Archive for February, 2008

In step with God – Genesis 12:1-4

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

I know a number of you have gone in to the outback.  How would you express what you saw, or if you haven’t what word would best describe the outback?  Barren.  Yes, the outback can seem a God forsaken place, where nothing lives, where many dreams have failed, lives have been lost and hopes dashed.  Many have tried to make a future in the outback, brought with them sheep and cattle, families and workers, but were only turned back by the bareness of the country.  Barren, it is a word that describes hopelessness, emptiness, and the end of the line.  I want you to keep this image in your mind.

And when bareness becomes a part of our lives, when all looks to have come to an end, we begin to look for a way out, and for many, the first way out is to reject God; to see him as the cause rather than the solution to our problems, or to make him irrelevant and non-existent.

Richard Dawkin’s search to prove that God is real came to a barren end, he could not find proof that God exists, so he concludes there must not be a God and so rejects him and religion as a whole saying ‘A case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the small pox virus but harder to eradicate.  Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion’.

Dawkins believes its up to humanity to better our own lives, there is no God, faith is the wall which stops us from being in control of our destiny; faith hides reality.  Really?  Well our world is littered with the remnants and legacies of past generations’ attempts at improving our life by rejecting God; thinking we have the power to better our lives.  The remnant and legacy we have been left, speaks for its self; war, starvation, tyranny, loneliness and depression.

Does this sound like a better society? Does this sound like we have things in control?  Billy Joel wrote a song about this called ‘We didn’t start the fire.’ In it he lists all the failures of the world, and he ends with ‘JFK blown away what more do I have to say’, we didn’t start the fire, its always burning, since the world’s been turning’.

Yes, the first few chapters of Genesis sounds like it could have been written by Billy Joel.  We didn’t start the fire, the world’s been burning since the world’s been turning ‘Adam tries to better his own life, rejects God’s word and ends up kicked out of the garden.  Cain tries to better his life, rejects God’s word and kills Abel; whole nations want to better their lives, reject God and are drowned in the flood.

The whole of humanity wants to better its self, builds a tower to heaven, only to end in confusion.  Yes, we didn’t start the fire against God, but we are certainly part of it, stoking it with our failures to trust his word.

Perhaps there have been times when you and I have found, as Dawkins did, that we need to take control of our own lives, why wait for God to act.  Why wait for a future promise that may never come true, why wait for evidence that God is real in our life, why wait to see his blessing when they may never happen, live for now; act now, before it is too late.  Leave faith in God to those who are afraid to take control.

When we begin to read the story of Abraham, we begin with the genealogy from Adam to Noah and then the genealogies from Noah to Abraham.  And when this concludes, we realize that Abraham had every excuse to take his life into his own hands; to leave faith to those who are afraid.   There is no proof God had things in control.  You see, his family line concludes the list with ‘Abram married Sarah, who was barren.’  It stops there; at a point of hopelessness; no longer can the family line go on.

What does this tell us?  Humanity can go on for ages and ages, but it will end in nothing, unless there is divine intervention, grace. It tells us, Humanity, you and I, have nowhere else to go. Barrenness- be it war, devastation, destruction- is the way of human history without God. It tells us, there is no foreseeable future, only hopelessness. Human power, apart from God, cannot create or even invent a future for its self.

But the story doesn’t stop there.  No, this is the pivotal point in human history.  The point in which God, in the face of bareness, despair and hopelessness, breaks into the world with a word of hope for humanity.  And its also a story about faith and trust in God, who by his grace, restores hope in the bareness of Abrahams life. What seems to be an end is actually the future for God’s people; our future.

God says to Abraham ‘go to a land that I will show you and I will bless you and make you into a great nation’.  Wow!  What a word; what a promise…what a contradiction.  Abraham saw bareness and hopelessness, an end of an era; God saw a start of something new.  By making Abraham’s wife Sarah, barren, God was showing that he was closing off the old, ending the human tragedy of sin and death  and assuring in a new way, a new creation, a new people who will be his own, who will live by faith, not by sight.

Abraham, as in previous generations, could have rejected God’s word.  He could have looked at his situation, looked his hopelessness and did as Adam did and said ‘God, you must be joking, I’m doing it my way’; but he didn’t.   Adam chose disobedience, Abraham chose faith. He believed God where Adam did not. He trusted, despite physical evidence to the contrary.   And as St Paul writes ‘His faith was credited to him as righteousness;’ that is, he is in God’s blessing because he trusted his word.  He received because he believed.

