Gospel centred podcasts based on the lectionary often in advance.
The Impossible demands of Grace Epiphany + 7 A 2017

Focus passage: Matthew 5:38–48 For a download of the audio file click the direct download link at the bottom of this page.

The Jesus story is all about God going the extra mile with us because we just can’t carry the burden ourselves. Call that defeatist if you will, but to me it is exactly the opposite, for I believe that every time I fail, there is forgiveness, a new start, a new possibility. It is on this foundation, on the God of love revealed in Jesus that I have built my faith. Each of us should strive to live the vision of the Sermon on the Mount then, but when we fail or fall short, do not give in, instead remember as our reading from Corinthians reminded us. We belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. Let’s get up then, and keep going and loving, as best we can. When we fall God will pick us up; when we stray the Shepherd will bring us back onto the path; when we are in darkness Jesus will light the way and when we are lost he will find us.

Questions for thought or discussion
When you hear that we should love God with all that we are and our neigbour as ourselves how do you think we measure up? What is the role of Jesus when we are lost or fall short? How can we keep going if we are imperfect?

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Direct download: Epiphany__7_17_master.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 11:22pm AEDT
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The perfect love triangle  Epiphany + 6 A 2017 and Valentine's Day

Focus Reading:1 Corinthians 3:1-9  Click HERE for a direct audio download.

 

Paul gets really angry in a number of his letters and in 1 Corinthians the main thing which makes him angry is disunity. The church at Corinth has forgotten that what unites Christians is God in Jesus Christ and not their leaders or ideas. As many in the congregation renew their marriage vows today, it is important to keep this in mind. The main difference between a Christian marriage and a secular marriage is that a secular marriage really has only two parties, the husband and the wife. Christian marriage on the other hand has three. God is included. We ask God to bless, protect and strengthen the couple for their life ahead. They are not in it alone they have a greater source of strength. As Paul suggests in our Christian life together, whether it be the church, Christian marriage, or Christian friendship, we may plant the seed or water the ground but it is only God who gives the growth.

Questions for thought or discussion.
What do you think are the differences between a Christian marriage and a secular marriage? What gives strength to relationships? (All relationships not just marriage.) What part does God play in all your different relationships?

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Direct download: Epiphany__6_A_17_Valentines_Day.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 11:47pm AEDT
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Not One Iota - Jesus the fulfilling of the law Epiphany + 5 2017

Focus passage: Matthew 5:17-18  A direct download link for the audio can be found at the bottom of this post

Just what does Jesus mean when he says that he has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, that not one iota will pass away? Surely Jesus shows us that God’s love is a free gift. Didn’t he die so that we were no longer bound to the letter of the Law? Isn’t the only law now the Law of Love?
   Over the years many Christians (including me) have struggled with the relationship between Jesus who reveals God is Love, free love, and Jesus’ teaching for us to be obedient to his commands saying things like “whoever does them and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” I have no easy answer but I believe that the two must go together. If we have met with God in Jesus, if we have received the love then our lives should reflect that love in our obedient following of Jesus. It will be imperfect, but if we believe then we must follow, for that love is the truth of our life!

Questions for thought and discussion.
Just what does Jesus mean when he says that he has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, that not one iota will pass away? What is the relationship between the free love of God and the call to obedience? Have you met the love of God in Jesus and if so how are you going at following?

Post Image credit: lovleah / 123RF Stock Photo

Direct download: Fulfilling_the_Law_Epiphany__5_A_17.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 5:35pm AEDT
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Blessed ARE the Meek - Really???!!! Epiphany + 4 A 2016

Focus readings I Cor 1:18-31, Matt 5:1-12 A Direct audio download link can be found at the bottom of this post.

In Paul’s wisdom of the cross and in the Sermon on the Mount the Bible is telling us that the way the world thinks about fame and power is wrong. If we are honest most of us think the way the would does. When we hear that the poor in Spirit are blessed or that the meek shall inherit the earth we think “Really???!?...” Surely it is the proud, popular, rich and pushy who inherit the earth. By contrast the central figure of our faith, is a wandering, homeless, carpenter turned Rabbi, who ends up dead, on a Roman cross for being a trouble maker. For most of the people of Paul’s time and for many people in our time, this stuff about the cross is offensive nonsense. Yet no figure and no symbol has had a more powerful effect on how the world is than Jesus and his cross. Why is that?

