Sermon: Pentecost 8, 15 July 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 15th July 2018

GOD’S AMAZING PLAN

(2 Samuel 6:1-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:1-14; Mark 6:14-29)

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know him, so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know what is the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe. Amen.

That is not the usual type of prayer that I use at the beginning of a sermon. It actually comes from the apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians, just a few verses beyond the end of the passage we read a few minutes ago. And it gives a bit of a sense of what this letter is all about, and indeed what this morning’s reading is all about; and it expresses a desire to understand God’s blessings and his purposes better.

There is a good deal of prayer in this chapter. We heard after the opening introductory two verses of the letter, how Paul launched into a prayer, which is really an outpouring of praise. I mean an outpouring, for in the original Greek, it is actually one long sentence. I imagine Paul dictating as he paces around as far as his chains will let him, for he is a prisoner: probably in a house, perhaps chained to a Roman soldier. I say dictating because he usually had a scribe or secretary, and just wrote the last verse or two of his letters himself.

This letter is not one of Paul’s letters that responds to a crisis in a church, or seeks to correct a particular error he has heard about. He possibly intended it to be read in a number of churches, to give the Christians around Asia Minor a bigger sense of the amazing plan of God. For that is really what this letter is about.

Do you remember the first TV set you had? For most of you it was probably black and white, with a small screen which couldn’t hold a full rectangular picture; and it was probably prone to snow across the screen, and lines going up and down from time to time. Not the greatest or clearest picture! Compare that to what we have today: vivid colour, large screens and a full rectangle, and we expect a really clear picture – as long as our eyesight is good enough to appreciate it! Well, it is easy in our day-to-day life as Christians to think about our faith in a mundane way: to think of it as if it were a small black-and-white mediocre quality picture.

But in this letter, Paul wants us to take on board the reality that we are part of something that is absolutely amazing. Something extraordinary!

And as Paul begins the letter he thinks of what God has done and is doing: he starts with one blessing, and that reminds him of another, and then another and another. He waxes lyrical for 12 verses: well over 200 words in English. Quite a sentence! Paul was really excited about all that God has done for us!

God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing, says Paul. And he spells out some of those blessings: past, present and future.

What has God done for us that gets Paul so excited?

He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ. He brought us into his family, with all the privileges that belong to God’s children. Through Christ, he redeemed us or set us free from the power of sin and evil, and brought us forgiveness.

What Paul wants us to see is that we are not followers of Christ by some lucky stroke of good fortune. God has incorporated us in his love into his extraordinary and wonderful plan. God knew us before we knew him. God loved us before we loved him.

What is God’s great plan that gets Paul so excited? What is this mystery of his will, this plan which will certainly come to pass in the fullness of time?

God is going to gather up all things in Christ: things in heaven and things on earth. He is going to bring everything together in the way they are meant to be. Evil will be put down for ever. Hatred and violence and confusion and misunderstanding will be gone. Righteousness and love will abound. Heaven and a renewed earth will be one great kingdom.

Paul wants us to take on board that this is the beautiful reality that God will accomplish. And Christ is at the centre of this wonderful plan: time and time again he speaks of God’s blessings as being “in Christ”.

But right now we are living between the first coming of Christ and the culmination of God’s purposes. What is God doing for us here and now?

Right now, we are his beloved and forgiven children: we are in a loving committed relationship with the Creator here and now.

We do not have to wonder whether God will accept us, or whether there is something we have done or even something we might do that will get us tossed out of the family of God. We are his children. We have already been assured of the inheritance God promises to all his children. And we have received God’s gift of God himself: the Holy Spirit, God’s very presence within us.

Just as a seal would be put on a letter or document to make clear whose letter it was, so we have the Holy Spirit to make clear that we belong to God. The Spirit is God’s pledge to us that we shall indeed share in his promised glorious inheritance.

God has done so much for us. God will do so much for us. And God right now is doing so much for us. But we need to remember that even now, he has a purpose for us. He seeks a response from us, a response which reflects how we are to play our part in this wonderful plan of God.

Near the beginning of his prayer, Paul points out that God chose us to be holy and blameless before him in love. To be holy is first of all to belong to God in a special way: but the outcome of this is that we are to be holy in our character, we are to live a holy life, reflecting the righteousness and goodness and love of God in the way we act, and in the way we treat people. To be blameless is to be free from blame: our sins are not held against us. But that freedom from blame should lead us to live lives that do not open us up to blame, but rather bring glory to God, the perfect one.