Abraham stepped out in faith and anticipation of the future.  God’s word of promise seemed imposable, yet because it was God’s word it seemed plausible; plausible enough for Abraham to stake his life on it.  He believed enough to trust that at some point in the distant future, final confirmation of the promise would take place.  In the mean time, he is perfectly prepared to live with the unresolved tension.  He lived and thought as if the promise had already happened, even thought he knew only future generations would have the luxury of knowing and actually living in the promise.

You and I have the same promise of God, to bring you into the Promised Land.  Jesus says to you in your baptism ‘you are part of God’s family, you are my child of the promise, arise from this barren way of life, and I will take you to the Promised Land.’ And if you have not heard the promise for a while, here is.  The promise straight out of today’s gospel ‘”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’  Let’s say that together…..

This is the promise for you, given at your baptism ‘you shall not perish but have eternal life’.  This is the word of God to you, the same word of God Abraham heard and trusted.  Is it plausible enough for us to believe?  Plausible enough to stake our life on it? To trust that at some point in the distant future, final confirmation of the promise will take place.  Are we perfectly prepared to live with the unresolved tension of living now, yet for eternity?  To live as if the promise had already happened?

This is the question of faith, stepping out on a promise.  Dawkins is right, there is no proof, only the word and promise of God.  The scriptures say ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.’  So let’s live today as Abraham did, as if the promise has been fulfilled.  Leaving the bareness of our own ways, leaving the emptiness of life without God and his word, and live as if in his presence; listening to him, studying his word and loving and serving each other.

Let us live with a hope so strong that everyday we hand over our life to him.  For we know, that the same word of God, who had the power to raise Jesus Christ from the grave, is the same powerful word that will bring us into eternal life; the fulfilment of the promise. Amen

Harvest sermon – Luke 17:11-19

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Hand out some gifts.

Why do we say thank you?

o    Our appreciation
o    In recognition of the giver
o    To give honour

Its very easy to give thanks to someone who has given you something directly, because you know them or you can see them and so say thanks mate!  What if we step back one level and think about the person who made the lollies, do we know them?  Can we see them?  Yet should we give thanks to them?  What if we were to take another step back and think about the people who produced the raw material in the first place?  The sugar cane and the cocoa trees, do we know who this is?  Can we see him?  Should we give thanks to them also?

Yes of course, but as you can see, the further we get away from the actual giver, the person who gave us the gift, the harder it is for us to recognise them as the giver. Here in Australia, a civilized country, where science and technology, shops and product outlets provide us with everything we need, we are so far from the actual giver, it is easy for us to forget to say thanks; after all, who do we give thanks to – ebay?

Yes, many of us have lost track of who to say ‘thanks’ to, because face to face giving, where someone actually gives us the present, is becoming a thing of the past.  We are far away givers and receivers.  Often the gifts we give are now posted, emailed, or express delivered, rather than given in person.  And the things we need for daily living, food, drink etc, we simply buy off the self, no face to face service or shaking the dirty and calloused hands of the local producer.  We have what we want without even recognising the giver.

And what is the result of our far-away giving and receiving?  We become focused on the gift and not on the giver.  We become selfish.  The further we remove ourselves from the giver of the gift, or the provider of our needs, the more selfish we become.  Where’s my quality fruit?  Where’s my new years harvest wine?  Little thought goes into the provider; the giver of our needs.

I’m sure that all ten of the lepers that Jesus healed that day, were grateful as they walked away along the road and noticed that their leprosy had been healed. I’m sure they were very thankful to Jesus in their hearts for answering their cry for mercy; curing them from their leprosy. I’m certain they were brimming over with gratitude as they showed themselves to the priest and were welcomed back into their communities.  Yet the distance travelled away from the giver, had its toll on their thanks.  The further they went from Jesus, the less chance they had of returning to him to give him thanks.  Why?

Because the gift becomes the centre of their attention; the further they walked, the more their thoughts turned to the gift.  Wow!  Look at me! Now I can go see my family, now I can do this and now I can do that.  As they walked away, unknowingly and most likely, unintentionally, so did their thanks to Jesus.

