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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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The Baptism of Jesus

A sermon on Jesus’s Baptism, based on Matthew 9:1-13 (Lent 1B).

Introduction

Elijah, back as John the Baptist, baptises Jesus; God and the Holy Spirit appear with Jesus; who then goes out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. John is imprisoned, Jesus begins his ministry and we hear his message: “the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”  Phew!

It’s like the overture in an opera, a summary of the 15 chapters to come, and a manifesto for an election campaign, all rolled into one. 

Jesus Baptism: why, why, why?

I was thinking about this while I was emptying the bins and putting out the stuff for recycling:

  • Why did Elijah have to come back? I’m not sure.
  • Why was Jesus baptised?  In Mark, Matthew and Luke, it is the trigger for God to endorse Jesus and the Spirit to anoint him Messiah.
  • Why did Jesus go out to be tempted? Mark does not say, but Matthew and Luke both give us three answers, but they’re not quite the same.

While I couldn’t get an answer to every question, I could think about these great spiritual things while doing something mundane. Even more amazing:

  • I could pray directly to God about it, in Jesus name (which means ‘God with us’) and
  • I can even let the Holy Spirit work in my mind and with my spirit, not to always get the answer to my questions, but to better know, love and obey our three-in-one God.

Our Time in Lent

In this short period of Lent, we are privileged to join all the players in Jesus story, most of all the get closer to God as we just spend time with him.  Many people will get to know God personally during this Lent, because they will:

  • Hear the Gospel from others who went before them and be baptised;
  • Make their public commitment to God and receive the Holy Spirit, as Jesus did; and
  • They will go into the arid world and be tempted, just as Jesus was.

Conclusion

Unlike Jesus himself, you and I and all other believers will not get all the answers we want, and we will fail to connect with God from time to time, and we will give into temptation. But God has prepared even for our sins so that we can confess and connect to Him at any time. We can spend more time with Him at special points in every week and year of our lives.

Thank God for Jesus! (1 Corinthians 15:57)

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!

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.

Persistence in Prayer & all Things

Persistence in Prayer and in all things, a sermon based on Luke 18:1-8 and 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 (Proper 24C)

Introduction

We are often told that we live in a culture of instant gratification.  I think that is only superficially true, or even, it was true, would it necessarily be a bad thing?  Would it be so bad if poor children could have what they need as soon as they needed it, or be able to go to university without incurring long-term debt? 

Nevertheless, I do think that the things that really matter take time.  Today we have a scriptural antidote to the idea of instant gratification. Here are two passages urging us to be persistent.

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus reminds us to be persistent with prayer to God:

  • He is our Father and wants to do the right thing for us.
  • Jesus promises us justice, not what we want or think we need, because;
  • God is just, Holy and all-powerful, but nevertheless He does care about us.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Paul gives Timothy advice with some urgency:

  • This is his last letter before he is executed. 
  • He is worried about the church facing persecution under Emperor Nero. 
  • Paul is also missing Timothy his adopted ‘son’.

Some Modern Theory 

I’ve been reading a book called ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed; he was a world-class table tennis player.  One of the things he tries to do in his book is to debunk the idea of innate or instant talent or genius: 

  • To get really good at anything takes ~10,000 hours of purposeful practice. 
  • That’s 20 hours a week almost 10 years. 
  • Not just 10,000 hours of repetition: it’s being pushed to perform better all the time.

Another thing he looks at is the placebo effect.  Just believing in something can make people more successful, whether the thing they believe in is true or not

  • Such ideas might make us feel threatened, it sounds like an attack on faith itself? 
  • But actually, Jesus’s parable of the persistent widow says the same thing. 
  • Her persistence wins justice though there is none in the human judge – her faith that he will do the right thing makes it happen. 

Jesus doesn’t see this as a reason to doubt faith; rather that he says if faithful persistence makes the unjust do right then surely God even more so.

Nevertheless

There will be bad times when it seems that our faith is achieving nothing. 

  • Paul was faithful for a lifetime: 10,000 hours of purposeful practice becoming a Rabbi; three years in the desert after his conversion; and many years’ hardship on the road.
  • This got him chained up like a criminal in a cold dungeon far from home and loved ones waiting for death. 
  • Despite this Paul encourages Timothy (if you are feeling down then read all of 2Timothy, it’s quite short).  Be patient with yourself, with others and with God. 

So let’s stick with it friends!