10 Minute Message
Lectionary Sermons Podcast in advance from St Stephen's Toowoomba. Reformed, evangelical but not fundamentalist attempts to struggle with the meaning of the Bible, life and faith.
Freed from possession by the Law for Gospel Proper 7c

Link to Bible readings   

This is the full text of the sermon. Direct audio download link.

We might not think it but all of us have stories about how Christ’s love is at work or has worked in our lives.

And to some extent most of us will have at least some stories that are a bit similar to the experiences of those who wrote today’s Bible readings.

Our first reading is about Elijah. He had just confronted the pagan gods... It was a great victory, but the Queen was angry and wanted to kill him. He felt he was all alone... he felt that he was burnt out... he could do no more... he felt that he was surrounded by enemies... Maybe he was depressed...

But God spoke to him. God Gave him strength for the journey ahead. God didn’t speak in some huge loud way but in the still small voice.

Have you ever felt burnt out, or surrounded by enemies, felt like you could do no more? I’m sure all of us have. I know I’ve felt like that many times.

It was worst when I was at school in year 9. Because I was often bullied- surrounded by enemies. I felt I was all alone. At times I felt like I could not go on.

But at church I was not bullied, and on camps with a neighbouring church and in my Sunday School class, I learned about God’s love and I was given strength for the journey. I learned that I was not all alone. There was the church and other Christians, but much more important - God was with me too!

In Psalm 42 and 43 the story is almost exactly the same as in the story about Elijah. The psalm writer feels abandoned and surrounded on all sides by enemies. But the psalm writer also calls out to God. He remembers what God has done in the past. He remembers what it was like to worship with God’s people and so he asks God to help.

As I said before, I’m sure all of us have been through similar things. I remember once feeling like the Psalm writer in psalm 42 and 43. I was an older teenager and felt that I was all alone in the world. One night I ran out into the back yard and called out to God "Are you there!, Do you care about me?" I can't recall how it happened now but after a while, I did sense God's love and presence and I went to bed in peace.

Or perhaps we have a story like Paul’s Story. Paul had been a Pharisee, what had been important to him, was the Law. The rules, being good, doing right, meeting God’s standard. For a good part of his life he was very self righteous, but then one day, he realised that he could not reach God’s perfect standard. As we learn in Romans chapter 7:7-11, when Paul realised he could not reach God’s perfect standard he was racked by guilt, tied up with a sense of his own unworthiness. BUT as we learn in today’s reading he discovered there was another way. That way is the way of grace and faith. Our sins are freely forgiven because Jesus takes our place. We don’t have to struggle to perfectly obey the Jewish law.
As verses 23 & 26 put it: Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed....[BUT] in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Gal 3:23, 26 NRSV)
There have been a couple of times when I have come to a fuller understanding of God’s grace in my life. One of them was my time at college. Before I went to college, I was always early to everything. I was so anxious to obey the rules that I would feel terribly guilty if I was ever late. At college I learned much more deeply what I already knew. God loves us and accepts us as we are, not because we obey the rules. Since then I have lived a much happier and free-er life.

Finally, none of us I believe are possessed by a legion of demons, but perhaps some of us have at times been possessed, or grabbed a hold of, or seized by fear or anxiety, or hatred or bitterness, or un-forgiveness by some other emotion or force or circumstance that makes our lives hell. Perhaps like that young man we have been delivered from what has a hold of us by Jesus and his love!
I have shared before how, as a young man, because of all the bullying I went through, I was very timid and had almost no self confidence. But through my teenage years as faith awoke in me and I accepted Christ, fear was driven out of me and confidence grew in me. Slowly I became what I am now, not perfect, not complete but none the less, a confident minister of the gospel.

Image courtesy of Wayne McHugh

Direct download: Proper_7c.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 5:19pm AEST

Life of the Party Proper 6 c

Focus Reading Lk 7:36-8:3 Direct download of MP3

Life of the Party
Because of the Lord's Supper and the banquet parables we so often think of Jesus as the host rather than the guest at meals. In fact when we read the New Testament we discover that generally Jesus is the guest at other people’s meals. He is not an easy guest. Mission, and discipleship, following Jesus is not only about inviting and attracting people to join us in church. It is far more, about going to people where they are, being guests, and announcing God’s love by witnessing our faith and bringing life to the party. This is what Jesus and the woman did in today’s gospel reading.
It reminds me of an episode of the Flintstones. Barney and Fred go to charm school so they can take their wives to a charity ball. The event is very boring so the boys, liven up the proceedings. It turns out charm school taught mostly not manners but how to bring life to the party. Some of the guests are mortified but the rest have a much more enjoyable time. We are called to bring life to the party!

