Sermon: Lent 4, 11 March 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St. Aidan’s West Epping, 11th March 2018


(Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 103; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:16-21)

“The church is full of hypocrites!” It’s a criticism that has been around for a long time, and not without reason. Sadly the widely reported child abuse and apparent toleration of sexual abuse within the church has reinforced this impression. How do we respond to a criticism like that, especially when we have heard so much about the church to justify the accusation?

I suppose that a clever response is to say: “No, the church is not full of hypocrites. There’s always room for one more. You’re welcome to join us.” I doubt however that that would work brilliantly!

Why do people make these criticisms of the church? Why do they seem to have higher expectations of the church than other organizations and groups? One reason perhaps is that they think that Christianity and the church’s message is all about “being good”. Perhaps they get the impression that Christians see themselves as better than other people – and as we are regularly being reminded, we far too often don’t seem to measure up.

Of course, Christians ought to live good honest decent lives. Our character ought to be godly. We ought to be known as people who love their neighbour. But we Christians certainly have our faults, sometimes glaring ones. It would be nice to think that the faults of Christians are less than they might be if they were not Christians: but you can’t prove that one way or another! And you certainly can’t say that Christians are free from hypocrisy.

Most of us have sides that we try not to display too obviously, things about ourselves that we’re not too proud of. If we were totally open before people, we would sometimes show a different face. I guess you could describe that as a form of hypocrisy: play-acting, which is the literal meaning of the word. I’m certainly guilty of that. I know of nothing I’ve done that would cause a front-page scandal, but there is a certain image that I prefer people to have of me, and it feels good if people think of me as better than I really am. And my guess is that many of us would have to admit something similar.

I am well and truly imperfect, and so are the rest of us. And that is part of the essence of being a Christian. Every Christian acknowledges that he or she is definitely an imperfect person. So if you’re not perfect, church is the right place to be. In fact a significant part of this service is the confession, as we acknowledge our failures before God. We are encouraged to be honest enough to own up to our sinfulness and our disobedience to God.

For the heart of Christianity is not how good we are. And Paul makes that clear in our reading from Ephesians 2. He gets to the heart of the Christian faith as he explains what we are all like, and what God has done to help us.

Paul uses pretty graphic language to describe our human failings. Phrases like “dead through your transgressions and sins”, “following the ways of the world”, “gratifying the passions of the flesh and following its desires and thoughts”. He says that by nature, we are deserving of God’s wrath or judgement.

Very dramatic! No wonder people think that Paul got hung up on sin! But we need to understand his point. We are not too far from the truth if we think of sin as self-centredness. It is the attitude “I want what I want”, “I will do what I want”. It is setting ourselves up as the one in charge of our lives, rather than acknowledging God, our Creator and Ruler, as rightly having first place. It is doing what I want, even if it is not what God wants, even if it is not loving towards others.

Sin is going our way, rather than going God’s way. And that means that far too often our neighbour is hurt, or at least left out. It means that we keep God at a distance, so that he doesn’t get in the way. And sadly, by cutting ourselves off from God, we cut ourselves off from his life and from his kingdom.

The natural result of this is all the evil we see in the world: it is seen in the lives of people everywhere, from all nations and backgrounds, from religious and irreligious alike. We are all sinners: far too consistently we choose our way rather than God’s. That’s what Paul says we are all like. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know he’s right.

And if that were all Paul had to say on the subject, we might indeed say that he was “hung up” on sin. However, in verse 4 of our ten verses there is a very important word: the word “but”! I remember a lecturer at Moore College saying that when you see the word “but” in the Bible, look closely because something significant is being said!

And that’s certainly the case here. For having talked about the human problem of sin, Paul gets on to what God has done about it! He goes from the bad news to the good news.

What has God done? He has brought us from death to life. He has raised us from the darkness of sin and given us a seat in the kingdom of heaven. And he has done it through Jesus Christ: above all through his death and resurrection.

Despite our sin, God has forgiven us. Despite our spiritual deadness, God has raised us to life. Despite our alienation from him, God has restored us to fellowship and given us a place in his kingdom. Despite our inability to get ourselves out of the mess, God has rescued us. And he has done it in the person of Jesus Christ: God himself, coming to share our human life – living, dying and rising for our sakes.

As those famous words we heard from John’s Gospel say: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Yes, God did it because of his love, because of his great mercy, because of his amazing grace.

Today is Mothering Sunday. We know what we expect mothers to be like. We expect them to love their children. Yes, we hope than they will guide and discipline their children in a loving way. But mothers don’t stop loving their children because they have been disobedient, or haven’t done well enough at their examinations, or don’t tidy their rooms, or put on a tantrum. Many children test out their mother’s love, but it takes a lot for any real mother to actually stop loving their children. Sadly, however, for all sorts of reasons of course, it does sometimes happen.

But what about God? God loves us humans even when we reject his love. God loves us even though we don’t deserve it. Paul refers to God’s grace and that’s what grace is all about: God’s kindness, which reaches out to us even though we don’t deserve it. God doesn’t love us because we’re good or moral or religious: he loves us because that’s the sort of God he is. He is a God of love. We can never earn God’s grace. We can’t pay for God’s grace. It is a gift, an infinitely generous gift, an expression of his infinite love.

And how do we respond when a gift is offered to us? Surely the best thing is to accept it with thankfulness. Not to ignore it. Not to refuse it. Certainly not to try to pay for it!

We simply and thankfully accept God’s gift. And that is what faith is all about. Opening up to God’s grace: accepting God’s forgiveness, God’s gift of salvation.

Paul in our passage is saying that in our sinfulness we are spiritually lost and blind. But through Christ we find God’s welcome and see God’s light.

In faith we open up to God’s wonderful love, his amazing grace. We place ourselves in his loving hands with all our faults and failings and weaknesses, and we open up to his Spirit to lead us through life.

Faith then is opening up to God and his amazing grace. And it’s the heart of being a Christian. Not being good or moral or kind or religious. But simply trusting the God who loves and welcomes us through Christ.

And that’s is why true Christianity can set us free from hypocrisy. We don’t have to pretend to be better than we are. We don’t pretend that we’re perfect. Certainly not that we’re better than other people. We take sin seriously but we don’t need to be obsessed by it, for God has graciously dealt with it through Christ.

But remember that God’s grace reaches out with a purpose in mind. Paul says that we are created, created anew, in Christ Jesus, “to do good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life”. God has good things for us to do: acts of kindness and love, deeds of generosity and service, decisions based on wisdom and honesty and righteousness and generosity, words and actions that bear witness to the love and goodness of God. Our faith doesn’t make us superior, but if it is for real, it certainly makes a difference in our lives.

Christians certainly aren’t perfect. But by God’s grace we accept in faith his gift of forgiveness and salvation, and we seek to consistently follow Jesus who shows us the way to life, and the way of life. Amen.

Paul Weaver


Sermon: Lent 3, 4 March 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 4th March 2018

 Rev. Paul Weaver


 (Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22)

Many of us will have looked at a breathtaking view, perhaps a beautiful scene of natural beauty, perhaps taking in the night sky away from the city lights; and we have thought, “Isn’t God’s creation wonderful!” If we have done that, we are following in the footsteps of the writer of Psalm 19, which we joined in this morning.

“The heavens declare the glory of God”, proclaims the Psalmist, and he goes on to describe in pictorial terms the passage of the sun across the sky day by day. Its light and heat are wonderful, and it, along with everything else, was made by God the Creator of all things. How great indeed is God!

Of course not everyone came to that conclusion then, and not all come to that conclusion now. In the days of the Old Testament, there were many gods worshipped by different nations. Large numbers of people were not aware of the one great Creator: they might worship gods of the hills and mountains, gods of the winds, gods of the rain, and so on. These people could not recognize the wonderful reality the Psalmist was describing.

And today so many people still scoff at the idea of a Creator. Of course, it is not the role of science to answer the question of whether the world was created: it can certainly investigate questions of how and when and what, but it cannot answer questions about who made it happen or why. And it was sad for me to hear the comment from two well-known atheists in a TV discussion when they agreed that “even if there is a God, he must be pretty stingy!” I guess you can look at all the problems in the world and come to that conclusion. However when you look at all the wonderful things in the world, and consider how many of the problems in the world are result of human failings, I think it makes sense to join the Psalmist and praise our Creator!

But the Psalmist doesn’t leave it there. There is more to God than we can discover just by looking at the world. God speaks in other ways. And in the following verses our Psalmist begins to focus on what we would call the scriptures.

“The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul,” he says. He began by using the general term God, but now he talks about the Lord, using the name by which God revealed himself to Moses. The Torah of the Lord is perfect, or complete: it says all that it needs to say.

The Hebrew word Torah is usually translated as “Law”, but more accurately it means “instruction”: the Torah, those first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses, provides teaching or instruction for God’s people about the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who brought his people out of bondage in Egypt, who made a wonderful covenant with them, and who brought them into the promised land.

This Psalm was written in a time before most of the books of the Old Testament were written: the books of prophecy were yet to come, and of course the Psalms and Proverbs and the other books were not yet compiled. When the Psalmist wrote these words he was thinking about the scriptures that he knew. He says that the message of the scriptures gives life to the soul, our inner being. The scriptures, with their commands and precepts and instructions, show us the way to live. We are blessed if we take in their message: we are even more blessed if we put into practice what we learn. And so it is not surprising to find that the Psalmist continues with a prayer that the Lord will protect him from serious sin, and bring him spiritual cleansing and forgiveness. The Psalm concludes with that famous prayer used by so many preachers over the years, which I used myself this morning.

That prayer was probably familiar to many of you, and you may have memories of clergy who regularly used it. But there is another piece of scripture we heard this morning which many of you will remember hearing much more often than we do nowadays. In the old Book of Common Prayer, the service of Holy Communion began with two prayers and then we had the Ten Commandments. After each of the commandments, there was a response we became very familiar with: “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” Sometimes the longer commandments would be abbreviated, and sometimes the two great commandments would be read instead of the ten. And that was fair enough, for those words from Jesus sum up the message of the Ten Commandments.

But how appropriate that response was! “Lord have mercy”, recognizing

our need of forgiveness, and then a plea for God to help us obey his commandments.

Of course once upon a time, part of our Confirmation preparation was learning those Ten Commandments: I promise not to test you on the way up to communion this morning!