The text doesn’t say whether the lepers made it to the temple or not, or whether they went straight home to their families, but one thing is clear; the further they walked away from Jesus, the further they separated the gift from the giver, the less likely they were thank him.  It’s a fact.  It happens.  And it happens in our own lives.  On that special day of our baptism, we are given the greatest gift of all; Jesus heals us spiritually.  In the water we are cleansed of the leprosy of sin, which was killing us.  We are given a second chance at life, just like the lepers were.

And how grateful we are, very thankful to Jesus, and with every good intention, we plan to go to church, to show ourselves in God’s house, yet as we go, the gift becomes the priority over the giver.  Wow, look at me, I am free, no longer under the burden of guilt and fear; I don’t have to do this or that, or can do this and can do that.  And as the years go by, its so easy to distance ourselves from Jesus, travel away from him.  And this is reflected in our failure to give thanks; we no longer give thanks, that is, we no longer stay close to Jesus; we no longer worship. We don’t return to the giver to give him our worship of thanksgiving.

This was not the case however, with the one leper.  The further the Samaritan went from Jesus, the more he realized he was walking away from the giver.  It is most likely that he never even made it to the temple, and why should he.  He realized the place where God is, was not in the temple, but in Jesus.  For him, the place to give thanks for his healing was where Jesus is, for he is the new temple, the new place where God is present.  He fell down at Jesus feet and gave thanks – he worshipped.

To worship is the give thanks to God. Luke uses the word ‘Eucharist’, the verb ‘giving thanks’, Jesus ‘gave thanks’ to God when instituting the Last Supper; that is why the Supper is often called the ‘Eucharist’.  The service of giving thanks to the one who gives the gift of his body and blood for our healing.  In the Lord’s Supper we come to Jesus and he gives us the gift of a second chance at life, the gift of forgiveness and healing; an opportunity to start anew.  And like the one leper, we come to give him thanks; we come to worship; we come to be face to face with our giver, Jesus our saviour.

I often hear people say to me ‘I don’t need to go the church to be a Christian’, and perhaps you have heard this yourself, and perhaps this is what the 9 lepers thought, ‘I don’t need to go to Jesus to give him thanks, I can do it at home’.  But why wouldn’t we want to go to where God is; the gift giver?  Why wouldn’t you want to be were Jesus is?  Why settle for a distant relationship; a far away giving thanks?  Perhaps this is what we are used to, I don’t know.  Perhaps we are afraid of being close to Jesus; perhaps to say our thanks to Jesus, means more than words.

A lady named Barbara began keeping a list of her favourite things as a shy teenager.
Soon the list became second nature; she found herself making additions while riding the bus, eating breakfast, even in the middle of the night. Twenty years later and dozens of spiral notebooks later, she had listed 14,000 things to be happy about. (Why not write your own book?)  As wonderful and important as this is, giving thanks is more than drawing up lists of your blessings, thinking thankful thoughts, and feeling gratitude in your heart.  It means more than just giving lip-service.

To ‘give thanks’ is a verb, a doing word. Giving thanks involves our whole person.
When the one leper returned to Jesus and worshiped him, Jesus gave him a command – Arise, journey, your faith has made you well.  Jesus is on a journey to the cross, a journey to save and he calls those he has healed to join the journey with him.  Once we have come to Jesus in worship, he calls us in faith to arise and journey with him; to no longer travel away from him, but to walk with him; to be with him, so that we may serve others as he has served us.

Just as St John says ‘This is worship, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ And this is our thanks, ‘since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’

Yes, so let us be thankful people of God.  People who are thankful enough to care about those kids in Dubbo North Primary School who don’t know Jesus; who are thankful enough to offer ourselves for service to those in our community; those who don’t fit in, to those in the hospital suffering alone.  We could probably make a list as long as Barbra on the ways we could live out our thankfulness in our community.  But remember, it is Jesus who heals and it is Jesus who is the gift giver, so first and foremost we journey with him; live in him and meet with him face to face and it is to him that we give our thanks and praise.
Amen

Ash Wednesday 2008

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

 

Over the past week or so we have had some pretty scary thunderstorms.  You can see them building up in the distance.  You know they are coming.  The rumbles, the flashes of lightening and the growing darkness announce the coming wrath of nature.  We go into hiding, go under cove to protect ourselves from facing the elements and the dangers.  We stay in doors, locked away until the darkness passes.  To illustrate the coming of something to fear, Joel uses the imagery of an Army coming to attack.  The trumpets announce the coming wrath and warn the people to take cover; to go into hiding for fear of being killed.