Questions for thought or discussion:
In what ways if any is Jesus right, are the meek, the peace makers, those who mourn and those who are persecuted really blessed? What do you make of the cross and it’s meaning? How can we present such an upside down message to the world? Paul was right, this wisdom is confounding foolishness.

Direct download: Epiphany__4_A_17_mono.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 11:33pm AEDT
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You are called! Epiphany + 3 A 2017

Focus Passage: Matthew 4:12-23 

A direct download link of the audio recording can be found at the bottom of this post.

Today we pick up the story of the call of the four fishermen and their calling and commissioning by jesus to be fishers for people. Immediately before this call Jesus begins his ministry with the famous "Repent for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near". Today this Good News has spread and made a vast impact around our whole globe. This Good News of the Kingdom of God come near was powerfully announced in the backwaters of Nazareth and Capernaum in Galilee far away form Jerusalem. So the Good News can be powerfully announced in small country towns, backwoods and regional cities, far away from Big cities like Cairo, Sydney, London, New York oor Rio. For just like the fishermen Jesus calls each of us, no matter how humble our station to tell the Good News and invite people to friendship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Questions for thought and discussion

What do you think of the notion that you are called like the fishermen to be fishers of people, makers of disciples? How well do your words and actions reflect Jesus' call on your life?

 

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Direct download: 2017_Jan_16_15_13_44.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 11:40am AEDT
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You are perfect but you need to grow! Epiphany + 2 A 2017

Focus reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1–9 

A Direct download link for the audio file can be found at the bottom of this post.

Think of child growing in it’s mother’s womb, or a seed, in some ways they are perfect. There is the potential that they will grow into a mighty tree, a beautiful flower, a good or great woman or man. Yet they have an incredibly long way to grow. In today’s reading from 1 Cor 1 Paul addresses his letter to “those who are sanctified in Christ”. Sanctified means holy, or even perfect. It is the same word we get “saint” from. If you know anything about the Church in Corinth, you know it was not perfect or holy. Paul was thinking about the Corinthians as God sees them. When God looks at any believer Paul believed that God saw not their sins and failures but the goodness of Jesus. This is where we should always begin, not with what’s wrong with us and the church but with what’s right - we are holy and perfect. We have a lot of growing to do but in God’s eyes we are still saints.

Questions for thought or discussion
What do you make of the idea that you are holy or perfect? How do you react to the idea that God sees Jesus’ goodness and not our sin? What areas do you need to grow in? How mature in faith are you?

 Image Copyright: enterline / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Direct download: Epiphany_2_A_17.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 2:13pm AEDT
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Repent and believe the Good News - Baptism of Jesus And Ours

Focus reading: Matthew 3:13–17 A direct download link can be found at the bottom of this post.

I guess the take home message, or the thing for each of us to think about is this. You are a beloved child of God. What makes you one of God’s people is not your family background, or your moral rectitude, it is God’s love, which you receive by faith. One of the signs of receiving this love is Baptism. In Jesus' baptism the church has traditionally seen the depth of this love. He did not need to be baptised an yet he is!

To be a Christian you do not have to obey a complex set of rules, be of a particular race or class, be a Mother Theresa, a William Wilberforce or a Francis of Assisi, you do not have to be a man or a woman. All you have to be is someone who acknowledges that you are deeply loved by God, and so turns back to God in faith. We call this repentance. So repent, turn back to God and believe the good news: The Kingdom of God, Jesus and his love has drawn near.

Questions for thought or discussion:
Why do you think Jesus was baptised? What do you understand by repentance? To what extent has God's love claimed you? If you have been claimed or you are hearing God's claim of love on your life, how do you respond?