And those commandments are still so powerful and relevant today: I remember preaching a series working through the Ten Commandments, about one a month, when I was at the Cathedral. There is still much to be learned from them, and they still present us with plenty of challenges.

Today let me just make a few brief observations on the Ten Commandments. Firstly the commandments make clear that our response to God is demonstrated not only by our religious activity, but also by the way we treat our neighbour. Loving God and loving our neighbour go together.

Secondly, they are not as negative as they may seem. Yes, they may have lots of  “thou shalt nots”, but these set vital boundaries: they are like the fence that is put up to stop people falling over the dangerous cliff-face. There is still plenty of freedom for people to admire the view, to take a walk, to have a picnic, to play games, to enjoy the place. But no human freedom is absolute, despite what the American gun lobby would have people believe. Yes, those “thou shalt nots” set the boundaries, but they still give us all plenty of freedom to live positive lives.

Thirdly, the commandments remind us that God is interested in all of our lives: seven days and not just one day a week, and he is concerned not just for what we might call the spiritual side of life, but all that makes it up.

And the fourth thing these commandments remind us is that God is concerned not just about our actions, but about our thoughts and attitudes: we are reminded of this by that tenth commandment which forbids the unhealthy attitude of covetousness. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount brings this out even more strongly where he warns not just against murder and adultery, but against those harmful attitudes like hatred and lust.

There is one other thing I want to point out about the commandments. They were given to God’s people when he had rescued them from bondage and made them his people. They were given to explain how to live as God’s people. They are not a stepladder we have to climb in order to reach God; they are not an HSC examination we have to pass before God will care about us. We don’t try to obey the commandments in order to get God to love us: we seek to obey them in response to God’s great love for us. They express the practical side of our privileged relationship with the God who loves us and graciously welcomes us through Christ.

So God reveals himself to us through his wonderful creation, and through the written scriptures. But above all he has revealed himself to us in his son Jesus Christ. Jesus revealed his divine authority in different ways: through the healing of suffering people, through his unique teaching about God and about life, and in today’s Gospel, by cleansing the temple which had been turned into a place of commerce and chaos instead of a true place of worship. The problem with Jesus was that he didn’t overwhelm people with his power, and force people to believe in him. And people were looking for a different kind of Saviour, a military and political Saviour, not a suffering Servant of God, and so they rejected Jesus and his message. How could anyone crucified by the Romans could be taken seriously as a Saviour? Despite his resurrection, which was attested to by hundreds of people, Jews regarded the claims of Jesus as offensive, while educated Greeks and other Gentiles regarded them as nonsense. And even now, many people find it hard to come to terms with the claims of a crucified and risen Lord. In Jesus, God takes us by surprise: but what a wonderful surprise! God’s foolishness is indeed wiser than human wisdom!

Today then, let’s remember that God doesn’t force himself on us. He reveals himself if we are ready to take notice. If some of you can’t get out to enjoy the beauty of creation any longer, perhaps those beautiful TV documentaries might remind you again of the wonders of God’s creation. And all of us can reflect regularly on the message of the scriptures, not only the books of the Old Testament, but the grace revealed in Jesus Christ and the message of the New Testament. Let us read and learn and live it out with the help of God’s Holy Spirit. And let us above all keep learning about Jesus our Saviour, and trust and follow him throughout our lives. Amen.                                                                                                 Paul Weaver

Sermon: Lent 2, 25 February 2018, Dr Ruth Shatford, St Alban’s


Genesis 17:1-7 & 15-16;   Psalm 22: 24—32;  Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

This is the year of Mark.  In his introduction to the gospel last week, Fr Paul pointed out that Mark, the shortest gospel, doesn’t touch on Jesus’ early life, but dives straight into the narrative of his ministry.  In a little prayer guide to St Mark’s gospel, the Jesuit writer Mark Link quotes:  “Mark’s gospel is the shortest and most action-packed… The absence of many words leaves us freer to enjoy the person and action of Jesus.”  He goes on to say that we should stop after each event and ask ourselves   “What does Jesus do?”.  Then we should ask ourselves “How do the words of Jesus clarify the meaning of his action – or how do they help us to discover the meaning for ourselves?”.

Our gospel reading today is located virtually right in the middle of Mark’s gospel.  For seven plus chapters, Mark has recounted episodes in Jesus’ ministry.  The title “Christ” has not appeared, “Christ” being the Greek rendering of the Hebrew title – not a name, but a title – “Messiah”.  Some astute readers may have seen a foreshadowing of the death that awaits Jesus, when they look at his baptism, the opposition that springs up here and there against him and John the Baptist’s grisly execution.  But overall, there has been no clear indication of the death that is to come.

Earlier in chapter 8, there is a most extraordinary exchange between Jesus and his disciples. It occurs in a pretty out of the way place, near Caesarea Philippi, that is, the Caesarea in Philip’s jurisdiction rather than Herod’s, once the outer limit of Israel’s northern district.  It was a long way from the Galilee region that was mainly the territory in which Jesus moved around teaching.  It was a town whose earlier name indicated it had been a great centre of the worship of the pagan god Baal- a name forbidden to God’s people.  It was commonly believed that up a nearby hill in a cave, was born Pan, the Greek god of nature and that this was also the source of the Jordan River.  A little further up, but within view, was a gleaming white marble temple, built on the order of Philip, in honour of Caesar, the Roman Emperor, the ruler of the world, regarded as a god.  There, against a background of so many religions, Jesus had suddenly, surprisingly, asked his friends “Who do people say that I am?”.

The answers were not surprising- “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah and still others, one of the prophets.”.    Many people believed that Elijah, who had been “taken up” from their forebears in a fiery chariot, and had not passed through death, would return to herald the coming of the Messiah.  Others thought perhaps this Jesus was one of the prophets, or John the Baptist come back to life and returned among them.  In view of the traditions, these were all quite understandable, sensible answers.

Then the question got harder…”but who do you say that I am?”  Peter, without hesitation says “You are the Christ.”   The Jews had dreamt for generations of a messiah who would arise, another king of David’s line, who would make the nation great in righteousness and power. The sacred texts from between the Old and New Testaments that mention the Christ, do not paint a very Jesus-like picture of the one who was to come.  The Jews had constantly faced humiliation and defeat.  First, the ten tribes had been carried off to Assyria, lost to them forever.  Then the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem and carried the Jews away captive.  Then came the Persians, followed by the Greeks and now, the Romans to subjugate them.  For centuries, they had not known freedom or independence, let alone supremacy and dominion.

These intertestamental books were meant to be tellings of the future.  Collectively, some of these writings are called the Apocrypha, meaning “unveilings”.  They foreshadowed that the physical and moral order would first collapse.  Then when the messiah came, he would be the most destructive conqueror in history, smashing his enemies into extinction.  The Jews who were dispersed would be gathered together in the New Jerusalem.   From this grim picture over which the Jews would rejoice, it was expected there would follow a new age of peace and goodness that would last forever.

The one who was to come is portrayed as the uniquely anointed, divinely authorised deliverer who was expected to purify the Jewish society, re-establish Israel’s pre-eminence among the nations and usher in a new era of peace and holiness.

It was against this background understanding, against the mindset that the disciples had grown up with, that Peter answered Jesus’ closer-to-home question “But who do you say I am?”..

In full view of the splendid palace on the hill that declared Caesar to be a god, Peter answers Jesus, “You are God’s anointed one.”.

It is indeed a dramatic moment and a powerful assertion.
How confusing then for Peter and the other disciples to be told not to reveal this to anyone.  How shattered they must have been where our gospel reading begins today, to be told by Jesus what his fate was to be.  Now this man, this messiah, is foretelling his own death.  Peter must be struggling to reconcile the majestic, powerful figure that was in his mind from the time he could first remember learning the faith, with his friend, the itinerant preacher, whom Peter had just recognised or we could even say “revealed” as the messiah.  A little further on in this gospel, there are other occasions when Jesus speaks about himself as the suffering Son of Man.  In chapter 9, he tells them that the Son of Man is going to be betrayed and killed and after three days will rise again.  The disciples did not understand and were afraid to ask.  Then in chapter 10, Jesus says to them that he would be betrayed, condemned to death, mocked, spat on, flogged and killed before rising again after three days.   And still the disciples become preoccupied with something quite different.  In the first episode, they fall into an argument as to which of them would be the greatest.  In the second, James and John approach him and say they want Jesus to do for them whatever they asked.  And then they specified that they wanted to sit one either side of him in glory.  They just did not get it!

In our reading today, Jesus must have appalled his friends by saying so bluntly that the Son of Man must suffer many things, be rejected by all the people of power and influence and must be killed.  And he was very emphatic about it – the gospel writer emphasises that Jesus taught this to his friends and says he kept saying it plainly.

Almost seeming to forget who Jesus is, Peter “took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him”.  And it was not just a quiet word in Jesus’ ear! The word used for rebuked is a very strong word.  Jesus really shuts Peter down using the word that is used elsewhere in Mark to silence unclean spirits and savage forces.  Everything that Jesus describes in verse 31, his suffering, rejection and being put to death, would appear to disqualify him from being the Messiah that Peter knows about, and Peter wants to straighten him out.

Peter had the title for Jesus right, but had the meaning wrong. 

Peter has to learn that not only does Jesus’ identity include being the Messiah, a different kind of messiah, but it includes his eventual death and resurrection.   And Jesus’ identity will finally, and for all time, and into eternity, be defined by those events.

So Jesus embarks on recasting who the Christ is and what he will do. Jesus is calling his followers to an alternative model of being.   We are being challenged to want something different – to be generous, giving of ourselves, even when it means suffering.  We are called to merge our being and will with God’s being and will, caring for others in the way of discipleship.  Many of us will have wrestled with what it means to deny ourselves.  I remember as a young person finding it helpful when a preacher pointed out that the call is not to deny ourselves something that, dare I say, could be quite trivial, such as chocolate in Lent.  It is to deny ourselves.  Self-denial is not self-annihilation, but self-redefinition.  We may have in the past denied or ignored the life of the Spirit within that seeks to manifest itself through us in compassion and generosity of being.  We are called on to let God rework us so that we more closely conform to God’s image.

