Sermon: Pentecost 4, 17 June 2018, Dr Ruth Shatford, St Alban’s

ST ALBAN’S EPPING.  SUNDAY 17TH JUNE 2susus018.  FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Dr Ruth Shatford

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13,  Psalm 20,  2 Corinthians 5:6-17,  Mark 4: 26-34

Our gospel reading this morning is from early in Mark’s gospel, not long after Jesus’ public ministry had begun.  Mark’s is the earliest gospel and provided much of the material that Matthew and Luke included; they seem often to actually quote him.  It is thought to have been written about 65 CE, about 32 years after Jesus’ death, and to be in essence the record of Peter’s narrating and preaching.  So, we actually have here an eyewitness witness account of what Peter said.  This record is considered important as the earliest surviving life of Jesus. Mark is also considered very reliable – the son of a well to do woman – another Mary, who lived in Jerusalem.  Her house was a rallying point or meeting place for the very early church.  So Mark grew up with the stories of Jesus and his friends.  I think it is useful for us today to fill in those very early chapters of Mark that precede our gospel reading.  Mark’s view of Jesus is clear – about those who heard Jesus’ teaching, he often says things such as “they were astonished”…”they were amazed”…” they were filled with awe”…”they were utterly astounded”.  In his first chapter, he announces quite assertively “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  So if we are looking for it, this is the essential gospel.  Part way into chapter 1, Mark says “The Kingdom of God is here.”.  Then he tells stories of Jesus wandering the Galilee and teaching and healing.  In chapter 3, Jesus becomes angry and grieves the people’s hardness of heart.  We are then told the Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.  Next he calls the twelve disciples to be with him in his ministry, and then in somewhat of an anticlimax, we are told he went home.  This however gives us an interesting insight.  His family went outdoors to try to pull him inside away from the crowd that was gathering and tried to restrain him as people were saying he was out of his mind.  When people in the crowd called and told him that his family were there asking for him he replied “Who are my mother and my brothers?”.  And this is where we are pulled into the story.  Looking at those sitting around him, he said “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

It had seemed a firm but calm beginning to the gospel, but it turned out to be loaded with tension and it is against this background that Jesus began his preaching in parables.  When the twelve and those who were around him asked him about the parables, he said “To you has been given the secret (or the mystery) of the Kingdom of God.”.

Most of the parables are about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ main message is about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus had not come to contribute to a new ethic, nor to teach some loftier idea of God.

Mark starts out saying: “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel.”  So, the good news of the New Testament is that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the fulfilment of all the hope of Israel, the one who has come to bring in the promised Kingdom of God.  In various contexts, that assertion has remained at the very heart of the Church’s gospel.

Jesus said “I must preach the Kingdom of God to other cities because for this purpose I was sent.  Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.”

We first encounter the phrase “the Kingdom of God” in the preaching of the forerunner cousin of Jesus – John the Baptist, who said “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”.

The Kingdom has both a present and future sense as we pray in the prayer Jesus taught his friends.  We begin by acknowledging God as father in heaven and then we are bidden to pray “Your Kingdom come; your will be done on earth as in Heaven.”

Luke 17:21 says The Kingdom of God is within you.”.

So what is this Kingdom of God that seems absolutely central to our faith?  It is not about geography or place; it is about the dynamic reality of God’s presence and power within the creation and within the lives of God’s people.

This Kingdom of God would have been a familiar Old Testament concept to Jesus’ hearers, even if not in those very words.  The notion means God’s reign, God’s rule, God’s realm or God’s empire.  The idea that God is King over all creation, sovereign ruler of the universe permeates the Old Testament.  There was also the idea that God would rule over Israel in a special way that made the Israelites wish for a present, visible king such as surrounding nations had.  We saw this last week in our Old Testament reading from 2 Samuel.  This is likely why Jesus found it necessary to hide himself on occasion to stop being seized by the crowd and set up as an earthly king.

In creating the world, God had given dominion/lordship/kingship to Adam who turned sinfully away from his charge.  This dominion mandate given to Adam was renewed with Abraham, who was told “Kings shall come from you”.  Dominion was a gift from God in the context of God’s saving redemption of a sinful people.  It was enshrined in the sacrificial system that was so central in Israel’s national life.    But successive kings, Saul and David among them, failed to rule over Israel in righteousness.  In the face of kingly corruption and failure, and despite Israel’s earthly failure, God does not abandon his plan to rule over the whole world through his appointed human king.

Many prophetic passages revealed that the only hope for the establishment of an enduring and faithful kingdom in Israel lies in a future work for God’s redemption.  The prophets connect the deliverance of God’s people with the reestablishment of God’s kingdom.   The prophets speak of God as the one who will sovreignly usher in his end time Kingdom, accomplishing this through a kingly messiah figure.  Two passages in Isaiah stand out as significant for understanding the coming ministry of Jesus.  There is reference to the coming of a servant of the Lord who “shall be high and lifted up and be exalted”.  Paradoxically this will come about through his own suffering.  The suffering and death of God’s kingly servant are both necessary for the establishment of the end time Kingdom and are the means by which it will be established.  Daniel’s vision of an end time “Son of Man” speaks of the one who will establish dominion over all the nations, a dominion that will never pass away or be destroyed.

The reign of God is to be ushered in by a suffering servant who paradoxically is also a triumphant heavenly deliverer. This was well understood by Jesus, but was a difficult concept for the Jews to comprehend or accept, because they simply expected a triumphant king, in a military sense.  So it is with a sense of expectation, that Mark’s gospel moves into reporting the parables; in these parables,  Jesus sought to enlighten his disciples as to the nature of the kingdom of God which he proclaimed was at hand.  To understand something of the Kingdom of God, we need to understand this Old Testament concept.  The future hope of the prophets set the anticipation with which Mark’s gospel opens.   The saving reign of God foretold by Isaiah was breaking into the world in Jesus’ person and ministry.  So we turn to the gospel reading to see something of what Jesus taught about the nature of the Kingdom of God.

In the light of the growing opposition to him, to his family’s concern and his fellow Jews’ failure to understand him, Jesus tells a series of parables about growth.  It seems as if the Kingdom of God defies definition or even description, but is best illustrated with stories.  The fact that Mark tells these two apparently simple stories, but Matthew and Luke do not use them raises questions. The material from just 24 of Mark’s 661 verses does not appear in those other two gospels.  At least, this should signal that we need to approach our interpretation with caution.  Are they uncomfortable with these two parables?  Do they not regard them as of the essence of Jesus’ teaching?  Or, dare I ask if they did not really understand them, so chose to omit them?  Today’s gospel is the report of two of Jesus’ parables of growth.  Jesus is not simply telling stories, but from the lives of his listeners, is seeking some point of contact between their everyday experience and what one commentator calls the “indescribable wonder of the Kingdom of God”.   Another scholar suggests that there is no easy take-home message for us from these two parables.  They invite us to engage our imaginations and follow the possibilities and incongruities – that we distinguish between a world that is planned, linear and logical and one that is filled with mysteries and surprises into which a sovereign God invites us.  Let me explain a little.  In the first parable, the seed is planted and then seemingly of its own accord grows till it is ready to be harvested.   Is this a tale that tells us to become farmers for God, sowing the seed of God’s reign?  Maybe, but tradition has said that the harvest belongs to the risen Christ, not to us. So is Jesus the farmer who plants and harvests?  When our days are marked by struggle and suffering, and we long for evidence of Jesus’ presence, where is he between the sowing and the harvest?  Those in Mark’s community wanted to hurry the kingdom of God along as some of us with missionary zeal want to do.  But then we read that the coming of the harvest in the parable – the coming of the Kingdom of God to human kind, is somehow automatic and not of our doing.  So, what is the lesson of this apparently deceptively simple parable?  It does not explain the Kingdom, but it confronts us with its power and implications and demands a response from us.

The second parable also needs imaginative placing of ourselves into the story and we need to think.  Mustard seed is useful medicinally and for flavouring and preserving food, but the bush is actually a garden pest that no one would have sown deliberately in an ordinary garden.  The superlatives in the telling of the story are not actually accurate; the mustard seed is tiny, but not the smallest of seeds.  The mustard bush grows large, but it is not the largest of all shrubs.  This exaggeration is to make the hearer pay attention and to realise that the seed is indeed very small and the shrub very large.  To the original hearers of Jesus, the images would have been very encouraging.  The Kingdom of God was starting up in a tiny way in their midst.  But the image of the size of the shrub giving shelter to the birds, symbolises the nations that flock to Israel’s God on the glorious day of the Lord – a future that is bigger than imaginable at the time to the little band of followers.  The point being made is one of contrast  – what we see now and what we will see.  The parable invites us to believe that God’s reign – the good that God does bring and will bring – will happen.  The two parables defy failure.  They assert an optimism.  The coming of God’s reign was a way of talking about an overcoming of powers that oppressed people, whether as individuals or communities.  It would be good news for the poor and hungry.  Its goal was not a state of individual bliss but a community of justice and peace.

William Loader, whose work I always read with interest when he comments on the weekly readings, says the message of parables such as these should not be reduced to naïve or dogmatic optimism.  He says that set within the pain of their context, they are much more realistic, encouraging us to defy hopelessness and to believe that nothing will serve our interests, nor those of the people surrounding us, better than to allow ourselves to be part of God’s reign, or in other words, God’s life and love in the world.   When we are concerned that our efforts for God and for good, seem to have little impact, these parables encourage us to allow our God to be God, to work in surprising and mysterious ways.  The silent action of a faithful God will, in God’s own time, bear fruit to his glory.