We are chosen for wonderful privileges and blessings. But we do not take those blessings for granted. We seek to live as God’s beloved children. We allow God’s blessings to make their impact on our lives. And the Holy Spirit within us is there to help us to live that sort of life.

No wonder Paul is so excited about God’s wonderful plan! However, this idea of being chosen can raise a few problems.

People can think: “If God has chosen me, it doesn’t matter what I do or how I live. He has promised that I will always be his.” But of course, it does matter. Our lives express who we really are. If our life denies our relationship with God, what grounds have we to think that we really do belong to him? We need to seek to live as God’s children.

People can also think: “If God has chosen me, I must be pretty special, pretty wonderful.” But of course God’s relationship with us humans is always based on grace, his kindness to those who do not deserve it. Jesus came to bring forgiveness to us who need it. There are no grounds for pride or arrogance in the Christian faith. Nor are there grounds for us to judge others who may not be believers.

And people can also pick up Paul’s message, and get worried about words like predestination. They might be reminded about the old song about why we were born so beautiful: “because we had no say in it, no say in it at all.” But that is not the reality of how we came to faith, and it is not how God works. He does not deal with us as his playthings, as Lego bricks to be put together in any way he feels like. He made us as responsible people, able to make decisions, and our faith in Jesus is our decision and our responsibility. But Paul wants us to see that God has been at work all along, and his love for us and his purpose for us is gracious and eternal.

And as we look further into this beautiful letter, we will see that so often this idea is not simply about each individual, but about the church, the community of God’s people here and everywhere. And this letter to the Ephesians will indeed have much to say about the church, and its very special place in God’s plans.

This letter is packed with wonderful things to tell us. At first reading we might feel it is almost packed too tightly with so much information. But it repays closer reading, as Paul shows us how God has drawn us into his wonderful plan for us, for the church, and for all creation.

I hope you will find the journey through Ephesians over these coming weeks a real encouragement to your faith, and well as a challenge at times. You might like to read the letter more closely for yourself, or perhaps look at a chapter each week over the next six weeks. You might like to join one of our Parish groups looking more closely at the letter.

But whether or not you do that, may we all remember that God has a wonderful eternal plan, and we have the privilege of being part of it through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our King. May we in praise and thankfulness live the life of God’s children, as we look forward to the fulfilment of God’s wonderful eternal promises. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Pentecost 8, 15 July 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Identity- Ephesians 1

-I was watching the State of Origin on Wednesday night,

-And the camera cut to the crowd gathered for the spectacle behind the try line.

-Right in the centre of the shot was a swathe of blue.

-A little later another pan across the arena showed a dense patch of maroon.

-Those two colours identified where allegiances lay.

 

-On two occasions this week,

-In close succession,

-I heard the term ‘cultural appropriation’ used.

-If you’ve never heard the phrase,

-It describes negatively the action of one culture adopting something from another culture for its own use.

-So American pop star Katie Perry copped flack for performing in a Japanese kimono.

-And during this NAIDOC week,

-A film producer was nervous about using an indigenous language for lyrics to music in a play.

 

-Cultural appropriation is closely linked to another phrase that achieved prominence after the US Presidential elections,

-Identity politics.

-The claim was made that Hilary Clinton lost the election,

-Because her campaign too tightly focussed,

-On the interests and perspectives of small but vocal social groups,

-With which a minority of people identified.

-Somewhat ironic given the claim Trump’s successful populism was aimed at displaced blue-collar, white males.

 

-Identity is very powerful.

-In an article earlier this year,

-Stan Grant appraised the dangers of identity politics amongst indigenous activists.

-As a general observation of contemporary Western culture he wrote;

“Who we are increasingly defines what we believe, whom we call enemy or friend.” Stan Grant The Australian 28/4/18

-Identity,

-Or more accurately,

-One small aspect of that identity,

-Is blown up to be the dominant expression of the totality of our being,

-A totality which judges everything by that one small sliver of self perception.

 

-But identity politics is nothing new.

-It was even around in Jesus’ day.

-The story of the Good Samaritan was Jesus’ swipe at the identity politics of the Pharisees.

-The story of the woman at the well shows Jesus challenging a faulty Samaritan religious identity.

