Archive for November, 2012

“When two worlds collide”

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

John 18:33-37

(With reference to John 18: 28 through John 19: 16)

“When two worlds collide”

On the battlefield two opposing forces collide, country against country and person against person and in either victory or defeat, all suffer and all lose. In victory or defeat-the task to both is great. To rebuild and carry on despite of the injustices each has suffered and to rebuild and carry on despite of the injustices that each has been a part off.

Earlier in the week a journalist wrote of a decorated soldier that had in the heat of battle showed valour almost beyond comprehension in drawing fire upon himself to save his colleagues. And she spoke of one of his character traits that is not championed in our world as it once was. Humility, and went on to say that in ancient Greece the stars of the day, the brave and the warriors were noted and admired for their unpretentiousness and meekness. Their humility: the knowledge of themselves yet the courage to stand and fight the fight they had been given.

Humility we see in others that despite suffering opinions and actions against them, don’t retaliate but carry on regardless. Humility that is required of us when we see the regard in which we are rightly or wrongly judged. Open hostility or even the side look to another or the uneasy pause. Significantly insignificant moment’s that you know are the mask of something going on, gossip, backstabbing and so forth. Moment’s that call on our courage and humility so that we don’t return fire, but carry on with our eyes focussed on the good in them.

In the Gospel today we heard five short verses, but five short verses that are formed from all humanity as it was then, all of humanity previous and all of humanity since, as Jesus the Son of God with great courage and humility stands before Pilate as two worlds collide. Like that sideways glance, behind these verses are a myriad of power plays, bending of the truths and when not getting things as wanted, character assignation and rumour in order to gets things as wanted and expected.

Although In the time of Jesus the Jews were subject to the Romans, the Romans still allowed them a good deal of self-government but not the right to carry out the death penalty and this is why Jesus ends up before Pilate. The Jews from start to finish knew they had to use Pilate for their purposes. This is the time of the Passover and everything was being carried out by the Jews according to ceremonial law with meticulous care: yet at the same time hounding to the Cross the Son of God. The Jews charge against Jesus was blasphemy but they knew that on this charge alone Pilate would dismiss their cries for the death penalty. So they brought Jesus to him on the trumped up charges of rebellion and political insurrection against Rome by accusing Jesus of claiming to be a king.

They knew they were lying by changing contexts but so being full of hatred they did not hesitate to twist the truth and in order to feed this lie they denied every principle they had. The most being their declaration before Pilate that “We have no king but Caesar”. This statement must have taken Pilates breath away as in previous history, when the Romans had insisted the Jews were liable to pay taxes to them, the Jews declaring “that God alone was their King” revolted in the most bloody of rebellions.

In the hatred that had overcome them, the Jews were prepared to abandon every principle they had in order to eliminate Jesus.

Then there’s Pilate who must have wished he’d stayed in bed that day. Throughout the whole trial it is abundantly clear that Pilate knew that the charges against Jesus were a series of lies. Knew that Jesus was innocent, was deeply impressed when meeting him and did not want to condemn him. But from early events the Jews owned Pilate, and he and they both knew it.

When Pilate was given charge of this part of the Roman Empire he was involved in a series of over the top, not understanding the culture heavy handed actions. Events that resulted in the Jewish authorities complaining to head office-Caesar, who in response disciplined Pilate.

Pilate was on “probation” so to speak and any more complaints would not be good for his career as he was well “reminded” by the Jews in the trial when they blackmailed him by saying “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend”.

Pilate had tried every avenue at his disposal: He had Jesus whipped and beaten hoping that it would bring some pity out in the Jews, for them to say O.K. enough is enough. Had brought Jesus before them under the Passover custom of releasing a prisoner. Debating with them, almost pleading Jesus’ innocence before them but to no avail as they sided for the release of a freedom fighter named Barabbas. Yet again we see two worlds’ collide: Barabbas fighting for freedom by force, and Jesus fighting for Freedom with love.

Pilate used all the tools he had at his disposal to stop an innocent man being killed, but could not display the courage to just do the right thing no matter what the consequence. Yet knowing our own short comings and self- serving, somehow one cannot help but feel sorry for Pilate. He wanted to do the right thing; but he had not the courage to defy the Jews and do it. Pilate crucified Jesus in order to keep his job.

