Sermon: Advent 2, 10 December 2017, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 10th December 2017

 Rev. Paul Weaver


 (Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2,8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15; Mark 1:1-8)

How do you begin the story of Jesus if you want to tell it clearly? When Matthew and Luke wrote their Gospels, they began with the preparations for Jesus’ birth: pretty logical! John went back into eternity, bringing out the divine nature of Jesus the Son of God. But Mark ignored all this: he did not mention the birth of Jesus, but went straight to the beginning of his public ministry. In fact his account really begins with the ministry of John the Baptist.

In Mark’s Gospel, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ is the ministry of John. But we first need to notice what Mark tells us about Jesus in that opening verse. He describes the subject of his Gospel as “Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. Jesus’ name is far from exotic. His name is in fact the same as Joshua, one of the great leaders of God’s people, a name which means “The Lord is Saviour”. For most parents, the name was an expression of faith in God , but in Jesus’ case, as we know, the name speaks of the reality of who this man is: he is the Lord, saving his people.

He is also Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, the one chosen and appointed by God for his special purposes, the promised Saviour and King. And he is the Son of God: and for Jesus this is not just a title of honour, but a description of his very being. This Gospel is about someone unique and wonderful, someone who expresses in his very being the glory of God.

And when I say that the Gospel of Mark begins with the ministry of John the Baptist, I am actually leaving out something important. For Mark’s description of John’s ministry really begins with the prophets of the Old Testament. He mentions by name the prophet Isaiah, but he actually quotes also from the Book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament as we know it. Malachi warns that the Lord will one day come to put things right, to cleanse and to judge his people: and he will send a messenger to prepare the way for that visit. People must be ready. John is that messenger.

In the second half of the Book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks to the people of Judah exiled in Babylon, over 500 years before the coming of Jesus. We actually heard the introduction to his message in our first reading: “Prepare the way of the Lord”, for the Lord is coming to rescue his people out of exile, taking them across the desert back to their true home in Jerusalem.

Nothing will get in the way of the Lord’s purposes: valleys shall be raised up and mountains shall be flattened to make the path clear. It’s almost as if an expressway is being established from Babylon to Jerusalem. God’s people have received double for their sins: not that they have been punished twice as badly as they deserve, but that they have received a mirror image, the exact equivalent of what their sins deserve. But that punishment is now complete.

They can be sure of this, for the Lord has promised it, and the Lord’s word is sure and solid and eternal, quite unlike our human frailties. So this really is a message of comfort. The God of almighty power is coming like a shepherd to rescue and care for his sheep. “Be ready” is the prophet’s message, “Prepare the way for the Lord”.

John the Baptist has his unique ministry of preparation. He calls people to be baptized, seeking God’s cleansing as they are plunged into the waters of the Jordan: they are to repent – to confess their sins and to turn from their evil ways. But John not only calls them to spiritual readiness, but to be on the watch for the one sent by God. This man is clearly powerful: so great that John is not even worthy to untie his sandals – something normally only done by the lowest of servants.

This unique person will not continue John’s baptism with water, valuable and meaningful though that be. This man will baptize with the Holy Spirit: he will pour out the very Spirit of God on those who are truly ready, those who are willing to live as God’s people. This man has unique divine authority. This man is surely the long-awaited Messiah or Christ, the promised King and Saviour of God’s people.

Yes, Jesus is the one John is talking about: the Son of God, with authority to forgive sins, to lead God’s people, to pour out God’s Holy Spirit on his people. Jesus is the one to whom John the Baptist is pointing his listeners. John knows that he himself is merely the warm-up act, telling his stories, and getting people ready to greet the real star of the show. He is indeed preparing the way of the Lord!

And as we read in Mark and the other Gospels, the Lord indeed came 2000 years ago. But he also promised to return. And like those exiled people so long ago, we too long for something to happen. Jesus promised to return in glory, and he still hasn’t come. We too are waiting. How much longer, O Lord?

The issue has been a theme of a number of our readings over the past few weeks. And the problem is that, as our reading from Peter’s Second Letter puts it, with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years. And that is difficult not because God doesn’t understand us, but because we don’t understand God! We see the small picture, but not the big picture as God truly sees it. In fact, Peter explains that the delay of Jesus’ return is an expression of God’s patience. The delay gives more people the opportunity to repent and to find forgiveness and salvation.

It gives us time to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus, and to point people to God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s invitation, God’s promises. Faithful witness is not lecturing or harassing people: that is far more likely to push people away from Jesus. Faithful witness is about being real and open about our faith, and about why we are followers of Christ. It is not about having every answer to every possible question, but pointing people to the one who has the answers. It is not about criticizing or condemning or correcting people, but inviting people to visit our family here or in another church, and to see whether they might like to join the family. It is not Bible-bashing, but encouraging people to have a look at the story and the message of Jesus for themselves.

And we have the privilege of humbly and gently bearing witness in this interim period, before the time comes for Jesus to return as Judge of all, and as Saviour of his people.

When Jesus comes, the world as we know it will come to an end: there will be a transformed creation, a new creation. There will need to be: Peter points out that everything on the earth will be disclosed, and of course so much that is disclosed deserves to be destroyed! Sin and injustice and evil must be done away with.

And Peter gives a lovely picture: he says that in the new creation “righteousness will be at home”. We read the papers or watch the news, and time and time again, we are reminded that righteousness is not at home here! But just as the Book of Revelation tells us that in the new creation there will be no death or mourning or tears or pain, Peter tells us that in the new creation, righteousness will indeed be at home. Evil will be gone for eternity.

So what sort of people should we be, if this is what God has in mind? We are to live lives of holiness and godliness. We are to live at peace with the Lord, seeking to be without spot or blemish until we meet him face to face.

That’s a big ask, and we of course will continue to need to confess our sins and seek God’s ongoing forgiveness in Christ. Nevertheless this is the direction our lives need to be taking.

God is working his purposes out. He kept his promise to bring his ancient people back from exile. He kept his promise to send Jesus as Saviour and King.  And we can be sure that, at the right time, his Son will return in glory to gather all his people together for eternity, to judge all people with wisdom and righteousness, to assure his people of their forgiveness, and to bring about his wondrous, perfect and eternal new creation.

No we don’t know the time, and really it shouldn’t make a difference. We will all be part of these great events whether they come within the next few days or years, or whether we have died when the great day comes. So let us seek to bear witness to the love of God as we have opportunity. And let us seek to live as Christ’s followers, as people who reflect the love and the righteousness of God in our daily lives. Let us live as those who are always ready for that great day. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Advent 1, 3 December 2017, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 3rd December 2017

Rev. Paul Weaver


 (Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7,17-19; 1 Cor. 1:1-9; Mark 13:24-37)

Here we are on what is traditionally called the first day of the new church year: Advent Sunday. Most of our Gospel readings over the past year came from Matthew, but the coming year is the year of Mark. However in many ways, the subject of our Gospel readings is not changing yet. Our last few Gospels have presented parables of Jesus: these parables have warned us that we need to be ready for that day when Jesus shall return in glory, when we ourselves shall see him and be called to give an account of ourselves, and when all Christ’s people shall be gathered to share with him in the ultimate blessings of his kingdom.

So here we are in Mark Chapter 13, a long chapter from which we have heard the last section. But Jesus is not using parables this time. His teaching is more direct, and it brings a series of warnings. But we won’t really get the message of today’s passage unless we have a sense of what leads up to it.

At the beginning of Chapter 13, Jesus is with his disciples, looking at the magnificent temple of Jerusalem. This time their interest is not in Jesus’ condemnation of the trading and extortion that is going on inside. They are, after all, like tourists from the provinces, and this is one of the great buildings of its time.

“Lord,” they say, “what large stones and what large buildings!” They are rightly impressed. In Jerusalem all you can see nowadays is some of the foundations of Herod’s temple, and the stone blocks are indeed massive. It is hard to imagine how they were set in place, but the Romans knew how to do these things!

Jesus’ response to the admiring comments of the disciples does not suggest that he shared their enthusiasm. “You see these great buildings? They will all be thrown down: not one stone will be left upon another.” Yes, he was saying, this great temple will be destroyed. It will be left as just a heap of ruins.

For this to happen, surely Jerusalem itself must also be destroyed! What an awful thing to contemplate! The disciples are taken aback. It sounds terrible! When is this going to happen? And if it is going to happen, how will we know when we need to escape? What will be the signs to warn us?

