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Gospel centred sermons, based on the lectionary often in advance.

Jan 16, 2011

Preached at St Stephen's QLD Australia 16 January 2011 Readings:Psalm 29, Rom 6:2-9, Mark 10:35-45

Meaning in faith, not in disasters.

Given what has happened in our city and across Queensland in the last week I have decided not to use the set readings for this Sunday and expand on last week’s theme of Baptism.

What is the meaning of these floods, or the New Zealand mine disaster or the terrible bush fires of just a couple of years ago? I don't believe they have any meaning. They are simply terrible natural disasters. God is not trying to tell us anything by the floods. I do not believe that it is any specific or special judgement on Toowoomba, Central Queensland, the Maranoa, Ipswich  Brisbane or the people who have suffered. However I do believe that whether we are buried in the water of the tiny river Jordan like Jesus in his Baptism, or whether we are engulfed and swept away in the terrible power and chaos of a sudden flash flood, the chaos of the water does not have the final say. Death and suffering have been defeated. For just as Christ rose out of the water, he was also raised from the dead, and through the poured out Spirit he shares that new life with us now. We have new life and we will have new life. Christ has died, Christ is risen, the Spirit is poured out, and Christ will come again.

 

Questions for thought or discussion.

How do you believe God brings judgement? Is the image of Baptism a helpful one in our current situation? Why/why not? As a Christian what might be the benefits of living on Easter Day rather than Good Friday?


Andrew Gillies
almost nine years ago

Full text of sermon continued...
ing a toe or being hungry missing a meal. For others it may involve a terrible loss. Perhaps as terrible as the loss many have faced in the floods. We may lose family members, and all we've built and owned in some terrible event.
When Jesus was baptised, and when he was born, and on the cross, he accepted the tragedy of death and the reality of suffering. Probably none of us will have to suffer as much as Jesus did, dying alone as a criminal, in terrible agony, with nearly all his friends deserting him, and publically shamed and humiliated - on public display, quite possibly completely naked.
Now this might be of some comfort, to know that God knows and has experienced the tragedy and suffering that as well as the joys and the good things in life all people face. There is a story from a concentration camp in Germany. Some of the inmates are hung in front of the other prisoners, and one of the witnessing prisoners, a sceptic turns to a man of faith none other than Victor Frankel and says - "where is your God now?" Frankel points to the hanging man and says, "There He is, suffering on the gallows."
To know that we are not alone in our suffering, in tragedy or even in our death, can give us some hope, courage and even strength.**
But as Christians we do not believe that death has the final word. In his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was not buried in the water never to rise again. When he was buried under the ground, in the tomb, that was not the end of the story. God raised him to new life and after his resurrection God poured out the Holy Spirit, so that we could begin to live that new life now even before our deaths. In his baptism, Jesus was buried under the water of the Jordan symbolizing his death, and he rose up out of the water just as he rose from the grave. After his resurrection the Spirit was poured out on the believers, just as the Spirit was poured out on Jesus after his baptism.
As Christians we believe that every person who has died, is in the hands of our faithful, just and loving God. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead. The same God who poured out the Spirit. The same God who in Jesus shares our suffering and even our death. The same Jesus, for whom death was not the end. He is alive and just as he died for us, he also shares his life with us, his new, risen life. All those who died, are now in his good, just and loving hands. We can be sure that he will do what is right and good with those lives whatever that may be. Death and its shadow - suffering, are not final, they have been defeated on the cross and in the empty tomb.
But as Christians we also believe that through the Spirit we begin to share that new life now. Through prayer, through worship, through the gifts of the Spirit, through the Bible, through the Lord's Supper, and through Baptism, God speaks and works in our lives now, giving us hope and strength. We have new life now and after death we will have new life in all its fullness. For we share in Jesus' Baptism - in his death and burial, in his rising to new life, and in his receiving of the Spirit.
If this is true we should be free of the fear of death. We are free. Free not to worry about ourselves. Free to be generous to those in need. Free to serve those who are suffering, with words and resources and actions. Free to witness our hope and the new life we have, to those who are in despair. And free to worship, to celebrate our living God, and our new life, even in difficult circumstances.
So what is the meaning of these floods in Queensland, the floods in Brazil, the New Zealand mine disaster or the terrible bush fires of just a couple of years ago? I don't believe they have any meaning. They are simply terrible natural disasters. God is not trying to tell us anything by the floods. I do not believe that it is any specific or special judgement on Toowoomba, or the rest of Queensland or on those people who have suffered. However I do believe that whether we are buried in the water of the tiny river Jordan like Jesus in his Baptism, or whether we are engulfed and swept away in the terrible power and chaos of a sudden flash flood, the chaos of the water does not have the final say. Ultimately death and suffering have been defeated. For just as Christ rose out of the water, he was also raised from the dead, and through the poured out Spirit he shares that new life with us now. We have new life now and we will have new life. Christ has died, Christ is risen, the Spirit is poured out, and Christ will come again.