All players involved are self-serving and lacking the courage to face up to or stand up for the truth. All except Jesus: The man who raised the dead, healed the unhealable and at any moment could have brought this sham of a situation to an end, in humility lets it take place that the he may bring the offer of salvation to those from whom he suffers.

Jesus in his humility, in the knowledge of himself, the Son of God, the sinless one who had done only good, in courage fought his fight by allowing himself to be ridiculed, spat on, terribly beaten and to die in the most feared manner.

You may ask where’s the Gospel in this sermon. Yes, that was a bit of a history lesson. But a lesson that though from the past, tells of our future. In Jesus, back then and as is now two worlds collide. Yet as this happens, Jesus at the end of his earthly walk and while looking over his tormentors, and now to us-speaks.

Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And that is the Gospel of our Lord. Amen.

 

A foot in both camps.

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Mark 12: 1-8

“The storm before the calm”

On March 15, 1980 in Washington state, which is in the upper west coast of the United States of America (and not to be confused with Washington D.C. on the East Coast) Mount Saint Helen’s started grumbling. Just over two months later on the 17th of May thirty car loads of residents were allowed back to gather some of their possessions.

The next morning at 8.31am things were much the same, Helen just grumbling along and “letting of a bit of steam”. At 8.32am she erupted with great intensity and spewed out hot ash and rock at the speed of 300km’s an hour and 57 people lost their lives at the bottom of a mountain that had been before the eyes of the world for over two months.

The daylight was turned to darkness and on the news a reporter at the scene said that “the local’s believe this is the end of the world, and if I didn’t know better, so would I.”

San Francisco, as are many West Coast cities is situated perilously close to the San Andreas Fault line and on the 18th April 1906 it lost over 3,000 of its residents due to a mega earth quake, and now those cities prepare and wait for the next “big one”.

On our own shores on Christmas Eve 1974, cyclone Tracey reached Darwin taking 71 people lives and destroying four out of every five houses.

These cities and places have been rebuilt with tighter building codes and government “alertness” programs available to residents if and when these natural tragedies come to pass again. Yet it would seem from current events that the landscape is changing. Cane toads are heading south, just yesterday Queensland encountered “Super Storm Shaz” and the recent storm in New York cannot even be classified due to its “first of a kind” nature.

Surveying our times we see natural disasters, war, famine, persecution, moral and social decline seemingly unchecked, gaining speed and it would seem all heading in the one direction. Clearly we are at living in the end times that Jesus has spoken of in today’s Gospel.

Just as the apostles were in their times. The beginning of the end started at the end of the beginning-the time that the promised messiah, Jesus Christ the Son of God came to earth and defeated sin and death on the cross.

Comedian John Cleese in Faulty Towers after yet again being disciplined by his wife (and for good reason I might add) said to himself: “Swish, what was that? That was your life mate. Do I get another? No sorry, that’s it”.

Life is fleeting and our time here passes quickly but unlike Basis Faulty’s sad deduction, we do have another life to come and we live now with our eyes on both. An eye to the consummation of the promise, that our last day will become our first in God’s Kingdom where there will be no death, trials, tribulations or separation from those we miss.

And an eye to God’s kingdom now, living in it and participating in its growth. To live amongst our world’s fears and distractions and amongst its joy and beauty. To live knowing the truth of how we stand before God. That whether we meet God the Father after his Son does indeed come from the clouds, or meet God the Father in death, meet him here today in worship or meet him in the person we meet up the road, that in Christ we stand before him with our names written in the book of life. To live as Martin Luther responded “I live everyday like it’s my last, yet still planting a tree”.

Things happen in our lives that hurt. Our own stuff and seeing others with theirs. There is much joy in our world but just as much of the other. But with that one eye to the promise we have been given in Christ, our road here and now is full of promise and beauty.

The hard stuff will come along but we can face and endure it in Christ, knowing that it will pass.