-Even the sign above the cross was a pointed jab at the superiority of Roman identity,

-Over a conquered Jewish state.

-But as with so many aspects of human culture and behaviour,

-There’s nothing wrong with identity per se,

-The problem arises when we make our identity an idol that displaces who we are in the eyes of God.

 

-Over the next 7 weeks we’re going to follow the lectionary in highlighting Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

-The Catholic theologian Raymond Brown claimed that only the book of Romans could match Ephesians;

“As a candidate for exercising the most influence on Christian thought and spirituality.” PT O’Brien p1

-Another patristic scholar,

-Noting the number of quotations in early Christian literature,

-Considers only the Psalms, John’s gospel and Romans,

-Have been as significant as Ephesians in shaping the life and thought of Christians, (PT O’Brien p1, n4)

-And they were all much longer documents.

-The reason for the influence of this short letter,

-Could well be because of its mix of sublime theological reflection,

-With a down to earth practicality about living the Christian life,

-A mix you can see expressed in the very first chapter.

 

-Paul begins his letter and right up front is the issue of identity.

-He starts with his own identity;

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” Ephesians 1:1

-Although this might sound a fairly innocuous greeting to us,

-If you read through Acts 19 and the story of Paul’s ministry in the city of Ephesus,

-You could imagine the significance of those words,

-And the powerful memories that would have been stirred up in the minds of his readers.

 

-When Paul arrived in Ephesus,

-An ancient city on the coast of what we know as modern day Turkey,

-He found a small group of disciples who’d been witnessed to by a Jewish Christian named Apollos.

-I’ll just read you what took place next;

“He (Paul) said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.” Acts 19:2-7

-After this,

-He went and preached in the local synagogue for three months,

-Until the Jews rejected the gospel and began maligning it.

-For two years Paul argued daily in the Hall of Tyrannus so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

-Luke writes that God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,

-The sick were healed and demons were exorcised.

-This confrontation between Paul and the evil supernatural realm,

-Had an incredible impact upon the believers in Ephesus,

-To the point where those who’d practised sorcery,

-Brought out all their occult scrolls and burned them publicly.

-Luke says the value of those scrolls was the equivalent of 50,000 days wages.

-That is a serious and costly change of lifestyle!

 

-So when Paul identifies himself as;

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” Ephesians 1:1

-That was a powerful statement of Paul’s role in the spreading of the gospel throughout Asia,

-And his relationship with Jesus,

-A relationship he would have explained as he recounted his own dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus,

-When he came face to face with the risen Lord.

-That story is also recounted in the Book of Acts,

-And once again the issue of identity is front and centre.

-Paul was known in those days by his Jewish name Saul,

-A man who by his own admission was a persecutor of the young Church.

-On the road to Damascus to arrest the Christians there,

-A blinding light halted his journey,

-And a voice called out,

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Acts 9:4

-Saul asks;

-‘Who are you Lord?’

-An identity question.

-In Acts 9 the answer was a very simple,

-‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’

-But in Ephesians the identity of Jesus is somewhat expanded,

-And is described within an incredibly profound Trinitarian description.

 

-Look on your reading sheet to Ephesians 1:2;

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 1:2

-Four times in ch1 Jesus is referred to as the ‘Lord Jesus Christ’.

-Eight times Paul refers to him just as Christ.

-We’re so used to hearing Jesus referred to as Christ,

-That we can easily forget the significance of that title.

-Christ is the Greek version of the Hebrew word messiah or anointed one.

-The kings of Israel were anointed for their role.

-The prophets looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah who would sit on the throne of David forever.

-Throughout Jesus’ ministry he speaks of the kingdom of God,

-And it’s clear that he sees himself as the king of that Kingdom.

-When Paul adds ‘Lord’ to Jesus Christ,

-He’s proclaiming the divine nature of King Jesus,

-And intimately identifying Jesus with God the Father,

-An identification which becomes explicitly Trinitarian in ch1:17;

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,” Ephesians 1:17

 

-But Paul is not only concerned to identify himself,

-And gives us a deeper insight into the identity of Jesus and the Trinity,

-He wants us to know who we are.

-One of the greatest expressions of our Christian identity comes in Galatians 3,

-Where Paul says;

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28

-Whereas identity politics strokes that individualistic sliver of self perception,

-Paul raises our identity above and beyond all the tiny categories our worldly selves consider important.