Rather than speaking abstractly about this, when Jesus speaks about his fate, he starts making public statements to people at large about following him.   He addresses not only his disciples, but also the crowd, inviting any who want, to follow him.  Jesus is not so much about gathering pupils and making sure that everyone understands him fully.  Rather he is calling followers to join him and grow in his way.  He calls us to separate ourselves from what has defined us unhelpfully– what we have allowed to define us – and to embrace new understandings of our identity, just as Peter had to learn a new understanding around the identity of Jesus.   “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever will save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

After I had completed the first draft of this sermon and tried to wrestle with this concept, I went to the funeral of a friend at St James’ Kings St, a most beautiful and comforting liturgy.  After the Christian symbols were placed on the coffin, instead of their being read, a small choir sang the funeral sentences set to music at the beginning of the 18thcentury by William Croft.  “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet, shall he live.”, from John’s gospel chapter 2.  And from Job 19, “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”.

It suddenly struck me that these two verses were also conundrums of our faith- riddles that cannot easily be solved.  How can you be dead and yet live?  How can you see God in your flesh when worms have destroyed your body?   While we catch some fleeting sense of what this might mean, we need to ride with the mystery of our faith and trust in God for both the present and the future, to live with the ambiguity and the tension that we cannot fully understand or resolve.  I say again, we are called to merge our being and will into God’s.   As followers of Jesus, we join a community where members are defined by our association with Jesus, our following of him.  Self-denial is not self-annihilation but rather self-redefinition.  We are called on as we follow Jesus, to take on an identity and a way of living that will pose threats to the world’s corrosive and loveless ideologies and idolatries and we do so, knowing  the consequences will not always necessarily be comfortable.

Jesus was helping his disciples to begin to understand that his thoughts are not our thoughts, nor our ways his ways.  It was imperative that they understand this so that they did not miss the point of Jesus’ ministry, that he took on our flesh ultimately to give his life for our salvation.  Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  While his ways are not our ways, he invites us to follow him and learn his ways, to give ourselves to our ways becoming his ways.  In our redefinition, our priorities need to be re-ordered to be in harmony with the two great commandments, love God and love our neighbour.

In our reading from Genesis this morning, our father Abraham is bidden to walk before the Lord and be blameless.  God says “I will confirm my covenant between me and you.  I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant.”

Paul in our reading from Romans 4, picks up again the promise to Abraham and to all who are of the faith of Abraham, that because of our faith, God will credit us with righteousness.  The gift of faith is given to us and then in God’s immense love and generosity, we are credited with righteousness.  We are thus enabled to deny ourselves, and losing our life for the gospel, will save it.

And in Psalm 22 read this morning, more familiar to our Good Friday ears, we hear “he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one.”  Rather, God has honoured that suffering unto death and raised Jesus again.

The faith we are called on to exercise in our following of Jesus, is a way of being that will make itself evident in the way we live our lives.  It involves cognitive belief and understanding, but also and perhaps moreso, a commitment to an on-going relationship with God, expressed in involvement in the life and work of God in the world.  As we join in following Jesus, we are committed to taking our stand on the side of God, not of human ways of thinking.  As we do this, we come to realise that nothing in this world is worth exchanging for our very centre, the self claimed by the gospel and accountable to God.

Jesus says to us,” Who do you say that I am?”  And if, with Peter, we say “The Christ!”, we move on from here, denying ourselves, following Jesus and letting him redefine and reshape us as we die to self and live to him.

Sermon: Lent 1, 18 February 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 18th February 2018

 Rev. Paul Weaver


 (Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15)

Most of our Gospel readings this year will come from Mark, the shortest of the four Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke present broadly parallel accounts of the life of Jesus: they share many of the stories, although they each put their own touch on them, and they each have their own interests. John takes his own distinctive approach.

Matthew presents great blocks of teaching, almost as if Jesus were the new Moses: we are particularly familiar with the Sermon on the Mount. Luke has a particular interest in the outsider, the unexpected follower of Jesus, and he also includes the largest number of parables. Mark takes us directly through his narrative, almost with a sense that we must keep going to take in this story of Jesus. All of them, as well as John, give a great deal of attention to the week from Palm Sunday through to Good Friday and Easter Day. In fact, around a third of each of the Gospels is focused on this one climatic week. Each year in turn, we take most of our Gospel readings from one of these three Gospels, along with some selections from John.

So here we are in Mark’s Gospel as Mark tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew and Luke, we don’t reach these events until Chapters 3 and 4. Those two Gospels give great attention to Jesus’ birth and associated events, but Mark never touches Jesus’ birth and earlier life at all. Here in this short passage, only a few verses into Mark’s Gospel, we cover the baptism of Jesus, his temptation in the wilderness, and the beginning of his ministry. You will find much more detail in Matthew and Luke, but Mark includes those things that he wants us to be aware of.

What happens nowadays when someone is to take up a new ministry, or perhaps to be ordained? There is a service of commissioning or ordination. There is often a retreat or time of reflection. And of course, there is a new task to undertake. In a sense, that’s what Mark describes in these few verses.

John the Baptists’s base was the River Jordan, near the wilderness area north-east of the Dead Sea. Jesus’ home town of Nazareth was further north-west, in Galilee. John had been calling people to repent and be baptized, and he had also been telling them of someone who was coming soon, for whom they must be ready. John baptized with water, but this great one would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is baptized by John. He identifies himself with those repentant sinners who responded to his message, and he also identifies himself with John’s message about the coming kingdom of God. As he does this, Jesus also foreshadows his task of bearing the sin of the world and bringing forgiveness to sinners everywhere. But this baptism is not just an act of Jesus and John: for God himself breaks into the event. The heavens are torn open, and the Holy Spirit comes down on Jesus as a dove. We think of the dove as a beautiful symbol of peace. The sending out of a dove by Noah after the rains have stopped points not only to the restoration of peace to the world, but also to the establishment of new life in God’s creation. It echoes the opening of Genesis 1, where the Spirit of God hovers over the chaos like a dove as the creation story begins.

The Spirit comes down on Jesus to empower him for his ministry, but there is also a heavenly voice. “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We heard similar words from the cloud at the Transfiguration in last Sunday’s Gospel. But here is the divine Father honouring his Son Jesus as he commences his public ministry. Whatever Mark’s readers believe about Jesus, here is God himself identifying Jesus as the Son of God – in fact, the Son of God, the unique Son of God.

These words are echoes of words in Psalm 2, which speaks of God’s chosen king as God’s Son, who will rule over the nations and establish justice. And they also link up with words in Isaiah 42, where God acknowledges his chosen and beloved servant. Jesus’ ministry is foreshadowed in the Old Testament scriptures. They point to a ministry of faithfulness, suffering and triumph. And so this baptism of Jesus is also a commissioning for service.

But then comes something unexpected. The Spirit who has come down upon Jesus drives Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. This is not a quiet time of reflection and meditative prayer. It is a time of intense temptation by Satan. Mark doesn’t tell us those famous stories found in Matthew and Luke. He just wants us to know that Jesus went through hard testing.

Mark does tell us that Jesus was “with the wild animals”. Is he simply pointing out that Jesus had no human company at all? Or is he pointing out that the wilderness was full of danger? Or is he perhaps reminding us of the garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were comfortable with the animals before they were evicted from the garden. Perhaps this is a hint that through Jesus there will one day be a new creation where all creatures as well as people will live together in harmony once again.

But why is Jesus tempted this way at this point? Because temptation will keep coming back to him. We know that the tempter is already questioning him. “If you really are the Son of God, why don’t you make that power you are supposed to have work for you? Don’t take the hard way. Take the popular way, the way that works, the way that feels good.” Jesus resists the temptation then, as he will continue to resist it. He confirms who he is as the faithful Son of God. He determines right from the beginning that he will go that difficult way chosen for him, and not take the way that seems easier. In a sense, this is a time of spiritual training, of spiritual preparation. And as the Spirit has come upon him at his baptism, so Jesus also has the help of God’s angels ministering to him.

Well, Jesus has been commissioned, and he has gone almost through a spiritual “boot camp”. Soon afterwards it is time to commence his public ministry. In John’s Gospel there is the indication that he has already done some preaching and healing by now, but for Mark this is the real beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The event which starts it off is the arrest of John for denouncing Herod’s gross immorality. The forerunner is now in prison. Now the one who fulfils John’s promise must take up his role. And so he does, although it is in his home territory of Galilee.

And his message, his exhortation is essentially the same as John’s: “Repent and believe in the good news”. But he no longer needs to say that there is someone coming: now “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.”

In Jesus, God is acting in a new way; in Jesus, God is fulfilling his promises. God is asserting his kingship in a new way – through his Son, Jesus the promised one. “It’s time!” says Jesus.

And of course, Jesus’ challenge is familiar. “Repent”, he calls. “Change your mind, your outlook, your direction in life. Turn back and start drawing closer to God rather than keeping him at a distance.”

Now in a profound way, that is what we all do as we become true Christians. But there is also a sense in which we must keep doing it as Christians. We mightn’t be in the wilderness, worrying about the wild animals. But we all face temptations – our natural desires, our comfortable lifestyle, our tongue which is not always well controlled, our quick temper, our selfishness, our prejudice. As we keep on having to confess our sins, so we need to keep on repenting.

We can get distracted from the demands of faith, or let other things get in the way. And so we need to keep turning to Jesus with our questions or our uncertainties or our weaknesses and telling him: “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.”

If we have challenges to face as we follow Jesus, we also like Jesus have the Holy Spirit poured out on us. We mightn’t have seen that dove, but as we open up to God’s forgiveness, so we open up also to God’s empowering through the Holy Spirit within us.

Jesus was commissioned and tested, and he faithfully did whatever it took to fulfil God’s purposes and sacrificially serve his people. In baptism and by faith, we are not only forgiven, but we too are commissioned to serve Christ and to serve his people. May this Lent be a time in which we renew that commitment to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Amen.

Paul Weaver


Sermon: Transfiguration, 11 February 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 11th February 2018 (Transfiguration)

Rev. Paul Weaver


 (2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-12; Mark 9:2-9)

Last time I preached at St.Alban’s, I commented on the complications of celebrating Epiphany on the Sunday before January 6th, when January 6th is not a Sunday. Today we are commemorating the Transfiguration of our Lord, although the traditional date for this commemoration is the 6th August. Of course that means that it only makes it to a Sunday one year in seven. Our Australian Lectionary invites us to focus on the Transfiguration on what it quaintly calls “the Last Sunday after Epiphany”. I think the old Book of Common Prayer did it better by calling this Sunday “the Next Sunday before Lent”, although it did complicate matters by also calling it Quinquagesima, which refers to it being fifty days before Easter – of course counting Easter Day itself as part of the fifty.