And so Jesus takes the disciples through a series of signs. He speaks of false teachers and fake Messiahs; of wars and violence; of natural disasters: earthquakes and famines. He warns his followers that they will face persecution, and that even families will be divided for and against Jesus. He also assures them that his Gospel will, despite all this, be taken to all nations.

Most of this is pretty worrying. Yes, the message of Christ will spread, but following Jesus will not be easy or popular: indeed it could well be dangerous. But most of what he describes is very familiar to us: wars and natural disaster are the stuff of history, and religious division and persecution are as real today as they were 2000 years ago.

But then Jesus brings out another element. He talks about the temple being desecrated, and clearly warns of terrible suffering for the people of Jerusalem. The day is coming when it will be vital to escape the city as fast as you can, for the suffering will be terrible indeed. And indeed that suffering and destruction of Jerusalem happened in 70AD, within a generation of Jesus’ ministry. By then the Romans had had enough of Jewish resistance against their rule: many Jews escaped because they saw the signs, but large numbers were massacred – and the temple was indeed desecrated and destroyed.

Jesus is warning his followers ahead of time. “Be alert!” he tells the disciples. “Terrible things will happen. Be prepared.” And so we come to the section of the chapter that we read this morning. It certainly was a dramatic way to jump into the Gospel of Mark! “The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven.” Now the prophets sometimes used language like this to describe God’s judgement against evil nations, or even against Israel. God’s judgement will be so overwhelming that it will seem that the whole world has been turned upside down.

But this time there seems to be something more happening. For people will see “the Son of Man coming in the clouds” with great power and glory, and gathering his people together from wherever they may be. Once again Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament prophets, but this time it is the Book of Daniel, which tells of God’s ultimate victory over the nations who seek to stand up against him and his rule. In Chapter 7, one like a Son of Man comes to the eternal Lord and is given eternal authority over all people. The prophet is told that this authority will in fact be shared by God’s holy people.

So when Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man in the Gospels, he is saying that he is the one referred to in that prophecy, and that one day all people will see him as the true Lord of all, and his own people will share with him in his glorious kingdom.

But back to the original question. When is this all going to happen? Jesus points to the fig tree: watch its leaves developing and you will know that summer is getting close. Jesus reminds the disciples of the signs he has already mentioned, climaxing in the destruction of the temple. These events are signs that the time is near. But they don’t give the exact timing. As Jesus emphasized, neither the angels, nor Jesus himself knew the actual day. We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? Paul was saying that to the Thessalonians in last week’s reading, and we’ve heard it at other times.

Trying to predict the date of Jesus’ return is a futile exercise, and in fact it is really an act of disobedience. It is not for us to try to predict the date, or to devise detailed schemes describing what we think is going to happen. We are not told the date, because Jesus wants us to live as those who are always ready.

But we are told that it will be soon. But soon means different things in different circumstances. The timescale involved in telling you that this sermon will end soon is quite different from that involved in saying that Christmas is coming soon. That’s probably something of a relief.

It’s different again from the timescale envisaged by the climate experts who are telling us that some Pacific Islands will soon be uninhabitable because of climate change. These people are saying that it is likely to come within a generation or two, and something needs to be done now, not just in a few decades!

In God’s timetable, the return of Jesus is just around the corner: it is the next major event in his diary. But we don’t know how long the corner is, and we have to remember that God’s outlook on time is different from ours, for with him “one day is as a thousand years”. Again the point is that we need to live as people who are always ready, for it could happen at any time.

A worker who is given the job of being on watch overnight must be always awake and alert. That is his job; that is his responsibility. And our responsibility as Jesus’ followers is to live as people who are always ready for that overwhelming and terrible and wonderful day. Jesus longs not only to tell us that we are forgiven and to welcome us into his kingdom: he wants to be able to say to us on that day “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Living in readiness means that we maintain our faith in Jesus who died for us, and who brings us forgiveness and life. Living in readiness means also that we seek to live day by day as Jesus’ followers: serving him, loving one another and loving our neighbour.

As we live by faith, and as we seek to live faithful lives, we will indeed be ready for that day – whether it comes during our earthly life, or whether Jesus comes some time after we have died. We will be part of it. Let us then live each day as those who will be known as Jesus’ friends, Jesus’ people, Jesus’ servants, on that great day. Amen.

Paul Weaver


Sermon: Christ The King, 26 November 2017, Rev. Jane Chapman, St Aidan’s

Christ, the King: Last Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Jane Chapman

Ez: 34.11-16, 20-24;

Ps 100 or 45.1-7

Eph 1.15-23

Today is the last Sunday after Pentecost…and our Gospel is that for Christ the King.

And, indeed, there is so very much in today’s readings about He whom we call Jesus: Redeemer, Master of our hearts, the New Testament Shepherd, our God who leads us out of sinfulness and is willing, with exquisite and loving patience, to bring us to an understanding of his role in relationship to us, and our role in relationship to Him.

Ezekiel tells us that, as a race, we were scattered, that we had no shepherd, that we were, in essence, mindless sheep.  Our psalm also tells us that we had no shepherd and we were in dire need of being rescued…and that we can and will be rescued by the One who draws us gently into His flock.

Thus, we become the people of God’s pasture.  Let’s for a few moments think about what it is like to be the people of God’s pasture:

  • we are not alone
  • we are always and everywhere well held: think for  a moment of just how very important it is for us, as human beings, to know that we are indeed well held;
  • we are not “scattered sheep”: we have an ever-open call and invitation to be accompanied in our life journey by He who holds the universe and lights the “stars”;
  • we are bidden to “come into God’s presence with surety and gladness”: it is an ever-present invitation from a God who wants for us to be willing to  belong to him,  and to know the beauty of his ever-holding, ever-readiness to reassure us that we are loved.

Our underlying need to be truly known and truly held is not only a need, but a gift…and an exceedingly rare one at that.  This Man- God expresses for us his own transcendent willingness to hold us, each and every one, as his own separate and specific person.  Though many, we are not lost in a competitive crowd.  Only God, only Jesus, the specifically human and divine master, shares this astounding gift with us.

We are of the same nature…God and you and me, by virtue of Jesus’ willingness to don forever our shared humanity and open the possibility to us to be drawn into that loving actuality that is both his and ours.

No wonder we are bidden to call him ‘King’.  His gentle power is all pervasive.  In today’s terms this King of ours is a walking “open door”!  No hurt of ours is unable to be held in his loving hands.  No hope is disregarded.  Not even our own sinfulness, such as it is, is denied the annealing of his gentle understanding and his willingness to stay by us in the hour of our daily struggles.

Human history is full of stories about kings…good kings, good queens, good followers of humanity and its inherent laws; and of ‘bad’ kings who trample further the down-trodden and grab what little they have and who consume the lives and the actualities of their subjects…

…and, in the wings of the world, there waits One whose capacity to love outshines the more pallid possibilities of our earth-only monarchs.

Ths is the One whose crown was once fashioned by thorns…the One whose footsteps stumbled under the burden of a crudely-fashioned Cross…the One who hung pierced and still, in all aloneness and pain, still cared for others, for all of us in our fragile humanity.

Within us, there lives a need to be joined to this King.  We are fashioned in His likeness and He calls down from Heaven, from his Father, from His Spirit, the nature and task to which he bequests a measure of his Kingliness, for us to take up willingly and follow in his footsteps.

Can we learn enough to love in the way this King loves?  Can we hear Him calling us, firstly to know that we are beloved by Him, to draw us out of our own preoccupations and open for us the doors of a willingness to serve?

For here-in lies the core of Jesus kingliness: the will to love without with-holding; the knowing of love to be a knowing of his call to service; the call both for self and others that keeps our focus on our own humanity and its capabilities; the constantly sought awareness of each other’s company, as gift, not  burden.

Together we acknowledge his kingdom of loving… and by his very grace allow ourselves to be captured by that love.




Sermon: Remembrance Sunday, 12 November 2017, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 12th November 2017

 Rev. Paul Weaver


 (Joshua 24:1-25; Ps 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-18; Matthew 25:1-13)

Today is Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to Remembrance Day: a day of thanksgiving for those who served our nation in time of war, and especially for those who gave their lives; a day to pray for peace and justice in our world, and to pray for those who serve in our armed forces, particularly in places of danger; a day to reflect on the foolishness and waste and harm that war and violence involves, and the cost involved in bringing about genuine peace in our troubled world. For some people it is a day of grief and tears, as the memory of loved ones who have died in time of war still opens deep wounds.