-We are not our ethnic identity,

-Our economic or gender identity,

-Our identity lies in the fact that we’ve been adopted as children of God.

-Listen to the rapturous language Paul uses to describe that in Ephesians 1;

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,” Ephesians 1:3-5

-And it just keeps on getting better;

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,” Ephesians 1:7-9

 

-Whatever we may think of ourselves,

-Whoever we may think we are,

-Whoever others tell us we are,

-Whatever failings, struggles, flaws or shortcomings,

-Clamber within our souls to define our identity,

-They will fail miserably in the light of this marvellous truth,

-In Christ Jesus you are a child of God!

-That’s what it means to be redeemed,

-That’s what Paul means when he says in v7;

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” Ephesians 1:7

-All the failings of our past have been forgiven.

-But better even than that is that we are redeemed,

-We’re made new,

-Restored,

-Prepared for something better.

 

-And it’s for that ‘something better’ that Paul concludes this first chapter.

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Ephesians 1:17-19

-Stan Grants observation that;

“Who we are increasingly defines what we believe, whom we call enemy or friend.”

-Is very insightful.

-You don’t need to scratch to deeply to see how the insecurities and self-doubts that so many carry in our world,

-Arise because of a false or diminished understanding of who they are.

-The child who’s told they’re hopeless,

-The teenager who’s told she’s useless,

-The adult who’s told they’re worthless.

-Paul’s prayer here is that knowing who we are in Christ,

-Will change what we believe about ourselves and about others.

-And Paul prays this won’t be a one off event,

-But that we’ll continue to know and grow in wisdom and understanding,

-As our hearts are enlightened to the hope that is held out to us in Jesus.

 

-This will be the message of Ephesians,

-Where the profound theological truths of the eternal purposes of our Creator God,

-Take root in the day to day lives of a people who come to know the wonderful grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

-And be the people God created us to be.

Sermon: Pentecost 7, 8 July 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 8th July 2018

CLOSED MINDS OR OPEN HEARTS

(2 Samuel 5:1-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13)

I was listening to one of those radio shock-jocks the other day – only for a few minutes: my mental health is too important! He was talking about our electric power supply, and he maintained that the only things that mattered were keeping supply reliable and keeping prices down. Issues like the environment, or the effects of mining on agriculture or water supply, were irrelevant, and of course to him climate change was a fiction anyway!

Now I have to admit that I have a negative attitude to these radio personalities with their aggressively expressed opinions, which I so often disagree with. It is probably good for me to listen from time to time to see whether my assumptions about them are fair! But it was also clear to me that this one had certainly closed his mind to some very important issues, which suited his apparent agenda of getting people stirred up.

Closed minds seem to be very much part of public discourse nowadays. Abuse and name-calling and extreme accusations are pretty normal on all sides of political debate. The idea of politicians working in co-operation to come up with the best outcomes for all people is a wonderful idea, but seems to be wishful dreaming.

A closed mind is a simple alternative to thinking through complex or difficult issues. Nothing new about that, of course! And today’s Gospel from Mark 6 shows us the closed minds of people as they come into contact with Jesus and his mission.

Jesus has returned to Nazareth where he grew up, and indeed worked as a carpenter for quite a few years. People have been hearing that he is now a preacher, with an amazing ministry of healing people of a range of diseases and handicaps, and even casting evil spirits out of troubled people.

Now he is here, back at Nazareth, and he is preaching in the synagogue. And what is the reaction? Closed minds! “We know this man. We know his mother. We know his sisters and brothers. He just a handyman who’s gone off somewhere and gathered a motley group of followers. And now he’s pretending to be a Rabbi, a preacher. OK, there are those stories of wonderful miracles: but they’re probably just tricks anyway. We’re not going to listen to him.”

Closed minds. Jesus’ ministry was rejected by those who thought they knew him best. But of course, they had missed the most important part of the story. That’s what happens when our minds are closed.

Jesus was amazed at their unbelief, and yet I don’t think he was totally taken by surprise. He commented that prophets are so often rejected in their home town, by their own people. It is not surprising that he had a very limited ministry there: Mark says that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. Jesus’ pattern was that he used his divine power in response to faith: where faith was lacking, very little would happen. That, of course, is a pattern throughout the Bible. So Nazareth missed out.