Here we are then with our Gospel reading telling us of this very strange event we call the Transfiguration. But it is not the only strange event we heard about in today’s readings. In our first reading from 2 Kings we heard about the taking up of the prophet Elijah into heaven. Both passages tell us who were witnesses to these events, and in both cases these people experienced glimpses of what we might call a greater reality.

Elisha had been called to become the servant and assistant to the great prophet Elijah, whose ministry took place more than 800 years before the birth of Jesus. Much of his ministry involved battling with the kings and rulers of Israel who regarded faithfulness to the Lord as a very minor priority. But now he was coming to the end of his ministry. The question was whether Elisha was ready to succeed him and to continue his prophetic ministry.

In our reading Elijah is shortly to leave Elisha, and he tells Elisha that he is off to Bethel. Elisha insists on coming with him. As we heard in the reading, there is a group of prophets in Bethel who ask Elisha whether he knows that Elijah is about to leave him. Elisha tells them to keep quiet about it, not to remind him about it, and he makes clear to Elijah that he is not going to leave him. The same thing happens again when they go to Jericho. Despite all the warnings Elisha is not going to give up following Elijah.

Elisha has made clear his determination to keep following Elijah, a sign of his commitment to this ministry. The old prophet asks Elisha what he can do for him. Elisha has a final request: “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”

It is not that Elisha wants twice as much spiritual power as Elijah had, although I’m sure he wouldn’t have said no to that! In those days, the oldest son was regarded as the main heir in the family, and received a double share of the inheritance, compared with the other sons. So Elisha was asking for a full inheritance of the spirit that was in Elijah. This of course is not Elijah’s to give: it is a hard thing. It is up to the Lord. But Elijah assures Elisha that if he sees the old prophet as he is taken, then he will indeed receive a full inheritance of Elijah’s prophetic spirit.

Elijah is not recorded in the scriptures as dying: a chariot of fire and horses of fire separate them, and Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. But Elisha sees, and while he can still see Elijah he cries out, “Father! Father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”

When Elijah is out of his sight, Elisha tears his robes in a symbol of mourning. Elijah may not be dead, but he is gone, his earthly life is over. Elisha must now take up Elijah’s ministry, and so he does, showing in different ways that he has indeed received a full share of the prophetic spirit. The new prophet goes on to have a powerful ministry to Israel.

It’s a strange story, not without its touches of humour. We might wonder what exactly happened, and how literally to take the account. I find it most helpful in cases like this to take the stories as they are presented, but to acknowledge that they are simply the best available way of describing what happened. And I acknowledge that when people describe the extraordinary, there will of course be more that could be said, and there will be questions which we might want answered.

What is clear is that Elisha saw something unique. He did not just have a vision of the departing Elijah, or of horses and chariots. He had a vision of a reality beyond his own earthly experience: a glimpse of the heavenly reality. He had to be watching carefully to experience it, but he was indeed prepared for the vision that he had.

Nearly 900 years later another group of people shared in another unique experience. It was on a mountain, away from the crowds of people, just like when Moses and Elijah had their extraordinary encounters with the Lord. In the scriptures a mountain is often the place where God reveals himself in a special way.

Jesus takes his inner group of disciples, Peter, James and John, to share this time with him. And they see Jesus transfigured before them. His clothes become dazzling white, and his appearance glorious. They know Jesus as the teacher and healer, but now they are seeing something of his true glory; the curtain is unveiled for a few moments in time.

But it is not just Jesus they see. For Elijah and Moses are also there, apparently quite recognizable, and they are in conversation with Jesus.

And then Peter opens his mouth. He’s a bit like quite a few politicians we know: too much to say, and too often saying the wrong thing anyway.

“Master”, he says. “It’s so good that we’re here. You three obviously have a lot of catching up to do with each other. Why don’t the three of us construct some shelters for you, just like there were in the wilderness? Then you can take your time.” Mark excuses his not very bright suggestion by saying that the apostles were all terrified and he didn’t know what to say. One thing is clear: however terrified they were, they didn’t want to let go of this unique experience.

A cloud, so often in the Old Testament a symbol of God’s presence, overshadows them. And then comes a voice of authority: “This is my Son, my Beloved: listen to him!” Jesus is God’s unique Son. It’s almost as if the Lord is saying: “Peter, just take the foot out of your mouth. Stop gabbling on, and simply listen to Jesus!”

And then it is all over! The cloud is gone. Moses and Elijah are gone. Jesus looks the way he normally does. And Jesus tells the three apostles to say nothing about this to anyone, not before he has risen from the dead. They have seen something of the divine glory of Jesus: it’s a preview of what one day all Jesus’ followers will experience. But it’s not yet time for everyone to know.

For the others, the first taste they will have of the glory of Jesus will be when he has risen from the dead. And whenever Jesus talks about dying and rising again, none of the disciples is able to take it in. They like the idea of glory, but they don’t see that Jesus’ glory will only come in its fullness through suffering and death, as well as resurrection. But right now Peter, James and John have had an extraordinary experience: they have seen the glory of Jesus in a unique way – almost a preview of heaven.

It would be nice to think that Peter took in the lesson to be learned, not just about Jesus, but about the way he needs to respond to Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God, revealing God to us in his Gospel of love and forgiveness and hope. And, perhaps the best starting point for us also is simply to listen to Jesus. Listen to Jesus in his teaching, his parables, in the challenges he presents to us.

Thinking about the transfiguration is a pretty good thing to do with Lent approaching. We think of Lent as a time of preparation, of discipline, and of reflection. It is a good time for us to hear God’s call to “listen to Jesus”: to make time to read and reflect on his teaching and the message of the scriptures; to be open to his voice as it comes to us. And remember that in the Bible, to obey is really a slightly different version of the word “to hear”. To hear Jesus’ voice aright is to obey.

So as we approach this Lenten season, let us make time to look for God’s special revelations and his less spectacular revelations. Let us make time to listen for the voice of Jesus in the scriptures. And let us be open to his call to stay close to him and to follow in his path of love. Amen.

  Paul Weaver


Sermon: Epiphany 5, 4 February 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 4th February 2018

 Rev. Paul Weaver


 (2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 51; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39)

“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and his children; it used to eat from his meagre fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveller to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”

You might recognize that story. It’s a story of the abuse of power, and of selfishness and even robbery. It comes from the 12th Chapter of the Second Book of Samuel, just after the story we heard this morning, and the words are spoken by Nathan the prophet. He tells the story to King David, and David is rightly disgusted. “The man who did this deserves to die!” he exclaims. “At the very least, he ought to pay back the poor man four times over.”

And then come those powerful words of Nathan to David. “You are the man!” Nathan spells out what David has done. David has abused his power. The Lord has given him so much. He has power and prestige and comfort. He has wealth and wives aplenty. And yet he has committed adultery with the wife of one of his faithful officers, and then to prevent his immoral behaviour causing him too much embarrassment, he has had Uriah, that faithful and principled officer, killed. Then he has married Uriah’s widow. If David is shocked by the actions of the rich man in Nathan’s story, how much more disgusting is his own behaviour!

David, like so many people in positions of power, has convinced himself that the normal rules don’t apply to him. We know it only too well today. “I’m the boss! I’m the star! I’m the priest! I’m the teacher, the coach, the doctor! Of course people should normally be given respect and courtesy. Vulnerable people should normally not be taken advantage of. But I’m different. It’s OK for me to do it!”

Now for Nathan to come and accuse David so powerfully was a very risky thing to do. It was the sort of thing that might find him facing execution.

How dare Nathan speak to the king like that? But prophets in the Old Testament often found themselves challenging kings and rulers about the sins they had committed.

And how does David respond to Nathan’s accusation? With anger? Denial? Excuses? With explanations or self-justification? These are the ways we humans so often respond when people call on us to face our sins and failures. Just as we also try to cover our tracks when we have done the wrong thing, and so often that only makes things worse or leads us into an even bigger mess. This is what David had done: so human!

But David’s words in response to Nathan are very different from all these ways of responding to the truth about our shortcomings. “I have sinned against the Lord,” he humbly says. There are no excuses or denials, no pretending. David knows that his behaviour has been sinful and evil, totally unacceptable for anyone, let alone the king of Israel.

David really deserves to die for the murder he has committed, but Nathan assures him that the Lord has put away his sin. He will not die, and he will continue as king.

But there will be consequences. The baby born to Bathsheba will die. And David’s example, as well as his failure as a father, will open up a Pandora’s box of family fighting and violence and immorality, which will have all sorts of terrible consequences for him, for his family and for the nation.

We need to remember that forgiveness is about relationships, about personally letting go of anger and hurts. Forgiveness does not always shield us from the consequences of our actions, particularly our most serious sins. I might personally forgive the thief who breaks into my house and steals my possessions. But he will still have to face the just consequences of his crime. A husband who has an affair may be forgiven by his wife, but he may well have lost the trust she once had in him.

David had terrible failings, and yet God still loved him and enabled him to do some great things. Even sins as terrible as this are not beyond God’s forgiveness. And David knew that he needed God’s forgiveness. This story of adultery, scheming and murder lies behind our Psalm this morning. But it is also a story of confession, repentance and forgiveness.

The first word of the traditional Latin version of this 51st Psalm is miserere, and there is a famous choral setting of the Psalm by the Italian composer Allegri. Miserere simply means “have mercy” or “have pity”, and it is interesting how it relates to our English words misery or miserable

Those opening words get straight to the point.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love:

according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions

And my sin is ever before me.”

There is no beating about the bush. David acknowledges his guilt. He is absolutely aware of his terrible sins. He needs God’s forgiveness; he needs God’s cleansing.

But in the next couple of verses he says some things which surprise some people.   “Against you, you alone, have I sinned,

and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are justified in your sentence

and blameless when you pass judgement.”

David knows that he deserves God’s condemnation. But surely he has not only sinned against God. Has he not also sinned against Uriah the innocent husband of Bathsheba? Has he not sinned against Bathsheba herself? We don’t know how willing a participant she was, but she should never have been placed in this position. Has he not also sinned against the other soldiers who were killed when Uriah was set up in battle? Has he not sinned against Joab the army commander by using him for his own murderous purposes?