Yet as Christians we believe that one day good will triumph, war will end, and suffering and pain and tears and death will be no more. That amazing assurance is bound up with the promised return in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the inauguration of the new heaven and the new earth. Our belief in the second coming of Jesus is bound up with our belief in the resurrection of Jesus. And arising out of Jesus’ resurrection is the assurance that we as his people shall also share in the resurrection of the dead.

The Christians of Thessalonica believed in the second coming of Jesus, as we usually call it. Paul had clearly taught them about this climactic event, and told them that they should live in readiness for that great day. Many of the Thessalonians probably assumed that this wondrous event would happen during their lifetime on earth. Perhaps even Paul held that expectation, although his basic message was that no one knew when it would happen.

But weeks had passed, perhaps even months: members of the young congregation had died, and this raised new questions and new concerns for the other members. In particular, there was a real concern that those who had died would miss out on everything that was going to happen. And this was causing a new kind of grief for the new Christians.

So in his letter, Paul seeks to clarify things and to encourage them. Yes, of course we grieve when a loved one dies: tears and sorrow are part of our human makeup, and it is never helpful to tell a grieving person that they should be strong and not weep. Stifling our feelings is not a healthy thing to do. We need time and acceptance as we go through bereavement.

What Paul wants the Thessalonians to do is not to grieve as people without hope. For there is hope, and Paul explains why.

When I worked at the Cathedral, I was present at a number of funerals conducted by Canon Mel Newth, the former Head of the Cathedral School. He had a favourite saying, which he often used at these services: “Death is not the end of the road: it’s a bend in the road.” Some people probably thought it a bit corny, but it actually said something quite significant. Death seems like the end, but the resurrection of Jesus guarantees that there is something wonderful beyond that we cannot yet see.

Archeologists have found various writings which help us to see the contrast between the pagan world of the time and the Christian church in their understanding of death. There is a letter written in time of bereavement by a lady called Irene: “I was as sorry and wept over the departed one as I wept for Didymas. And all those things which were fitting I did. But nevertheless, against such things one can do nothing. Therefore comfort one another.” Irene knew there was nothing she could do about the death of her loved one: no hope. You needed to comfort one another, but there was no hope to share, no basis for real comfort.

From about the same time comes a description of what happened when a Christian died. “If any righteous person among them passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort the body as if he were setting out from one place to another.” No doubt there was sadness for the loss, but there was a recognition that death was not the end of the road, but a bend in the road.

In our passage Paul gives a description of the Christian hope. He writes of the Lord Jesus returning in glory. There is a cry of command, the archangel’s call, and the sound of God’s trumpet. No doubt this is pictorial language, but the point is clear: no one is going to sleep through it! When Jesus returns everyone will know. There will be no missing out!

And Paul emphasizes that on that great day Jesus will bring those who sleep in him: believers who have died will be very much involved in that great day. “Sleep” is a term used a number of times in the scriptures as a description of death, especially of those who die trusting in Christ. Literally a cemetery is a “sleeping place”. And of course, sleep means rest, but it also means the expectation of waking again. Remember how Jesus told Martha and Mary that Lazarus was sleeping, but that he was going to wake him up.

So those who have died are certainly not going to miss out. But neither are those who are still alive when Jesus returns. There will be a great gathering of all Christ’s people on that day. And as Paul says, “we will be with the Lord forever.” All those uncertainties will be cleared up, all those barriers will be gone, death and tears and pain will be no more. And we shall see the Lord in all his glory, and be with him in his kingdom for eternity.

And it won’t be just part of us, labeled our “soul”, that will take part. As Ross pointed out at the All Souls’ service, resurrection is bodily: but our bodies will be transformed, spiritual bodies, fitted for eternity. We do not know all the details yet: but it will be wonderful beyond our earthly understanding.

The Thessalonians were concerned that there was a delay in Jesus’ return, and in the reading for next week, Paul answers the question of when it will all happen. His answer actually fits in with much of the point of our Gospel, with its story of the ten bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom. Five of them weren’t ready when they needed to be: they didn’t know exactly when he would come, and they didn’t make adequate preparations. And so they missed out on the blessings. Jesus’ point is that we should always be ready. We need to live in consistent readiness for his coming.

In many ways the Thessalonians were indeed prepared. Their trust was in Jesus. They were showing Christian love in their lives, as we heard. But there was a problem. Some members had got so excited by the idea of Jesus’ return that they had given up work, and were doing nothing but presumably praying and reflecting and meditating, and perhaps sometimes making nuisances of themselves with the time they now had available.

And of course, the other Christians now had to look after them: to ensure they were fed and had their daily needs. These people probably thought they were being spiritual: but as the Pharisees reminded us last week, people can think they are spiritual and be anything but really spiritual.

What does Paul think of this? Paul had learned a trade as all Jewish boys of his time did, and he used it to support himself in his ministry. He didn’t want make himself unnecessarily dependent on others. And he tells these people to live quietly and mind their own business, and not to make a nuisance of themselves. They are to get a job: to work and get themselves an income, so that they are not sponging off others, when they really don’t need to. They are to live lives that will earn the respect of outsiders, which will bear positive witness to the value of Christian faith.

How do we prepare for the day of Jesus’ return, or the day of our death? We don’t actually know which will come first, but the implications are really the same. We are to hold fast our faith in Jesus. And we are to simply get on with the job of living faithful loving Christian lives. For many people in many churches that will still include working conscientiously in their jobs, earning a living, and fulfilling the responsibilities they have to family and community and church. Most of us here this morning are past the stage of being earners in that sense, but we all still have our lives to live in our particular situations, and things that we can do.

We live in assured hope: as we trust and follow Jesus, we will not miss out on his eternal blessings. But right now we have our earthly lives to live. Perhaps our own lives are simpler and quieter than they once were. But in our own way, we still can live as Christ’s followers. We can still live in faith and hope. We can still show love to others in ways that are appropriate for us. We can still make sure that we are indeed ready for that great day. Amen.

Paul Weaver


Sermon: Pentecost 22, 5 November 2017, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 5th November 2017

 Rev. Paul Weaver


 (Joshua 3:7-17; Ps 107:1-7,33-37; 1 Thess 3:5-13; Matthew 23:1-12)

Why was Jesus so hard on the Pharisees? They had been around as a recognizable group for a couple of centuries before the time of Jesus, and were devoted to putting into practice the Law of Moses. They believed that God’s blessing had been withheld because of Israel’s failure to keep the law. If at least some faithful people truly kept the Law of Moses, surely the Lord would again pour out blessing on his people!

The scribes were the legal experts, and they had made it their task to explain the implications of the law. Many of Moses’ commands were so general that they clearly needed to be spelt out in more detail. It’s one thing to say that people are not to work on the Sabbath Day: but what does that mean in practical terms? What food can you prepare? How far can you walk? How much weight can you carry? These kinds of questions were the focus of the scribes. And exactly what did you have to tithe? These and many questions were given extraordinarily detailed answers by the scribes, and the Pharisees lived to put them all into practice. Of course ordinary people would not even know all these details, let alone find it possible to obey them.

There were around 6000 Pharisees in Jesus’ time. They generally belonged to the wealthier classes, and were in a much better position than most to learn the details of the Law, as the scribes understood it, and were better able to find ways to make obedience practical for people like them.

The Pharisees were devoted and devout, and in many ways they would have been theologically in agreement with Jesus: with Jesus they acknowledged the message of the prophets and they shared a belief in the resurrection. And yet, Jesus always seemed to speak harshly about them and their ways. Why was he so critical of them, when in so many ways they genuinely tried to be good faithful people?

Well, Jesus wasn’t the only one who was critical of the Pharisees. Jewish writings of the era described seven types of Pharisees. There were the Shoulder Pharisees, who wore their good deeds on their shoulders, so that others would see how devoted they were. There were the Wait-a-Little Pharisees, who could always find a good reason why they couldn’t do a good deed just now. There were the Bruised or Bleeding Pharisees who felt it was so wrong to look at a woman on the streets that they shut their eyes and kept bumping into things. Of course their bruises and injuries were testament to their obvious piety.

And then there were the Hump-Backed (or perhaps hunch-backed) Pharisees who bent over as they walked, to demonstrate how humble they were. There were the Ever-Reckoning Pharisees who were constantly adding up all their good deeds to try to put themselves in credit with God. There were the Fearful Pharisees who were obsessed with every little detail of behaviour and ritual in case God saw a shortcoming, and condemned them in the judgement.

And finally there were the God-Fearing Pharisees who truly sought to live in obedience to the Law of God, and wanted to please the Lord above all things! The fact that only one of the seven categories of Pharisee is really described in a positive way indicates that, however much people admired their piety, many did not have a high regard for them.