In this month’s Lutheran an article talks of a man that was led to Christianity, to our Lord’s kingdom through his medical studies where he continually saw how Christians reacted to impending death. We may not be as close to the end as those who witnessed to him. But we all one way or another in our remaining time, be it one day or one hundred years are all in the same hospital bed as those that he saw. That we travel these days of confusion, danger and fear in hope and faith is a question or a thing to ponder for those still searching. Our faith is our witness.

Several years ago a disgruntled ex-employee entered a building and started shooting people. As he stood over what was to be his third victim he asked “are you ready to meet your maker?” To which he heard a nervous response of: “Yes”. This lady was his last victim as those present said “her reply seemed to stun him; he just stood there and then put down his gun and gave himself up”.

In our times it takes great courage to be in the world but not of it. To live in the face of death in hope. To live and work with our colleagues and friends and treat Christian and non-Christian alike. To give ourselves, to love and support those who may ridicule us because of our faith and beliefs the same as we do for those that thank God for our faith.

Last Tuesday, I filled in for Kathy and led the scripture class at the primary school. Believe me I have great admiration for Kathy, Dianne and others that take these classes every week. At the end after getting talked over by many of the students, the teacher as I departed farewelled me by saying “Keep fighting the good fight”.

Well I suppose it did seem a bit like a fight that morning. Though it was a fight that I didn’t seem to be winning and a fight that I wasn’t particularly good at is not the point. The point is Jesus Christ our Saviour.

“Keep fighting the good fight”. Jesus fought our battle on the cross and The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit have fought and worked tirelessly throughout our lives that we see and accept that truth. To rest in that truth.

In our lives we go out daily into the mission field to fight the good fight. Not against our fellow citizens but against the lies that have led them astray. To not stand in front or behind our earthly brothers and sisters, but stand alongside them in front of the cross, that they too may see, hear and understand the truth of our Saviour. Amen.

 

How Generous are you?

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Mark 12:38-44

“Lending a liver”

Giving till it hurts.

Several years ago after having some medical tests my father rang me worried about his results which showed possible problems with his kidneys. Without giving it much thought I said he could have one of mine. Later after thinking a little more I rang him back and suggested that mine may not be much better than the ones he already has to which he answered “No your thinking of your liver and as you only have the one, you best keep it”.

In the 1970’s Kerry Packer while in London visited a Jaguar showroom to look over the XJS, which at the time was the pinnacle of car sophistication and speed. Impressed with what he saw he asked what colour they came in. Told there were five different colours, he ordered one of each, only to give four of them to some of his employees.

Author Christopher Lee notes in his book Howzat that:

“Those who knew him tell of sudden and unexpected empathy coming from who knows where inside this big and brutal man. Helping friends and strangers. One employee told of a trip to Perth where for some reason his feet had swelled up and he couldn’t get his shoes back on. Kerry let the other passengers off the plane and as the bemused airline staff looked on, knelt down on the floor at his feet and gently slid his employee’s shoes on for him”.

The book and film of the same name “Black Hawk Down” catalogue an event that took place in 1993 in Somalia. Famine and civil war had gripped the country resulting in over 300,000 civilian deaths and the warlord had declared war on the United Nations peacekeeping force. During a raid to try and capture two of the warlord’s chief adviser’s a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down deep in the city. The pilot survived but was trapped in the chopper with the ground forces unable to reach him due to coming under heavy fire, so two highly trained soldiers were inserted by helicopter to the crash site. Eventually they were overrun but during but during the battle they were recorded talking calmly and methodically, and seemingly without fear to each other via radio, one each side of the downed chopper:

“I’m hit in the right arm, going to side arm. I’m hit in the chest” and so forth until the inevitable ending.

Two men that gave their lives, seemingly without hesitation and today at 11.00am during that long one minute’s silence we remember all the service men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

A world war II veteran many years ago told me that in the field, some of the most death defying acts of bravery came from people you would least expect it and in the Gospel today Jesus lays down side by side two outwardly differing classes of people. The honoured religious teachers whose standing in society was so respected that in the streets people would rise as they passed with only the tradesmen at work given exemption to this expectation. Not that their position as such was the problem, the problem it would seem is that they have started believing their own press and become self- intoxicated with their high status.