This imagery of a thunderstorm; the darkness, the flashes of lightening or the imagery of the fierce army coming and the fear it produces in us, is literally how you and I feel when caught in sin.  I don’t mean being actually caught doing something wrong, and the fear and darkness we experience when we know the consequences.  No, I mean the darkness and fear we experience when our guilty conscience is pricked.  Perhaps someone says some thing as innocent as ‘It terrible how people could lie like that’ or ‘fancy Johno being a violent abuser’ and instantly, bang, like a clamp of thunder our conscience darkens, and guilt, like lightening strikes us to the heart.  We ourselves have done just that, or are still doing just that, or similar.

Our feelings of guilt make us act as if a severe storm is coming.  We want to hide to protect ourselves; we want to hide our secret, lock ourselves away with it for fear that if we were to be found out we would be struck down.

To hide means to be a captive, stuck, locked up in one place.  Guilt produces shame and shame holds us in a state of captivity, like we were enduring a storm in a tiny cellar. The only difference is, storms eventually move on, whereas, guilt always remains and so we remain locked up by the shame.  Feelings of unworthiness, or anger at ourselves that we let others down, or even anger that we let ourself down, stop us from coming out of hiding.

So how do we get of this?  Do we find comfort inside ourselves, not daring to mention to anyone our secret?  No, secrets make us prisoners in our own body.  What about lying, could we lie to others or even to ourself?  No, lies also lock us up; Do we act like a doctor and explore ways to cure the pain that is in us?  Drink, medication, sleeping tablets. No, the cause of the pain is not physical, though there are physical symptoms, sudden weight loss or gain, depression, or a weak immune system, but to fix the symptoms is pointless, the pain is originated in our actions.

So how do we get out of our hiding place?  Can we even?

When a thunderstorm comes, we fear, and with good reason; the lightning strikes the ground and the thunder crashes all around. But then, have you noticed what happens next?  After the storm cell has passed, it begins to rain.  Everything we fear has moved on, and we are left with rain; rain that renews, restores and refreshes the earth; rain that is life giving.  We had to face the storm, but after the storm we have the rain.

Guilt and shame over sin is our storm, its the army approaching to attack us, and it’s the thunder bolts of guilt that continue to strike us; it hangs around as long as we remain in hiding; but if we come out and confess our sins, admit our guilt, then the storm goes, and the healing rains come pouring down.  The prophet Joel puts it this way ‘The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? That’s the storm, but then he goes on.  ‘Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.’  That’s the rain after the storm.

To stop hiding is to return to the Lord, to the one who is the storm, but is also the rain; the one who destroys, but also the one who heals.  Return to the Lord is to recognise his wrath and anger against sin; our sin and to admit our guilt and ask to stand in the rain of his grace.  For in him is washing; cleansing and healing; renewal and restoration.  This is the incredible focus and emphasis of the Lenten season, the two actions of God; his anger against sin, which in fear, holds us in hiding, and then his raining grace of forgiveness for the sake of Christ Jesus, which frees us from our hiding places.

So let us take up his offer this Lent.  Let us admit we are under his storm of anger and that in guilt and shame we are hiding from him.  Let us confess our sins and ask for his grace; the grace that rains down upon us from the cross.  Let us cry out to Jesus and receive his forgiveness.

How can we do this?  Well, a good way is to go without something we like, that way, as we crave for it we are reminded of our sinful desires and our need for Christ.  It is an ancient custom to go without something and it is a good spiritual exercise.  When we crave, we can confess our sins by even just saying the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps this is some thing you could do.

Yes, what an opportunity we have! An opportunity that far too few have or even know about.  So make this lent your time; your time to weather the storm and come out of hiding and into the rain of God’s grace in Jesus.

Transfiguration – Matthew 17:1-9

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

I have a post card here, its from … and the opening words are ‘wish you were
here.’
Whenever we have some good news or experience something really exciting, we want those closest to know about it.  In fact, we want more than that, we want them to be apart of it; we want them with us, to experience what we are experiencing.

We are lucky in this day and age we have the technology to share special experiences; live with our friends.  Using our phones or a web cam we can bring friends right into our moments of joy. Perhaps it’s a wedding or a party or a holiday.  We have this technology because we love to share our joyful experiences with others, not just afterwards, but while we are actually experiencing it.  However, this technology is still no substitute for having our family and friends really being there; experiencing along with us, the excitement, the joy and the wonder of what we are seeing and experiencing;  we want them to have the same joy.