And we can see that many of them fell into the same sorts of traps as religious people fall into today: using religion as a bargaining chip with God, trying to impress others with your piety, teaching one thing and doing another, being arrogant and judgemental against those who don’t share your doctrine or piety.

In this 23rd chapter of Matthew, Jesus speaks very critically of the Scribes and Pharisees. If you think that he is severe in these opening verses of the chapter, you might be brave enough to look at the rest of the chapter later on, and see where he gets really scathing indeed.

So once again, I ask, why is Jesus so hard on these people, who are so serious about trying to obey the Law of the Lord? Jesus had said that much is expected of those who are given much. That applies in many areas of life, and it certainly applies in spiritual terms. The scribes and Pharisees had so much knowledge of the scriptures, and so much opportunity not only to learn them but to apply them. People inevitably must have looked to them as examples of godly living. And yet they got it so wrong! And the problem was not their basic doctrine: it was their outlook on life and their attitude to other people.

Jesus acknowledges that the scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: they have genuine knowledge of the Law of Moses. It is right to obey them when they teach that Law truly. But don’t follow their example, says Jesus: they do not practise what they preach! Their lives are not consistent with their words. They are guilty of hypocrisy.

The scribes had worked out an approach to the Law of Moses which worked for them, but was not possible for many other people. But they were not interested in the needs of others, even those who really did want to honour and serve the Lord. As far as they were concerned, they knew the way to please God: it was their way, or no way. Elsewhere, Jesus castigates the Pharisees for their attention to detail, generally detail worked out by their scribes, when the central call to trust and love the Lord God, and the call to love their neighbour as themselves, the real issues, got swamped and ultimately ignored in favour of those petty details.

Apart from their hypocrisy, Jesus also points to the Pharisees’ pride and arrogance. Here again, they love to make a show of their religion not to honour God, but to impress others. They pick up imagery from the books of Moses, and turn it into something else. They wear phylacteries on their foreheads and their left wrists: phylacteries are small leather cases holding small portions of the scriptures. Many people wore them, but the Pharisees made sure that theirs were bigger and more obvious.

Similarly with the tassels that people wore on the corners of their robes, in obedience to Moses’ call to wear them, to remind themselves of the commandments of God. The tassels wore by the Pharisees were specially large, once again as a show of piety rather than really helping them to remember the law of God.

Jesus observed how they used their piety as a vehicle for getting respect and honour from other people. He also pointed out how they loved being treated as important people: being called Rabbi, “great one”, or Father, or Leader. The Pharisees used these titles to feed their pride. They loved being in prominent positions at banquets and at the synagogue: it fed their egos.

Now of course someone usually needs to sit up the front at events and services, and we are used to particular titles being given to leaders within the church, and robes are worn by clergy and others, as part of our tradition. Are we any different from the Pharisees?

We may not be different enough, but we certainly need to beware of the traps. I and other clergy especially need to beware of the traps of authority and leadership. Some parishioners may feel more comfortable calling me “Father”, and that is OK, but I need always to remember that first and foremost I am your brother in Christ. And I need to remember that I am called to serve in ministry, not to focus on any importance I might think I have. We need to sit lightly on the traditions and practices that can easily make us think that we might be better or more important than others.

And when we become aware of the weaknesses or mistakes or shortcomings of others, we need to remember that we all fall short, and that none of us is entitled to be judge of others. We are all in the same boat, and we are called to love, not to judge.

What then can we learn from the Pharisees? We can learn from their devotion to the scriptures. We can learn from them that it is important to seek to live lives that genuinely please God.

But we can also learn from their shortcomings. We need to beware of hypocrisy in our lives: presenting ourselves as better than we really are, presenting others with an image of ourselves that is less than honest. We need to beware of thinking of ourselves as better than others. Yes, other people’s faults will sometimes be evident to us, but do we not have our own shortcomings and failings? We need to beware of pride and arrogance. Yes, we all need love and respect: so let’s give it to our neighbours, knowing that God loves us and counts us as precious in his sight. Let’s help each other humbly along the Christian path, reaching out to those we can help.

And let’s keep in mind that the greatest human who ever lived is the one who became our servant, sacrificially giving his life so that we might have life. Whatever we learn from the Pharisees, we have the perfect Rabbi and teacher and leader, Jesus Christ our loving Saviour. He truly shows us how to live and love and serve. Amen.

Paul Weaver


Sermon: Reformation Sunday, 29 October 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson

Reformation Sunday- Mark 4:30-34

-I’m sure we’ve all heard Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s song ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’.

-It’s a protest song based on the story of the Gurindji Strike in 1966,

-When 200 Gurindji stockmen walked off the Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory,

-In what became an eight year strike and the birth of the land rights movement.

-Public opinion began turning as the strike continued,

-And in 1967 over 90% of Australians supported the referendum to give the federal government power to make indigenous laws.

-In 1975 the Whitlam government handed back to the Gurindji a portion of their land,

-And in June 1992,

-The High Court upheld Eddie Mabo’s Murray Islander claim to native title in the Torres Strait.

-From little things big things grow.


-I doubt that Kelly and Carmody got it from Jesus,

-But his parable of the mustard seed makes the exact same point;

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” Mark 4:30-32

-It’s a parable I’m sure we’re all familiar with.

-The mustard seed was the smallest seed in Palestine,

-That could be seen with the naked eye.

-Yet when it matured it was the largest of garden plants.

-It’s this contrast that Jesus has in mind between this tiny little seed,

-Which grows and grows to the point that it can support birds perching in its branches.

-As we sit here nearly two thousand years since Jesus told that parable,

-We know the reality of those words.

-There are around 2.3 billion Christians in the world,

-31% of the world’s population.

-Not bad from a start of just twelve.


-But there’s something else in this parable that’s often overlooked.

-I’m sure we’re all familiar with Jesus’ use of horticultural illustrations to describe the kingdom of God or the Christian’s life;

 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

-Jesus is the vine in whom all his followers are grafted.

-He’s the source of life,

-And as we abide in him,

-Live our life following and obeying him,

-We’ll bear the fruit of a changed and changing life.

-Similarly, people will bear fruit that indicates what sort of relationship they have with Jesus;

“Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” Matthew 7:17-1

-If you’re a follower of Jesus,

-Your outer life will reflect your inner relationship with Jesus.


-The apostle Paul obviously picked up on the power of the metaphor,

-Because he wrote about the Gentiles’ relationship to the kingdom of God saying;

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not vaunt yourselves over the branches.”

-Paul obviously sees Jesus as the root of the tree that brings nourishment to the branches.

-And just as branches can be cut off if they’re unfruitful,

-So other branches can be grafted in to receive the same nourishment,

-And that is all by grace alone.


-Back in the Old Testament there were other stories that bear the same allusions.

-And maybe Jesus had these stories in mind when he used that parable.

-In the book of Daniel,

-You might remember Nebuchadnezzar had a dream where he saw a tree at the centre of the earth.

“The tree grew great and strong, its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.12 Its foliage was beautiful, its fruit abundant, and it provided food for all. The animals of the field found shade under it . . .” Daniel 4:11-12

-Now here’s the clincher;

“. . . the birds of the air nested in its branches, and from it all living beings were fed.” Daniel 4:12

-Daniel interprets the tree as being King Nebuchadnezzar,

-Whose empire stretched right across the known world,

-And encompassed all the various nations under his rule.

-Commentators believe Jesus has something similar in mind when he speaks of the grown mustard seed having;

“. . . such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” Mark 4:32

-The birds are the Gentiles,

-All the other nations of the world.


-Can you see now what Jesus is saying about the kingdom of God?

-The kingdom starts off as this tiny little seed that grows and grows until it covers the earth,

-And it’s not only those within the kingdom,

-The branches that are abiding in Christ,

-That benefit from the kingdom,

-It’s the whole world that will be blessed by the kingdom.

-I love this parable because it speaks not only of the blessings of salvation that the disciple of Jesus receives,

-But it alludes to the blessings that the gospel brings to the whole world,

-Even to those who don’t know of Jesus or even believe in him.

-Even these ‘birds of the air’ gain the benefit of the shade of its branches,

-And a place to nest.


-Well you might by now be thinking,

-‘That’s all well and good Ross but this is a Reformation Day commemoration,

-‘What’s this parable got to do with the Reformation,

-‘Where’s our Martin Luther story?’

-On October 31 1517 the monk and university professor Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg.