We also need to beware of the danger of closed minds. It is easy to come to our decisions, to make our judgements, based on limited real knowledge. And then we stick with them rather than accept that there may be questions. We judge people. We assume we have the answers. We hold on to our prejudices. And we can so easily close our minds to important truths, and even to what God is saying to us.

Hence we can so easily close our minds to the unexpected messenger through whom God is speaking to us. Of course, we must not go along with anything and everything people tell us. We need to assess what people say to us. But just because someone belongs to the wrong church, or takes a different approach to theology, or went to the wrong college, doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to teach us. We must be ready to test, but also be ready to learn, sometimes from unexpected sources. And of course, we will still consider how any challenging idea stands in the light of God’s word and of the Gospel.

Yes,

we do need to consider and think, and even to pray about those things that don’t quite fit in with our assumptions. Let’s beware of that famous statement from a closed mind: “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.” Let’s keep our minds open.

Mark goes on to tell us about how Jesus continued his own ministry around Galilee, and also sent his apostles out two by two to share in that mission of preaching and healing. He gave them authority to preach and heal, and even gave them authority over unclean spirits.

It looks as if the mission was for a limited time: perhaps it was their first time working by themselves. He gave them some definite instructions. They weren’t to take extra supplies: no extra food, no bag of the sort that travelling preachers took with them in order to beg for money, in fact no money. And they weren’t to take an extra tunic, one that would be useful if they had to camp out overnight. It was expected that hospitality would be provided to people visiting villages and towns, including visiting preachers. And Jesus makes clear that once they had been offered hospitality, they were to accept it: they were not to look for another place because the accommodation somewhere else might be more comfortable. So the apostles were to go out in faith: trusting that God would supply their needs as they did his work.

The apostles preached Jesus’ message: that call to repent, to turn back to God in faith and obedience. And they healed many sick people, and indeed cast out evil spirits as they had been empowered to do. God’s kingdom was coming in a new and wonderful way through Jesus: the call was to become part of it, trusting in Jesus. But Jesus’ words to the apostles indicated that not all would be smooth sailing.

There would be places where they would not be welcomed: villages and towns whose people had closed minds and would refuse to listen to their message. This would happen to them, as it had happened to Jesus. When it happened to them, they were to shake the dust off their feet as they left.

Why this strange act? Strict Jews who were visiting pagan lands used to shake the dust off their feet this way as they left a foreign country: it was a way of signalling their separation from all that the country represented, a way of dissociating themselves from the false teaching and false living which that land represented. Hence Jesus was saying to the apostles that people who rejected their message, Jesus’ message, God’s message, were effectively separating themselves from God’s people, and acting as if they were foreigners and pagans. The act was a warning to anyone who saw it.

However, not all people and not all towns did act like this: there were places where their message was heard, and where they were able to bring Christ’s healing to people who needed it, and who sought it in faith.

As we reflect on these stories from Mark’s Gospel, let us ask God to help us to always be open to what he wants to say to us. It may come as we reflect on his word, in a sermon or Bible study; in our own reading and reflection. It may come from people we know, with their insights, and even from people whose backgrounds are different from ours, but who may have important things to teach us.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul tells his readers: “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise the words of prophets.” He is telling his readers to keep their minds open for new things that God may want to show them or teach them. But he goes on to say: “Test everything: hold fast to what is good and abstain from every from of evil.” An open mind must still be a mind which evaluates the messages it receives. It is not ready to accept anything and everything. So let us think through the messages we receive: let us take on board all that is good, and reject all that is false or evil.

May we maintain open minds to receive God’s messages to us. And may we maintain hearts of faith: to hear Christ’s message, and keep trusting and following Jesus. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Pentecost 6, 1 July 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 1st July 2018

 Rev. Paul Weaver

A GENTLE MESSAGE ABOUT GIVING

(2 Samuel 1:1,17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43)

Today is the first day of the new financial year. You’ll have to hurry if you’ve going to get those end-of-financial year bargains. It’s probably too late to sort out those issues you needed to deal with before the end of the financial year. And it will soon be time to start dealing with details for income tax returns. Well, those things are for some of us anyhow!

It’s not a bad time to review our financial situation, and it’s not a bad time to think about our giving. As it happens, this date has been chosen for Noel as our Treasurer to speak about our parish’s financial situation and our giving. And as it happens, today’s Lectionary readings include a section from one of the New Testament’s most significant passages about giving, from 2 Corinthians 8 and 9: it’s worth making the time to read right through these two chapters to help us think about this issue.