 

****************** Sermon Text *********************

Repent and believe the good news!
Whatever way you think about baptism and the baptism of Jesus there is inherent in it a very important principal that should not be overlooked - it acknowledges that God's help is needed from outside ourselves to wash us clean or to forgive us of our sin.


For the last 2000 years or so there's been a debate about what the Baptism of Jesus means. We can probably even see this debate beginning in Matthew's gospel. John is preaching that all should repent of their sin and be baptised. Along comes Jesus, if he is sinless, if he is the Son of God then he does not need to be baptised with John's baptism of repentance. He has nothing to turn away from. Yet he is baptised by John. John however baptises him very unwillingly. As we just heard "John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. " (Matthew 3:14–15, NRSV)


So why was Jesus baptised? The traditional answer to that question, the one which the majority of the church has given down through the ages, and it is also the one that I hold is the one that Jesus gives to John in the reading we just heard. "To fulfill all righteousness" Jesus is baptised with John's baptism on our behalf. Jesus in a sense repents, turns to God for us. I don't want to be misunderstood here, I believe that repentance, turning to God and away from sin is a necessary part of faith. If you believe that God demands that you should love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and that you should love your neighbour as yourselves, and if you believe that we should love one another as Christ has loved us, then our beliefs should cause us to turn from our selfish ways, to repent. Just as we will leave a building if we believe it is on fire, we will love our neighbour if that's what we believe we must do. Our beliefs affect our actions. Faith and repentance are two side of the same coin.
The trouble is though that our repentance like our faith is imperfect. We never really love God with our whole heart, some people get closer than others, but we all hold some things back for ourselves. We also fail to love our neighbour as ourselves and I'm sure we all fall a long way short of loving others as Christ has loved us. This of course is the point in what the church has believed about Jesus' baptism. We can not repent fully, we can not fully turn to God and to our neighbour, and away from ourselves, but Jesus as truly human and as truly God can.


There is a further difficulty, that is that no matter how hard we repent, or try to turn to God and to our neighbour there are some things that we have all done that we can never undo. To be a little bit personal for a moment we have children and although they are usually very well behaved in church, they are not perfect AND I have a temper. I remember once when Eli was very little, I had just become upset about something, and Eli was not in his bed. I went down to his room and bellowed "Get back into bed!!!!!" I used a voice that I had not used since I was a frustrated first year teacher desperately wrestling with an out of control class of year 9s. I knew that I had done the wrong thing as soon as the tears began to roll down his crumpling face. But it was not until Heather said to me that I had over reacted that I returned to the room, held my sobbing child in my arms, told him that I loved him & I was sorry that I had over reacted. I also told him that he had to stay in bed & needed to sleep of course. In one sense I had righted the wrong, I had taken away the words. In another sense I had not, the angry words had been said and can never be unsaid. If in years to come Eli has any memory of the event I wonder what he will remember, the embrace and the kind words or loud voice and disproportionate anger? No matter how repentant and sorry I am I can not undo the words. More than that because I believe in Jesus who was truly God and truly human, who identifies with every human being, I believe that when I hurt my son I also hurt God.

To use an example which has nothing to do with me, the same is true of a marriage where there is adultery, there can be repentance, and even reconciliation, but the adultery can never be undone. It is beyond the adulterer or the angry father to bring healing to those who have been hurt, only they, God and the offended party can forgive and restore the relationship, no matter how hard we repent. The church then has believed & I believe that the life and ministry of Jesus, including not just his death and resurrection but also his new life is about Jesus repenting on our behalf. Jesus is the one who fulfils all righteousness where we have fallen short.