Of course he has sinned against all these people, and really against the whole people of Israel. Nathan made that clear, and David knows it. But at its heart, sin is an offence against God. If we obey God’s will, we will act in the right way towards other people. As Paul and Jesus made clear, to love our neighbour is to keep God’s law. The wrong we do to others is always sin against God.

But in the next verse is another strange statement:

“Indeed, I was born guilty,

a sinner when my mother conceived me.”

Don’t we think of babies and young children as innocent ones? Very commonly people do, but David sees a deeper truth.

Of course very young children are not guilty of terrible sins. They know nothing about sin. But like every human, they have that propensity which will reveal itself in due course. When I baptize a young child, I don’t wonder whether this child will ever commit a sin, whether this child will need God’s forgiveness. Of course they will! They’re human! And as people so often say, nobody’s perfect! We are all sinners, and the little child won’t take all that long to prove it in their case! So David’s words are simply describing what it is to be human.

If we went through the Psalm verse by verse, we would see David asking God to teach him wisdom, so that he would make wise and godly decisions. He prays for a new heart, a new and right spirit. He wants to live differently. So often we want to hang on to those sins which we think are fairly minor or excusable: those practices which we really know are not what God wants for us. Repentance involves that desire to be different, to live and to act differently, and we need God’s help to actually do that.

David also has a desire not only to live a new life, but to have a new message: a message about God’s call, God’s love, God’s blessing.

“Deliver me from bloodshed O God, O God of my salvation,

and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance…

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

and sinners will return to you.”

Real heartfelt confession and repentance are the key to it all: what is in our hearts really matters. In the closing verses David refers to sacrifices and rituals: these have their place, but they mean nothing unless the heart is really in it.

Well, the sins we commit seem very minor compared with what David was guilty of: well, I hope they are minor in comparison! They are more likely to be the unkind words, the unhealthy attitude, the little lies, the selfish action or failure to act. But they too are real. Confession calls us to be honest, and not to deny or pretend or excuse or minimize. Confessions also gives us perspective. Turning to God in confession reminds us that we are not worthless or hopeless: we all matter to God.

Sin is part of our lives – whether dramatic or not. The healthy way is to acknowledge our sins, seeking God’s forgiveness and help. God can deal with all our sins as we open up honestly to him. Then we will be set free to get on with living the lives that God calls us to live, as forgiven followers of Christ, who is the bringer of all forgiveness. Amen.        Paul Weaver

Sermon: Epiphany 5, 4 February 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

David & Bathsheba- 2Samuel 11:1-15, Psalm 51

-David is called the man after God’s own heart.

-If we just had the stories of a young David who volunteers to fight the giant Goliath,

-The stories of David the soldier who saves Israel from her enemies,

-The David who replaces Saul as God’s choice of king after the faithlessness of Saul,

-Then the description would make sense.

-But we have this story of a king who neglects his duty to lead his people against their enemies,

-Which puts him in a place where he commits adultery with the wife of his next door neighbour,

-That causes him to have her husband murdered in battle.


-But of course that’s where the Psalms come in.

-1 & 2Samuel give us the bare facts,

-They tell us what David did.

-It’s all about the outward appearance,

-We get very few glimpses into his motivations or thought processes.

-But then we come to the Psalms and the whole of David’s inner world is opened up to us.

-We can see into the heart of a human being just like us,

-A person with all the same foibles and failures that we’re cursed with,

-And we see how he responds to the circumstances he’s placed into.

-And it’s Psalm 51 which stands atop the mountain which is David’s heart for God.

-And it’s a Psalm that stands out all the more,

-Because it comes from the deepest of his valleys.


-The story opens with a significant time reference.

-We’ve jumped forward quite a number of years from where we were last week.

-Saul is dead,

-David is king over all of Israel,

-He’s conquered Jerusalem,

-The Philistines have been defeated,

-The ark of the covenant has been brought to Jerusalem.

-He’s even had enough time to build himself a palace,

-And think about building a temple for the Lord.

-But this is spring time,

-The time when kings go off to war.

-And David is a long, long way from the battle front.

-He’s sent Joab out as commander of the army and he’s done a good job.

-He’s destroyed the Ammonites and besieged the city of Rabbah.

-But David is still back at home.

-Still lapping up the luxury of his new palace.

-He’s not doing what the king was supposed to be doing.

-He’d delegated that responsibility off to Joab.

-This may not seem a big deal to us,

-But it’s a signal that David is not taking his duty seriously,

-And it will have devastating consequences.


-One evening he gets up from his bed,

-Another hint that David has really taken hold of the good life of being king,

-And wanders around on his roof.

-Looking down he notices a woman bathing.

-Although the whole of 2Samuel 11 is titled ‘David and Bathsheba’,

-There are only three verses about her,

-In which we learn four things,

-She’s beautiful,

-She’s married,

-She’s fertile,

-And she gets pregnant,

-All of which spells trouble for David.

-Adultery can be covered up but pregnancy gives the game away,

-And now the story gathers speed.


-It might be nice to think that David panics and foolishly compounds his sin,

-But I don’t think David is the panicking type do you?

-In fact it seems David just instinctively enters into soldier/problem solver mode.

-Listen to how the writer describes it;

“The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’ So David sent word to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ And Joab sent Uriah to David.” 2Samuel 11: 5-6

-That is almost ruthless efficiency isn’t it?

-In the time that Uriah takes to come from the battle front to the palace,

-David has conceived his plan for the cover up,

-Greet Uriah,

-Small talk about the battle,

-Send him home to his beautiful wife,

-Uriah will do what soldiers on leave are want to do,

-And no-one will be any wiser about the real father of the baby,

-Problem solved.


-But David’s simple plan hits a snag on the character of Uriah,

-A character contrast between David the king and Uriah the soldier.

-What have we seen so far about David?

-First he shirks his duty.

-It’s spring and he as king should be out leading his people against their enemies.

-Saul became king when the people said to Samuel,

-‘We want a king like all the other nations who will go out before us and fight our battles.’

-But David’s not out leading his people, fighting their battles,

-He’s taking it easy in the palace.

-He sends Joab out to do what he should be doing.


-But he not only shirks his duty,

-He violates it.

-The king was to be the protector of his people.

-Samuel warned the people of what a king would do,

-‘He’ll take your sons for soldiers,

-‘He’ll take your daughters for cooks and bakers,

-‘He’ll take the best of your lands,

-‘And your menservants and maidservants for his own use.’

-But David does something even more despicable,

-He takes another man’s wife for his own use.

-And then to cap it all off,

-He exploits his position by ordering Uriah to be sent to him so he can cover his tracks.


-And it’s the character of Uriah the Hittite that shines through in this story of the king and the commoner.

-Because David has shirked his duty,

-He’s ignorant of what’s been happening.

-Because Uriah has been faithful to his duty,

-He can answer David’s questions about how Joab, his soldiers and the war are going.

-Told to go home to his wife,

-Uriah instead sleeps out at the entrance to the palace.

-When David finds out he didn’t go home, he asks Uriah,

-‘Haven’t you just come from a military campaign?

-‘Why didn’t you go home?’

-But for Uriah he considers he’s still on duty.

-He may have come from the campaign,

-But the campaign is still running;

“The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 2Samuel 11: 11-12

-Then the final contrast;

“‘Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.” 2Samuel 11: 12-13


-Hospitality was one of the most important values of Ancient Near Eastern culture.

-On the surface David appears to be exercising that responsibility,

-But he’s abusing it.

-He’s plying Uriah with booze to get him drunk in the hope that he’ll go home and sleep with Bathsheba.

-But duty was also a value,

-And Uriah not only is doing his duty but he’s committed to it.

-Even in his drunken state,

-He won’t neglect his duty,

-He won’t walk away from the responsibility he has to his commander, fellow soldiers and the nation.

-That commitment to duty overrides even his own comfort and pleasure.


-Uriah’s character can’t be used against him,

-So David steps down into the deeper darkness of his own character;

“Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” 2Samuel 11: 15

-He writes to Joab,

-And ch11 ends with Uriah dead,

-David marrying Bathsheba,

-The baby born,

-And the Lord displeased over what David had done.


-But this story is far from over;

“The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought.

He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

4 Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

7 Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” 2Samuel 12: 1-7

-Isn’t that a powerful story?

-From his own lips David condemns himself.

-After all that God has done for him and given him,

-David stooped that low.

-A failure of character.


-But Psalm 51 shows another aspect of David’s character,

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” Psalm 51: 1-2

-And here is the heart of a man after God’s own heart,

-Here is the heart of a person who recognises their status before a holy and righteous God,

-And who makes their appeal not to their own goodness,

-Verses 3-5 make that patently clear,

-But to the character and nature of God.

-Remember the observation from last week,

-That the problem of evil and suffering is not solved by appeals to philosophy but character,

-The character of a compassionate God of unfailing love.

-On his own, David knows that his character is warped.

-Listen to what he recognises in himself and confesses from vv3-6;

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Psalm 51: 3-5

-But he doesn’t want to stay that way.


-Sin alienates us from God.

-It raises an impenetrable barrier between us and our holy Creator.

-We’re cut off and so experience spiritual death.

-We need to remember that this Psalm is written by the same man whom we saw write in Psalm 34;

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:7-9

-David knows the goodness and blessing of God,

-So he feels more intensely the pain of separation.

-He doesn’t just want forgiveness for what he’s done but restoration,

-He wants to know that intimacy with God he once shared;

“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.” Psalm 51: 8-9

-But how can that be achieved?

-David knows that there’s nothing he can do to make the situation right.

-His only hope is in the mercy of God and his unfailing love.

-David can only find forgiveness in the grace and work of God;

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51: 7

-Hyssop was used to splash blood to signify purity.

-Back in Egypt each householder had to splash the blood of a lamb on their door posts,

-So that they’d be saved during the Passover of the angel of death.

-Lepers were pronounced clean with a splash of blood from a hyssop branch.

-Restoration required cleansing and sacrifice.


-But here is something else David learnt as he reflected upon the sinful path he’d walked,

-That it was his heart that was the cause of his problem.

-His behaviour was a symptom of something deeper,

-A heart that chased after sin.

-He could be restored but deep inside David knew that his sinful nature would once more arise.

-He didn’t just need restoration,

-He needed renewal;

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51: 10-12

-Ultimately, here is the reason why David is called a man after God’s own heart,

-Because he relied on God to give him a new heart,

-A heart that was guided by God’s Spirit and responded in willing obedience.

