Sermon: Pentecost 20, 14 October 2018, Dr Ruth Shatford, St Alban’s & St Aidan’s

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Sermon: Pentecost 20, 14 October 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

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Sermon: Pentecost 19, 7 October 2018, Bishop Chris Edwards, St Alban’s

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Sermon: Pentecost 18, 23 September 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

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Sermon: Pentecost 17, 16 September 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

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Sermon: Pentecost 16, 9 September 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

A Disciple Discriminates Correctly: James 2:1-13

-One of the highest values in western societies is anti-discrimination.

-It can be seen in legislation at all levels of government.

-Discrimination is deemed to be wrong by our society.

-It’s wrong to set up different standards for different people is the claim.

-It’s wrong to discriminate against a person because they have a skin colour different to yours,

-It’s wrong to make decisions about a person because of their sex,

-It’s wrong to hold a person’s age against them.

-It’s wrong because they’ve had no choice in being black, female or elegantly silver haired!!!

-Now notice with all those statements I’ve introduced a moral judgement.

-Right and wrong are moral statements.

-As soon as you say ‘this is wrong’ you’ve made a moral assessment.

 

-But have you ever seen an argument put why discrimination is wrong?

-As a culture we just assume that to discriminate between one person and another is morally reprehensible,

-It’s taken as a self-evident truth.

-But it’s not,

-And neither is any moral position that anybody in a society or cultural grouping holds.

-There always has to be a base for the moral choices and decisions we make.

 

-A common attack you’ll often read or hear in any issue which has moral implications,

-Is that Christians have no right to force their religious views upon society.

-Have you heard that?

-Well have you ever heard anyone say why they have the right,

-To force their irreligious beliefs upon society?

-Why does a moral position shaped by a Peter Singer or Richard Di Natale have a greater right to a hearing,

-Than a moral position based on God’s word?

-And who says Christians have no right to promote a biblical view of life,

-Isn’t that discrimination?

 

-Discrimination is the issue that James addresses in his letter to the Jewish Christians,

-That have been scattered from their homeland in to the surrounding nations.

-However James is not arguing against discrimination.

-He recognises that everyone, even God, discriminates,

-Rather he’s wanting his Christian audience, and us,

-To recognise that a disciple discriminates correctly.

-Like all human behaviours,

-Discrimination can be right or wrong.

-Discrimination just means making a judgement.

-When the legislators of the southern states of America and in South Africa,

-Controlled what people could do and where they could go based on the colour of their skin,

-They were making a judgement that blacks where inferior to whites.

-That is morally reprehensible and is an evil judgement.

-In a theme park,

-People who are under a certain size are not allowed to go on the ride.

-That’s discrimination,

-That’s a judgement,

-But it’s a judgement based on a consideration of the safety implications for a short person going on a ride.

-No one would argue that judgement was immoral or evil.

 

-In verses 12-13 on your sheet James reminds all of us that God discriminates.

-Just listen to what he says;

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.” James 2: 12-13

-Because he’s referred to judgement ‘by the law of liberty’,

-James is referring to God.

-It’s God who is going to judge all of us.

-That’s another proposition that many people in our world are not too enthusiastic about.

-It’s alright for them to make all sorts of judgements about what is and isn’t right in their opinion,

-But they refuse to allow God the same privilege.

-But James holds no such prejudices,

-He knows the scriptural truths that God is the rightful judge of this world.

-He acknowledges that judging requires discrimination.

-He’s noted as much to his readers in v5 when he said;

“Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” James 2: 5

-God has discriminated between the poor in the eyes of the world,

-And the arrogantly haughty rich who are persecuting the Christian church.

-He’s made a judgement by choosing,

-Favouring,

-Preferring the poor.

 

-But God’s judgement isn’t based on some personal preference.

-And that’s the problem that faces so much of the indignation of the world’s perceptions of discrimination,

-It’s based on personal preference.