 

Sermon: Pentecost 3, 10 June 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

2Corinthians 4:13-5:1

-Quite often you come across a passage in the Bible that’s written for our age.

-Now by our age,

-I don’t mean the early part of the 21st century,

-Or this age of information technology,

-I mean a passage for how old we are.

-Paul here in 2Corinthians 4 is writing to you whatever age you are.

-Although I have to confess that v16 has a particular resonance for me just after my 61st birthday,

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away,” 2Corinthians 4:16

-While I was thinking that thought,

-The line from Pink Floyd’s song ‘Time’ came to mind;

“The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,

Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.”

-In an interview about that song Roger Waters said;

“The idea in ‘Time’ is a similar exhortation to ‘Breathe’. To be here now, this is it. Make the most of it.”

-Now that is ‘the spirit of the age’!

-‘This is it. Make the most of it.’

-‘Life is just an endless chasing after the sun,

-‘Which races ahead of you and sneaks up from behind.

-‘And then it’s over.’

-If the national census is correct,

-That’s what 30% of Australians would have you believe.

 

-Well you can believe that if you want,

-But I’m of the opinion if this is all the life we get,

-We’re being ripped off.

-When you’re six years old,

-The Christmas holidays seem to stretch into eternity.

-When you’re 30 you’re just thankful that they don’t!

-When you’re 60,

-You don’t ask where did the Christmas holidays go,

-You ask that about the whole preceding year!

-Pink Floyd songwriters David Gilmour and Richard Wright have a line for that too;

“Every year is getting shorter,

never seem to find the time,

Plans that either come to naught,

Or half a page of scribbled lines.”

-But there has to be more.

-So I’m more inclined to the Apostle Paul and his words of hope, not despair,

“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen;” 2Corinthians 4:16

-Paul has an eternal perspective of life in this world and where it’s leading.

-There is more for the believer.

 

-But it’s no Pollyanna, rose tinted aspiration.

-Paul knows that in a fallen and broken world,

-That’s tumbled short of God’s original good creation,

-Life will be a bruising and scarring experience.

-The passage we have this morning is the second half of what we read last week,

-And you have to understand it all together,

-You have to remember what has come before.

-Ch4 begins with a defence by Paul of his own ministry.

 

-There was a group who had come to Corinth attacking Paul,

-And claiming he wasn’t all that he was cracked up to be.

-They accused him of being deceptive and manipulative,

-Distorting the word of God for his own benefit.

-They argued that he added his own spin on true religion.

-But Paul’s defence comes out in v5-6;

“. . . we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2Corinthians 4:5-6

-Paul says to his Judaising opponents,

-The gospel is all about Jesus,

-It’s Jesus who brings us to God,

-It’s in Jesus we see the glory of God,

-Not a legalistic, ritualistic observance,

-But a real life encounter with the risen Christ.

-He’s the light that brings hope into a darkened world,

-He’s the light who shines hope into our needy hearts.

 

-That’s the treasure Paul says is hidden in jars of clay.

-And it’s that reference to our bodies being jars of clay,

-Which flags Paul’s realistic appraisal of life in this world,

-And the cost that comes with the proclamation of the gospel message;

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” 2Corinthians 4:8-10

-Notice the clay jar words Paul uses there,

-Afflicted,

-Perplexed,

-Persecuted,

-Struck down.

-That’s what happened to Paul because of the message of Jesus,

-That he brought on his missionary journeys.

-But you don’t have to be sharing the good news of Jesus,

-To be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted or struck down.

-Afflictions, confusion, persecutions or depression can come from all sources and directions in this world.

-They can be intentional or accidental,

-Surprising or foreseeable.

-They can come from enemies or from friends.

-They’re all part and parcel of our human frailty.

 

-Now it may appear meagre,

-But listen to the way Paul pairs each of those sufferings with a limiter.

-‘Afflicted, but not crushed’,

-‘Perplexed, but not driven to despair’,

-‘Persecuted, but not forsaken’,

-‘Struck down, but not destroyed’,

-What’s the reason he wasn’t crushed, driven to despair, forsaken or destroyed?

-Hope,

-Paul had a hope outside himself,

-A hope that was put inside of him,

-A treasure in a jar of clay,

-Jesus.

-Look down there on your reading sheet v13-14;

“But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.”  2Corinthians 4:13-14

 

-Roger Waters may have said;

-‘To be here now, this is it. Make the most of it.’

-But if this is it,

-If ‘this’,

-Is afflictions, confusion, persecutions and depression,

-If ‘this’,

-Is unemployment, overwork,

-Financial stress, emotional trauma,

-Injury, illness and infirmity,

-If ‘this’ is all the strains and struggles that we face on our own in our daily life,

-‘Making the most of it’,

-Is not an attractive option,

-‘Making the most of it’,

-May be an impossible option.

-But Paul knows that ‘this is not it’

-The death and resurrection of Jesus changed all of it.

-That allows him to say in v16;

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” 2Corinthians 4:16

 

-Victor Frankl was a psychologist and Auschwitz survivor,

-Who observed that those who survived the deprivations of that concentration camp,

-Had an aim, a purpose or a point to carrying on through their suffering.

-They could see that their life had meaning.

-Paul is saying something similar but on a much grander scale,

-Because those who trust in Jesus have a meaning and purpose which stretches beyond this world.

-It’s a meaning and purpose located not in what we do,

-But in who we are.

-That’s why Paul so confidently asserts,

-‘We do not lose heart.’

 

-In that statement Paul has moved away from the externally afflicted strife of life,

-To the unrelenting reality that we really do,

-As Pink Floyd sang,

-Become ‘shorter of breath and one day closer to death.’

-These mortal bodies of ours are decaying and falling apart.

-But rather than saying,

-‘Get used to it’,

-Paul reminds the Corinthians in the truth that through Christ,

-Our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

 

-Paul is picking up a thought he expounded back in ch3:17-18;

“. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2Corinthians 3:17-18

-That’s what he means by being renewed day by day.

-Each and every day the Holy Spirit is working in our lives transforming us to be like Jesus.

-While our outside physical body is crumbling with time,

-Over that same time God is changing us,

-Transforming our hearts,

-Renewing our minds,

-Reviving our souls,

-From ‘one degree of glory to another.

-God does that,

-Because now we belong to him.

 

-This transformation by God,

-Gives us a perspective on the struggles and sufferings of this world,

-That’s unavailable to those who are restricted to a view of life that ends in nothingness.

-Listen to v17 and how Paul describes those troubles;

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,” 2Corinthians 4:17

-Here’s how eternity changes our perspective.

-50, 60, 100 years of life may seem a long time when you’re 6, 16 or even 26,

-But when you reach those milestones,

-I’m sure we all resonate with Paul’s assessment of the slight, momentary nature of this life.

-I don’t think Paul is referring to the catalogue of strifes he’s told us of when he refers to

-‘This slight momentary affliction’,

-Notice it’s a singular ‘affliction’,

-It’s a reference to our entire life,

-He means our present existence.

 

-A regular description of our life in the Bible is of it being fleeting,

-Temporary,

-A mist that is here then gone,

-Like the grass of the field.

-And yet even as short as our life is in eternal terms,

-It’s a significant time for our eternal destiny,

-Because this life,

-How we live it,

-What we do,

-Who we are,

-Is preparing us for the life that follows this one.

 

-In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church he challenged their factionalism,

-Reminding them that we all have a part as God’s servants in building up the body,

-On the foundation of Jesus Christ.

-He then says this;

 “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.” 1Corinthians 3:12-15

-As a follower of Jesus,

-Everything you do in this life is building on that foundation.

-But notice that Paul highlights two types of materials,

-Gold, silver, precious stones,

-Or wood, hay or straw.

-His meaning is pretty obvious isn’t it?

-The way we act,

-The way we think,

-What it is that motivates and drives us,

-Will either be beneficial to others and character building for us,

-Or it will be destructive of relationships and corroding our character.

-It will be either honouring Christ,

-Or shaming his name.

-And one day what we have done in this life will be assessed.

-What you do in ‘this slight momentary affliction’,

-How and what you build into your life,

-To use Paul’s metaphor,

-Is a preparation for the eternal existence you’ll have in the new Creation.

-How you handle the afflictions, the struggles,

-The day to day hassles of life in this broken world as a follower of Jesus,

-Is shaping you for eternity.

 

-Whatever age you currently are makes no difference in this journey of life.

-If life truly is fleeting,

-Then we need to be making every moment count for the glory of God,

-From the youngest to the oldest.

-We do need to make the most of it as Roger Waters encouraged,

-But not because this is all there is,

-But because this is a preparation for then.

-Because life is fleeting,

-Whatever happens in this life needs to be brought in front of the eternal perspective.

 

-Last week I was driving our grandson Ari home and we were discussing heaven.

-As we disappeared into the Lane Cove Tunnel,

-His little voice came from the back,

-‘I like heaven because I’ll see my friend Zane again.’

-Zane was his friend from child care who had been hit by a car earlier this year.

-Even four year olds lives can be rocked by suffering and tragedy.

-Yet even a four year old can understand that this life goes on,

-And that the resurrection of Jesus has changed life in this world.

-The resurrection of Jesus offers us the hope of an eternal home,

-And that what we do in this life is building into it.

-Therefore we do not lose heart in the struggles of this world;

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2Corinthians 5:1

Sermon: Trinity, 27 May 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Pentecost- Acts 2:1-21

-Did you know that your life is shaped by stories?

-How you think,

-How you act,

-Even how you feel is shaped by the stories you hear,

-The stories you know,

-The stories you tell yourself.