The second thing to be said about the Baptism of Jesus is that the church has always believed that Christian baptism is quite different to the baptism of John. In all four Gospels John the Baptist says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Just before our reading today John says in verse 10 ""I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. " (Matthew 3:11, NRSV)


In other words the emphasis in Christian baptism is not upon repentance but upon the way God connects with us. It is about the way the Spirit of God is given to us. Again in all four gospel the Bible describes Jesus receiving the Holy Spirit immediately following his baptism. In the history of the church there has been a debate about when it is best to baptize. Some argue it should be upon confession of faith as adults or young people, and others that it should be as infants, in either case however, most of the church has affirmed that Baptism is primarily about what God does and not about what we do. God claims us and declares us to be clean. Jesus did not need to baptised but he is and receives the Spirit as a human being that we might also receive the Spirit as human beings. So in our baptism as adults or as infants God is saying to us as he said to Jesus - You are my beloved Son, you are my beloved child, you are my beloved daughter.


This then is what I believe, and what the church has believed about Jesus' baptism and Christian baptism. But from early on there have been other views. One is, that Jesus was truly human, but only that, until the point of his Baptism, at that point God claimed him as his Son and he also became truly divine, or truly God. I won't say much more on this because it really implies more or less the same things about Christian baptism that the mainstream church view implies.


A third view which has become more popular since the 19th century is that Jesus before and after his baptism was simply, a human being, a sinner just like us. He may have been the best of us who ever lived a great example, but he was still a sinner just like us. He was baptised because he needed to repent. If so Christian baptism is pretty much the same as John's Baptism, it is our ethical response to the call of God to live lives of love and devotion to God and others. I don't accept this view of baptism and I'll say a little more of that in a moment, but I want to point out what all three views of baptism have in common. They all say that God forgives and that we need forgiveness.


They all say that we all fall short of the ideal of loving God and our neighbour, and they all say that God will forgive us of this and wash us clean. They all also imply, or directly demand repentance, a turning away from ourselves and a turning toward God. Whether we are baptised as a child, claimed by God, and then turn to him in adulthood as the Spirit leads, or upon confession of faith as an adult we are baptised, the same is true, baptism, calls for and demands a turning to God and our neighbour and a turning away from ourselves!
The difficulty I have with the view of baptism which says that it is primarily about repentance or even confession of faith is that it raises a difficult question. How do we know we have enough faith or that we have repented enough. Even if we believe God does not expect perfection. If we can accept that God can accept us and will forgive us even though our repentance can never be complete and our faith can never be pure, how do we know when we have enough faith or that we've repented enough for God to forgive us? How do we tell if our faith or repentance is genuine?


To use the example I used before. If I had not gone back to Eli and expressed my apology to him over my loss of temper, would God still forgive me? Or what if I similarly lose my temper again, and take it out on him again, will God still forgive me? Was my repentance genuine? How can I ever know that my faith and repentance is enough?


On the other hand if baptism is about what God does and not what I do as I believe. then my forgiveness, and my baptism do not depend on my repentance, or the genuineness or degree of my faith, but upon Christ and his good life for my sake including his baptism. Therefore I can be confident that I am forgiven and claimed by God. For God has claimed what it is to be human in Jesus, and in Jesus God has declared all who come with even imperfect faith and imperfect repentance as beloved Children, Sons and Daughters of God. So whoever you are, an Elder and religious leader like Nicodemus, someone sinful partly because of circumstances, like the prostitutes, a wealthy person like Lydia, or Joseph of Arimathea, a deliberate, greedy, collaborator, like the tax collectors Matthew and Zacchaeus, ordinary fisherman like James, or Peter, even if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, small and imperfect faith which leads to imperfect repentance, then I believe, that you are a Son, you are a daughter, you are a child of God. For you - Children of God have already been claimed by God. Claimed by God in Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem, claimed in baptism in the waters of the Jordan, claimed in Spirit descending like a dove, claimed in his ministry of teaching and healing, you have been claimed in his table fellowship, you have been claimed in death, even death on a bloody Roman cross, and you have been claimed in the new life of the resurrection on Easter day. This is what I believe. In Jesus the Kingdom of God has come near, repent then and believe the Good News. Amen

Direct download: Epiphny__1_A_Baptism_of_Jesus_2017.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 11:24pm AEDT
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Sorry I did not manage to podcast this week. here is the text of today's sermon. I had quite a bit of positive feedback so it must have been OK. Either that or "woe to you when all people speak well of you..."