-Just have a look at a behaviour that James describes in vv2-3;

“If a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves. . . ” James 2:2-3

-Now I’ve stopped short of James’ conclusion so that I can ask you,

-What’s wrong with sucking up to a rich person?

-Why should I care about some scruffy hobo?

-True I’ve made a judgement between the rich person and the poor man,

-I’ve discriminated,

-But so what?

-If I get rid of the poor man the room will smell better,

-If I toady up to the rich man he might lavish me with gifts.

-You may respond that that’s ‘disgraceful and selfish’,

-But I can come back and legitimately ask you,

-Why is that disgraceful?

-What’s wrong with being selfish?

-And anyway, that’s just your personal opinion.

 

-You might want to get bolder and argue,

-‘Society says that’s disgraceful.’

-But what makes society right?

-There was a time in German history where society said it was alright to send Jews to concentration camps.

-‘They preferred a Jew free society,

-‘I prefer poverty free social gatherings.’

 

-We human beings discriminate all the time for all sorts of personal preferences,

-And for some reasons that are down-right offensive.

-God also judges and discriminates,

-But he does it,

-Not from personal preference but from personal nature.

-God is a holy God,

-A righteous God.

-He makes judgements founded on his perfect will,

-Judgements based on what James describes as the law of liberty, James 2:12.

 

-Now let me add James’ conclusion to his example of discrimination;

“If you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes . . . have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2:3-4

-Note that James has added a moral judgement,

-He’s actually implied that there are two types of judges in this world,

-The unstated ‘judges with good thoughts’,

-And ones whose discrimination is evidence of evil thoughts.

-And when James uses the adjective ‘evil’ to describe such discrimination,

-He’s not thinking of just bad thoughts,

-Or unenlightened thoughts,

-Or even bigoted, narrow-minded, prejudiced thoughts,

-He’s introducing a religious category.

 

-Evil is a condition that’s the opposite of godly.

-Evil is behaviour antagonistic to God.

-This isn’t just personal preference,

-This is ingrained rebellion against the holy, righteous character of our Creator.

-And because it’s an attack on the character of God,

-It has an objective reality that transcends personal preference.

-Although the humanist worldview that dominates our western consumerist society would deny it,

-There really is a struggle between good and evil in this world,

-A struggle that has been revealed to us in the bible,

-A struggle that demonstrates to us that the disciple of Jesus,

-Really does need to know how to discriminate correctly.

 

-And that’s the problem that James is highlighting.

-His Christian readers were not discriminating correctly.

-Their behaviour was actually a negative discrimination,

-In that they were showing favouritism,

-Favouritism for all the wrong reasons,

-Applied to all the wrong people.

-James challenges this negative discrimination at three levels.

 

-First, it’s inconsistent with God’s choice of the poor;

“Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” James 2: 5

-Now there’s a subtlety to the word ‘poor’ which isn’t immediately obvious to us.

-In the Old Testament poor had two meanings,

-It could have been the materially impoverished,

-Which would immediately jump to our mind when we read of a poor man in shabby clothes,

-Or it could mean the humble and meek who recognise their dependence on God.

-This is poor in a spiritual sense.

-This is the sense of poor that Jesus had in mind when he said of his disciples;

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6: 20

-And more explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount;

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 3

-There is nothing inherently worthy about the poor,

-It’s more that the dependency of the poor stands in contrast to the self-sufficiency and self-confidence of the rich,

-A self-centredness that often hardens their hearts against God.

 

-That hardness against God leads to the second reason why James’ readers are being cautioned about their negative discrimination;

“Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?” James 2: 6

-You could understand someone who favours those who favour them.

-But the rich are the ones who are exploiting and harassing the followers of Christ.

-They’re the ones who are taking advantage of the poor within the churches

-This is just plain stupid behaviour that adds a further insult to the materially poor in their midst.

-Rather than standing with God and their poor Christian brothers and sisters,

-These fellow Christians are siding with the very people who are dragging them into court,

-And even worse,

-Are denigrating the name of Jesus and the faith of all those who follow him, James 2: 7

-What an indictment.

