Tue, 17 January 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?
Image Copyright: wollwerth / 123RF Stock Photo
Mon, 9 January 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
Image Copyright: enterline / 123RF Stock Photo
Sat, 7 January 2017
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:
****************** Sermon Text *********************
Repent and believe the good news!
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)
Direct download: Epiphny__1_A_Baptism_of_Jesus_2017.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 11:24pm AEDT
Sun, 1 January 2017
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
Wed, 21 December 2016
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.
Wed, 21 December 2016
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.
Fri, 16 December 2016
With a combination of holidays and other things I have missed podcasting the last three weeks but get onto your web browser and follow the links below for sermons from the lat three weeks.
Category:Sermon not in advance -- posted at: 4:44pm AEDT
Fri, 16 December 2016
For King Ahaz in ancient Israel facing invasion from the Syrians and for Joseph living under Roman occupation with a fiancé pregnant before marriage there may not have been much hope around. Into the middle of this uncertainty both Ahaz and Joseph are promised a child. The child will be God’s sign of hope and presence with his people. The Syrians never captured Jerusalem, and today the baby born to Joseph and Mary 2000 years ago is revered by at least a billion people. Any birth, but especially a birth in troubled times is a sign of hope. Our times have their own troubles but Heather & I have chosen to have children. Because of the Child born 2000 years ago we believe there is a real hope for Parker & Eli as well as ourselves and our church.
So whatever it is you are considering doing that may have long term implications - if it’s a good thing like planning to have a child... buying a house... starting a business... or doing some study... don’t let uncertain times stop you - there is a future. There is hope. God is with us. God saves. And the child who was promised and born 2000 years ago and the grown Man who has promised to return - Jesus, is the sign and promise of that future and that hope.
Wed, 16 November 2016
The Tradition of Christmas a wonderful collection of 15 carols is still available.
To purchase this album as a download via iTunes click on this button:
The two artists are members of the congregation. Heather Gillies who is a tallented vocalist who has performed leading roles in Musical Theatre and Opera both in Australia and her native New Zealand. Most recently she was the opening artist for the Mayor's Carols here in Toowoomba.
The organist is Don Ross, an accomplished church organist who took over playing at St Stephen's over 30 years ago.
The purpose of the album is to promote and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the congregation and to raise some funds for the clebrations.
The album contains 15 traditional carols recorded live at St Stephen's in Toowoomba Australia and a number of tracks have some wonderful harmonies.
The tracks are:
Angels we have heard on high uThe birthday of a king
The first noel uHark the herald angels
Joy to the world uO come all ye faithful
O holy night uO little town of Bethlehem
Silent night uWhat child is this?
Once in royal David's city uInfant holy, infant lowly
The Coventry Carol u Away in a manger
We wish you merry Christmas
Category:general -- posted at: 3:22pm AEDT
Fri, 11 November 2016
Focus Reading Isa 65:17-25 Direct Download click here
Have you ever been at the sales point at a shop and been greeted by a sales assistant who adds to your day. They smile, they are polite, without being pushy or holding you up they engage in genuine conversation. You leave with the impression that they saw you as a person and not merely as a customer or client. The book of Revelation borrows the term ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ from today’s Isaiah reading. (Isa 65: ) In Revelation we get the idea that eternal life is one long worship service but in Isaiah we see it as meaningful and rewarding work. On this stewardship Sunday I want you to think about how you support the church, but even more I want you to think about how your work, your volunteering, your social activities, your friendships and your family can bring glory to God. As a child perhaps no-one dreams of being a sales assistant in a chain store, but as a Christian, in that setting and every setting, you can witness to a little bit of heaven.
How much more heavenly is your world because of your Christian witness? What would God’s “Kingdom come, God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven” look and feel like?