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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!      

The Apostles’ First Day

Jesus briefs his apostles on their first day at work, based on Luke 6:17-26 (Epiphany 6C)

Introduction

In verses 12-16 Jesus takes his disciples up a mountain, spends all night praying and then selects 12 of them to be apostles (“sent with a special commission”).  In verse 17 they come down the mountain and run into a large crowd, seeking his teaching and healing.  He heals all who need it and then he speaks to his followers. 

Luke 6:17-26

Jesus tells his followers that following him may cost them.  They may be:

  • Poor; Hungry; Weeping;
  • Hated, excluded, insulted and rejected as evil!

But God will reward them because this is how the prophets were always treated. Conversely, the rich, well fed, laughing and admired had better watch out! These things come from humans, not God.

This was not obvious teaching at the time.  Surely people had good things because God blessed them?

Meaning for Today

People still believe this.  On social media I see Christians saying that God is going to bless his people, more and more.  Now Jesus doesn’t say that we will always suffer, or must suffer, but he does encourage us. 

  • If we suffer on Earth for our faith, we should know that this is consistent with being true disciples; 
  • Conversely, being rich and famous is not a sign that God loves us.

Conclusion

The reward for faith is salvation, a restored relationship with God, and all that flows from it: 

  • Love for enemies (vv27-36);
  • Not judging others (vv37-42);
  • Bearing good fruit; and
  • Building wisely (vv46-49).

We will be different, and our differences will equip us for heaven.  Let’s start as we mean to go on!

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!