-They ostracise those God is for,

-And stand with those who slander God himself.

 

-And here is the third and maybe most damning accusation against their negative discriminating;

“You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” James 2: 8-9

-It’s the objective word of God that’s to guide our behaviour,

-The scriptures.

-Loving your neighbour has nothing to do with a personal preference.

-You love your neighbour because it’s the command of the God of love.

-The disciple of Jesus is called to love their neighbour as an act of thankfulness and obedience to God.

-You may prefer to walk past the filthy dero,

-You may prefer to hobnob with the rich,

-You may prefer to toss the scraps of hospitality to the socially inferior,

-But that personal preference is a rejection of God’s command to love your neighbour.

 

-When that command was given to the legalistic Pharisees,

-They tried to wiggle out of the implications of obedience by asking,

-‘Who is my neighbour?’

-Jesus answered that with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

-It was the despised Samaritan enemy who helped the injured Jew,

-Who the religious hierarchy walked past.

-The point was clear,

-Everyone is my neighbour.

-To James’ Jewish Christian readers they would have known the significance of being a lawbreaker.

-Just as they would have understood the logic behind v11;

“For he who said ’Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.” James 2: 11

-The Jews understood that the Law wasn’t something you could get a graded pass on.

-You couldn’t mostly keep the Law and still be in a right relationship with the perfectly holy God who gave that Law.

-You had to keep every single part.

-Just because you were faithful to your wife,

-Never stole your neighbour’s cow,

-And didn’t lie to the tax man,

-Wouldn’t excuse you murdering your brother-in-law.

To break one of God’s laws is to break them all.

-And so showing favouritism is discriminating in a way that breaches God’s command to love your neighbour.

-Favouritism exposes the state of your heart,

-And where your true allegiances lie.

 

-God’s people are called to discriminate,

-We’re called to make judgements between right and wrong,

-Moral and immoral,

-Evil and godly.

-Those judgements are not to be based on personal preference,

-Like we see in the actions of populist politicians and those who reject God’s law.

-We are to discriminate correctly based on the right application of the law of love,

-The love the bible speaks of and that Jesus proclaimed,

-A love that put the welfare of others ahead of its own needs and desires,

-A love of sacrifice and service,

-Rather than gratification and self indulgence.

-The correct application of discrimination is where rights are set aside,

-In order to promote the welfare of others.

-This is a discrimination that will continually remind us that God too discriminates,

-God judges,

-But in his judgement he has shown mercy through his Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Sermon: Pentecost 15, 2 September 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Aidan’s

Disciples Hear and Do- James 1:19-27

-Communication is at the very core of our human experience.

-Humans are communicating animals par excellence.

-We are at the top of the communications food chain.

-Look at the world around us and you see that nothing communicates like we do.

-Masses and masses of information and messages,

-Pass by our eyes, ears and minds every second of the day.

-TV, radio, internet, newspapers, magazines.

-We’re constantly bombarded by communications.

-And we do the bombarding as well.

-We pick up the phone,

-We flick out an email,

-We argue around a coffee table.

-We even do such primitive stuff as wave to a neighbour,

-Smile at a friend,

-Pat the dog.

 

-And the reason communication is so important is because it’s at the heart of relationships.

-Communicating is the foundation of relationships.

-We humans communicate in such deep and complex ways,

-Because we were created by a communicating God,

-A God whose very essence and being is relational.

-You may not be able to understand logically, philosophically or even theologically,

-That three persons can be one God,

-But the significance of the Trinity lies in this incredible truth,

-That God from all eternity is Father, Son and Holy Spirit in relationship,

-Three persons in eternal communication,

-Knowing and speaking with each other.

-God is a communicating God,

-Who creates communicating beings,

-And continues to communicate with us.

 

-That’s at the heart of James’ letter to the Jewish Christians who’d been scattered out across the known world.