Blurb for the sermon:

If you are lucky or blessed enough to be part of a good marriage you will probably feel as I do. You ask yourself “Where would I be without my husband/wife? What would I be like? How much less would I be if they had not joined in my life?” To illustrate this with the Children today I am going to tell the story from the musucal Wicked of Elphaba, a misfit dancing awkardly at a party having her dance transformed by Glinda a fellow party goer. Glinda leaves her “cool” friends and joins in with the misfits awquard dance turning it into something beautiful and graceful and drawing all the other dancers in too. This is what I believe God has done for us in Jesus. In truly becoming one of us he joind in our misfit lives and turned them into something wonderful and he calls all, everyone in heaven and earth together to join in this dance of life. Verse 17 of today’s Hebrews reading tells us that Jesus became like his brothers and sisters in every respect so that he might be a merciful and faithful high prest in the service of God in order that he might be the means by which we wre atoned/made one with/ drawn into a right relationship wuith God and each other.

Focus reading is Heb 2:10-18.

 

I am going to begin today’s sermon not by quoting the Bible or by quoting a great sage, or philosopher, or thinker or expert. I am instead going to quote the Beach Boys “God only knows what I’d be without you!” Pop singers quite often take the name of the Lord in vein but this is not the case with this song. Brian Wilson the main writer for the Beach Boys is singing about a relationship with a girl. Those of us fortunate enough to have good marriages will know what this song means. Where would we be without our wives or husbands? What would our lives be like? Would we be the same success? And it’s not just those of us who are married. If we have had good parents, a strong close supportive friend, an influencial grandmother or grandfather, a close cousin, brother, sister a mentoring or supporting aunt or uncle, minister, colleague or older friend we know what that question means. Think about those people for a moment... God only knows where we would be without them. Our lives would be very different. Perhaps they would have been cut short. Perhaps we would be poorer, financially but poorer in mind and heart too, poorer in our being. Unless these people had entered our lives, had shared them, had come along side us we would not be where or who we are today. We can not really tell. Only God knows where we would be without them. I believe that at the very heart of our faith is the Jesus who is described in the words of Hebrews. God has come alongside us, entered our life, not merely as a disembodied Spirit, or a divine spark within us but has entered into our humanity, as a flesh and blood human being. So human that like us God even dies! God can understand, get along side us, not just because God knows everything - all-knowing, but because God has experienced what it is to be one of us - with all its pain, struggle and temptation. The real miracle of Christmas is that God truly became one of us because that meant he had to share in our suffering and death. There are probably many individuals who have had such wonderful lives that they can look back and say the good things outweighed the bad - But 2/3 of the world lives in poverty. Many people live in situations of conflict and war. And even wealthy people can have lives filled with personal sickness, suffering and tragedy. And every singe one of us no matter how careful, no matter how fit and healthy will one day die, and before we do we will suffer the grief and loss of at least some friends, family, and those close and dear to us. In Hebrews we are told that, by choice God embraced suffering and even death - to truly become one of us. Verse 10 - speaks of his accepting our suffering v 14 speaks of him accepting death v 18 says "He himself was tested by what he suffered" Because of this you and I can share the hope of the Gospel - Jesus truly is one of us. 2000 years ago on the dusty streets of Galilee and the crowded lanes of Jerusalem. But he is also with us now by the Spirit in the quiet leafy suburbs of Toowoomba (or wherever it is you are now!)

If that was all that Hebrews has to say then that might be enough sometimes it is enough to know that someone else is with us and shares our pain. But this reading also has at least one other main ideas - first that in becoming one of us this is the sign that God includes us in his family and second that Jesus' sharing his life and death with us somehow brings us reconciliation, friendship with God, others and with a renewed creation. So on the one hand Jesus Shares with us what it is to be human, but on the other hand he also shares with us what it is to be in good relationship with God the one who Jesus revealed as a good and loving Parent, the one he called, Father, or Dad. Our reading told us that Jesus makes us holy - this is what verse 11 means when it says GNB 11 He purifies people from their sins, and both he and those who are made pure all have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his family. NRSV11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, As Verse 10 says (GNB) "Jesus is the one who leads us to salvation" NRSV "Pioneer of salvation" So when we are confronted by suffering in others and ourselves We can confidently proclaim the Gospel - Why - because in Jesus God became one of us and shares our sufferings. Second because Jesus is also the sign that we are included in his relationship with God and not only with God but with all who receive this relationship with God and so ultimately with the whole creation. What might this “proclaiming the Gospel” mean if it is true that God has come alongside us, travelled with us even unto death and been raised to new life for us? What does telling the Good News mean if it is true that