-From that little thing big things grew.

-From what was basically a theological notice stuck on a church door along with notices for the school fete and the Wittenberg Mother’s Union,

-A revolution was born that would not only change the theological and ecclesiastical landscape for the next hundred years,

-But would ripple out and impact the lives of almost every human being that has lived in the last 500 years.


-This revolution began with Luther rediscovering the Bible.

-It was the Word of God that changed Martin’s life,

-Not his monastic disciplines,

-Not the superstitious repetition of the sacraments of the church,

-Not all the efforts he put in to appeasing an angry and judging God,

-And certainly not the diabolical indulgences being sold to assuage the fears of a credulous populace.

-It was the Scriptures alone that spoke peace into the troubled heart,

-And for Luther it was those words of Paul to the Romans;

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:17

-Faith alone.

-And Luther knew that if people where to understand this truth,

-Of faith in Christ alone for salvation,

-Then they’d need to be able to read it for themselves.

-So over a period of 11 weeks he translated the Bible into vernacular German.


-If you think that was a small thing you’re right.

-But listen to this quote from the historian and economist David Landes;

“Christendom was headed for break up. In the decades that followed, Protestants in several countries . . . translated the Bible into the vernacular. People read and started thinking for themselves.” ‘The Book That Made Your World’, Vishal Mangalwadi, p,86

-Until the sixteenth century superstition was rife.

-But as people started to read the bible these superstitions started to disappear.

-People started questioning and judging every tradition and judgement of the church and their rulers,

-And testing them by the Bible.

-This biblical revival not only led to spiritual awakening but an intellectual one.

-Modern education began with Martin Luther’s call for a complete overhaul of medieval education.

-And of course it’s been through education that our Western civilisation has been built.

-Knowing there is a God of order who created an ordered universe,

-Freed science to explore this world,

-To think God’s thoughts after him.

-As faith in Christ grew,

-As people read and acted upon the Word,

-The kingdom of God expanded and the birds of the air perched in the shade of its branches.

-From little things big things grow.


-The last verse of that song says;

“That was the story of Vincent Lingiari,

But this is the story of something much more,

How power and privilege can not move a people,

Who know where they stand and stand in the law.”

-Martin Luther’s last words at his trial at the Diet of Worms were;

“I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. May God help me. Amen”

-‘Here I stand.’

-Martin Luther didn’t stand in the law,

-It was law that he knew had him bound in fear and superstition,

-No, he took his stand in the grace of a merciful God,

-A grace that was opened up to him through the Word of God.

-It was through the scriptures being opened for all to read that empowered the Reformation.

-Because of our biblical heritage our lives are very different to what they would have been,

-If the Bible had remained chained to an incomprehensible language, a priestly hierarchy and a superstitious church.

-Because of the biblical heritage of the Reformation the world is very different,

-The birds of the air can perch in the Kingdom’s branches and enjoy its blessings.


-But within Luther’s ‘Disputation Against the Power of Indulgences’ or the 95 Theses as we know it,

-Lies a warning.

-It comes in Thesis 62;

“The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.”

-The Bible is not some abstract book that makes life better,

-It’s the story of our merciful God whose glory is shown in creation and redemption.

-Luther lived and worked for the glory of God.

-If there has been great benefits that have blessed our world because of the spread of the gospel,

-If unbelievers have enjoyed the blessings of the Kingdom’s expansion,

-Then they have been because of the mercy and generosity of God,

-Not human endeavour.

-All these benefits have come about as an act of God’s grace in Christ.

-Let me remind you of those words of Paul to the Ephesians;

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10

-But as our world slips further and further from the gospel that Luther rediscovered,

-As God’s people fail to live and proclaim that good news,

-Then the shade of the Kingdom will turn to the darkness of death.

-It was not without reason that Jesus called his disciples to be light in the world.

-That light is God’s glory reflected in us.

-And like Luther we too need to take our stand on the grace of Jesus,

-And for the glory of God.

Sermon: Pentecost 21, 29 October 2017, Rev. Jane Chapman, St Aidan’s

Pentecost 21, Sunday 29 October

Rev. Jane Chapman, St Aidan’s

From the 1st letter of Paul to the Thessalonians:

“We were gentle amoung you, like a nurse

tending to her own children”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son

and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Please be seated.

Today, I would like us to hear from our reading of the 1st letter of Paul to the Thessalonians,  how being a Christian, a Christ-follower calls us into certain ways of being and doing in God’s world.

I opened with a quote from 1 Thessalonians: a gentle and beautiful quote, where Paul uses imagery of caring, of nursing, of gently holding: images crafted to be ours, which focus on how we both give and receive love.

And I would like us, too, to focus on the being and the doing, and ultimately, of the willing engagement of love in our lives, our hearts and our actions, as we move through and within the world which our God – who is all love – has given us.

“We were gentle among you” says Paul to the Thessalonians.  Here Paul is invoking one of the unsung virtues…that of gentleness.  It makes sense, should we think about it, that if we are carrying a message, a very special message, it would be unwise to try to ram that message down our hearers’ throats.

Better, indeed, to carry our message gently, with reverence and deep caring to our audience, to those of life’s fellow-travellers who may welcome the good news, brought to all, by Jesus, the Master and offerer of love.

Gentleness.  What a lovely word!  It evokes images of caring, of being gently held, of learning to lean on the hands and hearts of those who love us…as Pauls says: to you, my listeners, I bring word of love and loving, news of One who is waiting with gentle willingness to gather us both into His arms, and further, into his Kingdom.

We live in a world that has, alas, sparse evidence of gentleness.  It is a world that favours grab, competitiveness, striving for self at the expense of others. We are invited to fight for our “rights”…often when what those rights might be, and how and in what ways we might exercise them are not clear…and not of God or God’s ways.

Paul does not say to his readers: go find someone to look after you and help you fight your way through life’s vicissitudes.  Nor does he say: make sure you fight your way to the front: no way should you let others get in before you. Nor does he say: demand what you know that you deserve.

What he says is this:

Nurse and gently hold both those around you and yourself.  Be open to the Gospel, which tells us that Jesus makes possible for all of us to know ourselves to be loved, to be gently held, to learn to cherish all others and ourselves.

Tread lightly in other people’s minds and hearts.  Cherish the love that others extend to you so that you and they can know what it is like to be held in the arms of kindness.  Seek eagerly to be one who loves to comfort, and so comfort loss, or ignorance, or loneliness, or fear of failure, or any of the many ways we, as human beings, can come to seek and see our own inner beauty.

Teach your hearts to smile:  it will show on the outside.  Teach your hands to give: to help or comfort or cleanse of fear.  Follow the life’s footsteps of those who bring you the good news of God’s Kingdom.  Join them in the ultimately privileged task of touching minds and hearts that are growing to know the beauty of yearning towards a life in Christ.

Enjoy who and what you are!  For you are the blessed, the loved, the well-held.  Take who and what you are in grateful hands and share the beauty with each person you touch and genuinely meet this day.

Look for sadness in those around you.  Go close to them:  touch and smile and share the nearness of each other…and carry those gentle smiles into more barren tracts of life’s lands, so that others may begin to perceive the beauty into which we all are invited.

and bring any of your own sadness to meet that of others.  Together, know yourselves enriched by the sharing of your love…

And go on remembering from whom that love comes.


Sermon: Pentecost 21, 29 October 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

29 October 2017, Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

 Love- Matthew 22:34-46

-Arguably one of the greatest song-writers in Australia died this week.

-George Young with Harry Vanda was the writing genius behind the Easybeats in the Sixties.

-He was the producer behind the first six AC/DC albums.

-On the same day his death was announced,

-One of his songs,

-‘Love is in the Air’,

-Was inducted into the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.

-Have you ever wondered how many love songs are out there on the airwaves?

-Love would have to be the most popular theme for a song,

-Love lost,

-Love won,

-Love misplaced, unrequited, desired or denied.

-The Beatles sang ‘All You Need is Love’,

-While Foreigner opined,

-‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’.

-Which strikes a surprisingly philosophical note for a pop song from the Eighties.

-But I should add that’s as deep as the lyrics get.

“I want to know what love is, I want you to show me,
I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me”


-Well let’s leave pop culture for a moment,

-And return to a confrontation that was occurring between Jesus and the religious hierarchy of his day,

-Which was less than loving.

-It all began with Jesus teaching in the Temple courts after he’d made his triumphal entry in to Jerusalem.

-The chief priests and the elders come demanding by whose authority Jesus is doing all these things.