Questions for thought and discussion.
As a church and as individuals how can we go where the people are, and witness our faith in words and service? How do we get the gospel into the shopping centres, gyms, businesses, and homes of our neighbours neighbours?
How do we bring life to non-church functions, parties, work places and public places?

Image Copyright: radub85 / 123RF Stock Photo

Direct download: Proper_6_podcast.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 10:11pm AEST

Proper 5 C Magic Restoration

Focus Readings: 1 Kings 17:8-24 Luke 7:11-17

Direct Download of Audio file

Today’s readings have two themes. One is the miraculous healing power of God. Some people find the idea that God would literally raise the dead difficult. I don’t but I sympathise with people who do. This kind of thing simply does not happen in “real” life. It is magical, and yet from Kings and Luke we have two stories of sons being raised from the dead. In our modern scientific world such things are hard to believe. The second theme is the notion that God is compassionate. There were very few people more at risk in the ancient world than a childless widow. A widow who had a son may have some hope, but in both stories the women even lose their sons. Without their sons the widows would have faced almost impossible futures. These stories paint a picture of the nature of God. God restores to the widows what they need and value most, their beloved sons.
How do we know this is the character of God? The answer could be Jesus. If Jesus is both truly human and truly God. If Jesus is truly the creator and truly part of the creation, then we see the character of God in his life, teaching and action. We have a foundation for our hope. If Jesus is not truly human and God then...

How do we know the character of God? How could we better reflect God’s character in our worship, other church activities and in our daily living?