-His letter could be summed up by 1:22;

“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” James 1:22

-It’s the word of God that James is referring to,

-God’s communication with his people.

-But the thing he warns against is a complacency about the word that causes us to fail to apply it.

-We can get a bit of an idea of how seriously James takes this by the illustration he uses, vv23-24;

“For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.  James 1:23-24

-Complacency is probably a gentle word,

-James is thinking more along the lines of the stupidity of such behaviour.

-Who in their right mind looks in the mirror and then forgets what they look like?

-Mirrors are there for a purpose aren’t they?

-Unless you’re a total narcissist,

-The only reason you look in a mirror is to make sure that everything is in order before you step out the door.

 

-I was at the gym on Monday and as I was looking in the mirror,

-I noticed the seam of my T-shirt seemed unusually bulky.

-So I stopped looking in the mirror,

-And looked closely at the seam to see what was wrong.

-I suddenly realised that there was nothing wrong with the seam,

-I’d actually put my t-shirt on inside out!!!

-I probably shouldn’t say this,

-But another time I was at the gym and doing a particular stretch which meant I was looking at my feet.

-I thought,

-‘That’s interesting, I’ve never noticed that these running shoes have an asymmetrical pattern.’

-Till it dawned on me that I was wearing odd shoes.

 

-Now being winter,

-It was no big deal because I put on a jumper before I left the gym.

-But what if I wasn’t planning to shower and change?

-What if I looked at that inside-out t-shirt or those mismatched shoes and just ignored them,

-Just continued the rest of the day as if nothing were wrong?

-Well James leaves that illustration hanging for us to come to our own conclusion.

-But he’s far more explicit with an example he gives of one of our more easily recognised day to day experiences;

“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” James 1:19-20

-Here I think we can see how practical James’ letter is.

-Who of us doesn’t get angry at some time?

-There may be times when anger is justified.

-If you see an injustice taking place and you get angry,

-That shows you care and have compassion.

-But there’s other times when anger is not so godly.

 

-When I was in college we had a Christian psychologist come,

-And he taught that anger is a response to blocked goals.

-That is a helpful insight.

-When I’m really angry about something I pause,

-Step back from the situation,

-And ask myself,

-‘Why are you so angry?

-‘What is it that you want that’s being blocked?’

-Once I’ve isolated the goal that’s being blocked,

-I more calmly and rationally deal with what’s taking place.

-Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all did that?

 

-Hey, it’d be a better place if I could do that!

-But that’s the reality of life isn’t it?

-That we hear how we can handle situations or circumstances,

-But we don’t put the solutions into practice.

-Here James is giving some good biblical advice which two thousand years later,

-A psychologist has translated into some good modern practice.

-If I’m quick to listen,

-I’m not trying to insert my views and ideas,

-I’m carefully taking on board what the other person is saying.

-If I’m slow to speak,

-I’m taking time to evaluate what the other person is saying,

-Why they’re saying it,

-What lies behind their words.

-If I’m slow to speak I’m also giving myself time to apply Paul’s advice to the Philippians;

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4: 8

-How angry do you think you’d be getting with someone,

-If you’re looking for what’s,

-True, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy,

-In the words of a person who’s making an accusation against you,

-Is challenging your authority,

-Or is asking you to do something you don’t want to do?

 

-James knows that anger that arises from some blocked personal goal,

-Is not going to bring about the righteous life God wants us to lead.(James 1: 20)

-Paul recognised the same thing so he said to the Ephesian church;

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Ephesians 4: 31

-That word righteous means right relationships.

-If you’re looking for what’s true, noble, right and pure as you’re listening to someone,

-Then that’ll lead to a right relationship,

-There’ll be peace, respect, grace.

-But how good do you think a relationship will be if bitterness, rage and anger are at its root?

-What’s at the root of the problems we have in this world is we ignore God’s word,

-Or if we do acknowledge it,

-We just fail to do what it says.