Alternatively, widows were socially powerless and honourless in this society that emphasized status and honour. To those present this is a no contest as to who they would want to hang out with. Yet Jesus, as he still does in our times, looks past the outer shell and sees things for what they are. That the religious teachers have lingered long in their individual prayers in the synagogues is not the issue, the issue is the motive of this longevity that Jesus criticizes. “It’s all show and no go” and Jesus sees here that social injustice and religious hypocrisy are inextricably linked and takes his stand on behalf of the powerless, this widow who gives the most insignificant amount of money in worldly terms, but in her situation-has given everything.

When I was coaching footy in a small town, one of our young guys had been asked to try out in “the big smoke” and upon hearing of this another player who had previously played 200 odd games in the highest competition in Adelaide has to offer, sought him out and said “After you’ve stripped down and are getting ready for your first training you will look around the room and see the other players muscles and body physics and you will wonder what you are doing there, don’t worry about it, it’s what inside you that counts”.

Or in car parlance it’s what’s under the bonnet that counts and through this widow’s seemingly insignificant offering we see that behind it lies her love of God. A love of God that we should all heed to.

We may or may not have much in the way of material things but that’s not the point. It’s about using what we have and who we are, and placing both at God’s disposal. To give our love and time and our compassion non judgementally to those he brings before us-irrespective of class, race, rich or poor for all are God’s children.

At my brothers funeral after listing his achievements which included many bravery awards from within and outside the police force, from within and outside of his work hours the Assistant Police Commissioner closed with “We (the police force) have lost the best of the best, and the people of South Australia have lost a truly dedicated, courageous, sincere and giving servant”.

Later we were overcome by stories of his escapades, escapades though that he never saw the need to tell us of, as it would seem that it was just part of doing what he believed he was meant to do in his line of work and in his life. Acts of duty that although they resulted in others regarding him highly did little for his own self- gratification because he knew the truth-that before God he was a sinner with no claim whatsoever of salvation other than in and through the greatest servant of all, Jesus Christ.

Jesus gives us to serve each other and all those he places before us and we should be unthinkingly open and extravagant, even reckless in our efforts to serve, to forgive and love those around us. To give of ourselves not under the weight of second guessing all our actions as if to make life a burden, but like the widow in the gospel, give spontaneously just as things come before us-. To not dwell on and worry of have we done enough or not enough-but just live in the moments-whatever those moments may be, be they sadness or happiness, failures or achievements. To serve and to be served however they come into play. Live free without worries of yesterday or tomorrow but trust that God will use our lives: our successes and failures: our actions, both great seemingly significant and insignificant: trust that God will use our lives to build His kingdom and serve His children in ways that we could not imagine or need to know.

However it may play out in our lives, to give of ourselves freely. However the moments in our lives play out, to live them in freedom, in the sure knowledge that before God the Father, our debt has already been paid in full by His Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Fair go mate !

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

   Message based on Matthew 12: 28-34

“The day that stopped the world”

It seems a little ironic that on Tuesday the people of the united states will go to elect their president and on the same day Australia will confront the “Day that stops a Nation” the Melbourne Cup with the favourite being a horse called “Americain”. I can almost hear the press clichés now.

Mark Twain the American author of the Tom Sawyer books once said:

The Melbourne Cup is the Australasian National Day. I can call to mind no specialised annual day in any country, which can be named by that large name-Supreme. I can call to mind no specialised annual day, in any country, whose approach fires the whole land with a conflagration or passion of conversation, and preparation and anticipation and jubilation. No day save this one; but this one does it.”

And Australia’s own Banjo Paterson, born in nearby Orange adds:

“Before the North Pole was discovered, some cynic said it would be discovered easily enough by advertising a race meeting there, when a couple of dozen Australians would no doubt turn up with horses.”