Image Copyright: kasto / 123RF Stock Photo

******************** Text of full Sermon notes below*****************

Magic Restoration
Why is the church shrinking as a proportion of the population? Why does a church like St Stephen’s which once had 900 confirmed members now only have around 150 with only 60-100 attending on any given Sunday?
I think today’s readings can help us explore that in two very different directions. Firstly there is something supernatural or magical or mystical about today’s readings. The dead are raised. We live at a time when the supernatural and the mystical are rejected as being unscientific and impossible. Indeed I have heard more than once that this is the explanation for why people don’t come to church. How could anyone believe in a jar of flower, like Sydney Nolan’s magic pudding which never runs out? How could anyone believe that a person who is dead, whose cells and body have begun to decompose, who has not been breathing for even a half hour, who could believe that they could be revived? Who could believe in someone walking on water, or a man born blind being given sight? And if there is such a thing as God, creator of the whole universe, how could we believe that the fullness of this One could live amongst us as a human being?
I don’t agree with this view, I believe in the supernatural, the mystical, if you want to call it that, the magical. I don’t agree with it but I have some sympathy for it, and a think part of the reason some people aren’t in church and why many are not attracted to it. Way back in the first half of the 20th century Rudolph Bultmann a liberal Christian Theologian put it like this “We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.”
Today Authors such as John Shelby Spong, Robin Myers, and Marcus Borg ask the same questions from a liberal or progressive Christian viewpoint and New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens ask the question from an anti faith viewpoint.
In the end the main defence of people like me who believe in the supernatural is the very things that Dawkins most strongly rejects. Our defence against this criticism is faith. It is however not blind faith. I won’t do it in detail but it is possible to make a strong historical case for the resurrection of Jesus. It is difficult to explain the existence of the early church without it. In similar vein it is hard to explain the early church at all coming out of Judaism if the life teaching of Jesus even before the Resurrection had not had a huge impact on those very early disciples who believed he had been raised from the dead. Faith is not without foundation, or unreasoning. I have however to be honest and say that while I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and can defend it historically I simply can not defend it scientifically.
In the same way I can not scientifically defend the raising of the two widows sons in the old and New Testament stories. Historically I can defend the belief that the earliest followers of Jesus believed he was a healer and miracle worker as well as a teacher greater than Moses and Elijah and these stories reflect this. Indeed the impact of Jesus meant that certainly following his death and resurrection and perhaps beginning beforehand the first disciples came to believe that Jesus was not only a greater figure than Elijah, but that he was God come amongst us as one of us, a real human being. I will come back to that.
What every person in a country with a Christian past or background can see in these stories is something that says God is compassionate and we should be too. In Jesus’ time and in Elijah’s time some widows were very vulnerable..... In the time of the early church a contrast with society was seen when the church got large enough to be noticed...
In our time it is my fear that a similar thing is happening. I want to be a bit risky here and say something bout the way we as a community support single parents...
It is not just the way governments behave that is worrying. Look at our community organisations. Once in every town of any size in Australia.... Unions... Political parties... Our own meals on wheels....
This decline in community can partly be attributed to both parents working... TV.... but at least part of it is to do with us becoming more selfish. The churches are actually doing much better than some... It is true that some people are not in church because they can not believe in things like bodily resurrection, but I believe more are not here because they do not believe in community.
One of the reasons I believe in Jesus as not just a great prophet or teacher is because of what he did in his own lifetime and what he has done through the church to draw us together in him as the one household, or family or body. The weaker members, the victims, even the undeserving victims like the tax collectors or the (I think largely mythical) unwedded mothers who have extra children just for the welfare money, even these are to be honoured and cared for and even the very real mums and dads who are alcoholics and dependent on drugs need to be honoured and cared for too. For me this is because Jesus commands it. It is because he is Lord and in his life our Lord loved the pharisees and tax collectors as well as the poor and the vulnerable. And those of us who believe in the supernatural and the incarnation are filled with hope, for we believe that the one who asks us to do this can raise the dead, heal the sick, restore the son to her widow and feed the hungry, with or without us, and so our small faltering, mixed up, sometimes even mean and pathetic efforts not only can be used by God to make a difference but they are also a small part of the renewing of the whole universe that began on the first Easter day, and therefore there is always hope.
For me the great sign of this hope is Jesus my risen and living Lord who draws me by the Spirit into his loving relationship with his Father and longs to have that same relationship with all creation including the widowed and the orphaned, the tax collector and the prostitute. That for me is part of who we are and I believe it is what our world needs too! I don’t know if it will fill the church with new and younger people but I believe that if we are faithful to this vision it will mean that we are part of a living temple, a great and eternal city.


Direct download: Proper_5_C_2016.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 4:28pm AEST

Easter Services

Our Easter Services will be:

Maundy Thursday 24/3/16 at 7.30 pm

This will be a Tenabrae Service

Good Friday 25/3/16 at 8 am

Easter Sunday 27/3/16 at 9 am

If you are looking for Easter Sermons

A Text only sermon can be found by following this link:

An Apology and an Apologetic. Easter Day 2012

For a Podcast Follow this link:

Easter = Transformation - Easter Day A 2011

A Direct link to the audio file can be found here: Easter_Day_A_2011_PM_Master.mp3

Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 12:18pm AEST

On Tuesday the 8th of March at 11am in Rangeville Community Church a memorial service will be held for Rev Aub Baker. One of his many significant ministries was with Fronteir Services as a patrol padre. He entitled his recent memoir "Gate opener for the Lord". 

I did not know Aub well but like everyone who got to know him even a little bit I felt his genuine interest in me as we sat and yarned as well as glimpsing his  strong commitment to Jesus and also the church.

As a tribute to him I reprint a sermon I preached for the 100th Anniversary of  Frontier services formerly Australian Inland Mission. Aub  was present  on that occasion and shared in the service.

A Sermon for the centenary of Frontier Services (& the Australian Inland Mission).

Preached on the occasion of a combined Uniting Churches celebration service in the City of Toowoomba, Queensland, Sunday the 16th of September 2012


The theme for this service is “beyond the furthest fences”.... The question I want to ask, the question I want you to ponder, and the question I want to have a bit of a go at answering, is what led John Flynn, John the Baptist and Jesus, to go beyond the furthest fence and into the wilderness?  


Faced with the things they faced the missions of these three men must have seemed hopeless. 