The apostle Paul had long been aware that the Christians in Jerusalem were doing it tough. Bishop Barnett last week referred to financial persecution of the early Christians, as well as physical persecution. No doubt in Jerusalem, those in power regarded Christians as heretics and indeed blasphemers. They weren’t going to make it easy for them.

Christians in Jerusalem no doubt suffered exclusion in different ways. Often Christians seeking work or trying to sell their goods would be passed by. So many of them struggled to get by financially. Paul had long planned to arrange for a generous gift to be given to them from the Gentile churches he had founded and built up in Asia and Greece. Of course he couldn’t simply get someone to write a large cheque and post it, let alone arrange a bank transfer. People wanting to be involved would need time to save up so that they could make a contribution. Then these contributions would need to be collected, and taken on the long journey to Jerusalem. No wonder it took time.

The Christians of Macedonia, in Northern Greece, had been very keen to contribute, despite the fact that they also were doing it tough. The Corinthians, further south, were better off than they were: they even had time and energy to argue about whose spiritual gifts were the best, and to take each other to court when they had arguments. Receiving admiration and recognition seemed more important to the Corinthians than serving others in Christian love. When Paul had been with them before, he had told them about the difficulties faced by the Jerusalem church, and at that time they had been keen to help. But Paul was now hearing that the Corinthians had given up on the project, and didn’t seem at all ready to make their contribution.

As you might have gathered from our readings from this letter in recent weeks, Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians was rather fraught. There were ups and downs. And Paul now wants to encourage them to get back to the challenge of preparing their contribution: but he doesn’t want to get their backs up again. So he is very careful in the way he approaches this issue. He is not going to read them the riot act, but he does want them to see the importance of a making a generous response.

So what does he say, particularly in today’s extract from the chapters?

He reminds the Corinthians of all that God has given them, and the spiritual gifts they have been given. They excel in so many ways. Generosity too is something that is really important for Christians to excel in!

He reminds them of Jesus, who let go of his heavenly glory to share our human life. And then he gave up his life in terrible circumstances to bring us forgiveness and life. Though he was rich beyond our imagination, he became poor for our sakes. This is generosity beyond measure. If we are followers of Jesus, here is Christ’s pattern for us to follow.

Paul also reminds the Corinthians how important it is to keep going with what we have started. It is so easy to start something important and then run out of puff. If something really matters, we need not only to start but to keep going, and follow it through.

Then Paul reminds them of the idea of stewardship. He wants the Corinthians to give according to their resources. He is asking them to consider the good things they have, and to give in the light of that. He doesn’t ask them to impoverish themselves, but simply to be generous with what they have.

And he points out the value of fellowship. Fellowship is sharing. At the moment the Corinthians are in a position to be generous: they can share generously with those who do not have enough. Perhaps down the track the Corinthians will be struggling and the Christians in Jerusalem will be doing better: at that stage, those Jewish Christians will have the opportunity to share generously with their Gentile Christian brothers and sisters. Fellowship at its most practical! When we have more than we really need, Christ calls us to be generous in sharing where the needs are.

Paul avoids giving commands and setting rules. That’s not how generosity works. The New Testament writers are of course aware of the tithe which was commanded in the Old Testament: the one-tenth which in a special way belonged to God, recognizing that all that we have comes from God. But the writers don’t make a big thing of it. Generosity is the principle. Of course however, the tithe can be helpful as we think about what generosity might look like in our circumstances.

So let me encourage you to listen to Noel, and to review your giving in the light of what he shares with us. We are not struggling to survive as a Parish, but there are stresses. Of course, Christian giving is not only about what we put in the plate at church, or perhaps nowadays in a regular bank transfer. Many, perhaps most of us, will consider work out our church giving in relation to other ministries and causes which we also want to support.

And remember that generosity takes many forms. I am well aware of so many parishioners who are wonderfully generous in giving of their time and abilities and efforts in many forms of loving service, within the parish and beyond it. We really do appreciate your generosity.

So let me encourage you this morning to think about your financial giving; to remember God’s generosity and Christ’s sacrificial service; to find those ways you can generously serve others; and to pray that God will continue to provide for this parish, its ministry and its witness. And of course, let us remember that while is a God of miracles, much of his work is done through people like us who hear his call and who respond with loving and generous service. Amen.

Paul Weaver

 

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.