-Jesus responds saying he’ll answer their question if they answer his;

“Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Matthew 21:25

-The leaders see through the trap,

-Realising if they say ‘From heaven’,

-Jesus will ask ‘Why didn’t you believe him then?’

-But if they say ‘From humans’ then the crowd,

-Who loved John the Baptist,

-Would go crazy.

-So they plead ignorance,

-And Jesus refuses to answer their question,

-At least at that moment and the way the religious hierarchy demanded it.


-Over the next couple of hours Jesus tells three parables,

-That pointedly highlighted the failures of the Jewish hierarchy to direct people to God.

-The religious leadership hit back with some trick questions of their own,

-Which only showed that staying away from a confrontation with Jesus would have been a smarter move.

-But despite the defeats,

-The Pharisees get together and come back for one last go.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Matthew 22:36

-There was a tradition within Judaism of trying to come up with simple summaries of the Law,

-So this was another test of Jesus’ authority as a teacher or Rabbi.

-Jesus answers however, with a double barrel response;

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” Matthew 22:37-40

-The first part of Jesus’ answer,

-‘To love God with all your heart, soul and mind’

-Was what was known as the Shema.

-This was the summation of the Jewish faith that Moses gave to the people.

-Because Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience he doesn’t need to quote the introductory line from Deuteronomy 6;

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4

-But that simple verse stresses the monotheistic nature of Jewish belief,

-Something which will become significant when Jesus asks his final questions of the Pharisees.


-But let’s just jump back to the Foreigner song and that existential cry from the human heart,

-‘I Wanna Know What Love is’,

-Because Jesus has used the word twice,

-Love the Lord your God,

-And Love your neighbour.

-Now if you’ve listened carefully to the love songs which populate the airwaves, MTV or YouTube,

-What would your answer be to someone asking ‘I wanna know what love is’?

-What is love?

-Maybe it has to do with the emotions.

-‘I want to feel what love is’.

-Maybe it has to do with romance,

“Love is in the air, in the rising of the sun

-Whispering trees, thundering seas.

-Of course sex has to be in there,

-If any second R&B or rapper track is anything to go by.

-In fact within modern western culture love and sex are virtually interchangeable.


-Even the way we use the word in English is a complication.

-An enthusiastic golfer may say ‘I love golf.’

-Clearly nothing romantic or sexual about that,

-Unlike a husband declaring ‘I love my wife’,

-With a wink of his eye.

-But if he was to say ‘I love my neighbour’s wife’,

-With or without a wink,

-That’d be a very sinister statement.

-The English professor and author CS Lewis wrote a book titled ‘The Four Loves’.

-Unlike English where we only have one word to describe all the nuances and meanings of love,

-In ancient Greek there were four different words for ‘love’.

-There’s ‘storge’ which is the devotion or affection similar to that of a parent for a child.

-The most recognisable for us is ‘eros’ from which we get the word erotic.

-As you’d imagine it’s the passionate, physical intimacy that desires the other for itself.

-A third word is ‘philia’ which is another recognisable word,

-But with negative connotations now in English.

-That wasn’t the case in Greek where it signified care, compassion and respect.

-It also encompassed the idea of deep friendship.


-All of those meanings could sit comfortably in a pop song about love,

-But would be completely inappropriate in Jesus’ identification of the greatest commandment,

-‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

-The word that Jesus used in that command was agape.

-In ancient Greek,

-The word agape was rarely used because it was seen as colourless.

-It had the very weak sense of ‘to seek after’ or ‘prefer’.

-Even to ‘love’ ice cream has a stronger sense than the word agape held.

-But some commentators think that’s why the New Testament writers grabbed hold of it.

-Because it was so rarely used,

-They could inject a new and more powerful meaning into it.

-The depth and strength of that new meaning can be seen by that command.

-It wasn’t just ‘love the Lord your God’,

-‘To seek after the Lord’

-Or ‘prefer the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob over Zeus, Artemis or Ra’

-It was to love the God of Israel,

-The Creator Lord of the Universe with the totality of your being,

-With all your heart,

-With all your soul,

-With all your mind.

-Every aspect of your humanity was to be directed towards the love of God.


-And although it may not seem it at first reading,

-Even the second command underscores the power of this love;

“the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” Matthew 22:39

-Jesus takes it as given that we human beings don’t have much difficulty loving ourselves,

-But the love the Kingdom of God calls for is far more than affection, preference or even compassion for others,

-The love Jesus is calling for goes far beyond anything the fallen human heart could envisage,

-It’s a love for your neighbour on par with the love of God.

-And if there were any confusion as to the extent of that love,

-Jesus has already enunciated it in the Sermon on the Mount;

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;” Matthew 5:43-45

-Rather than a focus on ourselves and our own self love,

-Jesus wants us to turn our eyes to our heavenly Father.


-If, like Foreigner, you want to know what love is,

-You can’t look to earthly conceptions,

-You need to look to God,

-Which is what John does in his first letter.

-He gives us the answer;

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

-God shows us his love.

-God’s love is active,

-It’s no mere proposition or philosophical construct,

-It was a costly step towards us;

“He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” 1John 4:9

-Which benefitted us,

-We gained life through Jesus.

-And so there can be no mistake in thinking this is anything we’ve earned, deserved or warranted in the least,

-John makes it clear;

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1John 4:

-God loves his enemies,

-God loves us so much that he deals with the problem that has separated us from himself.


-Can you see how deficient any human understanding of love is compared to this love from God?

-It gives you a bit of an understanding why the Apostles took that weak and rarely used word agape,

-And let it speak for a love that was self-sacrificing, life affirming, other person centred.

-All other words fall short in describing this love from God.

-And that may be why Jesus ends this confrontation with the religious hierarchy with one final question;

“‘What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ ‘The son of David,” they replied.43 He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’ 45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” Matthew 22:42-45


-There was an understanding that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David.

-He would be the saviour of Israel who God would send to rescue his people from their foreign oppressors.

-But the quote from Psalm 110 and Jesus’ question of David calling him Lord,

-Adds a new dimension to the understanding of the Messiah.

-Why would David call the Messiah ‘Lord’ if he’s his descendant,

-When in the Psalm he’s seeing the Messiah being invited by God to sit at his right hand?

-Later in that same Psalm David says of the Messiah;

“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110:4

-The point Jesus is making through these questions,

-Is that the Messiah is a divine character,

-Not any ordinary human being.

-The Jewish leadership’s expectation of the Messiah is way too small.

-What Jesus has done in these questions is to answer that original question that brought him into this conflict,

-‘By whose authority are you doing these things?’

-Jesus’ answer is ‘by my own!’

-‘By my Father’s!’

-This is a veiled claim of divinity.


-Do you wanna know what love is?

-Do you want to experience true love?

-It’s not in the feeble imitations promulgated by pop culture and a self worshipping consumer culture,

-It’s by opening yourself up to the love of God,

-A love that sent his Son from the throne of heaven into our world,

-To deal with our sin and selfishness and bring us life,

-A life of loving God and loving our neighbour.

-What is love?

-It’s what Jesus showed us on the cross,

-A self-sacrificing, life affirming, other person centred act which brought life to us,

-But which cost him his.

-What we’ve received from God is the same love we’re to give to our neighbour.

-As John said;

“We love because he first loved us.” 1John 4

Sermon: Pentecost 20, 22 October 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Sunday, 22 October 2017, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Matthew 22:15-33

-Do you ever get suspicious when all politicians agree on something?

-Usually it’s to do with a pay rise.

-On Thursday there was a headline in the Sydney Morning Herald that said,

-‘Labor could back Malcolm Turnbull’s Energy Plan.’

-What would,

-‘Liberal Party endorses Greens policy’,

-Get you thinking?

-Or ‘Tanya Plibersek loves Tony Abbott’s Medicare ideas’.

-You wouldn’t believe it,

-Or you’d be wondering what they’re up to.


-Well that’s exactly the situation Matthew describes in today’s readings.

-Remember the story so far,

-Jesus has told three parables that basically skewer the religious hierarchy for their failure to lead the people to God.

-They’re described as a sycophantic son who says ‘Yes, yes’ to his old dad,

-But goes off and does his own thing.

-They were like tenants in a vineyard who refuse to give the rightful rent to the owner,

-Even killing his son when he comes to claim what is his Father’s.

-The final put down is Jesus’ description of them as invitees to a wedding banquet,

-Whose rejection of the generosity of the King,

-Demonstrates a dishonouring indifference that gets them a violent retribution.