If we start with John the Baptist and our reading. John has his ministry in a time when Jerusalem and surrounds is ruled by the Roman Empire. It was the great power of its time. A large and organized nation or Kingdom could defend themselves against Rome but Israel was not large or well organised. There were resistance groups but these were hopelessly divided. In the period following Jesus death and resurrection, Jewish resistance to Rome grew but the infighting together with the sheer size and might of Rome, led to the Jewish Rebels not only being defeated but Jerusalem was destroyed including the Temple which was razed to the ground. 


That wasn’t the only problem the religious world was divided too. There were the Pharisees, who like John wanted Israel to repent, they wanted people to return to the faith but over time this desire turned into legalism with over 600 rules and regulations. There were the Essenes who lived out in the desert like an order of Monks trying to keep themselves pure and clean from the contaminating world. There were the Sadducees who controlled the temple and acted as the city council of Jerusalem. They owed their power to Rome and made their money through the temple taxes and the money changers. They were despised by the pharisees the essenes and the ordinary people as corrupt and collaborators. And the picture I paint is a very simplistic one for many of these groups were also hopelessly divided amongst themselves.


It is into this apparently hopeless setting that John speaks his message of preparing for the arrival of God. He quotes the Prophets crying out that he is the messenger preparing the way of the Lord.  He gathers people to him in the outback saying “prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight.” Repent be baptised. 


Now as I’ve just explained the need for that repentance and for forgiveness was huge. Israel was in a terrible mess. The people needed to turn to God, but surely the cause was hopeless. Despite John’s preaching, despite the crowds that came out to see him and were baptised, the people remained divided, corrupted and occupied. In less than a year John ends up arrested and dead, executed by the sword of Herod. So why did he do it? What drove John beyond the fences, and into this mad and hopeless mission?


Just four verses later Jesus begins his mission with these words “and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”” (Mark 1:15, NRSV)


They are almost an exact copy of what John was saying. The Kingdom of God is near, is among you is beginning now! God is coming and in some sense has already come! If that’s true people then we need to turn to God who has already turned to us. But of course what Jesus is facing is exactly the same as John. But he tells people to love each other, he reaches out to the despised and rejected, he touches the unclean, he feeds the multitude in the desert, he calls people to a new and better vision of life. He tells them that God loves them and cares for them. And what happens to him, he ends up dead on a Roma cross, rejected by his own people, and deserted by his friends. Like most of you I believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully God. Why would God enter into this mess, why would God go beyond the farthest fence into our human desert, only to die in that wilderness?


John Flynn was faced with very different set of challenges. He felt called by God beyond the farthest fence to outback Australia. When he began his work the only forms of communication were the telegraph which only went to some of the towns and mail which even in the dry season could take weeks to arrive. Medical care was practically non existent. And on the Spiritual front, it was said that there were people who had not even heard of Christmas and Easter and there were very few Bibles let alone ministers. Yet he had a dream of a mantle of safety that would cover the continent, that people in the remotest of places would be able to access medical care. He dreamed that the scriptures would be available and the word of God would be proclaimed in every station, camp and by every billabong. What on earth possessed him to attempt such a mad project and begin such a mad mission? What drove him beyond the farthest fence?


So why did they do it? What drove him beyond the farthest fence? John the Baptist believed God was coming, God was about to do something new and amazing. God was about to break into history in a new and wonderful way.

John was filled with a mad vision of hope, believing that even this most hopeless situation of Israel could be transformed into the Kingdom of God. And when God came the baptism was not going to be in water for repentance it was going to be in the Holy Spirit. The promised one would come and bring this about and our Christian faith has taught us that this promised one was Jesus. But just a moment ago we left Jesus dead outside the city wall the city, outside the farthest fence, dead on a Roman cross.


To understand our reading from Mark and to understand John the Baptist and Jesus and John Flynn, we have to recognise that we see their story from somewhere near the end. The New Testament was written after the Resurrection. The end of the story is not the cross, or the sword of Herod, the end of the story is the resurrection, the empty tomb, Jesus is alive. He is Risen.  


Walter Breuggeman, perhaps the greatest living Biblical scholar argues that as Christians “as strange as it... seems,... [we] understand and live all of life in response to the... God who brings slaves out of bondage and who brings life out of death.”(1) We are the people of the resurrection. It is because we believe that God in Christ is alive and with us, that we have been baptised with the Holy Spirit, it is because of this that we live and that we dare to go beyond the farthest fence.