Andrew Gillies
almost nine years ago

Full text of the above sermon
Given the floods, the loss of life, the loss of homes and businesses, the fear and the suffering, in the media, in the community and in our own hearts and minds questions have been asked about, what this disaster means. What does it say about God?
Last Sunday was the day when we remember the Baptism of Jesus. At first it might not seem that baptism and the terrible suffering caused by the flooding have anything in common, but I believe that the image of baptism can offer us hope, comfort and courage at this, and in all difficult times.
It is true that there are a number of examples in the Bible of God bringing disaster against people as judgement, BUT as a general rule, I do not believe that natural disasters are "Acts of God". Jesus himself says "4... those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?5 No, I tell you; ...."" Luke 13:4-5 (NRSV)
He also says 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
Matthew 5:44-45 (NRSV)

In fact I want to go further and say that when we look at nature, creation, at the universe, the cosmos, we can't really say very much about God at all. We can look at creation and say that God must be powerful, wise and clever beyond our imagining, but we can't say much more than that. We can look at creation and be filled with a sense of awe, and in the face of hail storms, terrible bush fires and floods we may even be filled with a sense of fear at the God who could create such power. But if we only have creation to look at, beyond awe, power and fear and a sense of incredible bigness - we really can't say much about God. In fact in the light of the floods and storms we could say all of Psalm 29 but we could not say the final sentence- that God gives his people peace, if we only had nature to find God in.
For if we only had the world to look at then we could at best only have an ambiguous picture of God. On the one hand nature can provide wonderfully, is breathtakingly beautiful, and life itself is just an amazing thing. On the other hand in nature, there is violence, there are natural disasters, there are horrible predators, parasites, plague causing viruses and bacteria and most frightening of all there are people, human beings, who understand suffering and death, and yet kill each other sometimes in the millions. People of course can also be compassionate, kind, loving and even selfless, just look at the incredible generosity of the rest of Australia and many parts of the world in the face of this disaster, but like the rest of creation we people are both good and bad.
A God who we mostly or only know through nature could only be ambiguous. Wonderful and terrible, kind and hateful, someone who provides but also denies and takes away - this is the natural God.
It does not matter how good or bad you are. I'm sure there were many good people, Christian people and non-Christian who have suffered in this terrible disaster. People who were better at obeying the ten commandments than any of us here, and some people who believed in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. I am also sure that there were people good and bad and in between who have been left untouched or who have miraculously escaped.
As Christians, to understand God, and even to understand the world, we look to a different place - We look to Jesus. It is in Jesus that we come to know God as loving and compassionate. It is in Jesus that we come to know God as just and good and not mean, tricky or nasty. [I know not all of you will agree with all of these next few sentences but they are important for me and they are what I believe] It is in Jesus and the cross that we know that God is forgiving. It is through Jesus' healing and casting out demons and above all through God the Father and through the Spirit, raising Jesus from the dead that we know that God's power isn't just general and random, that power is for us and our salvation as well. And through the cross supremely but also through Jesus' birth as a human baby and through his baptism, we know that God is truly human - truly one of us.
God knows what we go through, not just because God knows about everything. But God knows, because God has experienced what it is to be human.*
On one occasion Jesus is approached by James and John who say to him - "when you sit on your throne of Glory can we have the best places? Can we be second and third in charge?" "Well," said Jesus, "if you want that then you have to be baptised as I will be baptised." When Jesus says this he's not talking about his baptism in the river Jordan, he's talking about his suffering and death. (See Mark 10:35-45) He's talking about being buried in the earth, being swallowed up in the ground, as a person who is baptised by immersion, goes under the water, is buried under the water and dies to their old life. From now on they belong to Jesus. They belong to God. (Rom 6:3-4)
So what does all this have to do with the tragedy that has happened in Toowoomba, the Lokyer, the Western Downs, the Marinoa, Brisbane Ipswich and surrounds? And as we have just heard yesterday in Brazil where floods have claimed at least 500 lives? What's it got to do with the many who have perished so suddenly, or been left without family members, homes, businesses and places of work and worship. At least part of the answer is this - All of us face a terrible tragedy.
And that tragedy is this. All of us will die. On current trends the majority of us will die of either cancer or cardiovascular disease - stroke, heart attack or heart failure. The rest will die of a whole range of other things. It's unlikely, very unlikely but some of us may even die in a terrible disaster, like a bush fire a hail storm or a flood. And all of us in our lives will suffer. For some people suffering may be as minor as stubb