-The difference between David and Saul is not that David was perfect and Saul was sinful,

-But that David was obedient to what God asked of him and Saul wasn’t.

-Throughout 1 & 2Samuel David is enquiring of God what he should do,

-And he does it.

-Saul fails to keep even the clear commands God gives him.


-It’s when David forgets who he is that sin overtakes him.

-He was the king over God’s own people.

-He was not to be like the other kings around them.

-He was to be the holy king of a righteous people.

-And God had placed him in that position.

-By not being who he was meant to be,

-His life catapulted into cascading sin,

-Until he was pulled up by the confronting words of Nathan.

-But isn’t that like us too?

-We are God’s people,

-Like David we’ve been called by God to be his holy people,

-We’ve been purified by the blood of Jesus.

-But we so often forget who we are.

-Like David we sometimes need to be shocked into remembering who we are.

-We need to recognise our sinfulness and confess it to God,

-And take those next steps that David also took,

-Calling on God to not just restore us but renew us,

-To change our heart,

-And give us a willing spirit that will sustain us as we live for Christ in this world.

Sermon: Epiphany 4, 28 January 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Trapped! 1Samuel 23:7-14, Psalm 31

-Even to today the most feared weapon of warfare is the siege.

-Siege is a pretty simple but brutal tactic,

-Surround a city,

-Cut off its food and water supply,

-And starve the people into surrender.

-When people are driven to the point of desperation,

-Desperate deeds are done.

-We saw that last week in David’s flight from Saul.

-Pushed to the point of insane desperation David flees to a Philistine city,

-Where he only escapes by feigning madness.

-But David is not the only desperate person in this story of his journey to the throne of Israel.


-Psalm 31 draws a contrast between David,

-And the enemies who are harassing him.

-He’s the faithful man who takes refuge in the Lord, v1

-While others in this world cling to worthless idols, v6.

-He won’t be shamed for his trust in God, v17

-But the wicked will.

-He’ll always be heard by God,

-But the wicked will lie silent in the grave.

-The Lord preserves the faithful, v23

-But the proud he pays back in full.

-And as we read of the struggles of David in the book of 1Samuel,

-It’s hard not to think that King Saul fits perfectly into this picture of the wicked man,

-A man under siege of his own character and making.


-It’s important for us not to overlook Saul.

-God’s original intent after rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt,

-Was that they were to be a theocracy,

-That God was to be their king.

-But after a long period of judges providing leadership,

-The people cry out to the prophet Samuel,

-‘Give us a king to lead us.’

-Samuel was displeased at this request but God’s reply is insightful;

“. . . it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” 1Samuel 8:7

-Israel is back to its old habit of rejecting the kingly rule of God.

-After hearing all the downsides of monarchy,

-The people still demand;

“We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” 1Samuel 8:19-20

-Can you see the subtle error of their demand?

-They want a king who’ll fight their battles.

-Yet it had been God who had done that for them in the past.

-Their demand for a king was a repudiation of the history of God’s protection.

-And Saul is the king who God directs Samuel to anoint.


-And it starts very promising.

-After Samuel anoints Saul,

-He tells him that the Spirit of God will come upon him in power,

-And he’ll be changed into a different person.

-As he leaves Samuel to return home to his uncle’s house,

-We’re told God changes Saul’s heart.

-And sure enough,

-When he gets to Gibeah he meets a band of prophets,

-The Holy Spirit comes powerfully upon him and Saul prophesies with them.

-Shortly after the people declare Saul king the Ammonites invade the town of Jabesh.

-Saul unites the Israelites into an army that slaughters the enemy.

-Not everyone was happy that Saul had been made king however,

-And some declared he wouldn’t rule them.

-After this victory there was a call that these traitors be put to death,

-But Saul shows incredible wisdom, humility and spiritual insight saying;

“No one shall be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.” 1Samuel 11: 13


-If Saul had continued upon this righteous path then his story would have been different.

-But Saul soon reveals his rebellious, self-centred heart.

-Samuel instructs him to meet him at Gilgal in seven days when he’ll offer up a sacrifice to God.

-In the meantime Israel is again threatened.

-This time by a huge Philistine army.

-The Israelites become fearful and retreat to Gilgal.

-After seven days Saul’s men begin to scatter and there’s no sign of Samuel.

-So Saul takes it upon himself to offer up the burnt sacrifice.

-Just as he finishes the ceremony Samuel appears and says to Saul,

-‘What have you done?’

-Just listen to Saul’s excuse;

“When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favour.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” 1Samuel 13: 11-12

-‘It’s all your fault Samuel.’

-This may not seem to be a big deal for us,

-But Samuel’s response indicates there’s more happening here than just burning a lamb of two;

“‘You have done a foolish thing,’ Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.’”  1Samuel 13: 13-14

-Saul is under siege.


-But things are going to get worse.

-The years pass and Samuel reappears to tell Saul that God is going to use him to punish the Amalekites.

-Saul is to completely annihilate every man, woman, child, animal and possession,

-Nothing is allowed to live.

-Now whatever you may feel about that command just listen to what actually happened;

“But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.” 1Samuel 15: 9

-They spared king Agag,

-They kept the best animals and everything that was good,

-And they destroyed the despised and weak.

-When Samuel confronts him about his failure to obey the command of God,

-Saul makes the excuse that they’d kept all these good things aside to sacrifice to God.

-To which Samuel replies;

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1Samuel 15: 22


-David wrote in Psalm 31;

“But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’” Psalm 31:16

-That’s what Saul failed to do,

-Trust God.

-Even his answer to Samuel is an insight into his character;

“‘But I did obey the Lord,’ Saul said. ‘I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.’” 1Samuel 15:20-21

-He fails to see his fault.

-He claims to have completely destroyed the Amelikites,

-But king Agag is an Amelikite!

He was blameless,

-It was the soldiers who brought back the animals,

-‘They failed not me!’

-Faced with his sin and rebellion Saul tries to justify himself.

-That’s completely opposite to David’s response when he’s confronted for his sin with Bathsheba.

-And as Saul tears Samuel’s cloak trying to turn him back,

-So God tears the kingdom from Saul,

-And gives it over to ‘the man after his own heart’.


-The bitterness and jealousy of Saul grows,

-To the point where he’d rather see David destroyed than care for his own people.

-Again David’s character shines through.

-Although he’s on the run from Saul,

-David still has compassion for his fellow Israelites.

-He hears of the attacks by the Philistines on the town of Keilah,

-And asks the Lord whether he should go up and defend the city?

-God says to go up.

-But David has problems with his soldiers;

“Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” 1Samuel 23:3

-But listen how David handles this,

-He doesn’t capitulate and say ‘well that’s the end of that’,

-He turns back to God and asks him if this is the right thing to do?

-And God says he’ll give the Philistines over to him,

-And David saves the town of Keilah.

-David does what the king is supposed to do,

-Unite his people,

-Save his people.


-Contrast that to Saul who hears of David’s adventure and says v7;

“God has given him into my hand; for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” 1Samuel 23: 7

-Saul sees this as an opportunity to take advantage of David’s grace,

-And sends his entire army to besiege David.

-Now remember the fear that siege struck in the hearts of the ancients.

-When David hears of Saul’s plans he knows this is bad news for the town he’s just rescued.

-Psalm 31 is a mish-mash of emotion.

-It starts with the high point of David’s trust in God,

-Then seems to dive down into uncertainty and despair.

-In v9 he says ‘Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress’,

-And then vv11-13 seem to explain the source of that distress;

“I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.13 For I hear the whispering of many— terror all around!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.” 1Samuel 23: 11-13

-It might seem unfair,

-But David’s new neighbours in Keilah were clearly not happy that Saul was sending soldiers to besiege their town because of David.

-He literally would have been an object of dread.

-But once again he turns to God,

-And asks of the Lord what he probably already knew in his heart,

-‘Will the citizens of Keilah hand us over to Saul?’


-Imagine having rescued a town at great personal risk only to have them turn against you.

-Doesn’t seem to show much appreciation.

-But for David it would have been pointless saving the town,

-Only to have it destroyed because he was in it.

-And once again we see in the Psalm the prayer David may well have been bringing to God in that circumstance;

“Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge. . . take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge” Psalm 31: 2,4

-In vv21-22 David expresses God’s answer to his prayer;

“Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. 22 In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight!’ Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.” Psalm 31: 21-22

-God is faithful.

-God will act out of love for his people.


-David opens the Psalm with a declaration;

“In you, O Lord, I seek refuge” Psalm 31: 1

-David is committed to God.

-He’s taken refuge in God,

-He’s nailed his colours to the mast and is willing to accept what that means.

-We don’t see such trust or humility in Saul.

-But as we saw last week in Psalm 34,

-There’s a prophetic edge to David’s Psalms that go beyond his own situation,

-And look forward to another king who’ll be anointed by God to rule over his kingdom.

-That king is Jesus,

-And in v5 we’re shown the prophetic window,

-Through which we see another ruler handed over by the people he came to save.

-Luke recalls that Jesus’ final words from the cross were;

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

-Besieged by a hostile crowd,

-A complacent government,

-An antagonistic hierarchy,

-Jesus continued his confidence in his heavenly Father,

-And God silenced their lying lips, Psalm 31:18.

-David saw the fate of the wicked shamefully lying silent in the grave, Psalm 31:17,

-But on the third day Jesus rose from the very grave that silences all the enemies of God.


-Psalm 31 concludes with this exhortation by David;

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” Psalm 31: 24

-Whether we realise it or not,

-As followers of Jesus we are besieged by the world.

-That’s going to be the reality until Jesus returns.

-There’ll be times when we can break out,

-Where the enemy retreats,

-Just as there’ll be times when we’re hard pressed and may fear for our own survival.

-There’ll be times when those closest to us will be the cause of our grief,

-And when the weak ones around us will regain new strength.

-Such will be the ups and downs of life reflected in this Psalm of David.

-Yet through all of these situations of life,

-We have a faithful God who is with us,

-Who hears and speaks to us.

-We’re not alone,

-We have a Saviour and Lord who has been where we are,

-And even in the darkest of those times he was still able to say to his heavenly Father,

-‘Into your hands I commit my spirit.’

-It’s because those hands are faithful and strong that we can have the same confidence,

-And take hope in our Lord.