John the Baptist did not get to see this but he believed that something like that was going to happen. The promised one was coming, God was about to appear in a powerful and special way and the Spirit was about to be poured out. In the same way Jesus’ life and teaching and even the cross only make sense in the light of Easter Sunday.


What about John Flynn, what’s this got to do with him. Well I’m pretty certain that one of Flynn’s main motivations was the resurrection. Even before he founded the AIM he was involved in a number of Shearer’s missions in outback Australia. At those meetings he distributed a little booklet he had edited and substantially written called “The Bushman’s Companion”. It’s full of first aid advice, has a simple cash book, a calendar, information about postage, and a section called “A ramble through ideals”. The last ideal dealt with is entitled “the resurrected self”.


He begins that section by writing

"I am the resurrection and the life," says Christ. 

It is not easy for us to accept that statement. 

But, once accepted, it brings before us, the vision of another self, a vision which must deeply influence the life of the beholder;...

For the confidence of resurrection does change the whole outlook of life, and even give outlook where, previously, it seemed to be utterly absent.


Flynn goes on to suggest that the resurrection is a powerful motivator in two ways.


First it brings hope where there seems to be none.  Is there no medical care, are there no communications, are there men and women who have not even heard that there is a Christmas and an Easter? Then as mad as it seems let’s send out ministers on horseback, Christian nurses to remote country towns, let’s try this new fangled radio thing and see if we can’t power it with bicycle pedals and lets send doctors across the trackless wastes, beyond the farthest fence in flying machines. Why because as mad and as hopeless as it seems, the God who raised Jesus from the dead, who brings life out of death can surely also do these things.


Second Flynn argued that the resurrected life was a spur to effort in this life. (3) If we are raised with Christ then while we will be remade or recreated “We shall still be ourselves. Individuality persists even through the grave and resurrection.” For him this meant that the bush man or woman who had never heard the Christmas and Easter story had an eternal being, and needed to hear that message. It also meant that those who needed medical care, and Spiritual comfort, and the ability to communicate, needed those things because these acts of service and compassion would be reflected in their eternity. The Padre’s visit, the nurse’s care, and the wireless message from afar would live on into eternity with those who received them. For this it was more than worthwhile to go beyond the furthest fence and to cry out in the wilderness. 


Flynn went beyond the furthest fence to the remotest people of the continent and God used him to do some wonderful and amazing things. John the Baptist went beyond the furthest fence to the outback Judea with the hope that God was about to do something wonderful. Jesus jumped all the fences of his culture, even unto death so we could know God’s love and risen life.


Where are we prepared to go? What fences is God asking us to cross? How in our time will we share the good news of Jesus and live out God’s love? 



(1) Brueggemann , Walter (2011-08-15). The Bible Makes Sense (Kindle Locations 892-894). St. Anthony Messenger Press. Kindle Edition. 
(2) John Flynn “A Ramble through ideals.” The Bushman’s Companion John Flynn Ed. 1916 edition p 63 (First published 1910) Presbyterian Church of Austrailia Australian Inland Mission
(3) Flynn 63ff
Category:Sermon not in advance -- posted at: 12:19am AEDT
Category:Sermon not in advance -- posted at: 1:31am AEST

Toowoomba Churches Put on a show for the Carnival of Flowers

St Stephe's Toowoomba Uniting Church along with at least four others will be putting on a show for the Carnival of Flowers.

From Sunday the 20th September through to Wednesday the 23rd, St Stephen's at 51 Neil Street Toowoomba will feature a wonderful floral display and a Sunday Afternoon concert from Heather Gillies  presenting "Theatre and Theology".   On Monday to Wednesday there will be a craft display and Devonshire teas in the hall behind the church. A Saussage sizzle on the front lawn will be provided by local service groups around lunch time.

Heather has had lead roles in many Music Theatre productions including The Sound of Music, Miss Saigon and Joseph & his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. In her Native New Zealand she also sang profesional lead roles in opera works. $10 Admission "at the door".

On Monday to Wednesday short lunch time concerts will be held from 12pm in the church including a children's concert again featuring Heather Gillies on the Wednesday.


Contact 0746322971 or email ststephenstwb@bigpond.com

It's not jusgt St Stephen's. Check out the links below for the other churches doing things over the Carnival weekend at St Luke's, St Albans, St David's, and St Patrick's.

