Strength and Authority

A message contrasting God’s pure, unblemished strength & authority with the way humans corrupt these blessings, based on Matthew 23:1-12 (Proper 26A).

Introduction

After the Pharisees had finished arguing with Jesus he was able to teach the disciples/people.

  • The key to understanding the Pharisees is that they were politicians!
  • Many people justifiably fear human power and authority, from experience; sadly, they assume that God will be like that, so they fear or reject God.

Teaching on Authority 

Jesus teaches us to obey the religious leaders, but not to live like them.  They have compromised their principles to gain and keep power.

  • Instead, we are to avoid worldly power and status, seek service and be modest.
  • Yesterday was All Saints Day, when we traditionally celebrate the heroes of the Faith.  Some were powerful leaders, some suffered terrible things.  All served.
  • How do we understand this?  What should we do? Is there a balance?

A Poem about Strength

The Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier:

I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

Conclusion & Application 

So, human power is not the answer. This is good news for us who are powerless!  Yet we are not powerless, we: 

  • Have the power to build up or tear down with our words.
  • Can welcome or reject new people.
  • May smile or frown, encourage and sympathise or ignore.
  • Can pray, lift others to God for blessing, or fail to do so.

We are still responsible to God for our attitudes, words and actions.

The Game Changer

A message about Jesus, the game changer: Matthew 11:2-11 reminds God’s people which side of history we are on (Advent 3A).

Introduction

Matthew, the most Jewish of Gospel writers, has a lesson for impatient followers of Jesus.  John the Baptist asks about Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” [v3]

Then: is Jesus the Game Changer?

John the Baptist was so confident that he knew who Jesus was when he could see him face to face, when he baptised him.  Now he is in prison he is not so sure. 

  • Why is he there, waiting to die? 
  • Why isn’t Herod, that Roman puppet, in prison instead of me? 
  • Why aren’t his foreign masters gone? 
  • Why aren’t us Jews, God’s own people, free; why are we not well on the way to ruling the world?  

Jesus replies, reminding John that he is doing EXACTLY what was prophesied. 

Jesus reminds the crowd that John is more than a prophet: “Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’ ”  [Mal 3:1]

Malachi was telling the Jews that God was fed up with their moaning, expecting to be saved, not because they were faithful, but just because they were Jews – born of women (not of God the Father).

Now: a Different Perspective

John the Baptist could not imagine that we could be followers of Jesus, could be God’s people, because we are not Jews.  We live twenty centuries after him in a country he never knew existed.  The Roman rulers of the world are a distant memory!

We do not see Jesus face to face and yet we know him, we believe and trust him.  We who are saved by his sacrifice and live with the Holy Spirit in us are born again – born from above; we may be the ‘least in the kingdom of heaven’ but we are greater than John, the prophet who baptised Jesus.

We have a different perspective!  So, in Advent, we wait.

Godless Foreigners!

A message about seeing with a fresh, Godly perspective (just like those Godless Foreigners), based on Matthew 17:1-9 (Epiphany, Year A).

Today we have a well-known passage that describes the wise men coming to see Jesus – now a toddler.  But there’s is more to it than that! This is satire, a set of jokes at the expense of the rich, powerful, religious and nationalistic.

Wise Men (Godless Foreigners) Arrive

  • The Messiah (God’s chosen one) born in poverty, not even at home;
  • Godless Foreigners (GFs) funny-looking people, who can’t even speak the lingo properly, tell God’s people that their new king is born;
  • The GFs come to worship the Jewish King!
  • Herod, a king who is not chosen by God but by the Pagan Romans (GFs);
  • Herod is so insecure, his moods are dangerous to his own people;
  • The clueless religious experts caught on the hop, answering the fake king and the GFs;
  • Sneaky Herod asks the GFs (not scripture or the religious) for information – for his own devious ends;
  • Only the GFs both see and understand the sign from heaven (a star), and only they get the joy;
  • They see a young mother and baby in a house and worship Him, giving him top presents (with dreadful meanings); and
  • Then God warns the GFs in a dream (like Joesph/prophets!) about Herod and they sneak off back home, job done!  

Some points to note:

  • It’s like it is all a big joke, but it’s the (second?) biggest event in history and deadly serious;
  • It is chilling to think that the Jews, God’s people had become racists – judging people on their ethnicity (they had their reasons, but…);
  • How should we avoid making the same mistakes, how we can avoid our status and security as God’s people from making us smug, blind?
  • How should we treat strange visitors (GFs or not)?  What message are they carrying from God? 
  • What is going on under our noses that God is alerting us to?

Application 

As we start a new year, let’s ask God to give us an epiphany: fresh insights, an open mind, eyes to really see, ears to really hear and renewed hearts to love.  Amen

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.

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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