 

-See how harshly James judges that in v26;

“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” James 1:26

-When we see that word ‘religious’ we bristle a bit and think of it in negative terms.

-But James’ audience wouldn’t have thought that.

-They were Jewish converts who didn’t carry our suspicion of religion.

-They would have seen religion as one of the good and perfect gifts that God gives to human beings.

-They would have especially been thinking of their own Jewish history,

-And how when Israel was obedient to God,

-That was when things went best for them.

-They would have recalled the giving of the Ten Commandments not as a list of rules to keep,

-But as a response to the knowledge,

-That they were the people of God who’d been rescued by him from slavery in Egypt.

 

-Religion was not the problem,

-It was religious people who knew what was expected of them but didn’t do it.

-And so James draws this perspective in to his teaching about keeping your tongue under control.

-If you think of yourself as religious,

-That is a follower of God,

-A disciple of Jesus,

-If you’re letting your tongue roam free in gossip, slander, bickering and the like,

-Then you’re deceiving yourself,

-Your religion is a sham.

-You’re like a person looking in the mirror who forgets the dirt on their cheek the moment they walk away.

 

-So what’s the solution to this universal problem?

“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” James 1:22

-Do what it says!

-Just look at how James describes the way we go about putting the word into practise;

“. . . those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” James 1: 25

-Notice how James has shifted the senses that are used to appropriate God’s word.

-In verse 19 he’s talking about listening,

-But in v25 he’s changed it to looking.

-And this is not just a quick glance,

-The idea James has in mind is of someone looking so closely at a subject,

-That almost everything but what’s under their gaze is blocked out.

-It’s not just looking,

-It’s deeply reflecting upon the subject under investigation to the point where nothing else distracts you.

 

-For James, the perfect law is not the old Jewish law,

-But rather the old Jewish law that’s been brought to completion and fullness by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

-Paul would call it the Law of Christ.

-And here’s another departure from our modern way of thinking.

-Just as we might think religion is a bad thing,

-So we think law is a bad thing.

-We hate having our freedom curtailed by anyone or anything.

-But James, Paul and all the biblical writers know that perfect freedom always carries limits.

-Freedom is actually contingent upon who we are.

-Even children recognise this point when someone cheats in a game.

-It’s the rules and boundaries that create the enjoyment of play,

-But when those rules are breached,

-It damages the relationship that all within the game had been enjoying.

 

-When you look intently into God’s word you’ll see that it promises freedom not hardship.

-And that will encourage you to the ongoing step that James tells us we need to follow if we’re to do what God’s word says.

-We’re not to just glance and run like spiritual window shoppers,

-We’re to continue looking intently into God’s word.

-This means an intentional immersing of ourselves in God’s word.

-And that will mean creating space in our busy lives for that to take place.

-Do you do that?

-Do you regularly set aside time to immerse yourself in God’s word?

-Because it will pay off;

“. . . those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” James 1: 25

 

-When Jesus explained the Parable of the Sower he said there were four types of soil that the word of God lands on.

-The first is like a path where the birds swoop down on the seed,

-And swallow it up before it has a chance of taking root.

-That’s the devil’s work,

-Snatching the word from a person’s hardened heart even before it’s had time to sink in.

-The second soil is that rocky ground where a person hears the word of God and believes it,

-But when the tough times come they fall away.

-They’re like the person James speaks of in 1:13-14 who doesn’t persevere through trials,

-But gives in to the temptation to give up.

-The third soil is the thorny ground that strangles the word of God in the disciple’s heart,

-Because they succumb to the temptations of wealth and the good life.

-Jesus says that all three of these types of people have heard the word,

-They’ve been listening to God communicating with them.

-Where they’ve failed isn’t in not listening,

-It’s in not doing.

 

-But here’s the good news;

“. . . the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Luke 8: 15

-The one with the noble and good heart is the disciple of Jesus who’s learning from the master.