-And it’s not only individuals that are shaped by stories.

-The United States is shaped by the ‘Manifest Destiny’ story of American exceptionalism,

-The virtue of the American people and their institutions,

-The mission to spread these institutions and redeem the world,

-And its destiny under God to do this work.

-The Australian story on the other hand is far more prosaic.

-A convict past that stoked our anti-authoritarianism and pragmatic individualism,

-Culminating in the Anzac legend of mateship, sacrifice and egalitarianism.

-These personal and corporate stories feed unconsciously into who we are,

-What we believe,

-What we value,

-What guides, directs and motivates us.

 

-The bible is one of these stories that has fundamentally shaped Western society.

-In fact many sociologists and historians would argue,

-That the Bible has been the most influential story impacting our Western culture.

-And as we continue to hear the little stories of the beginning of the church from the Book of Acts,

-We’re also reminded of the big story of redemption that overarches the whole of the scriptures.

-There in Acts 2:5 we have a subtle reminder of the big story that’s been unfolding across history;

“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” Acts 2:5

-Every nation under heaven.

-The story of Acts is about how the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit were witnesses to Jesus,

-From Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth

-That description of ‘every nation under heaven’ is a pointer to where this story is going,

-But it’s also a reminder of where the world has come from,

-A reminder that for us to know why the world is how it is,

-We need to go right back to the beginning of the story in the book of Genesis.

 

-In Genesis 1 we see a personal and powerful God creating the universe by a mere word,

-‘Let there be . . .’

-And out of nothing comes something.

-It’s the idea picked up in all of Psalm 104 and most particularly v26 on your Readings Sheet;

“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” Psalm 104:26

-Genesis 2 shows the personality of God being literally stamped on his world by the creation of human beings,

-Man and woman enlivened by the Spirit to be God’s image in the world,

-Given the task of ruling and ordering creation,

-And intimately knowing the Lord who created them.

-But Genesis 3 turns dark,

-And through the temptations of the devil those first human beings reject God’s love and grace,

-And choose to live their own life their own way.

-So from ch3 to ch11 we see the spread of sin and it’s consequences on human relationships.

-Adam blames Eve,

-Cain kills Abel,

-Lamech introduces polygamy and murders a man for an insult.

-Chs 6-9 tell of God judging a sinful world and restarting with the faithful Noah,

-But the deep roots of sin re-emerge on the plains of Shinar with the building of the tower of Babel,

-And the final curse upon humanity is God confusing the language of the builders,

-So they can’t understand each other.

-With that scattering out across the whole world nationalism was born.

-The rest of the book of Genesis is the story of God choosing a people for himself,

-Who’ll be the vehicle of salvation for the whole world.

– A salvation Peter acknowledges in that quote from the Old Testament prophet Joel;

“The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:20-21

-And then explains in vv22-41.

 

-So let’s return to that smaller part of the bigger story that Acts 2 famously tells us.

-Obedient to Jesus’ command to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit,

-The Apostles gather together a few days later on the day of Pentecost.

-Pentecost was a Jewish festival celebrating the first fruits of the wheat harvest,

-Held fifty days after Passover.

-It was a pretty big festival,

-Which explains why there were God-fearing Jews from every nation present at that time.

-Luke writes;

“. . . suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2:1-4

 

-There are a number of times throughout the Old Testament,

-Where wind and fire symbolise the Holy Spirit and the presence of God.

-When Ezekiel looked upon the valley of dry bones,

-He heard God say;

“Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” Ezekiel 37:9

-The Lord then told Ezekiel to explain to a despondent, exiled Israel;

“You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live,” Ezekiel 37:13

-God was promising new life through the Holy Spirit.

-As well as that audible manifestation of the Spirit in Acts there was also the visual,

-And fire symbolised the presence of God.

-Remember Moses at the burning bush?

-Or Moses leading the people to the Promised Land,

-A pillar of smoke led them by day and fire by night?

-Both of these were indicators of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

-At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry it was John the Baptist who said that Jesus,

-Would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.

-And now at Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes in power upon the Apostles in tongues of fire,

-And they begin to speak in other languages enabled by the Holy Spirit.

 

-Let’s return once more though to the really big story of Genesis.

-The reason we see the world as it is today with all it’s brokenness, tears and pain,

-Is because of human sinfulness.

-From family squabbles to international tensions,

-All can be traced back to that original rebellion against God’s rightful rule over this world,

-And our individual, ongoing belief that we can run our lives better than God.

-Genesis 3-11 traces that individual to international descent into sin.

-From Acts 2:22-40 we hear Peter explaining how Jesus came into our world and dealt with the problem of our sin.

-Peter gives an abridged version of what the four gospels state;

“Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” Acts 2:22-23

-The sin of Adam and Eve brought disease, death and the demonic into God’s good world.

-In Jesus’ ministry we see creation being restored.

-Disease is healed,

-The dead are raised,

-Demons are cast out as the Son of God enters into his creation.

-In the presence of Jesus even the chaos of a storm is calmed,

-Leaving his disciples to ask in fear,

-‘Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him.’

 

-But all of this occurred in the context of the Jews,

-With even Jesus himself saying he only came to the lost sheep of Israel.

-What about the rest of us?

-It’s the rest of us that the story of Acts encompasses,

-It’s the rest of us,

-Who were scattered to the ends of the earth through the sin of Babel,

-The rest of us who were labelled Gentile dogs and outsiders by God’s people the Jews.

-But here at Pentecost a remarkable thing is about to occur.

-If Jesus’ presence reverses the scourge of death, disease and demons,

-The presence of the Holy Spirit reverses the scourge of disunity amongst humanity.

-The curse of Babel is reversed as Jews from all the surrounding nations,

-From the lands of old Assyria where the ten tribes where scattered,

-To the northern lands of what is now Turkey,

-And on around the Mediterranean to Libya in Africa and Rome in Europe,

-Hear the apostles witnessing to Jesus in their own language.

-Those ethnic barriers are broken down through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

-When they asked one another what does this mean?

-The answer comes back from Peter;

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18

-Notice the extent of this gift of God,

-It is to ‘all flesh’,

-Sons and daughters,

-Young and old,

-Slaves and free.

-No-one is excluded,

-This gift is truly multi-facial.

-There will be no limit to the grace of God,

-So that;

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21

-Now it’ll be a few more chapters before Peter is confronted with the breadth of God’s grace,

-A little while longer before he realises it’s not just the Jews from the ends of the earth,

-That can receive God’s gift of salvation and the Holy Spirit,

-But even the Gentiles,

-The rest of us.

-Because we are part of this great story.

 

-That prophecy of Joel with its promise of salvation and Spirit,

-Wasn’t just for the crowd in Jerusalem.

-When Jesus said ‘Go, make disciples of all nations’ in that Great Commission,

-It wasn’t just to those eleven disciples on the top of the mountain.

-When he called the first disciples to be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth,

-He was giving that charge to all of us who have been changed by the story of Jesus,

-Who have called on the name of the Lord,

-And received the promised salvation and forgiveness of our sins.

-We don’t just hear the story,

-What the book of Acts reminds us is that we become part of the story,

-The great story of God’s creation of a good world,

-And his redemption of a broken one.

-Through the gift of the Holy Spirit and his presence in our life,

-We enter into the story of God’s grace and mercy,

-And are called to be sharers of that story.

-And like those first believers,

-We are given the same power through the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to Jesus,

-And share our story,

-Of the blessings of his story.

Sermon: Pentecost, 20 May 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Pentecost- Acts 2:1-21

-Did you know that your life is shaped by stories?

-How you think,

-How you act,

-Even how you feel is shaped by the stories you hear,

-The stories you know,

-The stories you tell yourself.

-And it’s not only individuals that are shaped by stories.

-The United States is shaped by the ‘Manifest Destiny’ story of American exceptionalism,

-The virtue of the American people and their institutions,

-The mission to spread these institutions and redeem the world,

-And its destiny under God to do this work.

-The Australian story on the other hand is far more prosaic.

-A convict past that stoked our anti-authoritarianism and pragmatic individualism,

-Culminating in the Anzac legend of mateship, sacrifice and egalitarianism.

-These personal and corporate stories feed unconsciously into who we are,

-What we believe,

-What we value,

-What guides, directs and motivates us.

 

-The bible is one of these stories that has fundamentally shaped Western society.

-In fact many sociologists and historians would argue,

-That the Bible has been the most influential story impacting our Western culture.

-And as we continue to hear the little stories of the beginning of the church from the Book of Acts,

-We’re also reminded of the big story of redemption that overarches the whole of the scriptures.

-There in Acts 2:5 we have a subtle reminder of the big story that’s been unfolding across history;

“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” Acts 2:5

-Every nation under heaven.

-The story of Acts is about how the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit were witnesses to Jesus,

-From Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth

-That description of ‘every nation under heaven’ is a pointer to where this story is going,

-But it’s also a reminder of where the world has come from,

-A reminder that for us to know why the world is how it is,

-We need to go right back to the beginning of the story in the book of Genesis.

 

-In Genesis 1 we see a personal and powerful God creating the universe by a mere word,

-‘Let there be . . .’

-And out of nothing comes something.

-It’s the idea picked up in all of Psalm 104 and most particularly v26 on your Readings Sheet;

“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” Psalm 104:26

-Genesis 2 shows the personality of God being literally stamped on his world by the creation of human beings,

-Man and woman enlivened by the Spirit to be God’s image in the world,

-Given the task of ruling and ordering creation,

-And intimately knowing the Lord who created them.