Why not make one or more of the churches part of your "Carnival Crawl" this year!

Category:Church Info -- posted at: 2:51pm AEST

Reading Luke 2: 1 - 20

[This is a text only post if you want a podcast Christmas sermon check out:

Presence or Presents - Christmas Day

Pay God's love forward. Christmas Day or Eve ABC

Love Changes Everything - Christmas Eve-Day sermon ]

 Joy, Peace & Shelter

Why was the news that the angels brought good, why did it bring such joy? I believe it is because God is with us and not just with religious people or powerful people or great people or really Good people. God is with all people and all people can be with God. 

That experience of God being with a person, born in a person, of the joy coming, is a powerful and transforming thing. 

This year most Uniting churches in Queensland are using the theme “Find refuge this Christmas”, and another way of looking at this idea that all people can be with God is to say that all people can find their refuge or home or shelter with God. When people come to faith or even when they find a church or faith community that they like they will often say they are “at home”, they have found their place. When people of are assailed by the storms and trial of life they will also very often say that they found shelter or refuge in God or their faith. 


To illustrate these ideas of God brining transformation and refuge, I want to briefly tell three stories of transformation. The most important one being that of the shepherds.

First I want to tell a little of my own story. At the age of around 20 I suddenly came to a new experience and understanding of my faith. On this weekend I was sitting in Church listening to a preacher explaining the Christian idea of grace. Grace is the idea that God loves us, not because we are good but God just loves us even though we are always all less than perfect and even though at times in our lives we are just plain bad. God loves us anyway. He told a story, not a true story, just an illustration, a modern parable. It is of a young man in court, convicted of a crime for which he must pay a fine, or face jail. The man can not pay, he will go to jail. The judge leaves the court room. The young man sits devastated. He is about to be taken away, when suddenly there appears beside him the judge, come down from the pace of judgement. He reaches into his pocket and he hands the young man a cheque for the full amount and embraces him. Gives him a hug. You see the judge is the young man’s brother. He loves him and has come down to him and will do anything to stop him being cast into prison. Through paying the fine he offers him shelter & protection from all he may face in jail. The judge is just like God in Jesus, the eternal Son, coming to be with us that we might know we are sheltered, loved and forgiven. 

When I heard that story, for the first time I understood what Amazing Grace meant and how amazing it was. The words of some of those old hymns, Rock of Ages, Abide with Me, And Can it Be, O for a thousand tongues all came to life. I realised as our next carol puts it Christ, the holy Child of Bethlehem had not just been born in a stable 2000 years ago but had been born in me, he had come to me he was God living in me, Emanuel - God with us, God with me! Me, even me! Because God had made a home in me I had found a home, a shelter with God.

There was Joy, that joy has come and gone, very often I am very far from a joyful person, but that joy has never completely left me, and the memory of it today brings it back, rekindles the fire. Without that experience I don’t think I would be here today as your minister.

The brother of the writer of our second last hymn had that same experience. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. He writes, 

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

For him there was no great joy but there was a radical transformation which led him to becoming arguably the greatest evangelist and preacher the world has ever known.

Why was the birth of this child so important, why did it bring such joy. Let’s think about those shepherds. As Jews living in a land occupied by the Roman Empire, they were longing for and hoping for a Messiah, a new King, a Godly warrior who would not only get rid of the Romans but would bring everyone closer to God, because he would set up a Godly kingdom. That would have been an exciting message, they may have felt that it was beginning. Jesus it turned out wasn’t a warrior or King in that sense, but the King had been born. Also the whole angel thing. Once they got over the shock and of the angel appearing, and angels were heavenly soldiers or warriors as well as messengers, it would have been awe inspiring and joyful. Of course the key would have been that this was not just the Messiah, the new Godly King, but he was the Lord, and the Saviour. For Jews, only God is called the Lord, yet this is how the angel describes the child in the manger. But like Wesley and me, the thing that probably had the most impact was, that the message, was for them of all people, it was for shepherds. As I’ve shared over a number of Christmases the shepherds were the dregs of society. They could not be good Jews. Because of their work they could not attend the synagogue or go to Jerusalem each year as a good Jew should. They could not easily keep the laws about diet, or being clean, that good Jews should. By rights the Angel should have come to a high priest or a strict keeper of the Jewish law. Instead the Good News is announced to the 1st century’s equivalent of a Bogan.