You and I like to share special moments and events, because most of the time our lives are often fairly ordinary, daily routines and schedules make our lives busy, but often not exciting.  And sometimes this is the way it seems with God.  Our relationship with him is fairly ordinary, nothing special.  We routinely make ourselves busy with God; we pray to him, we give thanks to him, we receive from him grace and forgiveness, peace and everything we need for our bodies.

Yet this all happens in very mundane and ordinary ways.  We wonder that perhaps, if we were to experience God in a more glorious and exciting way, if we could share his working with us, then we would understand and know him more; then we may even be closer to him.

Jesus did just that; shared his life.  He did it with his disciples.  He shared with them what was happening in his life; and invited them to join him.  He shared with them that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and to be killed.  He shared with them that he would love them to be with him; to take up their cross and follow him.  But did they feel closer to him?  Did they experience the same joy in obedience as him?    Did they even want to be there?  Peter answers from us all when he realized what Jesus was talking about ‘Never Lord!  This shall never happen to you.’

That’s right.  To share in Jesus’ world is not what we would really want to do.  When he invited the disciples to join him, they refused because they could not understand the meaning and purpose of sharing in suffering.  ‘Lord, why would you want to suffer and die, why would you want us to be with you in all this?’  You and I don’t want others to share in our suffering, we want to spare them.  Would you send a postcard from hospital saying ‘wishing you were here!’  No, we find it hard to comprehend suffering and avoid it at all costs.

Yet Jesus does not abandon his disciples to their misunderstandings, no, he encourages them all the more to come and join him; he wants his friends to experience who he really is; to truly know him; to be apart of his life.  He invites his closest disciples, Peter, James and John to come and climb a mountain.  To endure with him the hardship that comes with mountain climbing; the pain, the near falls, and the tiredness that comes with strenuous work.

And he calls them to do this, to be with him, so that they will share a special moment with him; an exciting moment when he is glorified.  Jesus, as we do with our friends, wants his disciples to experience what he is experiencing and to share his joy with them.  Then they may know who he is – that he is the Son of God.  Jesus wants them to look beyond their suffering; to endure their current hardships of the mountain climb, so that they may experience, with him, the hidden Glory of God.

You and I are no different to the disciples.  We take a look at our lives and the lives of others, and often all we see is the mundane and the ordinary; Or all we see is the mountain we have to climb.  The mountains of ill health and hardship or loneliness and depression.  And we think to ourselves as St Paul said ‘Never Lord, surely, this is not to be.’

Yet Jesus invites us to be a part of this.  To take up our cross and follow him; to be with him so that he may share his life with you.  He wants us to be where he is, even if this means we must climb a hard mountain.  Jesus wants us to place our trust in him, in his word; Just as our Father in heaven invites us to saying ‘This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him’.

To listen is to trust as the disciples did.  To trust, that despite the mountain we may be climbing, or the ordinary and mundane things we are currently experiencing, Jesus is still the Son of God.  And to listen is to hear and believe that hidden behind the norm, the mundane or the suffering, is the glory and power of God.

And sometimes as we follow, Jesus may still reveal his glory, just as he did with the disciples at the transfiguration. I would like to get Rosale to come and tell us about how God gave her a chance to experience his glory and power, even in the midst of suffering.

Despite what we see, and what Rosale saw with her daughter, her miracle healing helps us to understand that Jesus promises to be with us, and to heal us spiritually and calls us to share in his life.  And he does just that, heal us and share his life with us, in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  What looks to us as normal and mundane, is the power of God to save us.  Hidden in, with and under the bread and wine is Jesus body and blood.  And he invites us to be with him, to trust his word, as his Father announced, that as we eat and drink, he forgives us, heals us and gives us a share in his life.

Yes, we may not always see the power and glory of God, just as the disciples didn’t see it in Jesus, but this is why he is transfigured, and why it is recorded in the bible, so that we too may believe and truly know that Jesus is the Son of God. And so we may know when Jesus says ‘this is my body, this is my blood; given and shed for you’, that this is true.  And that in this sacrament, as he did with the disciples, Jesus is calling us to share in his life.  And he is calling us to share in his joy. Amen