-But Genesis 3 turns dark,

-And through the temptations of the devil those first human beings reject God’s love and grace,

-And choose to live their own life their own way.

-So from ch3 to ch11 we see the spread of sin and it’s consequences on human relationships.

-Adam blames Eve,

-Cain kills Abel,

-Lamech introduces polygamy and murders a man for an insult.

-Chs 6-9 tell of God judging a sinful world and restarting with the faithful Noah,

-But the deep roots of sin re-emerge on the plains of Shinar with the building of the tower of Babel,

-And the final curse upon humanity is God confusing the language of the builders,

-So they can’t understand each other.

-With that scattering out across the whole world nationalism was born.

-The rest of the book of Genesis is the story of God choosing a people for himself,

-Who’ll be the vehicle of salvation for the whole world.

– A salvation Peter acknowledges in that quote from the Old Testament prophet Joel;

“The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:20-21

-And then explains in vv22-41.

 

-So let’s return to that smaller part of the bigger story that Acts 2 famously tells us.

-Obedient to Jesus’ command to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit,

-The Apostles gather together a few days later on the day of Pentecost.

-Pentecost was a Jewish festival celebrating the first fruits of the wheat harvest,

-Held fifty days after Passover.

-It was a pretty big festival,

-Which explains why there were God-fearing Jews from every nation present at that time.

-Luke writes;

“. . . suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2:1-4

 

-There are a number of times throughout the Old Testament,

-Where wind and fire symbolise the Holy Spirit and the presence of God.

-When Ezekiel looked upon the valley of dry bones,

-He heard God say;

“Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” Ezekiel 37:9

-The Lord then told Ezekiel to explain to a despondent, exiled Israel;

“You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live,” Ezekiel 37:13

-God was promising new life through the Holy Spirit.

-As well as that audible manifestation of the Spirit in Acts there was also the visual,

-And fire symbolised the presence of God.

-Remember Moses at the burning bush?

-Or Moses leading the people to the Promised Land,

-A pillar of smoke led them by day and fire by night?

-Both of these were indicators of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

-At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry it was John the Baptist who said that Jesus,

-Would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.

-And now at Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes in power upon the Apostles in tongues of fire,

-And they begin to speak in other languages enabled by the Holy Spirit.

 

-Let’s return once more though to the really big story of Genesis.

-The reason we see the world as it is today with all it’s brokenness, tears and pain,

-Is because of human sinfulness.

-From family squabbles to international tensions,

-All can be traced back to that original rebellion against God’s rightful rule over this world,

-And our individual, ongoing belief that we can run our lives better than God.

-Genesis 3-11 traces that individual to international descent into sin.

-From Acts 2:22-40 we hear Peter explaining how Jesus came into our world and dealt with the problem of our sin.

-Peter gives an abridged version of what the four gospels state;

“Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” Acts 2:22-23

-The sin of Adam and Eve brought disease, death and the demonic into God’s good world.

-In Jesus’ ministry we see creation being restored.

-Disease is healed,

-The dead are raised,

-Demons are cast out as the Son of God enters into his creation.

-In the presence of Jesus even the chaos of a storm is calmed,

-Leaving his disciples to ask in fear,

-‘Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him.’

 

-But all of this occurred in the context of the Jews,

-With even Jesus himself saying he only came to the lost sheep of Israel.

-What about the rest of us?

-It’s the rest of us that the story of Acts encompasses,

-It’s the rest of us,

-Who were scattered to the ends of the earth through the sin of Babel,

-The rest of us who were labelled Gentile dogs and outsiders by God’s people the Jews.

-But here at Pentecost a remarkable thing is about to occur.

-If Jesus’ presence reverses the scourge of death, disease and demons,

-The presence of the Holy Spirit reverses the scourge of disunity amongst humanity.

-The curse of Babel is reversed as Jews from all the surrounding nations,

-From the lands of old Assyria where the ten tribes where scattered,

-To the northern lands of what is now Turkey,

-And on around the Mediterranean to Libya in Africa and Rome in Europe,

-Hear the apostles witnessing to Jesus in their own language.

-Those ethnic barriers are broken down through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

-When they asked one another what does this mean?

-The answer comes back from Peter;

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18

-Notice the extent of this gift of God,

-It is to ‘all flesh’,

-Sons and daughters,

-Young and old,

-Slaves and free.

-No-one is excluded,

-This gift is truly multi-facial.

-There will be no limit to the grace of God,

-So that;

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21

-Now it’ll be a few more chapters before Peter is confronted with the breadth of God’s grace,

-A little while longer before he realises it’s not just the Jews from the ends of the earth,

-That can receive God’s gift of salvation and the Holy Spirit,

-But even the Gentiles,

-The rest of us.

-Because we are part of this great story.

 

-That prophecy of Joel with its promise of salvation and Spirit,

-Wasn’t just for the crowd in Jerusalem.

-When Jesus said ‘Go, make disciples of all nations’ in that Great Commission,

-It wasn’t just to those eleven disciples on the top of the mountain.

-When he called the first disciples to be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth,

-He was giving that charge to all of us who have been changed by the story of Jesus,

-Who have called on the name of the Lord,

-And received the promised salvation and forgiveness of our sins.

-We don’t just hear the story,

-What the book of Acts reminds us is that we become part of the story,

-The great story of God’s creation of a good world,

-And his redemption of a broken one.

-Through the gift of the Holy Spirit and his presence in our life,

-We enter into the story of God’s grace and mercy,

-And are called to be sharers of that story.

-And like those first believers,

-We are given the same power through the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to Jesus,

-And share our story,

-Of the blessings of his story.

Sermon: Easter 6, 6 May 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Acts 10:44-48

-On Thursday night Jenn and I went to see the ‘Merry Widow’ ballet at the Opera House.

-From the audience you look down to 154sq metres of stage area,

-Where all the action takes place.

-All the action that is,

-That takes place on the stage.

-I gave you that precise figure of the stage area,

-Because I googled the specifications of the Joan Sutherland Theatre,

-To discover that around what the audience sees on stage are wings and a backstage area.

-17 dressing rooms, eight soloist’s rooms and a Green Room are one level below the stage.

-Another floor down is the scenery dock and four loading bays with a truck turning area.

-Imagine what’s taking place in all of those spaces while a show is running,

-All those busily interlocking pieces.

 

-And all of that behind the scenes activity is happening during the performance,

-Think of what happens before the doors even open.

-The programme is chosen,

-The performers are hired,

-The orchestra booked,

-The advertising planned,

-Media purchased,

-Tickets sold.

-Front of house staff rostered,

-Ushers deployed.

-Hundreds and hundreds of little steps,

-And an army of people for that one 90 minute performance.

 

-Back in Acts 1:7-8 Jesus said to his disciples;

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:7-8

-And this morning we read Acts 10:44-48,

-The remarkable conclusion to a chain of events,

-That began 43 verses earlier at Caesarea with a Roman centurion named Cornelius,

-But divinely interlocked with a multitude of little steps and people in the greater plans of God.

-Scene 1 opens with an introduction to Cornelius,

-Where we learn that he and his whole family were devout and God-fearing.

-‘God-fearer’ was a technical term for a gentile who followed the Jewish faith but stopped short of one final step.

-For a gentile to become part of the Jewish faith they had to obey the Law of Moses,

-Be baptised and circumcised.

-‘God-fearers’ took the first two steps but baulked at the third.

-But this didn’t stop Cornelius’ devotion to God,

-Which was expressed by prayer and generosity to those in need.

-Prayers and generosity that generated a remarkable spiritual response.

 

-Before I press on though can I ask,

-What do you expect to happen when you pray or give?

-Let me share with you a couple of encouragers for your praying;

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Hebrews 5:7

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” 1 Peter 3:12

“The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” James 5:16

-God hears our prayers,

-Our prayers are powerful and effective.

-And to give you a bit more perspective on devotion to God and the power of giving,

-From Proverbs 22:9;

“Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” Proverbs 22:9

-And from the Apostle Paul;

“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” 2Corinthians 9:11

-Well Cornelius discovered another powerful response to his devotion, prayers and giving,

-When an angel appears in a vision and proclaims;

“Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter;” Acts 10:4-5

 

-The scene then changes about 40 kilometres south of Caesarea to Peter at Joppa.

-A hungry Peter is about to have his own vision.

-But rather than an angel,

-A large sheet comes down out of heaven with all sorts of potential foodstuffs,

-Hopping, crawling and flying about it.

-As hungry as he is,

-Peter turns up his nose as he hears the command to get up, kill and eat.

-Being a good Jew he exclaims;

“By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” Acts 10:14

 

-In any good story or production there’s a point where dramatic tension is introduced.

-It’s that point where the characters are thrown into some form of dilemma or quandary,

-And the audience waits expectantly to see the outcome.

-Here’s Peter as hungry as a caterpillar in an Eric Carle children’s book,

-But he draws the line at eating one.

-His religious scruples forbid him from eating anything unclean,

-But the voice says to him;

“What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Acts10:15

-Peter is scratching his head wondering what this means.

-But we’re not are we?

-Because we’ve seen Scene 1.

-In fact we’ve also read the prologue and the authors background notes to this part of the play.

-In ch1 we know Jesus had commanded the disciples,

-To be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.

-Luke has told us in ch2 that Jews from all around the world had gathered in Jerusalem,

-And had heard Peter and the other apostles speaking to them in their own native tongues.

-In ch8, because of the Jerusalem persecutions,

-Philip has gone witnessing to the people of Samaria.

-In ch8 there’s also a little teaser when Philip is taken by the Holy Spirit,

-To witness to another God-fearer and foreigner who believes and is baptised.

