and equality[3], is this salvation not equally available to all?  John’s Gospel tells us that it does not depend on inherited rights, but on recognising Jesus: “… his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him … he gave the right to become children of God …” (John 1:11b-12).  Anyone can be saved if they receive Jesus. 

Some Christians want to make the world perfect in their own strength, in their own understanding.  Perhaps the evangelical want to see everyone accept Jesus as Lord.  Perhaps the legalists want to see all Christians obey God’s will perfectly.  Perhaps the liberals want to see all social ills and injustices wiped out.  Perhaps the ‘Universalists’ would like all to be saved regardless of their belief in Jesus.  All of these groups will be disappointed – none of them will be able to celebrate victory.  As nice as these ideas sound, they are not real, and they are not part of God’s plan.

The response that is required of us at Christmas is to celebrate being part of God’s chosen people.  We recognised God in Jesus and believe in who He is.  For that reason alone we are saved, we have bought in to God’s plan to save humanity, which he formulated before he formed the universe itself.  With a free ticket we have won the lottery, a prize of undeserved holiness and blamelessness, adoption and inheritance, lavish grace, redemption and forgiveness.  We have even been briefed on God’s secret plan to eliminate poverty, war, sin and unbelief by bringing all things under Christ at the end of time[4]

Conclusion

Today, therefore, the people of God are not to waste time waiting for a perfect world that we can’t make, or questioning God’s wisdom in granting salvation as He chooses.  Today, we are to celebrate what we already have, the salvation and hope of Jesus, the promised Messiah.  We really are different from other people, only because we recognise Jesus for what He really is – God and man.  We chose to accept Jesus as Lord and so to become the Chosen people of God.  Happy Christmas!


[1] Matthew 26:11 “The poor you will always have … ”

[2] Matthew 24:6 “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars … [in the end times]”

[3] To the point where it damages society!

[4] Ephesians 1:3-14.