While you Wait…

Message:  While we wait between chapters, we grow closer to God, a sermon based on Acts 1:6-14 & John 17:1-11 (Easter 7A).

Introduction

Today we begin the last week of Pascha, the fifty-day celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The fifty days ends next Sunday with the Day of Pentecost. 

On Thursday was Ascension Day: after walking resurrected with his disciples for 40 days, Jesus was taken into heaven to be everywhere present. As he left, he told his followers to wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.

We don’t have to wait for the Spirit – who’s already here with us. But then again, sometimes we do face similar in between times, don’t we?

Sometimes the job is done. The mission is completed.

We look to God for the next step and God says “Wait”. How do we relate to God in the times when God tells us only to wait?

The Gospel of John, Chapter 17

In our Gospel reading, we heard 11 verses from the “farewell discourse”. It was Jesus speech, 4 Chapters long, to prepare his disciples for after his Ascension. Much of it is about relationships: Father, Son, Holy Spirit and us.

If we tried to draw it, then it would messy – just like real life.

We are drawn into the mystery at the heart of the universe, life, love and meaning. I’m not keen on mystery: I like the real presence of Jesus: words; and actions.

What’s important is that we surrender to this relationship with God. Maybe that’s what the in-between times are for.  When we’re busy we don’t always have time to spend with God.

Just before Jesus Ascended into heaven, the disciples asked ‘Lord, when will you restore Israel?’  They wanted some action! Jesus told them it was not for them to know when, but that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes; they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Action and Waiting

You’ve known action.  The busyness of employment, homemaking, community building, paying bills, raising children, service, socialising and caring for others. 

You’re still doing things, perhaps the pace is a bit slower now. You’re still witnessing – witnessing to other residents, staff & family. We wait.  Like the Disciples, we ask: ‘what next?’

Perhaps we don’t feel refreshed & renewed. Like the first disciples waiting for Pentecost, it sometimes feels as though God is absent and avoiding us in these times.

But we need it.  A pause between activities.  Time for God.

Conclusion

So let’s thank God for the gift of “in-between” times, for retreat, waiting and not knowing. Let’s accept this time for growing into the mystery in God, waiting (Isa 40:31). We can rest in the unknown. A new chapter will open soon enough.

God will call us to new life and purpose and mission – we don’t know what, but that’s OK.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

This sermon is based on one by Nathan Nettleton, ©LaughingBird.net, 4 May 2008, which you can find here.

The Temptation of Weeding

Message: The Church will always contain more than its fair share of nastiness, but weeding it out is a temptation to abandon the way of Christ and make things worse.

This message is based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (Year A, Proper 11). Please note that this sermon is not advocating turning a blind eye to abuse or any other illegal activity in churches.

The Problem

A question then, in the fields, and now, in the church: “Why aren’t people in the church able to get along peacefully and lovingly?”  Where did all these weeds come from?

We expect advice on how to get rid of the problem, but we are told that we had better learn to live with the problem or we will end up becoming the problem.

So what is Jesus telling us about the sort of people we are and the sort of situation we face in this church and in every church?

  1. Pettiness will be in every church; where the Messiah sows good seed, Satan will try to spoil it.
  2. Places that promise healing and renewal will attract those who are damaged and unstable.
  3. Some people come to church to hide from God.  Every church has some people who talk the talk but don’t really respond to God.

Before we look around to categorise each other, we remember that these things are in all of us.  I come here with: bitterness and anger from the wounds of my past; parts of me willing to respond to Christ, but holding something back, and hiding it.  So do you.  It’s easier to spot in others!

Human Weeding will Go Wrong

We are tempted to take action to make the church holy, to make room for the good wheat of love, mercy and justice to grow.  We look to Jesus for advice on how to go weeding in his name, but Jesus says “Don’t! Don’t even try!”  Why?

  1. Weeding is not our job, but God’s. Our job is to be good wheat, not to be the gardener.
  2. We’d get it wrong.  The weed described in the story is a common grass that looks a lot like wheat. Given that we are all something of a mixture of each, no wonder.
  3. Any attempts to weed out the problem (people or things) will uproot and harm the innocent.

Conclusion: Growth, not Weeding

“Let the wheat and the weeds grow together.” It is that word “let” or “permit” or “allow”. The same Greek word also means “forgive”.  This is not just a passive ignoring of the problem. It is an active naming and forgiving of it. We are being told that the means to purge the community of malice and pettiness and nastiness is not through the violence of weeding but through the grace of courageous forgiving and accepting.

Let’s allow the weeds and the wheat to grow together until the harvest, and when the harvest comes, we may find that we have a whole lot more wheat and many fewer weeds than we thought.

This message is based on a Sermon by © Nathan Nettleton, 17 July 2005, which can be found at www.LaughingBird.net

A Christian’s Duty

A sermon on a Christian’s duty, based on Romans 13:7-14 (Proper 18A).

Scripture: Romans 13:7-14

‘Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.’  Romans 13:7-14 [NIV]

Context/Structure

Chapters 13 and 14 of the Letter to the Roman church deal with issues, as follows:

  • The Christian and the State –13:1-7.
  • Christian Duty –13:8-14.
  • Balancing Liberty and Charity in the community–14:1-15:13. 

Exegesis: a Christian’s Duty

Verses 8-10

What single guiding principle should control the Christian’s life in society?

“Love.”  Not a mushy emotion, but an endless debt of charity to others.  Not just to other Christians, but to all people, particularly those in need.  We ‘love’ (care for) ourselves, constantly, faithfully to the end of our lives – for example, we breathe in and out!

Verses 11-14

C.f. Romans 12:1 ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.’

A motive for why we should live like this.

What further motive does he present here?

We now live in the age of salvation.  People no longer need to get what they deserve – God’s grace through Jesus can save all.  Therefore, we are motivated to live as generously. 

No further actions need to take place to fulfil God’s plan for humankind.  None of us know when the last days will be – except that for some of us they will be soon.

What will wearing the ‘armour of light’ mean for us, both positively and negatively? 

We have nothing to fear from living openly and plainly.  Christians do not need to play games with God or with each other.

Conclusion

We do not have the option to be ‘economical with the truth’ for our convenience! Christians may not hide their faith or stop doing their duty. This may bring trouble from those who don’t want to hear about human shortcomings, or that we can live a righteous or holy life only in God’s mercy.

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!

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!