-And while Peter is puzzling over his vision,

-The men from Cornelius rap on his door,

-And the Holy Spirit says;

“Look, three men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” Acts 10:19

 

-The plot is thickening,

-Because there again is that command to ‘go’.

-And once again,

-We know the significance of that little word,

-Because we’ve not only read Luke’s story so far,

-But we’re also familiar with Matthew’s account of the Great Commission and Jesus’ command;

-‘To go and make disciple of all nations.’

-And now in Scene 3 as Peter stands before Cornelius’ household and friends in Caesarea,

-The penny drops;

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.” Acts 10:34-39

-Peter acknowledged to Cornelius that it was unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile,

-Yet the sheet vision showed that God had opened up the way for even Gentiles,

-To be fully welcomed into God’s family.

-In Christ, all those old prejudices where done away with.

-And as Peter witnesses the good news to these attentive Gentiles,

-The Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.

 

-Now here comes the surprise for us as we watch the final scene unfold.

-Having broken the dramatic tension about Gentiles being accepted as members of God’s family,

-Luke has been teasing us with another problem,

-How do we really know they’re accepted?

-Maybe Peter got his interpretation wrong,

-Maybe it was really about permission to eat whatever Cornelius offered for lunch.

-But have a look on your reading sheet to v44-45;

“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.” Acts 10:44-45

-And look at Peter’s response;

“‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Acts 10:47

 

-Every Sunday during one of our services you would have heard the word ‘sacrament’ used.

-Just before we all share communion,

-The deacon says;

“Come let us take this holy sacrament of the body and blood of Christ in remembrance that he died for us, and feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.”

-Communion and baptism are the two sacraments the bible authorises Christians to repeat.

-A sacrament is often described as;

“An outward sign of an inward grace.”

-The outward sign in communion is the bread and wine,

-Which reminds us of the grace we receive through Jesus’ death for us.

-The bread and wine are symbols of his body and blood.

-It’s not the bread and wine that saves us,

-But that free gift of Jesus’ death.

-The outward sign in baptism is the water,

-Which reminds us of the washing away of our sins through faith in Christ.

-The water doesn’t save you,

-Rather it reminds you of who does.

 

-Now let me come back to that other teaser I said Luke had slipped in,

-The story of the Ethiopian eunuch.

-When this God-fearer hears Philip witness to Jesus through those verses from Isaiah on his scroll,

-He believes and says to Philip;

“Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” Acts 8:36

-This foreigner knows that the outward sign of an inward faith in Christ is baptism.

-He knows his own heart and his new found faith in Christ,

-And he wants to make it obvious to all.

-But who other than Philip would know that indeed this gentile had been accepted by God into his family?

-That he truly was a follower of Jesus?

-That part of Luke’s story in Acts is left hanging,

-Till Peter sees a puzzling vision,

-Receives an invitation to speak with a foreign soldier,

-And he and the other Jewish believers who were with him,

-Hear Gentiles speaking in tongues and extolling God,

-Just like the disciples and those first Jewish converts did at Pentecost.

 

-Actually that wasn’t the final scene because there’s an Epilogue.

-The news of the Gentile conversions spreads faster than a Donald Trump tweet,

-And not all are happy.

-The accusation is made back in Jerusalem;

“You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Acts 10

-So Peter has to explain himself,

-And in this explanation we get an insight into how God’s big plan of salvation will come to fruition;

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’”

-Peter also had six other eyewitnesses to this extraordinary act of God,

-Remember the circumcised believers of v45 who had come with Peter?

-In the house of Cornelius they were only extras,

-But now back in Jerusalem they’re crucial eyewitnesses to the gospel going out to the ends of the earth.

 

-Just like those six unknown disciples we all have a role in being witnesses to Jesus.

-Look on your reading sheet to John 15:16 where Jesus says;

“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last,” John 15:16

-We’ve been chosen by Jesus to be his followers,

-Just as he chose Cornelius.

-And as disciples he wants us to be bearing fruit,

-To being witnesses to him.

-I want to propose that we can do exactly what the early disciples did with a slight modification.

-Just as the disciples took the good news from Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth,

-We have the same opportunity.

-But our Jerusalem is those friends and family who are closest to us.

-Judea may well be where we work,

-Our local neighbourhood,

-The school gate,

-Probus, Rotary or RSL club.

-Samaria may be those places where we feel uncomfortable,

-Where we don’t think it’s right or appropriate for us to witness to Jesus,

-Those places where we might need to see a new vision for what God is calling us to.

-And how close is the ‘ends of the earth’ here in our multi-facial community,

-Where the young and the old,

-The weak and the strong,

-Are coming to us?

-This play is not coming to an end anytime soon,

-And until that final curtain falls Jesus tells us to go,

-And gives the promise he’ll be with us to the very end of the age.

Sermon: Easter 5, 29 April 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Acts 8:26-40

-I don’t know that it was planned this way,

-But how apt is it that decorating the front of the church are the fruits of the land,

-Right there in front of us for our Harvest Festival are the symbols of fruitfulness,

-And in the gospel reading we have the words of Jesus;

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” John 15:8

-Being fruitful was a common command given to the follower of Jesus.

-In the same passage from John,

-Jesus says;

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,” John 15:5

-Paul reminded the Ephesians;

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Ephesians 5:8-9

-All these allusions to fruit are descriptors of the results of a life that is lived following Jesus,

-And being obedient to his command to be a witness to him and make disciples.

 

-As we continue our journey skipping through highlights from the Book of Acts,

-We see how the good news of Jesus was bearing fruit,

-As those early disciples witnessed to the death and resurrection of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.

-In today’s story we read of Philip

-And how the path of discipleship can take some surprising twists.

-In Acts 6 we read of a little conflict between the Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews in the church.

-At this point the church was still pretty much a Jewish sect.

-Those first Christians still seemed to do everything expected of a faithful Jew.

-But some strife arose when the Greeks complained that the Hebrews,

-Were neglecting the Greek widows in the daily distribution of food.

-The Apostles got everyone together to sort out the problem.

 

-But just listen to how they did that;

“It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” Acts 6:2-4

-Notice that they start by recognising what their role in the church is,

-They are to be teachers of the Word of God.

-You could be mistaken in thinking that the disciples are dangerously close to big noting their staus,

-And it’s not as if they didn’t have form in that particular behaviour.

-But that would be a mistake,

-Because they’re not demeaning waiting on tables,

-Otherwise, why would they give the credentials for this task,

-‘To be men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.’?

-That seems to be a very high standard for a mere waiter.

-No, they’re recognising that within the church every one of us has a unique gift,

-A unique purpose and role in the building up of the body of Christ.

-The Apostle’s role was in leading the prayers and teaching of the church.

-The administration and programmes of the church,

-Was to be left to those with the skills and gifting in management.

 

-Well everyone was pleased with that proposal,

-They chose seven men,

-Who were presented to the apostles who prayed and commissioned them for the task.

-Now the story takes an interesting twist;

“Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” Acts 6:8

-Clearly Stephen is no ordinary table waiter.

-He’s out in the community doing miracles,

-Which we again see causes great angst amongst the religious hierarchy.

-Trumping up a charge of blasphemy,

-They arrest him.

-To cut a long story short,

-Stephen makes a powerful speech explaining God’s providence of Israel throughout history,

-But his people rejecting their Lord,

-Right up to the point of murdering his Son Jesus.

-In anger the crowd grabs Stephen and stones him to death.

-Can you see now why the Apostles said the criteria for what we might consider a menial task,

-Was to be of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom?

-Because in God’s kingdom,

-There is no such thing as a menial task,

-Because everything we do is done for the glory of our Lord and Saviour.

-And what fruit did Stephen’s ministry bear? Acts 6:7;

“The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Acts 6:7

 

-Like Stephen the next ‘table waiter’ we’re introduced to is Philip.

-And just like Stephen,

-Philip moves rapidly from administration to evangelism.

-Because of Stephen’s death,

-A great persecution arose against the church,

-That scattered the believers out across Judaea and Samaria.

-Do you recognise those two places?

-At the beginning of Acts Jesus said;

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

-Jerusalem was the capital where Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

-It was the centre of Jewish religion and culture.

-It was located in Judea,

-Which was pretty much the physical boundaries of the Jewish nation.

-Out from that was Samaria.

-Samaria was once part of the twelve tribes that made up ancient Israel.

-After Solomon died they split from the two southern tribes that made up Judea.

-But because of their rebellion against God,

-Samaria was invaded by the Assyrians who had a policy of deportation and repopulation,

-That mixed up the ethnic, cultural and religious characteristics of every nation they conquered.

-If you ever wondered why the Samaritans had such a bad rap with the Jews,

-That was the reason.

-They were considered interbred pagans who had no part in the kingdom of God.

-After Samaria you went out to the ends of the earth,

-To totally pagan territory populated with idol worshippers and the profligate.

-And true to that promise of Jesus,

-Philip leaves Jerusalem and Judea and preaches the good news powerfully in Samaria.

 

-Then we come to our reading in v26 with a command from an angel of the Lord;

“Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.)” Acts 8:26

-Maybe to emphasise the divine plan that’s unfolding in the spread of the church,

-Luke adds that little note,

-‘This is a wilderness road.’

-What would you expect to find on a desert road winding through a wilderness?

-Well Philip finds a very high ranking court official of the Queen of Ethiopia riding home in a chariot.

-What are the chances of that?

-The Holy Spirit then said to Philip;

“Go over to this chariot and join it.” Acts 8:29

-As he gets closer he hears the Ethiopian reading a passage of Isaiah from a scroll,

-And strikes up a conversation with a question;

“Do you understand what you are reading?” Acts 8:30

-Well again to cut the story short,

-Philip explains that the quote refers to Jesus.