Jesus shares his relationship with the Father, and so with all God’s Children and even creation, with us? Well I think one thing that at least it could mean is that each of us should strive to be the kind of people for others of whom they would say “God only knows what I would do without you!” Be the mentor, the best husband, wife, neighbour, brother, sister, friend, that you can be. Seek to share your faith in word and by example. If someone is dancing awkwardly by themselves, dance with them. If you’re a good dancer and they are willing, they might learn from you. But if they don’t learn or you can’t dance either, dance with them anyway, so that they do not have to dance alone. And like Galinda in Wicked, you might even draw others in to join you! Mirror the new creation and God’s reconciling love in all that you are. Because we are imperfect, we won’t always get this right but that’s the point! We do this not because we want God to love us but because God already does. We do this not to be reconciled to God, but because in Jesus by the Spirit we aready are! Do this out of thanksgiving, out of gratitude, because without Jesus, our brother, God only knows where we’d be!

Category:Sermon not in advance -- posted at: 11:37pm AEDT
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Find Refuge - a Christmas message

Reading Luke 2:1-20

See the bottom of this post for a direct download link.

This sermon was originally preached Christmas Eve 2014 but this is a new recording of that message.

This year in most Uniting Churches in Queensland we are being encouraged to use the Theme “Find refuge this Christmas” for our Christmas services. I’ll get to the Christmas story we heard read from Luke in a moment but first I want to tell a story and then give some context from other parts of the Bible.

Those of you who live in Toowoomba [Queensland Australia] may remember that in 2011 there was an unseasonal tropical storm on Easter Saturday. So much rain fell in a short period of time that all of Easterfest [Australia’s largest Christian music festival] was washed out. The main tent collapsed and at the camping site not a tent was left standing. Clothes and young people were soaked through. Now as it happens this Church, St Stephen’s is the closest to Queens Park were most of the festival takes place. That night I received a call and forty Uniting Church young people sheltered in our hall for the night. I must confess I was a bit upset that I could not really offer them anything in the way of food or bedding, but they were very happy to simply have a secure refuge from the storm, warm and dry, not to mention real rather than portable toilets. We even got a write up in the church’s Queensland magazine Journey.

In the Christmas story we just heard, Mary and Joseph find refuge and I’m sure given the circumstances they would have been really grateful to find that shelter and refuge for the birth of their child just as the young people were grateful in 2011.

There are times in every human life when we need shelter. All of us at some time have needed literal shelter. We have been caught outside in a storm, or we have been out on a very hot or a very cold day, and we look for the refuge of a warm snug room or a deep shady verandah. Not only do we need this literal refuge, we also need other kinds of refuge from things such as noisy children, the mad busyness of life, the never ending demands of family, or work. We need shelter from fear, and from the condemning glare of those who don’t much like us. Perhaps we need shelter from the intrusive nature of modern technology and social media. 

To take the literal need for refuge and shelter in Australia the lucky country. One in 200 or over 100 000 people in Australia do not have a place to call home - a refuge. While these people need a literal shelter, like all of us they have those other needs for refuge and shelter. We all long for a refuge for a place of security. A warm place to shelter from the storm. A church hall with real toilets, a stable, a feed trough, a loving community or family or church to support us in our time of need.