It is indeed “The Day that stops a Nation”; unless you are unfortunate enough to be in a similar situation to a gentleman I met last year after returning from the North Adelaide paper shop. As I approached him sitting in front of the church, directly across from the police station (Law and Gospel you could say) he asked if I knew what time they opened. I didn’t but I stopped for a chat and he mentioned that on every second day he has to check in with the police and amongst other things spend some time with a therapist. We talked for 10 or fifteen minutes and in between his stories he continually finished each with “I can’t believe I have to come here the same time as the cups on, a bloke can’t even watch the cup”. He was a good fella but I couldn’t help but inwardly ponder how that even in his myriad of troubles and problems, that day-because of the day it was- that they only seemed secondary.

When meeting people that have migrated to Australia or simply visiting I’m always intensely interested to see how they see Australia through their eyes. A big strong barman in Coober Pedy told me that during the cold war he had risked his life crawling on his belly through patrolled paddocks to escape from a country behind the iron curtain. His response to my question of how or why he ended up in Australia was that the “word on the street” amongst the asylum seekers of the time “was to get to either Canada or Australia because they had heard from word of mouth that these countries would give outsiders a fair go” struck my heart to the core.

I hope and pray that our great country never loses our “sense of fair play”, or maybe even regains it, as for many of us, we are but the by-products of those sent here against their wishes, or by products of those who risked much to travel to the “Land down under” to start a new life knowing that it was improbable that they would ever be able to return to see those they left behind.

I came from the dream-time, from the dusty red soil plains

I am the ancient heart, the keeper of the flame.

I stood upon the rocky shore; I watched the tall ships come.

For forty thousand years I’ve been the first Australian.

I came upon the prison ship, bowed down by iron chains.

I cleared the land, endured the lash and waited for the rains.

I’m a settler; I’m a farmer’s wife on a dry and barren run

A convict then a free man…..

I’m the daughter of a digger who sought the mother lode

The girl became a woman on the long and dusty road

I’m a child of the depression, I saw the good times come

I’m a bushy, I’m a battler……

I’m a teller of stories, I’m a singer of songs

I am Albert Namatjira, I paint the ghostly gums

I am Clancy on his horse, I’m Ned Kelly on the run

I’m the one who waltzed Matilda…..

We are one, but we are many

and from all the lands on earth we come

We share a dream and sing with one voice:

I am, you are, we are Australian

That song is my Amazing Grace of what we stand for as a nation, and as with Amazing Grace I never tire of hearing it.

As most of us here were once outsiders in this nation, so too were the gentiles-our ancestors who were considered outside of God by the authorities of the day before Jesus walked this earth.

But in Mark 12:28 one such person asked Jesus “What is the greatest commandment of all?”

“Jesus answered, The first is you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Sometimes we read something that should not be tampered with but should just be retold as written. This is one (By Rev. Donald F. Hinchey):

“Our sin separates us not only from God but also from living out our faith in life. We sinners segment life into real and religious, stained glass and office. God bridges the gap with a cross. God gave His own Son to death to bring life with God into the streets. Jesus was crucified outside the city walls but in the midst of the people. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, You are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days (Mt 27:39-40). Faith and life meet in the crucified and risen Son of God. Faith, the gift of God, is meant to be lived out on earth. God’s Word and Sacraments stoke and nourish the fires of faith so that we might be the church in the community. We are all sinners, but in Christ alone we are saints through what he has done for us. Saints put flesh on the faith. This Christian life is no pie in the sky matter but is living here and now. A saint “preaches” by the way they walk and the way they stand and the way they pick things up and the way they hold them in their hands. A child was once asked what a saint was. She thought of the stained glass windows with pictures of the saints in her church and responded “A saint is a person who lets the light shine through.

In the darkness of our world’s brokenness and sin, the saints shine forth in hope: Christ is risen and we too shall rise”.

There is a school in a country town in France that has written upon its entrance “We will never forget Australia” and on Australia Day every year they gather in remembrance of the thousands upon thousands of young men that died in the paddocks that surround their town. Young men that gave the ultimate sacrifice in a foreign land. How our Lord must have wept to see the pain and loss of life on both sides.

As a grown man, for whatever reason when hearing a child crying in hurt as parents argued I always near driven to tears and when completing this message yesterday I again heard this play out in the street I live.

Our Savior Jesus Christ died once and for all for our sins yet he still suffers the pain of our world. Pray that we too hear our neighbor’s pain, that they too see the light of Christ. Amen.