-Each of these parables is an unambiguous attack upon the failures of a leadership,

-Who are more interested in their own position and power,

-Than the welfare of God’s people.

-And as each of these parables is told,

-The hierarchy is more and more incensed at being the targets of Jesus’ judgements.

-So they go away and plan their counter attack,

-Conspiring to trap Jesus in his own words.


-Two traps and three groups are involved in their nefarious plans,

-Three groups who on any other occasion you’d describe as odd bedfellows.

-But they come together with a common cause and a political expediency,

-That would best be described by the aphorism;

-‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend!’

-It would appear that the Pharisees were the brains behind the first attack.

-The Pharisees were an ultra religious party within Judaism.

-They were the sticklers for the Law.

-Their rigour was based on the belief,

-That if everyone in Israel was obedient to the Law for just one day,

-Just one day,

-Then the Messiah would come and rescue his people from their godless foreign oppressors.

-You can see why tax collectors and sinners were not their favourite people,

-They believed it was their immoral behaviour stopping the Messiah from coming.

-They took the Law and traditions of Judaism very, very seriously.


-Unlike the Herodians.

-They were another sect or party within Judaism at the time,

-Who got their name from their friendliness towards Herod’s family dynasty.

-Herod the Great was an Edomite whose family converted to Judaism,

-And who’d been installed by Rome as a puppet king over Judea around 40BC.

-It was this pro-Roman bent that infuriated the Pharisees.

-So in what may have been recognition of their antipathy to the Herodians,

-The Pharisee leadership doesn’t go along themselves,

-But send their disciples to execute their dirty deed;

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” Matthew 22:16

-Talk about sycophantic sons.

-They begin by ascribing Jesus the title ‘teacher’ or ‘rabbi’,

-But rather than being polite,

-They’re setting Jesus up to force him into answering the question.

-If he really is a teacher or rabbi then he’ll have to show it by answering.

-If he spots the trap and walks away ignoring them,

-Then clearly he’s not willing to answer and so fails as a teacher.

-But the Pharisees then lay it on with a trowel,

-Praising Jesus for intellectual honesty and rigour,

-Not being afraid to challenge strongly held views,

-Nor bowing to position and power.

-Again all fine sounding words but designed to bind Jesus firmly to whatever answer he gives.

-And the question is designed to hang Jesus whichever way he jumps;

“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Matthew 22:17

-Heresy or treason,

-Two unacceptable answers.

-A devilishly clever trap.


-The communications guru Marshall McLuhan coined the now familiar phrase,

-‘The medium is the message’.

-He argued that whatever medium carries a message has an influence over how that message is perceived.

-So often we miss this subtlety of communication.

-But Jesus doesn’t and he’s instantly aware of the medium,

-Who it is that’s delivering the message.

-It’s two groups of people who hold an antipathy to each other,

-Two groups of people who have opposing views about their Roman overlords,

-Two antagonistic understandings of church and state.

-So he’s immediately aware of their malice,

-Which he brutally confronts;

“Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” Matthew 22:17

-He got that in one, hypocrites

-But now he’s about to turn the table with his call for a coin;

“Whose head is this, and whose title?” Matthew 22:20

-The Romans liked to get their tax paid with Roman coins,

-Which Jesus draws their attention to.

-The Roman denarius had the image of the emperor Tiberius on one side,

-With the inscription,

-‘Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus’.

-In essence ‘son of God’.

-On the flip side was the inscription,

-‘Pontifex maximus’ or high priest.

-Can you see how offensive that would be to a strict Jew?

-This would have been seen as idolatry and blasphemy of the worst kind,


-But that’s not the point of Jesus’ question or impending two point answer;

-Rather it’s a pragmatic and theological response;

“Give (therefore) to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21

-Jesus neatly slips through the reductionist trap of the Pharisees and Herodians.

-Neither one can pin heresy or treason on Jesus.

-In amazement they leave Jesus and slink away.


-Whether they were disappointed by the failure of the Pharisees and Herodians,

-Or smugly thought they could do better,

-The Sadducees don’t let the sun set before they trot out another snare,

-Embroiling Jesus in a theological debate in which he must choose sides.

-If the Pharisees’ partnership was hypocritical,

-The Sadducees conundrum is breathe takingly duplicitous.

-Although they were a religious party,

-The Sadducees held two distinctives from the Pharisees,

-That they didn’t believe in the resurrection,

-Nor in angels or other spiritual beings.

-They were the ancient equivalent of those modern day liberals who claim to be Christian,

-But deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus,

-Decry miracles as scientifically impossible,

-And distort the word of God for their own ends.

-Now with all that in mind listen to the scenario they pose and ask yourself,

-‘What is wrong with this picture?’

“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. 26 The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman herself died. 28 In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.”


-Did you see it?

-They don’t believe in the resurrection,

-But they’re positing a scenario they don’t even believe in?

-They don’t believe in angels or a spiritual existence,

-Why are they even asking about life after death?

-Again the medium is the message,

-And Jesus sees straight through their words to the people carrying them.

“‘You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.” Matthew 22:29

-Notice where Jesus appeals to challenge their false understanding of God and his purposes for creation,

-The scriptures,

-God’s revelation to human beings.


-Immediately after Jesus was baptised,

-He was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where he was tempted by the devil.

-Each time Satan posed a temptation to prove himself as the Son of God,

-Jesus counted it with an appeal to the scriptures;

“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Luke 4:4

“It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Luke 4:8

“It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Luke 4:12

-And he alludes to the exact same practise here.

-‘You don’t know the scriptures.’


-But of course they did know where to find the biblical evidence of the resurrection.

-How much clearer evidence would you need for the resurrection than this from Isaiah 26:19;

“Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” Isaiah 26:19

-Or Daniel 12:2;

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Daniel 12:2

-Or Job 19:27;

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God,” Job 19:27

-Clear references to a bodily resurrection.

-But for their own reasons,

-They chose to ignore the scriptures.

-Nothing has changed in two thousand years.


-But it’s not just a refusal to take God’s word seriously that’s their problem,

-It’s that they don’t take seriously God’s power.

-They underestimate him.

-Just think through what lies behind their denial of the resurrection and angels.

-It’s a materialistic rationalism that says if I can’t see it and scientifically verify it,

-It can’t be true.

-Well for a start that proposition can’t be scientifically verified.

-But that aside,

-The Sadducees presupposition must be that if God does exist,

-He either chooses not to intervene in his creation or he’s unable to,

-He’s powerless,

-Because how hard would it be for the creator of the Universe to give a new body to the dead,

-Just like Isaiah, Daniel and Job stated?


-But the most damning of Jesus’ arguments is not the physical attributes of a resurrected body,

-But the relational;

“As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” Matthew 22:31

-Jesus is describing a present reality,

-‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’

-Not ‘I was the God’,

-Implied in that is the ongoing relationship between God and those men who have died to this life,

-But if God is still their God,

-Then Jesus is describing a living relationship that is continuing even to this day.

-‘He’s not God of the dead, but the living.’


“And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.” Matthew 22:33

-I want to ask,

-Are you astounded by the words of Jesus?

-Are you astounded by the authority of Jesus?

-Are you amazed by Jesus like those crowds as they saw him confound the Pharisees?

-Or do other things grab your attention and avert your eyes from our Lord and Saviour?

-You see that command of Jesus to the Pharisees and Herodians,

-Those religious zealots and spiritual compromisers,

-Was not just a clever repose to slip a devious trap,

-It’s a command that asks where does your loyalty and affection lie,

-To whom does your heart belong?

-You see it’s easy to give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar,

-When your heart is firmly committed to God.

-But if your heart belongs to the world,

-You will never be able to give to God what belongs to him,

-Your whole self.

-The Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees all had an affection to something other than God.

-For the Pharisees it was their religious practises,

-For the Herodians their political allegiances,

-For the Sadducees their intellectual pride,

-When what it should have been was the God who chose them to be his people.

-A similar choice faces us.


Sermon: Pentecost 19, 15 October 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Sunday 15 October 2017, 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Matthew 22:1-14

-There was a man who had two sons.

-In a scenario that I’m sure every parent has faced at some time or another,

-The man asks the first child to go off and do some work in the garden.

-With that surly attitude beloved of parents with teenagers,

-He says ‘I won’t!’,

-But then he has a change of heart and gets stuck into the work.

-Being a fair parent,

-The man also went to his second son with the same request.

-Son number two gives an entirely different response,

-He does what every parent dreams might one day happen,

-Without attitude, argument or angst he says, ‘I go, sir!’