Sermon: Epiphany 3, 21 January 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Doeg the Dobber- 1Samuel 22:6-23, Psalm 52

-Suffering has been a bit of a theme throughout the Psalms of David that we’ve been looking at each week.

-For a man anointed as the future king of God’s people,

-David has been doing it tough.

-He’s being persecuted by the current king Saul,

-He’s had to flee to his own nation’s enemies,

-The people whose town he saved can’t be trusted to protect him,

-He’s constantly in desperate situations,

-And David gives vent to the desperation he’s experienced through his Psalms.


-Why is David going through all of this?

-Surely if God has the strength and power to be his refuge,

-His fortress,

-His strong tower,

-Then he could have smoothed the way before him.

-Did God get taken by surprise by the insane jealousy of Saul?

-Couldn’t God have given the citizens of Keilah braver hearts to stand behind David their saviour?

-And let’s not leave it with David,

-How about you and me?

-How come our lives aren’t a lot better than they are?

-Aren’t we God’s people?

-Isn’t he a fortress, a tower, a refuge for us today?

-How come we suffer in this world?

-How come the people of Syria, South Sudan and North Korea are suffering?

-If God is all powerful,

-Why is there suffering,

-Why is there evil in this world?

-Something is out of wack!


-When Moses confronts Pharaoh in the book of Exodus,

-We read this about his recalcitrant heart

-‘Pharaoh hardened his heart.’ Exodus 8:15, 32, 9:34

-‘The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.’ Exodus 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27

-‘Pharaoh’s heart became hard.’ Exodus 7:13, 22

-Three different ways the writer of Exodus tells us that Pharaoh’s heart was impacted by Moses’ threats.

-He hardens his own heart,

-God hardens his heart,

-And then more ominously,

-His heart was just hardened by someone or something unknown.


-Remember when David went to the town of Nob where Ahimelech the priest most helpfully gave him five loaves of bread,

-And less helpfully,

-The sword of Goliath?

-Within that story of David and Ahimelech there was a single foreboding verse;

“Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd.” 1Samuel 21: 7

-The introduction to Psalm 52 tells us that this psalm is;

“A maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: ‘David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.’”

-And the opening lines give us David’s thoughts about this vile person;

“Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.” Psalm 53: 1-4

-Doeg was Saul’s chief shepherd,

-So David the shepherd may’ve known him.

-Which was why he said to Ahimelech’s son Abiathar;

“That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul.” 1Samuel 22: 22

-David knew enough about the character of Doeg to believe that he was a danger.

-Enough to say of Doeg’s evil acts;

“I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” 1Samuel 22:22


-In our Samuel reading we got to see what Saul was capable of,

-And Doeg was willing to do.

-The paranoid Saul thinks everyone is against him now,

-Because no-one tells him what David is up to.

-Doeg however is more than willing to ingratiate himself on the unstable Saul.

-He tells him of David’s visit to Nob,

-But he starts his denunciation with a lie that will stir Saul’s jealousies;

“Ahimelech inquired of the Lord for him;” 1Samuel 22: 10

-Saul has been complaining that he knows nothing,

-Then Doeg implies that David knows everything,

-Because he has a priest who inquires of God and passes those messages on to David.


-Saul is incensed and he commands the presence of Ahimelech and his family of priests.

-After ignoring Ahimelech’s pleas of both innocence and ignorance,

-Saul orders his soldiers to kill the priests of the Lord.

– But it’s one thing to be hunting down David,

-Another to kill the servants of the Lord,

-And they refuse.

-So Saul turns to the Edomite,

-The foreigner,

-And Doeg happily kills 85 priests.


-David was right to appraise Doeg as a man who loves evil rather than good, Psalm 52: 3

-Listen to how 1Samuel 22:19 describes Doeg’s blood lust;

“Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; men and women, children and infants, oxen, donkeys, and sheep, he put to the sword.” 1Samuel 22: 19

-Saul had been commanded to completely destroy the Amelikites,

-The men, women, children, animals and possessions.

-This description of total annihilation was to indicate that this was holy war,

-That the Israelites were God’s instruments in bringing God’s judgement upon an evil people.

-What Doeg does is described in the same terms,

-But rather than being the rightful judgement of God on the wicked,

-It was an evil act of revenge on the innocent.

-And both Saul and Doeg were responsible and culpable.


-But let’s step back a moment from this story.

-There are no end of situations and stories just like this scattered all across time and lives.

-Paranoia, jealousy, revenge,

-Ambition, desire, avarice.

-Innocence, virtue, goodness,

-Purity, integrity, decency.

-All clashing, colliding and conflicting so that suffering, pain and brokenness impact every one of us,

-And we’ve all said or thought with David;

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning.” Psalm 22:1

-Or maybe if not that dramatically,

-Then at least like David in Psalm 55;

“Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; 2 hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught.” Psalm 55: 1-2

-We’ve all moved at some time in our life,

-Through that spectrum of emotion where God is far removed,

-To he’s there,

-But maybe not listening or even caring.

-Or he’s powerless to act.


-If you’ve felt or thought this way,

-You’ve banged up against what philosophers call ‘the problem of evil’.

-The problem of an all powerful, all knowing, good God on the one hand,

-And the existence of evil and suffering on the other.

-Throughout the Psalms we see David reflecting upon the very same question.

-Even the writer of Exodus shows an understanding of the problem,

-When he writes that Pharaoh hardened his heart,

-God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,

-And someone or something else hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

-Pharaoh inflicted suffering on the Hebrews from the malice in his own heart.

-God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order that the Israelites would see the power of God in rescuing them.

-Some other evil power or force hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to foil God’s plan of salvation.

-Which one was it?

-Exodus would seem to be suggesting it was all of them.

-And so responsibility and culpability get mixed into a confusing blur.

-David felt responsible for the death of Ahimelech and his family because he saw Doeg at Nob.

-Yet Doeg was there only because he was ‘detained before the Lord’.

-Why did God detain him?

-Did he harden Doeg’s heart like he did with Pharaoh?

-So was God responsible for the death of Ahimelech?

-In fact was God responsible for David’s plight?

-The problem of evil,

-The problem of suffering.


-However unless we make a distinction between responsibility and culpability,

-Being involved in an action and being guilty of it,

-We’ll tie ourselves in knots.

-Around 1600 Australians a year are killed in car accidents.

-Ford, Holden, Toyota are responsible for making those vehicles,

-But they’re not culpable for the deaths caused by drunks, the inexperienced or the just plain unfortunate.

-Because God is the creator of everything,

-He’s responsible for everything.

-He’s responsible for the beauty of this world,

-Just as much as human beings and the devil rebelling against him.


-Because he created moral beings.

-He made creatures who could freely choose their behaviours,

-Who could choose to obey or reject him.


-Genesis tell us not only that God made the entire universe,

-But it also explains why the perfect world of Genesis 1 & 2 is not what we see after Genesis 3.

-Genesis 3 pulls back the curtain of history,

-To show a choice made by the first human beings to rebel against God.

-And with that rebellion death, disease and disorder entered God’s creation.

-God created us with hearts that could be hardened,

-We chose to harden our hearts against God,

-And Satan hardened our hearts to ignore God and follow our own wilful desires.

-‘Responsibility’ for the condition of our world is spread across all.

-But not ‘culpability’.

-God was not culpable for the sin of Adam and Eve,

-God was not culpable for the fall of Satan,

-Guilt lies at the feet of those beings who wilfully chose to disobey God.

-Guilt lies at the feet of Doeg who through a desire for wealth and position,

-Lied about Ahimelech and slaughtered his family.

-Guilt lies at the feet of Saul who through an insane jealousy of David,

-Ordered the murder of innocents.


-But there’s one more piece in this particular puzzle that needs to be placed.

-There was a very famous case in America concerning the Ford Pinto,

-A car with a design fault that caused it to explode in low speed rear end accidents.

-The company refused to change the design,

-Because it was cheaper to pay out death and injury claims,

-Than to fix the problem.

-A court found Ford guilty of negligence for not fixing the problem.

-Because they knew of the problem and refused to act,

-They were found to be both ‘responsible’ and ‘culpable’ for the deaths of over 180 people.

-Despite David’s sense of responsibility there really was nothing he could have done.

-He may have judged Doeg’s character to be wicked,

-But he couldn’t have possibly seen the ruthless evil that he was capable of and would commit.

-But God does know what we’re capable of,

-In fact an eternal, omniscient God not only knows what we could do but what we will do.

-And he could prevent all evil.


-Or he could hold the evil-doers to account.

-He could bring justice to the offenders and the sufferers.

-In Psalm 52:5 David recognises this characteristic of God,

-He is holy and just.

-He won’t let the wicked get away with their evil;

“But God will break you down for ever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living.” Psalm 52:5

-Here is where responsibility and culpability diverge.

-If God let the guilty get away with their sins he’d be neither just nor holy,

-In fact he’d be complicit in letting evil flourish.

-But David knows the character of his God.

-He knows there’ll be an eternal price to pay.

-And it’ll be a very public reckoning;

“The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying, ‘See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!’” Psalm 52: 6-7

-Who is it the righteous will fear?

-It’s not the wicked,

-They laugh at them,

-And their foolish belief that they’ll escape the judgement of God.

-No, it’s God they’ll fear.

-They’ll recognise that God is indeed all powerful and is not to be trifled with.

-He’s an awesome God who cannot be treated lightly or dismissed.

-He’s a holy God who does not brook disobedience and sin.


-Doeg declared an unholy war on the servants of the Lord,

-He slaughtered the innocent.

-We may have been shocked to hear God command Saul to completely annihilate the Amelikites.

-But that’s because we judge by human standards.

-What could be so bad that God would want to completely wipe the very existence of a people from the face of the earth?

-What could possibly justify such holy war?

-The answer this side of heaven is,

-I have no idea!

-Just as I have no idea why God doesn’t stop every evil before it occurs,

-Just as David had no idea why he was hated by Saul,

-Why he couldn’t rely on the people of Keilah.

-But within Psalm 52 David shares the insight which should strengthen us,

-When we’re wrestling with the pain and sufferings of this broken world,

-When we’re struggling for meaning and purpose in the midst of evil and wickedness;

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God for ever and ever. I will thank you for ever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.” Psalm 52: 8-9

-God is good.

-This is both a moral judgement and a statement of character.

-God is good.