-No doubt Philip would have pointed out to the Ethiopian how that whole chapter of Isaiah 53,

-Was a prophecy about the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus.

-Although this servant of the Lord was rejected,

-It was all part of God’s plan to bring forgiveness of sins and new life to those who believed.

-Jesus was despised, rejected and crucified by his own people,

-But God raised him back to life.

-The Ethiopian is so moved by the scripture and Philip’s explanation that he says;

“Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.” Acts 8:37-38

-When they came up out of the water the Spirit snatched Philip away,

-And the courtier headed home rejoicing.

 

-We don’t have any idea how much of the book of Isaiah the Ethiopian had in his scroll.

-One bible book could actually be made up of three or four scrolls.

-But if that court official had the last scroll of Isaiah,

-Philip could well have unfolded it and pointed him to ch56,

-Where this foreigner would have seen a promise of God speaking exactly to him;

“Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’; and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’ For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 56:3-5

-For the Jews eunuchs couldn’t be part of the people of God.

-So for this Ethiopian eunuch,

-He may have been able to go up to Jerusalem to worship God,

-But as a foreigner he would have been restricted to the outer courts of the Temple,

-The court of the Gentiles.

-There would have been this physical and ethnic reminder that he was restricted in his worship of God,

-That he was an outsider.

-But as Paul reminded the Galatian Christians that in Christ;

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

-No wonder he came up out of the waters of baptism rejoicing.

 

-The church in Ethiopia traces back the origin of their church to this court official.

-Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the earth.

-For the young church in Jerusalem,

-Ethiopia would rightly be classified as the end of the earth.

-Luke obviously put in this story of the miraculous conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch,

-To show the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of believers.

-In obedience to the command of Christ,

-Philip went where he was directed.

-When the Holy Spirit said ‘Go’ Philip followed that leading,

-And witnessed to Jesus.

-It’s not hard to see then the fulfilment of the Great Commission in this story;

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:18-20

-You can see each of the elements of the disciple making process.

-Philip the table waiter ‘goes’ where he was directed by the Spirit.

-His question opens up the opportunity to ‘teach’ the Ethiopian the meaning of the scriptures.

-And responding in faith this new convert is ‘baptised’.

-The kingdom grows,

-Philip’s faithfulness bears fruit,

-As the gospel is carried to the ends of the earth through an Ethiopian eunuch.

 

-Table waiter to evangelist.

-Or maybe more accurately administrator to evangelist.

-Stephen’s story is one of miracles and power,

-But maybe Philip’s story is more like ours.

-It’s the story of simple obedience to the prompting of the Spirit.

-Being told to go to a desert road may have raised questions for Philip,

-But once he was there the prompting of the Spirit to go to the chariot,

-May not have seemed so strange.

-A simple question created an opening to share the good news of Jesus with a needy foreigner.

-We’re all called to be fruitful as disciples of Jesus,

-As this Harvest Festival display should remind us.

-But these symbols of our workplaces should also remind us that our mission field,

-Our opportunity to witness to Jesus is right in front of us,

-In our day to day interactions with our colleagues, customers or clients.

-The Great Commission ‘Go’ may well start for us as we jump on the train or drive to work.

-Philip had to go to a wilderness road to reach the ends of the earth,

-But I’m sure I don’t need to remind you,

-That in the multi-facial society that is Australia,

-The ends of the earth are coming to us.

-All we need to do to obey the Great Commission,

-Is listen to those promptings of the Holy Spirit,

-And then in his power,

-Be a witness to Jesus and the hope he brings to the world around us.

Sermon: Easter 4, 22 April 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Acts 4:5-13

-Over the next couple of weeks leading up to Pentecost we’ll be looking at the Book of Acts.

-The extended title of the book is commonly known as the Acts of the Apostles,

-Which is probably not unreasonable given the story unfolds the spread of the church across the known world,

-As those early followers of Jesus go and do what Jesus commanded,

-Being a witness to him,

-And making disciples from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

-But another suggestion has also been made,

-That the book could more accurately be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

-Luke begins his narrative with the introduction;

“In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” Acts 1:1-2

-That first book was the Gospel of Luke,

-And as you read it it’s obviously about Jesus,

-His birth, ministry, death and resurrection.

-But Jesus’ last words in Luke clearly indicate that this story is not yet finished;

“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:45-49

 

-There’s a tantalising phrase that Jesus speaks to Nathaniel after he’d declared;

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” John 1:49

-Jesus answered;

“Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” John 1:50

-‘You will see greater things!’

-Jesus was obviously referring to the miracles that he’d do,

-And ultimately to his death and resurrection.

-But as tantalising as that word was to Nathaniel,

-There was an even greater one given to the gathered disciples at the Last Supper;

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

-It’s amazing to think that the followers of Jesus are told,

-That they will do greater works than Jesus himself.

-How could the disciples possibly do greater works than Jesus?

-But if you read through the book of Acts you get a glimpse of what Jesus meant by that,

-As the apostles and other disciples start sharing the good news of Jesus,

-And the church grows and grows and grows.

-Jump forward 300 or so years and the Christian faith becomes the religion of the Roman Empire,

-Through the proclamation of the Emperor Constantine.

-And if you want a more contemporary example,

-Billy Graham was said to have led more than 3.2 million people to faith in Christ through his ministry.

-Greater works indeed.

 

-But before we get too cocky,

-Or maybe a bit intimidated by others’ ‘greater works’,

-Just take to heart these opening word from Acts1;

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

-Note carefully the order,

-You will receive power,

-And then you will be witnesses.

-Unless the disciple,

-Unless any follower has received power from the Holy Spirit,

-Then they cannot be a witness.

-The apostles do some incredible things in the book of Acts,

-But as you read each story,

-You’ll notice that they are just the human vehicle used by the Holy Spirit to transform lives.

-That should be a humbler if you’re cocky,

-And an encourager if you’re hesitant.

-Whether your crazy bold like Peter,

-Or a quiet encourager like Barnabas,

-It’s the power of the Holy Spirit through the authority of Jesus,

-That brings salvation to the lost,

-Forgiveness to the sinner,

-Healing to the sick,

-Life to the dead.

 

-And we see that in our reading for today.

-In Acts 3 we hear of Peter and John going up to the Temple to pray.

-At the Beautiful Gate they meet a crippled man begging.

-He asks them for money,

-But Peter replies;

“I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Acts 3:6

-When the man is healed and runs around leaping and praising God a big crowd assembles,

-And is obviously trying to figure out what had happened,

-Because Peter asks;

“You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” Acts 3:12

-Peter reminds them of the death and resurrection of Jesus,

-And then declares the real origin of the healing of the paraplegic;

“By faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong. . .” Acts 3:16

-Peter recognises that this healing wasn’t because of his efforts,

-But rather the authority and power of Jesus.

 

-In the ancient world a name was more than a personal identifier,

-A name expressed the character of the person.

-It also conveyed the status, authority or power of that person.

-If you recall the Christmas stories,

-The angels tell Mary to give her child the name ‘Jesus’,

-When the angel brings that message to Joseph he says;

“You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

-To Mary, the explanation of the name is that;

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Luke 1:32

-And for the apostles in Acts the name of Jesus stands for his presence.

-The greater things they do are done in the name of Jesus,

-Because they know Jesus is with them.

 

-Before he ascended to heaven Jesus said to his disciples in the Great Commission;

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

-In this very Trinitarian statement Jesus acknowledges his own authority,

-It’s total and complete,

-‘All authority in heaven and on earth.’

-It’s the basis for his command to his followers that they’re to make disciples everywhere.

-Jesus has the authority to call all people to acknowledge him as Lord and Saviour.

-And just listen again to that last sentence;

“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

-Jesus is guaranteeing his presence with his followers right up to the point of his return.

-And it’s through the Holy Spirit that all followers know and experience the presence of Jesus.

-It’s through the Holy Spirit that the authority and power of Jesus is expressed in the world.

 

-Well the implications of the healing of the cripple ripple out to the religious authorities,

-Who are disturbed by the apostles proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

-They arrest Peter and John and put them in prison overnight.

-But despite this,

-The church grows another five thousand believers.

-The next day the religious hierarchy get together and question Peter and John,

-And listen closely to the words they use;

“By what power or by what name did you do this?” Acts 4:7

-Remember those words of Jesus in the opening chapter of Acts?

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

-Well look down at v8ff on your service sheet;

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”

-Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit,

-What Jesus promised occurs,

-He receives power and he witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus,

-He points back to Jesus and the power of his name.

-Peter and John were obedient to the command of Jesus to be witnesses to him.

 

-Luke makes specific mention that it was the Sadducees who accompanied the temple police in the arrest of Peter and John.

-The Sadducees were a party within Judaism at the time who didn’t believe in the resurrection.

-They also didn’t believe in angels or spirits.

-They were the religious materialists of their day,

-Not unlike some moderns who claim to be Christian but deny any supernatural works,

-Even to the point of denying Jesus’ divinity and the resurrection.

-But as hostile and resistant to the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection as they were,

-The Sadducees were unable to explain a crippled man walking,

-Because he was standing in good health right there with them.

-The risen power of Jesus was indisputable.

-And in v16 they have to admit it;

“‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. 17 But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”

-Unable to refute the truth,

-The Sadducees scheme to stop the apostles from preaching Christ.

 

-But that’s an impossible demand to place upon a follower of Jesus.