In that Church in the late 1980s God came to me, to me of all people, in Aldersgate street on the 24th of may 1738 Wesley realised that God had come to and forgiven even him and somewhere between 4-6BC God came to and for all people, even the Shepherds, and each one must have felt and said, God has come for me! Even me a dirty shepherd. That’s where the Joy came from for the shepherds. All of a sudden the Shepherds, outsiders, had a home, a place in God’s love. These outcasts were given a refuge, just as the baby Jesus had been given a refuge in the stable.

As the life of Jesus was lived, and after his death and resurrection, the church unfolded, it became clear that if God had a place, a home, for the shepherds, and the tax collectors and the prostitutes, then God must have a place for everyone, even non Jewish people. God must be for Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor, slave and free, sinner and saint. This was Good news of Great Joy for all people. And it meant that all people could and should be at peace in this shelter of love with God and one another. What is the reason for fighting and hatred and division, if every person is loved and embraced by God, if every person is God’s brother or sister, a member of God’s household? In the baby in Bethlehem God’s peace is declared, for God has a place, favours, has Good will toward all people.  “Glory to God in the Highest heaven and on Earth, Peace Goodwill toward men.”

And therefore it is Good News for you. Yes even for you, every one of you, even if you are far from perfect. It is my prayer that you will know the Joy and the Peace of the Shepherds, and your hearts will be strangely warmed by God toward God and toward all people. May Christ be born in you today. May you know the shelter, the refuge of his love and find your home in Him.

Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 12:13am AEST

Find Refuge - Christmas Eve Sermon 2014

Reading Luke 2:1-20

[This is a text only post if you want a podcast Christmas sermon check out:

Presence or Presents - Christmas Day

Pay God's love forward. Christmas Day or Eve ABC

Love Changes Everything - Christmas Eve-Day sermon ]

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.

Category:Sermon not in advance -- posted at: 12:07am AEST

No podcast for this, just the full text of the sermon.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 quoting Isaiah 22:13 and perhaps also Ecclesiastes says “Eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”  Now Paul does not approve of this philosophy any more than the Book of Isaiah. The full quotation from 1 Corinthians is “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”(1 Corinthians 15:32, NRSV)

The point that Paul is making is that if there is no resurrection there is no future then we might as well do what we like with our lives. For soon enough we will be dead and if there is no life beyond death it does not matter what happens after we are gone. We will have no consciousness of it. We will know and feel nothing, we will not simply sleep, we will be no more. There will never be another me, another us. If this is true we may as well enjoy life and do what we want. Indeed even our children do not matter if there is no life beyond this life, for we will know and feel nothing about them. For if there is no life beyond this life, if there is no eternal hope, then when we die, the universe dies with us. We may as well, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Perhaps it would be good for us to be kind enough to others so they will be kind to us. After all if we have good company we can eat and be merry and drink all the more. It feels good to love and to like and to be liked and to love, but really we do this for ourselves so that we can live the satisfied life. And let there be no nonsense about “living on in our children” or our ideas surviving us, or the world being a better place for us having been here. That may well be true, but if there is no resurrection, if there is no eternity, if there is no life beyond this life then after our death we will know and experience and feel nothing of it.

This is the second Sunday in Advent. The purpose of this time of year is not a run up or a count down to Christmas. Traditionally it is instead that time of year when we think about the return of Jesus at the end of time,  bringing the New Heaven and the New Earth. It is that time of year when we look forward to a time when every tear will be wiped away, when death and sin and suffering will finally be defeated. It is that time of year when we look into eternity, and the hope of new life and the hope of being reunited with those who have long since or have even recently gone. Perhaps above all else if there is an eternity then we should ask ourselves, “How then should we live now?” If our story is part of an eternal story and what we do now has an eternal impact then “What could we be doing? What have we done? What will be the impact of our lives?”

Our three readings today are different ways of looking at this issue. Behind them all is a firm belief that our life is eternal. There is a future and at the end of time all will be renewed. There is a heaven and a new heaven and there is to be a new earth.

