Wed, 24 December 2014
Reading Luke 2: 1 - 20
[This is a text only post if you want a podcast Christmas sermon check out:
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: 1:13 PM
Wed, 24 December 2014
Reading Luke 2:1-20
[This is a text only post if you want a podcast Christmas sermon check out:
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: 1:07 PM
Sat, 6 December 2014
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: 2:02 PM
Thu, 4 December 2014
FIND REFUGE WITH US
this busy Christmas Season
Join us for our Christmas services.
Family Carols - 7 pm Sunday 21st December
Christmas Eve Service 7.30 pm
Christmas Day Service 8.30 am
ST STEPHEN'S TOOWOOMBA UNITING CHURCH
51 Neil Street Toowoomba
(Opposite the Empire Theatre)
Phone 07 4632 2971
Category:Church Info -- posted at: 5:33 AM
Mon, 3 November 2014
Proper 28 A
The reign of /CHRIST/ the King A
Advent 1 B
Advent 2 B
Advent 3 B
Advent 4 B
Category:Sermon not in advance -- posted at: 4:21 AM
Mon, 3 November 2014
Focus reading: Matthew 25:1-13 Direct Audio Download
The parable of the ten wise and foolish bridesmaids is one of those passages of the Bible which is sometimes a bit difficult to get a hold of or understand.
Oil is the key to understanding what this parable is all about. In this sermon I’m going to argue that the Oil is the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit is the way that Christ is made present to us. I think the children’s song "Give me Oil in my lamp" is pretty much right.
The other place in Matthew that speaks of wise and foolish people is the story in chapter 7 of the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the foolish man who built his house on the sand. The Rock is Jesus and his teaching, the sand is something/ anything else.
We are called to keep our lamps burning, not using our own resources but using the resources that God freely gives to us, as a gift. Our lives should be lives which ask God to fill us with Christ as he comes to us through the work of the Spirit.
Our daily prayer to God should I believe be that of the children’s song. “God fill me with the Spirit that I might live a life powered by and centred on Christ and his love. A life which will witness to his love in word and action” Or to put it more simply “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning!”
Questions for thought or Discussion
What is your response to the idea that the oil in this parable is actually the Spirit or a relationship with Christ through the Spirit? Why won't the wise bridesmaids share their oil? If the oil is our relationship with Christ, what do you think of the foolish bridesmaids idea of heading off to buy some? What might have happened if they had stayed around? Who are you more like the foolish or wise bridesmaids?
Thu, 14 August 2014
I Haven't managed to record a podcst this week but and excellent sermon on Genesis 45 can be found here: http://www.utc.edu.au/sermon-the-will-and-call-of-god-gen-45-1-15/
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 3:44 AM
Thu, 31 July 2014
Just in case I don't get to post them otherwise here are the next few weeks posts from three years ago.
The above is the most downloaded sermon from the blog with over 300 downloads.
Category:Sermon not in advance -- posted at: 6:00 AM
Thu, 31 July 2014
I want you to put yourselves in the place of each of the characters in the story of the feeding of the 5000.
Who are you more like?
Are you like the crowd is there some emptiness, some need which has to be filled? (It could be a need for food, healing, hope, meaning or even material things.)
Are you more like the disciples? Is Jesus calling you to fill the emptiness of the world with hope or food or healing? Is Jesus calling you to some ministry which seems too big for you? Beyond your reach?
Or are you more like the young child? You have something to give, but it seems pointless. How could my small donation fill the stomaches of the hungry? How can my small gift or ability or idea bring help to others? (John 6:9)
Today's story reminds us that as impossible as it might seem God (in Jesus) can and will use your small resources, abilities and efforts to fill the emptiness of ourselves and others. (Not only fill it but there will be left overs as well!
Image Copyright: sedmak / 123RF Stock Photo
Direct download: Proer_13_A_Feeding_of_the_5000.mp3
Category:Sermons in advance -- posted at: 5:04 AM
Mon, 12 May 2014
I've been rather slack the last few weeks, but if you'd like to go back to some old sermons for leent and Easter here are some links:
Which Jesus? Easter 3 (Text only)
No Easter 4 unfortunately. I may record it later this week.
Category:Sermon not in advance -- posted at: 2:22 AM