Time and time again in the Bible God is described as just such a shelter, or refuge. In psalm 46 verse one the Bible says that God is our refuge and strength. Isaiah 25:4 describes God as “a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.” (Isaiah 25:4, NRSV). In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV) In John 10 Jesus describes himself as the sheepfold, the place of safety for the sheep at night, out of the weather away from the thieves and the wolves.  In Matt 23:37 Jesus speaks of himself as a mother hen who shelters us under her wings. And the call of the Christian life, what it means to live out your faith is to extend this shelter, this refuge to others. 

So in Matthew 25 Jesus tells us that whenever we feed or clothe or give a stranger in need refuge and welcome, we welcome Jesus himself. In a similar way when he sends the disciples out on a mission trip in Matthew 10 he says that whenever any of the disciples are welcomed and given refuge, Jesus is welcomed.

It is not surprising that the early church chose this story of the birth of Jesus to put into the Bible. It is a story of welcoming the stranger, a story of refuge and a story about how some animals and some humble shepherds are the first people to welcome God revealed in a new way in the world. These first Christians believed that in Jesus God personally experienced what it is to be homeless, born in a borrowed room among animals and laid in a feed trough for a bed.

So they believed that God who was their rock, their shelter, their hope and their refuge, had become a helpless baby who needed refuge amongst them. For them it was a sign that God truly was love, God truly was with them, God would go to any length to show and share that love, to offer that hope and to offer that shelter.

More than this they believed that because God was with them, because, God took shelter with the imprisoned, with the hungry, with the sick, with the homeless, that they were part of God’s shelter too. As imperfect as it was the church began to try to be a witness of that shelter for others. Those first believers who brought us this story knew that ultimately it is God’s work to provide and be the refuge, but they believed the church should reflect that refuge.

So it is because of this that the first hospitals and orphanages and the first free education, and the anti slavery movements and the freedom trains, and the greatest energy in the civil rights movements all came from this faith which says God is our shelter, and God shelters with us. God is our refuge, God found refuge with us and we will be a refuge, a shelter for others. Those institutions of refuge like the orphanages we have sometimes found out in recent years to our great shame have been less than perfect. Indeed for a significant minority they have become places of fear and abuse rather than refuge. There is no excuse for this. 

The most I can say is that we are sorry, and make the point that in the culture in which Jesus was born, an unwanted or orphaned child or illegitimate child (as Jesus could have been) had no place to go. If the family would not have them they were left out in the open to die. But since the church began there has been a shelter, there are orphanages, there were poor houses, and leper colonies. The church became a refuge, imperfect like a stable, or a cave but a refuge none the less reflecting the belief that God is our refuge.

Are you in some storm? Is health, or finance, or broken relationships, or some threat hanging over you? Are you in the middle of the driving rain exposed to the elements? If so the church has found and believed over the years that God is our refuge. Christians have found over the ages that in the worst storms of life, from the literal ones to the storms among nations, in our families, and hearts and minds that God gives, strength and hope and refuge. God knows what it is to be homeless and far away from the familiar. That is what we celebrate today and every Christmas. God who took refuge with us, is our strength and our refuge.

So find refuge this Christmas and every day of your life, with the one who found refuge with us.

Direct download: Christmas_sermon_2b.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 12:19am AEDT
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Readings Isaiah 9:2-7 Titus 2:11-14 Luke 2:1-20

A direct download link can be found at the bottom of this post

An adapted version of this Sermon will be preached on Christmas Day. This sermon was frst preached Christmas 2016

There are lies damned lies and statistics but looking at some of the more conservative figures on the net we hear that in 2014 over 30 000 people were killed world wide in terrorism and over 150 000 were killed in just the top 20 wars. In Australia at least 100 people were killed in family and domestic violence. In the United States early in October 2015 this year almost 10 000 people had been killed by gun violence.


Even one of those deaths is one too many. Almost 2 000 years ago Luke tells the story of some Angels who announce to some shepherds a message of Peace on Earth and in the story we all know but did not hear tonight we her from Matthew’s Gospel that some time after Jesus is born some visitors from the East, possibly from Arabia come to a Jewish family to honour Jesus a peasant boy or at best a tradesman from a small Jewish village.
We have grown so used to the Christmas story and we’ve become so surrounded by the commercialism of Christmas that we fail to see how radical and how relevant the story of the first Christmas, the birth of Jesus really is.