-To obey those human rulers would have meant disobeying Jesus,

-Which Peter and John recognise immediately;

“Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20

-The apostles had spent three years with Jesus.

-They had seen his miracles,

-They had heard his teaching,

-They’d experienced his compassion.

-They were with him in that Upper Room when he promised he would send the Holy Spirit.

-They were on that mountain when he commissioned them to make disciples,

-And be a witness of all that he’d done.

-It can be no surprise then that they proclaimed unequivocally;

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

-Such was the power they knew in the name of Jesus,

-And his presence through the Holy Spirit.

 

-If that power and presence had ceased with the apostles,

-Then we would not be here today.

-It’s because of the ongoing faithfulness of disciples right down through history to obey the Great Commission,

-That we gather each week.

-And it’s the same call that the Holy Spirit makes upon us,

-To make disciples,

-To go out into our worlds and be a witness to Jesus,

-Sharing even in tiny and incremental ways the grace, mercy and love we receive each day in him.

-If you are a follower of Jesus,

-If you believe in his name,

-Then you are also the recipients of his promise,

-That you will be clothed in power to be a witness to him.

-That’s a great promise to have in a world where the Christian faith is challenged, critiqued and criticised.

-And it’s a promise we can rely on,

-In whatever circumstance we found ourselves in,

-As the situation and the Holy Spirit prompt us to speak of Jesus and his love for our world.

Sermon: Pentecost 3, 10 June 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 10th June 2018

REACTING AND RESPONDING TO JESUS

(1 Samuel 8:4-20; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35)

Prejudice can often blind us to important realities. Based on a limited understanding, many people label Moslems in general as violent people who oppress women, and mutilate people who disobey their laws. Prejudice was played on to justify brutal treatment of Negroes in America and Jews in Nazi Germany. And of course we remember those terrible stories that used to be told by Catholics about Protestants and by Protestants about Catholics.

And we make distorted assumptions about individuals in the news: not just about Donald Trump or President Kim or Vladimir Putin or Pauline Hanson or Tony Abbott or now Barnaby Joyce: people such as these seem to attract strong reactions. But I see Letters to the Editor from writers who always put the worst possible spin on any actions and motives of Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten, who have a more straightforward style. Now all of these people are worthy of criticism – no doubt some more than others – but prejudice can blind us to the positive things they do or to important things we need to understand about them.

There is nothing new about all this. Jesus was a victim not only of misunderstanding, but of prejudice. People came to their own conclusions about him, false conclusions, and then they interpreted his words and actions in the light of those false assumptions, those prejudices. We hear about some of these in today’s Gospel reading, from Mark 3.

It is still the early days of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is becoming known as a wandering teacher and healer around Galilee. People are hearing about his miracles: healing people and casting out evil spirits. However, Jesus hasn’t had any formal recognized training. He doesn’t have any official authority for all that he is doing – especially when he starts challenging accepted ideas about the Sabbath and other issues. It is not surprising that officials come from Jerusalem to look him over, and make a judgement about whether his ministry is acceptable: whether to approve of what he is teaching and doing, or to warn people against him.

What do people in general make of Jesus? Obviously he has gathered a number of folllowers together, including his apostles who believe that he is a very special teacher and leader: they see him as someone worth trusting and following, someone who has important things to say.

Others however think that he is out of his mind. After all, he probably had a decent carpentry business going in Nazareth. Now he has given that up to wander around Galilee, gathering a very motley group of people around him, teaching without proper qualifications, in a way that will make enemies as well as friends. No wonder Jesus’ family come to take him away, to look after him, and to see whether they can nurse him back to normality. Perhaps with a bit or rest and care he will be OK again. Is Jesus out of his mind?

Well, the experts who have come down from Jerusalem have another explanation. “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” No: Jesus isn’t properly qualified. His teaching is controversial. He obviously isn’t respecting their real authority. He is challenging the truth of their understanding. He is teaching falsehoods, leading people astray. In fact he must be a bad man, trying to undermine their good influence. If he is doing miracles, it must be through the power of the Evil One: it could not be through the power of God.

This seemed to them a logical conclusion, but it was based on prejudice, together with these experts unwilling to examine their own assumptions. And Jesus quickly showed how illogical their conclusion was. “So I am using the power of Satan to destroy the work of Satan? If that is so, Satan is effectively fighting against himself. He is divided, and he is headed for a downfall. Is Satan really that stupid? Or could there be another explanation?”

And so Jesus gives his explanation of what is happening. “If you want to plunder the property of a strong man, you are going to have to tie him up, to imprison that strong man. He’s not just going to allow you just to take his possessions if he can stop you doing it.” Here is Jesus’ explanation of what is going on. Satan is certainly strong, but he is under attack by someone who is stronger. Jesus’ power and authority is greater than Satan’s, and Satan is on the way to defeat. Satan’s power is threatened by the coming of Jesus and the ministry of Jesus. And in due course, he will be finally defeated.

Jesus’ miracles, particularly as he casts out evil spirits, are attacks on the power of Satan in this world. They are signs of his coming defeat by Jesus himself.

Of course, we know now that by his death and resurrection Jesus has indeed ensured that victory. However even now the victory is not yet complete: so today we live in a world where we still see Satan’s work going on. But his ultimate defeat will come with the return of Christ and the final establishment of the kingdom of God.

These scholars had allowed their presuppositions about Jesus, their prejudices, to blind them to the real significance of what he was doing. And having shown them what was really going on, Jesus gave a very solemn warning, a warning that troubles many people two thousand years later. There are many things that can be forgiven, says Jesus. But there is one thing that cannot be forgiven: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

This warning, almost a threat, has disturbed many people over the centuries. And perhaps the first thing I need to say is that anyone who is worried that they might be guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has certainly not committed this unforgiveable sin. But what is it?

We get a clue as we think about the people to whom Jesus gave this warning. These people were prepared to look clearly at the good things Jesus was doing in the power of God and then to call them the work of Satan, Beelzebul. These people were effectively calling good evil and calling evil good. They had a closed heart, a closed mind, rejecting the call of the Holy Spirit to look at Jesus, and consider whether he might in fact be God’s messenger. Jesus doesn’t say that these scholars had actually committed the sin, but he was certainly pointing to the danger of closing our minds and hearts to the word of God and grace of God.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the world, pointing people to the call of Christ and to the grace of God. Jesus is warning against closing our hearts to the call of the Holy Spirit. How can God forgive the person who knowingly and deliberately rejects his forgiveness? As I understand it, the unforgivable sin is only committed when someone makes the final decision to reject the forgiving grace of God, the Gospel of Christ.

It is not for me to say that any particular person has committed that sin. And I am sure that people can turn back and find God’s forgiveness even when they seem to have turned away from Jesus or turned against Jesus. Certainly no one who is genuine in seeking God’s forgiveness will be turned away by our gracious loving God, no what their past sins may be.

But there is another group of people in this story: Jesus’ mother and brothers and sisters, who think that he is all mixed up, and in need of their help and protection. In fact they are the mixed-up ones. Even Mary seems to be uncertain about what Jesus is doing. Jesus responds not by going with them, but by pointing in a new direction. Family ties are not merely those of blood.  There is another family: the family of those who seek to do the will of God: people like those who are eagerly listening to Jesus’ teaching, and who are ready to follow Jesus wherever he leads them.

Jesus came not only to do battle with Satan and to overcome the sin and evil of the world: he came also to establish a new family, the eternal  family of God. We know that Mary his mother, and James his brother, and perhaps other brothers and sisters did eventually prove to be members of that family, and became followers of Jesus: they may have been surprised at Jesus’ ministry, but their hearts were certainly not ultimately hardened. But right now they needed to understand that their agenda for Jesus was not God’s agenda. No doubt they went home rather mystified by what Jesus was on about. But in time they came to understand that Jesus was not just a member of their earthly family. He had come to bring them into the family of God and the kingdom of God.

Well, out of these words and actions of Jesus what can we learn? We can be reminded of the dangers of prejudice: we need to keep our minds open to what God is saying to us in unexpected ways, and sometimes by unexpected people. Remember that we are not to judge others: that is God’s business.

Let us heed Jesus’ warning not by fearing that God will reject us, but by holding fast our faith in the God of grace and forgiveness. And let us give thanks that God has called us into his eternal family: we are truly his children, and we are sisters and brothers together in Christ’s family.

Our hope is in the truly strong one who has bound Satan and will in time complete his victory over the evil one. As his Father calls us his children, so Jesus calls us his sisters and brothers, as we trust and follow him, who is indeed our Master and our Saviour. Amen.                           Paul Weaver

Sermon: Pentecost 2, 3 June 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 3rd June 2018

IT’S ABOUT JESUS, NOT US!

(1 Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6)

I wonder what you thought of Bishop Curry’s sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It’s certainly unusual for a sermon on such an occasion to get much comment at all! The Bishop’s style is very different from mine or Ross’s, or anyone I’ve heard at St.Alban’s.

The question that occurred to me as I reflected on the sermon was whether it was really all about him. Was it a performance, rather than a sermon with a real message? I had my own ideas about that, which were confirmed when I checked out Bishop Curry on YouTube. The way he preached at the wedding was quite consistent with the way he generally seems to preach. He is a naturally animated preacher, as many American preachers are. He was not putting on a performance, but preaching his usual way.

My sermons start as I interact with God’s word and the message of the Gospel, and with issues that seem important. If I tried to preach the way Bishop Curry preaches, it would be unreal, it would be a performance! And it would probably be a very bad one.

The relevant test of Bishop Curry’s sermon is whether people remember what it was all about. And the great thing is that people do remember that it was about love, and the power of love! A very appropriate message!