-This person doesn’t just hear the word,

-Doesn’t just listen to the word,

-They retain it,

-They look intently into the perfect law,

-And by persevering they apply the word to their own lives,

-They allow the word of God to seep deeply into their lives,

-And let it transform them.

-They become doers of the word bearing the fruit of obedience in their lives,

-And they’re blessed in what they do.

 

-Through listening to God’s word and doing what it says,

-These disciples become mature and complete, not lacking anything.

-Does that describe your life?

-Do you want it to describe your life?

-Then all you have to do is follow James instructions for perseverance and maturity;

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22

Sermon: Pentecost 14, 26 August 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 26th August 2018

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT

(1 Kings 8; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69)

Over the past six weeks, we have been thinking about Paul’s very significant letter to the church at Ephesus and the surrounding region. The theme that runs through the letter is God’s great plan: a plan on the grandest scale. This plan centres on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of all. God’s purpose is, through Christ, to bring together people of all races and backgrounds and stories into a unique community, sharing together in God’s eternal blessings. The church is this community at the heart of God’s great plan, and we have a share in these blessings through God’s amazing grace, which we receive through faith in Christ.

But being part of God’s church places us under obligation. We are to express our unity by our mutual love and care, and by seeking to build each other up in our faith and faithfulness. We are to live new lives that reflect the goodness and love of Jesus our Lord. We are to relate to each other in love and in mutual submission and service in our church life, as well as our lives at home, at work, and in the community. And we need to remember that the church is not simply our parish or our denomination, but the community of Christians throughout the world.

As we come to the end of this series, you might like to read through this letter again, and perhaps even to check out some of the sermons on the letter on the parish website. There are also copies of some of the sermons at the back of the church.

Now living as a follower of Christ, and as a member of his church, has plenty of challenges. And in today’s reading which virtually closes the letter, Paul focuses on those challenges, where they come from, and how we need to handle them.

A couple of today’s hymns are of a style that is not popular in some parts of the church. “Stand up, stand up, for Jesus, as soldiers of the cross” uses militaristic language, as does “He who would valiant be”, and a number of other hymns which used to be very popular. Some people say that we ought to avoid this sort of language, and sing about peace rather than war. They say that these hymns are too easily misused to justify armed conflict, too easily misunderstood. I see the point, but feel that it is overstated. And I believe that these hymns have something helpful and important to say. Hence I think they are still worth singing, especially since their imagery comes from the scriptures.

For the picture of the soldier in battle is a helpful picture of what it means to live the Christian life. Of course it is not the only helpful image, but it certainly says something important. The letters of Paul and Peter insist that Christians are involved in a war: a spiritual war against an enemy who can’t be seen.

You know what I’m talking about. The devil: that creature clothed in red, with horns on his forehead, a hook on his tail, and a pitchfork in his hand. Well actually, if that’s the devil, I don’t believe in him either! However, Jesus and Peter and Paul believed in the reality and the power of the devil, and I am willing to believe them. They describe the devil, Satan, not as a fun figure: he is the enemy, a spiritual being of great but limited power, who has turned against his Creator, and seeks to overthrow God’s plans and undermine his purposes. That makes sense to me. However, many Christians believe that this language about the devil in the scriptures is pictorial rather than literal. That is not how I understand it, but I don’t get into debates about it. Either way, the important thing is to see that a consistent Christian life involves struggle, rather than just sauntering along behind Jesus. Whatever you believe about the devil, a faithful Christian life will involve discipline and struggle. There is a battle to be fought.

 

Today I am going to take Paul as he describes the Christian life, this spiritual battle to be faithful to Christ, to resist the devil and his unseen

forces. This week in politics should have reminded us that a politician’s enemies do not always sit on the other side of the chamber: they are not always where you might naturally expect to find themfor them! Neither are our spiritual enemies! Paul wants us always to be spiritually on the alert. Temptation can be obvious, but it will often be subtle. If you’ve never read “The Screwtape Letters” by C. S. Lewis, you will find it both entertaining and insightful on these issues.