Jesus is born at a time of relative peace. It is Roman peace. Think of Iraq under the dictator Saddam Hussain and you have an idea of Roman peace. The Roman Empire enforced peace at the end of a sword. The Jewish people deeply resented the Romans for two reasons first they were their conquerors. Like the people of Iraq looking at the coalition, seeing them as liberators at first but then as occupiers, as Westerners had been in the days of the British and French Empires and following World War one, and as they had been centuries before in the Crusades, the Romans were the resented overlords. The second reason they resented them was because they were gentiles. Non Jewish people who worshipped many gods and who did not respect Jewish faith. They built pagan temples in and near their cities and towns and some Roman governors including Pontius Pilate the governor who tried and executed Jesus, even tried at times to set up pagan statues in and near the Jewish Temple.


This was the peace, the great rein of peace called the Pax Romana - the Roman Peace. It was not real peace at all and this was not the kind of thing the Angels proclaim when they announce Peace on Earth. What has really changed in Israel today?


Israel itself is a peaceful place. You will find there the rule of law in most parts of the country you will find very little terrorism or even unrest, yet the temple mount where the Jewish Temple of Jesus’ time stood has two Islamic Mosques on it. Israel is surrounded by many people who would wish it destroyed and Israel itself has gained its peace like the Romans did through wars and military strength. It is not real peace. This is not what the Angels were singing about that night and it is not the vision we heard in the reading from Isaiah of peace with justice and righteousness. Peace of which there will be no end.


What the angels announce is reconciliation of all people with God and with each other. That too I believe is the vision and hope of the whole Bible and we find it coming into focus in the Jesus story including today’s Christmas story. I believe too that, that vision of peace, although it is corrupted and distorted is in the heart of every human being, of whatever faith and no faith.


To illustrate this if you go to Israel today and you are greeted by a Jewish citizen the chances are that they will greet you with not hello but with Shalom. This word can mean, hello, or goodbye but it’s main meaning is peace, it can also mean, healing, wholeness and reconciliation. If you meet a Muslim Arab or Muslim Palestinian in the same part of the world they may well greet you with the word Salaam which means exactly the same thing - Peace. You see this is because Hebrew and Arabic are closely related languages.


At the heart of the traditional understanding of the Jesus’ story is this notion of peace. It is the belief that on that first Christmas, God reconciled, became friends with, made peace with all human beings and all creation, by coming to us, becoming one of us in a feed trough, in a common family in a little Jewish town or village. God came to bring peace. Peace with God and peace between all people and indeed in all creation.
The two familiar Christmas stories illustrate this in two very different ways. Luke with his story of the shepherds says that the Jesus story, the peace of God is not just for religious people or wealthy people but even for smelly, scruffy, shepherds who could not regularly get to church (The synagogue) or the Temple festivals. God’s love, friendship and peace is for anyone. So that means that all the people no matter who they are, are loved by God and so should be loved by each other. No matter what you think of yourself, no matter what others think of you, no matter what you think of some of the scruffy, smelly, difficult people in your life the message of the Angels is for all for you and for them: Peace on Earth and so in all our interactions we should work toward that Peace with everyone our lives touch.


In the story of the Wise Men in Matthew’s gospel we hear that the Jesus story is not just a Jewish story, it is not just the church’s story, it is a story for all people even people like the wise men, from the East, possibly Arabs, certainly of another culture and faith, not Jewish and certainly not Christian. So that means that God’s peace is for all people and it means we should work toward peace with others. In this I make no political statement, I do not say that other faiths or people are right or wrong, I simply say that the message of Christmas is that God’s peace is for all and that with or without compromise we should make, Peace, love and reconciliation our aim and goal in all our relationships. For every person, and every culture and every faith, and even those without faith, the Angels sing, “Glory to God in the Highest an on earth, peace, goodwill toward all!”

Direct download: Christians_sermon_1_A.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 12:04am AEDT
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