From Mark chapter 1:1-8 we hear the call to repent. We see a man dressed in strange clothes with a strange diet. We know of him that his call to people to repent, to live the a good and upright life, angered the religious authorities. It also angered King Herod’s family, so much so that they threw him in jail and eventually chopped off his head. This is not a picture of a man who believed that this life is all there is. If this life was all there was why would he put himself through all of that. No, John believed in a God who was eternal, a God who was just, and a God who was sending another greater than him. This one who was to come would baptize with the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. He would bring in the Kingdom of God. A way, a highway for God to travel on was to be prepared God would come to judge but also to bring justice and goodness to all the world.

If this is about to happen, if this promised one is coming, how then should we respond - Repent says John, turn back to God, live lives which are oriented to eternity. Live lives which reflect the goodness and the coming justice and glory of God.

We hear exactly the same kind of message in the passage we heard from 2 Peter Chapter 3 verses 8-15.  God is out there and God is with us and God is coming and God who is eternal for whom a thousand years are but a day, desires that all should repent, all should turn to him for a new heaven and a new earth is coming.  The first Christian believers felt they had met his new heaven and earth made flesh in Jesus. He was the promise of all things being made good and right, of God coming as Judge to sift the wheat from the chaff, and also as restorer and champion to make all things new. 

The picture in second Peter is a bit like that of a smelter. The old heaven and earth like rough ore and scrap metal will be melted in the furnace, the flux and dross will be cast aside but something new and shiny and imperishable will emerge, a new heaven and a new earth. Again the question has to be asked, if this is true, how should we live? If God is coming, and if in some sense through the word of the prophets and in the teaching and person of Jesus, and the pouring out of the Spirit the God has come and in time shall return to finish off the job, how then should we live? How should we behave, how should we orient our lives?

So we move onto our third reading. Up until now the context has been on sin and repentance. Peter and John the Baptist urge us to stop living for the now and for ourselves and live with the future judgement in mind. In Isaiah 40 the tone shifts to grace and hope and comfort. A people exiled in Babylon, their city, Jerusalem, the city of God, the city of promise has been destroyed. Comfort Isaiah cries, your term has been served your sins are forgiven, build a highway for God is coming among you. God in all glory and power will come among you and all the world will see it. And God will come not to condemn. Do not fear for God “...will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” (Isaiah 40:11, NRSV)

He will come like Jesus the good shepherd of John 10 or like the shepherd of the 23rd psalm. When we read John the Baptist quoting these words, in Mark 1 we tend to think his vision of God is as a severe judge. But John would have known the context of these words, he knows that they are words of comfort. Judgement can be about condemnation, but it can also be a judge ordering that property be restored, that compensation be paid and that you have no case to answer. Isaiah spoke to people homeless and in exile saying God will bring a future, a restoration and will lead you to the green pastures, the banqueting table and the still waters. John quotes these words to people occupied by the hated Romans, trying to carry the burden of the Law. Repent not only for fear of the judgement but because there is a future, justice, comfort and forgiveness are coming. “The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

Sometimes those who deride Christianity and even any religion which has an eternal hope make fun of things like the second coming, judgement day, the new heaven and the new earth. In their minds they lead we who have faith to look to “pie in the sky when we die” and make us of no earthly use, but I think the opposite is probably true. Without this future hope of restoration, there is no point in caring for the needy or looking to the future of the planet or preserving history or art or culture for they have no eternal value and they die with the death of every individual, and the eventual demise of our species. 

By contrast let me conclude by giving one example of someone who was inspired by this future hope and who quoted this very passage in Isaiah in bringing this vision of hope to others. Martin Luther King was a black Southern Baptist minister and the great shining light of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. He had a vision or a dream of what the future could be. Without that vision of eternity, as a black middle class minister and gifted preacher he could have had a comfortable and happy life, adored and handsomely supported by his congregation. Yet instead he risked death and violence and confrontation and hatred because of the vision of eternity, of recreation and reconciliation that drove him. He did not in his lifetime see these things come to pass but it did not matter for he had a vision of the future a vision of eternity.

Listen to his word’s : 

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists...; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.


If this vision is true how then should we live? (Repeat)

Category:general -- posted at: 1:02am AEST

Christmas Services - Find refuge this Christmas


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Category:Church Info -- posted at: 4:33pm AEST