This morning I want to focus on another preacher who got a range of reactions from people: the apostle Paul. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians is a very personal letter. In it Paul responds to a range of challenges about his ministry and his message. He is open about his struggles, including his inner struggles, and perhaps many people could conclude from this letter that Paul was prone to bouts of real depression.

In Chapter 4, part of which was our second reading, Paul writes about his role as an evangelist, a preacher of the precious Gospel. He is very much aware of people who go round with a different message, often a message which sounds similar to Paul’s message, but which in fact undermines that message, and denies its truth and power.

Paul constantly found himself battling those who added rules and regulations to the Gospel, setting up hoops for people to go through in order to be a real Christian. On the other hand, he also had to resist those who said that because God graciously forgives us, we can do whatever we want and live as we wish.

Paul’s opponents saw their message as an improved version of Paul’s Gospel, but Paul saw very clearly that these were not only distortions of the Gospel, but that they actually denied the truth and the power and the glory of the Gospel of Christ.

Paul saw enough of these preachers to realize that they were using their message to gain influence and power over people. He also recognized that many of them were also taking advantage of those who listened to them, making money out of their listeners as they peddled their distorted Gospel.

In contrast to these people, Paul was clear about the Gospel of God’s grace, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He knew that he had no right to change it or manipulate it for those who might prefer a different version. But he also knew how wonderful a blessing it was for those who responded, a wonderful treasure offered to all people. And as Paul reflects on those who were preaching their alternative Gospel he sums up the true Gospel in an unusual way: “we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”

His message is that Jesus Christ is Lord: the Lord who conquered sin and death, the Lord who reveals in his very being the reality of God himself, the Lord who is the rightful ruler over creation – and over us!

Jesus is Lord: it might seem a heavy version of the Gospel, but everything flows out of this reality, and this expression of the Gospel makes it clear that our response to the Gospel can not be an empty faith: it must be faith that is lived out, in recognition of Christ’s Lordship.

But there is also that other side of Paul’s message: we are your slaves for Jesus’ sake. Paul’s ministry is not about manipulating people or using people or taking advantage of people: it is about humbly serving people. Paul is not the Lord and master: Jesus is Lord! It’s not all about Paul!

Paul had to maintain his consistency as he carried out his ministry of preaching and pastoring. When he challenged and corrected people, he had to use his God-given authority to serve Christ and to serve people: he was not simply to throw his weight around.

It is always a challenge for those who are called to ministry in God’s church. There are a range of responsibilities which involve the exercise of authority and influence. It is far too common for clergy and others in positions of leadership to use their position to exercise power over people, to seek popularity and prestige and privilege, to push people around or to manipulate them, to ride roughshod over them, and tragically even to abuse them – particularly those who are most vulnerable. But as Paul rightly makes clear, we ministers are here to serve you, not to use you, let alone harm you. Serving you: that is our task for Jesus’ sake.

We ministers are called to be faithful to Christ and faithful to his message. Paul reminds us that God is the God of light: the Creator of light, and through the Gospel God enlightens people who have been in spiritual darkness. Jesus himself is of course the light of the world, and he sheds his light on us all: showing us our need, and opening the way to salvation and true light. Through the Gospel God reveals his glory and he invites us to share in that glory.

In this chapter Paul describes the Gospel as like a great treasure: he is responsible to take care of it, and to use this treasure well. He realizes what a huge privilege it is to preach the Gospel. What a wonderful ministry it is! But that doesn’t make it an easy ministry.

Paul sees himself as like a clay jar: the Gospel of Christ, this wonderful treasure, has been entrusted to him. If you go to a good jeweller and get a lovely piece of jewellery for someone special, you expect the jeweller to put it in an attractive little box or bag. You would be a bit surprised to see him or her put something precious into an ordinary little paper bag and hand it to you. The paper bag will hold what is in it, but you would expect something more impressive. A little clay pot was anything but glamorous in Paul’s day, and it could be quite fragile: you might have expected that a valuable treasure would be kept in something more impressive.

But God entrusted the treasure of the Gospel to Paul, who sees himself as this rough clay jar: he didn’t see himself as a great orator, an impressive salesman. He was just a servant of Christ, nothing more. But the ordinary person who is willing to be faithful is just the person Christ seeks.

However, Paul faced many challenges as he sought faithfully to preach the Gospel and to serve God’s people. There were those who attacked his ministry: persecution was a reality for the early Christians, just as it has been so often over the centuries. There were those who preached a different Gospel: leading people up the garden path and away from the truth of the Gospel of Christ. There were those who confused people who had put their faith in Christ, and who brought Paul’s authority and his message into question.

As he says, he was “afflicted in every way… perplexed…persecuted… struck down”. It wasn’t easy being an apostle. But even in those tough times Paul found that God had not abandoned him: the Lord was still there, supporting and guiding him when things were tough, when life was difficult, when he was really struggling. And so he could say: “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed”.

Paul lived as one who so often faced hardship and death for Christ’s sake, but he knew that God was still with him, that Christ’s life was at work in him. And his aim was to share that life with others. If it cost him, that was part of what it meant to take up his cross and follow Jesus.

By comparison with the apostle Paul, I have ministered in situations when

my ministry was basically accepted, and the challenges I have faced have been nothing like those faced by the apostle. I am thankful, and I hope I have not compromised the Gospel of Christ. But like Paul, in our own circumstances we all are called to ministry and witness. Like Paul we may be unimpressive and fragile, like those clay pots or paper bags. God doesn’t shield us from all the challenges and problems of life: but when they come he will not let us down. He will still be there through the Holy Spirit to support us, to strengthen us, to guide us.

So our challenge is to always remember that it is not all about us! We are to seek to be people who serve: people whose lives and words bear witness to the love of God and the treasure of the Gospel. None of us is an apostle, but we all are called to be faithful servants of the Lord Jesus, taking up our cross and following him in loving service wherever he leads. Amen.

Sermon: Trinity, 28 May 2018, Rev. Jane Chapman, St Aidan’s

Trinity Sunday

1st Sunday after Pentecost 2018

Isaiah 6.1-8  Ps 29  Romans 8.12-17  John 3.1-17

Rev. Jane Chapman

“No-one can see the kingdom of God, without being born from above?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Many are the times over the years that I have sat in the congregation and heard the preacher say that preaching on the Trinity is one of the hardest tasks that can be encountered by us.

Yet, at the same time, I have heard many of my fellow parishioners murmuring:  “What’s the problem?  “Father, Son and Holy Spirit:  that says it all.”

And in some ways, I might find myself coming, perhaps, from a congregation’s viewpoint:  “Father, Son and Holy Spirit:   that says it all.”

But:  to be fair both to you, to me, and to all others hearing today’s sermon preached on this exceptional gift of the revelation to us of the existence – and something of the essence – of the Holy Trinity, I don’t think that I can stand up here and say simply that this “says it all.”  When we are dealing with an attempt to take on board an understanding of what “Trinity” may come to mean to us, we enter the very waters of divine love…and these waters are both limitless, and deep.  To encounter Trinity is in a sense, to encounter totality.

And so I find in myself that there is much to say and much to learn about Trinity, on a daily, on-going basis.  Wrapping our sense and experience of Trinity in a few words does neither me, nor you, nor – dare I say it? – Trinity itself, any kind of justice.  If you, if I, can find ourselves in Nicodemus’ shoes, we may come to rest in a slowly growing capacity to be willing to this birthing:  willing, as is Nicodemus, to explore what it means to be born “of the Spirit.”

For it is the Spirit of Jesus, yes, and thus of all of God, to whom we are called, not just on Sunday’s, not in bits and pieces of our days as they come to us, but in a slowly-growing, reverent joy, that draws us closer to the experience of God-head itself.

Thus, we journey together to the “today-kingdom”, where we indeed begin to find ourselves “born from above.”

But:  what do I mean by that?  For us, the extraordinary gift of the revelation of the Trinity is that – no matter how deep and vast the nature and actuality of Trinity may be, we can be assured that Trinity – the essence of the nature of all-of-God – is open to us because we are constantly invited both to explore and to enjoy…

…(don’t ever forget the “enjoy”) the loving nature of a God who yearns for us as His much-loved creatures and indeed, a God who yearns to make us laugh:  laugh in joy;  laugh in delight;  laugh quietly with another, in a moment of tenderness.  Laugh gently as we feel our own hurts grow ever less burdensome.  Laugh shared is a door to infinite closeness.  When we experience the gift of laughter, we can know that there are those who are being quietly and lovingly held, as we are so held.

In Trinity, our God comes to us in ways that are the loving essence of our smallest wish and of our vast-est possible experience.  We do not need to “un-pick” the mystery of Trinity:  what we are generously called to is to experience our God in a multiplicity of available ways.  The only “secret”, the only price of these encounters is the clarion call of love that is the essence of the God who makes us God’s own, in love, in gentleness, in companion-ship, in ever-present closeness…and not at all in solemnity or fear.  “love’ is the other word for Trinity.  “Companion” is another.  “Gentleness” is another…as is glad surrender, interpersonal exploration, laughter, joy and the willing tears of kindness.

And so today, let today be a re-opening of all those times we have wanted to be held in love, to be invited into Trinitarian closeness.  To encounter Trinity is to encounter he very existence and nature of our God…and be rest assured that Trinity yearns us much or more for us, as we yearn for Trinity.

Father, Son, Spirit, earth and sky, kindness, laughter, willingness to be held and to hold:  this is the nature of our Trinity.

DO enjoy it!

The Reverend Jane Chapman