-An hour or two passes and the old Dad hobbles out the back to a surprising scene.

-Surly son number one is hard at work sweating away at the requested task.

-However his sycophantic sibling is nowhere to be seen.


-That was the parable Jesus told in the temple court,

-When the chief priests and elders began questioning his authority.

-And he followed it up with a question;

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” Matthew 21:31

-It poses an interesting dilemma doesn’t it?

-Does obedience depend upon attitude or action?

-Promise or performance?

-Jesus asks a simple question with only one correct answer,

-Which the Jewish leaders give,

-‘The first.’

-And now comes the sting;

“Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.” Matthew 21:31-32

-Surly son number one represents everyone who the chief priests and elders would consider the dregs of religious society,

-Tax-collectors and prostitutes.

-They’re the ones thumbing their noses at the religious mores of their society.

-They’re the ones saying ‘no, no, no’.

-But when confronted by John the Baptist’s call to repent because the kingdom of God is coming,

-They’re the ones who reached and grasped hold of it,

-Unlike the religious hierarchy who have the show of righteousness,

-But are actually rejecting the Father’s call.


-Jesus followed that parable with two further parables that escalated the tensions between himself and the Jewish leaders.

-Last week we heard the parable of the vineyard,

-And the condemnation of the Jewish hierarchy as unworthy tenants.

-Rather than being fruitful in the vineyard God had given them to steward,

-They failed to lead the people into a deeper relationship with God.

-And worst still they rejected the Son who’d been sent by God.


-In ch22 a second confronting parable is told,

-This time it’s about another common situation that the people would know,

-A wedding banquet;

“‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Matthew 22:1

-That phrase kingdom of heaven,

-Or kingdom of God,

-Was used by Jesus to describe the goal of his mission,

-He’s come to inaugurate God’s kingdom on earth.

-One definition of kingdom is a place where a king rules and the people obey.

-The first part of the definition is obvious.

-A kingdom has to have a ruler,

-Someone who’s in authority.

-But the second part is a not so obvious but essential element.

-Down through history there’s been no shortage of examples of kings who were rulers in name only,

-Their kingdoms were in revolt,

-The citizens didn’t recognise their authority.

-God is the king, the ruler of this world,

-Yet human beings are and have been in revolt against his divine authority.


-At the beginning of Mark’s gospel Jesus says,

-‘The kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news.’

-With Jesus’ arrival in our world,

-The kingdom has come near,

-Jesus began the process of restoring his rule in this world that he created,

-And drawing people to faithful obedience.

-I mentioned last week that Israel was created to be God’s people,

-In God’s place,

-Under God’s rule.

-Israel was meant to be the kingdom of God on earth.

-But they continually failed.

-That should give you a bit of an idea why Jesus speaks in these parables the way he does,

-Because he’s speaking into a situation of what should be but isn’t,

-Which becomes clear as the story develops;

“(The King) sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” Matthew 22:3-4


-The process for a banquet in those days was that you sent out an initial invitation that was a bit like a Facebook date saver,

-Or one of those emails that says ‘keep this date free.’

-You don’t want people getting double booked.

-Following that first notification there came the second invitation which said,

-‘Everything’s been prepared, come join the party.’

-But the response to this is somewhat unexpected,

-They don’t come.

-So a third invitation is sent that explains that the food’s now on the table,

-And what a feast it is,

-Oxen, fatted calf, chocolate self-saucing pudding!!!

-The message behind that third invitation is,

-‘Hey this is going to be a great party, you’d be mad to miss it.

-‘This is an honour you don’t want to pass up.’

-Who in their right mind would pass up an invitation to be a guest of the king at the wedding feast of a prince?

-This lot;

“But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them.” Matthew 22:5-6


-Two different responses but equally foolish.

-The first is of indifference,

-Other things take a higher priority,

-Their house, career, business.

-All good things in their own right,

-But fall short of sharing and celebrating in the joy and happiness of your king.

The second response however is more sinister and dangerous,

-It’s open revolt against the king,

-They assault his servants,

-Abusing and even killing those who represent the ruler of the land.


-In the previous parable of the vineyard,

-The tenants did the exact same thing to the messengers of the owner,

-Even to the point of killing his son.

-After hearing that,

-Jesus asked his listeners another revealing question;

-‘When the owner comes, what will he do to those tenants?’

-They rightly answered,

-‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end!’

-They acknowledge the requirement of justice.

-The landowner had the right to punish that wicked behaviour.

-Jesus doesn’t bother asking the chief priests this time,

-He goes straight to the king’s response;

“The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” Matthew 22:7-9

-A wretched end to wretched behaviour.


-Some commentators have argued that that wouldn’t happen in real life,

-Who would invade a city,

-Kill it’s leaders,

-And burn it to the ground over a personal slight and the death of a few servants?

-But that misses the point of a parable.

-A parable is a story that makes a specific point.

-And the particular point here is that the seriousness of the punishment,

-Indicates the seriousness of the offence.

-Remember why Jesus is telling this story,

-It’s to confront a leadership that has failed to honour God’s purposes for them as a nation,

-Even to the point of plotting the death of his Son.

-Think back to the parable of the vineyard,

-The landowner sends his servants and they’re ignored, abused and even murdered.

-This king sends servants with an invitation not once but three times.

-The patience and forbearance of the landowner/king is extraordinary.


-Did that first line of the psalm grab you as we heard it read out?

“Praise the Lord, O give thanks to the Lord for he is good: and his mercy endures forever.” Psalm106:1

-Sadly we often read a passage of scripture that speaks of the holy, righteous judgement of God,

-Through the lens of our own fallen sense of justice,

-We get indignant at the thought that God would punish anyone.

-Isn’t God loving?

-Isn’t God merciful?

-And the answer is yes,

-That’s why his invitations to the wedding banquet could almost be read as desperation.

-One invitation to save the date,

-Another to say everything’s ready to go.

-A third invitation to say the food’s on the table,

-How much more does God have to do?


-Well the parable shows us.

-After bringing judgement upon those who rejected three invitations,

-The king commands his servants;

“The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Matthew 22:8-9

-Another invitation is sent out,

-And this time the banqueting hall is filled;

“Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matthew 22:10

-Notice now how Jesus has looped round back to that first parable of the two sons,

-And that question,

-‘Who did the will of his father?’

-It was the surly son,

-The outcast and outsiders,

-The tax collectors and prostitutes,

-The good and the bad.

-These were the people who responded to the King’s invitation.

-These were the ones who responded to God’s mercy.

-And so we see that God is indeed good and his mercy endures forever.

-Even when it appears his mercy has been exhausted,

-The king sends out for unlikely guests to come to the party.


-And if God is indeed good,

-And his mercy does endure forever,

-How serious is the offence,

-To hear his invitation to life and treated it lightly,

-To treat it with contempt?

-Jesus adds another warning in this parable,

-And that it is to not treat the grace of God you’ve been given lightly.

-The king comes into the banqueting hall;

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:11-14

-There actually was a dress code for a banquet.

-There were expectations placed upon a guest,

-And as he gazes around the room the king spots one guest who has made no effort at all.

-When he’s confronted he’s speechless,

-His silence announces his guilt.

-And in another harsh judgement the king has him cast out of the celebrations.

-Rather than enjoying blessing and joy,

-Those who fail to respond appropriately to the honour that has been extended to them,

-Will experience grief and remorse.


-Notice how Jesus has confronted two responses to the coming of his kingdom,

-The first is that some will refuse to come in,

-They reject Jesus’ right as king and Lord of this world.

-They’re easy to spot,

-They’re the mockers, the haters, the violent rejecters who stand outside,

-And abuse God and his people.

-The second is those who refuse to submit to the norms of the kingdom,

-Who take what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace’.

-Like the guest without a wedding robe.

-They have the appearance of piety,

-They say the right words,

-They do the right things,

-But their hearts are far from obeying Jesus and his words.

-They say ‘yes, yes, yes’ but they have no intention of serving the king.

-They’re happy to be saved,

-But not to serve.

-To be justified not sanctified.


-But as followers of Jesus we’re to acknowledge him as Lord as well as Saviour.

-With the call to come into the kingdom,

-Is the demand to be changed by that kingdom.

-Someone once said;

“God loves us so much he accepts us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way.”

-Because we’ve been saved we are to be fruitful for Christ.

-We’re to bear the fruit of good works,

-To grow in the fruits of the Spirit,

-To grow in the good soil and bear fruit thirty, sixty, a hundredfold,

-To take off the old and put on the new

-As we grow into the people of God.