-The answer to the problem of evil is not solved by appeals to philosophy but character.

-God is good.

-The philosophical problem is framed in such a way that logic demands an either or answer,

-Either God is good or evil is invincible.

-But God is good,

-Therefore evil does not have the last word.

-That evil is powerless in the presence of God is seen most perfectly on the cross.

-To a wicked world looking on,

-God is weak, pitiful, defeated.

-But the reality was something different,

-For the death and evil that has cursed mankind from that first rebellion,

-Was swallowed up in the self giving love of Jesus.

-God is good.

-God’s unfailing love conquered our hardened hearts.

-What then is our response in the face of the hard heart?

-What will give us confidence in our struggles?

-Hope in conflicts?

-David’s victorious praise;

“I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” Psalm 52:8

-Because God is good.


Sermon: Epiphany 2, 14 January 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

David the Mad Man- 1Samuel 21:10-15, Psalm 34
-Have you ever been in such desperate straits that you’ve acted out of character through mere necessity?
-Desperation can drive a person to say or do things that they wouldn’t normally consider.
-Desperation can make the wise act foolishly,
-The brave behave cowardly,
-The strong show weakness.
-And as we follow the story of David in 1Samuel,
-We’re presented with the reality that ‘the man after God’s own heart’,
-Has human failings that are exacerbated by desperation.
-His behaviour shows that David is no superhero,
-Just like us,
-He get’s overwhelmed by his circumstances and does something which is totally crazy.
-But as he looks back upon the circumstance through the poetry of his Psalms,
-We glimpse why David is called ‘a man after God’s own heart’.

-Hindsight is often pejoratively labelled as ’20-20’,
-When we look back on events from our past we can see perfectly clearly,
-What we should’ve,
-Would’ve done,
-But the reality is we can’t go back.
-But experience can be a great teacher,
-And that’s how David comes to write his Psalms.
-He takes his experiences,
-But then stands them in the light of the character and nature of God.
-He reflects upon what he’s been through,
-Points us back to God,
-And tells us how we can learn from his experience,
-Without suffering the same pain that he endured.
-Experience is a great teacher,
-But the best teacher is someone else’s desperate experience.

-And boy was David desperate.
-Last week we left David on the run after Saul’s murderous intent is foiled by God’s long term providence.
-David escapes Saul’s clutches with the help of Michal,
-His wife and Saul’s daughter.
-That marriage was part of Saul’s plan to increase the threat to David going into battle as the king’s son-in-law,
-But God used Saul’s trap to spring David.
-Michal lowers David from their bedroom window,
-And buys time for him by disguising a statue in their bed as a sleeping David recovering from illness.

-We pick up the story with David now knowing the seriousness of his situation.
-Saul’s jealous rage isn’t just an anomalous symptom of his escalating depression,
-This is a deep and abiding envy and fear of David.
-There can be no going back,
-He’s now a high profile fugitive from the king,
-Fleeing with nothing.

-With no physical resources of any kind David heads to the town of Nob,
-Where there’s a worship site and a priest called Ahimelech.
-David tells a troubled and suspicious Ahimelech that he’s on a top secret mission for Saul,
-The urgency of which has made him leave without food or weapons.
-The priest asks him why he’s alone?
-David says his men are waiting at a secret rendezvous and asks for five loaves of bread.
-Remember David has a thousand men at his command,
-Such is the desperation of David that he’s not even able to put up a convincing story,
-Five loaves for a thousand men?
-Ahimelech gives him the bread that was put out at the beginning of each week as a sacrifice to God.
-David asks him if he has any weapons to which Ahimelech replies;
“The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, is here. . . If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.” 1Samuel 21: 9
-So now armed and fed David continues his desperate escape.

-Remember last week, the frypan?
-Well David is about to leap from an increasingly hot frypan,
-Into an exceedingly blistering fire.
-In 1Samuel 21:10ff we read;
“David rose and fled that day from Saul; he went to King Achish of Gath. 11 The servants of Achish said to him, ‘Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands?’12 David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of King Achish of Gath.” 1Samuel 21:10-12
-As well he might.
-David is clearly so desperate that he’s not thinking straight.
-David’s fame has gone before him.
-The servants of Achish recognise David as the king of the land.
-That’s not a reference to any official status,
-It’s because of his stature as a warrior,
-He’s such a great soldier he rules the land.
-Now this would be an encouraging introduction,
-Except for the fact that Achish is a Philistine king.
-Who were the ‘ten thousands’ that David had slain?
-And what’s he’s carrying into the Philistine’s citadel?
-The sword that belonged to Goliath!
-What desperation, pain and confusion must have driven David,
-To make him lose touch with reality to the point where he seeks a risky refuge from a Philistine king?

-David is only able to escape this predicament by feigning madness to the point where Achish declares;
“Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? 15 Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” 1Samuel 21:14-15
-Carrying the sword of Goliath may have been the final piece of evidence that convinced Achish,
-That David really was out of his mind!
-That in desperation he had to undergo such a humiliating charade,
-Must have sharpened David’s mind to seek the divine perspective,
-A perspective he expresses in Psalm 34.

-David begins the Psalm with the praise of God.
-The great 19th century preacher C.H. Spurgeon wrote this about the beginning of Psalm 34;
“The confident expressions of tried believers are a rich solace to their brethren of less experience. We ought to talk of the Lord’s goodness on purpose that others may be confirmed in their trust in a faithful God.”
-Coming out the other side of desperation David praises God,
-This dark experience brings him first to the point of praising and worshipping God;
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.3 O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” Psalm 34:1-3
-Like the apostle Paul,
-David says he’ll bless the Lord at all times.
-He’s not a fair weather friend of God.
-How often have you heard someone say that they no longer believe in God because he let them down?
-When I hear this it so often confirms the thought that far from being disciples of Jesus,
-These people are religious consumers,
-Happy to identify as believers,
-Until God fails to deliver the comfort and blessings they’ve come to expect in our materialistic and self-centred culture.
-But David’s not like that,
-And he’s definitely not directing his words to those who have got it easy,
-Notice v2,
-‘Let the humble hear and be glad’

-Why should the humble hear and rejoice?
-Because David is going to point them to the source of comfort in even the most desperate of times;
“I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. 5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.” Psalm 34: 4-6
-Just as we saw last week in Psalm 59,
-God can be relied upon.
-Now it’s hard to see in the Samuel account at what point David did seek the Lord in prayer,
-Carrying the sword of Goliath into a Philistine stronghold would appear to be a problem of your own making,
-But how many of us turn to God for assistance immediately we face difficulties in our lives?

-Again it was Spurgeon who pointed out that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about trying to save ourselves till desperation strikes.
-When David says ‘this poor soul’ he wasn’t decrying his financial state, Psalm 34: 6
-It was a recognition of that bankrupt spiritual state that sought his own way of salvation,
-As humiliating as that was.
-And yet God didn’t hold that against him,
-David was confident that God did hear his prayer when it came.
-Spurgeon wrote these encouraging words about the prayers of those weighed down by their shattered self-confidence and sin;
“It must have been in a very confused manner that David prayed, and there must have been much of self-sufficiency in his prayer, or he would not have resorted to methods of such dubious morality as pretending to be mad and behaving as a lunatic . . . We may seek God even when we have sinned. If sin could blockade the mercy seat it would be all over with us, but the mercy is that there are gifts even for the rebellious, and an advocate for men who sin.” Spurgeon Psalm 34 p123

-You see prayer is not about us,
-The mistake of the consumer,
-It’s about God,
-Our God who hears and acts.
-In Psalm 34 we learn a lot about desperation and providence.
-Just listen to how David piles evidence upon evidence of God’s provision to those who trust him;
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. 8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. 9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. 10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34: 7-10
-If David hadn’t been brought to desperation,
-He wouldn’t have known the full extent of God’s provision.
-I’m always amazed by those faithful brothers and sisters in Christ,
-Who have been through the most horrific of circumstances,
-Yet when asked would they want that trial removed say no.
-That’s not because they’re masochists,
-But because they were able to experience the reality of God’s faithfulness,
-Where the religious consumer only experiences discomfort and self-pity.

-It’s only in those times of desperation and struggle that the believer can discover these truths that moves us from faith,
-Believing God could,
-To experience,
-Knowing God does.
-Just look at these words in vv 17-22 and ask yourself,
-‘How could I possibly know this provision of God, unless I experienced it for myself?’
“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.18 The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.20 He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.21 Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” Psalm 34: 17-22
-But then I have heard of followers of Jesus being tortured and having bones broken.
-I’ve heard stories of persecutors escaping justice,
-And the Lord’s servants losing their lives.
-Is there something missing in this picture of God’s providence?
-It’s not that something is missing but the focus has changed.

-David’s Psalm concludes with those words,
-But they don’t conclude the good news,
-Rather they point forward to a greater purpose that God has in mind for the desperate straits we find ourselves in.
-In vv 11-14 David calls upon his readers to live a changed life,
-A life marked by the fear of the Lord.
-It’s the life exhorted by Jesus as he began his ministry saying;
“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1: 15
-David knew that he lived in a broken and fallen world,
-A world marred by his own and others’ sin.
-The desperate situations you and I often find ourselves in are not just the making of others.
-More often than we care to admit,
-The desperation we experience is caused by our own commission,
-It’s a consequence of our own sinfulness,
-And we can’t pass the buck on to the Sauls or Philistine kings in our life.
-Just like David we’re all ‘poor souls’ who are in need of rescue,
-Of redemption from our sins.
-We need to;
“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34: 14
-We can’t do that by ourselves,
-We need to hear the good news that Jesus brought,
-That the kingdom of God has come near,
-And it has come near through Jesus the king.
-His command to repent and believe is only made possible through the change of heart that comes through his saving death on the cross.

-Those final words of Psalm 34 are not about us,
-As much as the religious consumer in all of us would like.
-They’re about Jesus.
-The gospel writer John looked on as the Roman Centurion plunged a spear into Jesus’ dead body,
-Leading him to write many years later;
“These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’” John 19:36-37
-These final words of Psalm 34 are a prophecy of the death, resurrection and vindication of Jesus.
-The Lord did rescue his servant,
-And no-one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.
-Desperation need no longer control us,
-Rather we like David can turn in prayer and accept the salvation of Jesus,
-We can praise the Lord for his grace and provision,
-And we can enter into his purpose of redeeming this world for his eternal praise and glory.