Paul sees temptation as an assault from the devil. But we do well to see our problems as challenges to be faced, our temptations as tests to be passed, our difficulties as opportunities to be faithful. We mightn’t be conscious of the battle going on: but Paul has no doubt of its reality. Our opponent has great power and great cleverness. How can we possibly defeat him? Paul gives the answer: we can’t. Not by ourselves.

But there is a way to be victorious in the battle of Christian living. For help is available: nothing less than the help of Almighty God. To fight without his help is not bravery but foolishness. We can’t win the war on our own.

But Christ has already won the decisive battle: the real war is won, and Satan is mortally wounded. But here and now, before the final conclusion of the war, before he is finally brought down, he wants to do as much harm as he can, while he can. And he’s very happy for us to help him!

However, we have help available in our struggle against the devil. God provides spiritual armour to protect us and help us in the battle. And we will need it if we are going to stand firm in that battle.

The belt of truth reminds us of the truth of God’s message, the Gospel of Christ. On that message and on Christ himself we can rely. But it also reminds us to be people of truth: honest and trustworthy ourselves.

The breastplate of righteousness reminds us that through Christ we are not yet perfect, but we are here and now right with God. But it also challenges us to reflect more and more God’s righteousness in our lives.

The Gospel of peace reminds us that we indeed have peace with God: we are indeed his beloved people. But as Paul uses the image of shoes in connection with the Gospel of peace, we are reminded to be always ready to go forward and point others to the message of the Gospel that brings peace with God.

The shield of faith reminds us that we can indeed trust God who is faithful, and will keep his promises of forgiveness and salvation. But it also reminds us to express our faith by seeking to be faithful to Christ.

Faith points us away from our own inadequacies to one who is more than adequate. Imagine Mr Weakling walking along the beach when some smart Aleck kicks sand in his face and shapes up for a fight. Mr Weakling calls out to his friend, who just happens to be Mr Universe. Suddenly the smart Aleck apologizes and quickly backs off. Sometimes it’s not what you know, but whom you know. That shield of faith reminds us whom we know: Jesus, who has already won the crucial victory over evil and the evil one. He is our helper. When temptation comes we need to look to him.

Next, Paul writes of the helmet of salvation, that assurance that we have been saved, that our salvation is assured, and that God will be faithful to us even though we will let him down at times. We belong to him.

And then Paul writes of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. In his time Paul will have been especially thinking of that divine message of the Gospel, which he found prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures. We can’t listen to the original preachers of the Gospel, but we have their message and the message of Jesus himself recorded for us in the scriptures, which we can rightly describe as the written word of God. We need to keep growing in our understanding of those scriptures, not only through our services and sermons, but through our own personal reading and reflection, as well as the other opportunities we have in our parish life.

But as well as all this equipment which we can use to stand firm and follow Christ, Paul points us to prayer. He doesn’t actually describe prayer as a weapon. But it is through prayer that we open up to God’s help and guidance and strength to enable us to live as his people, and to resist the temptations of the devil. Paul calls us to pray consistently, regularly, at all times. To pray with every prayer and supplication, not just as a token gesture or a last resort. To keep alert in prayer, so that our prayers are purposeful and meaningful, not just empty words. To persevere, and not just forget or give up: to keep on asking, keep on seeking, to keep on knocking.

And we are to pray not only for ourselves, but for all the saints, and for the witness of the church, as Paul sought prayer from his readers. We are a parish that sees prayer as central: in its significant place in our worship, through “In the Loop” as we pray for those in special need, and in our personal use of our monthly “Thoughts for Prayer”. Let us be people of prayer.

So the Christian life is a kind of war. We are more like soldiers in arms together, rather than sightseers on a bus. God has provided us with the weapons we need, but we need to make use of them.

So let us indeed march onward as Christian soldiers. Let us stand up for Jesus. Let us fight the good fight. The victory has been won, and Christ invites us to follow him forward to share in the victory celebrations. Amen.

Paul Weaver

 

Sermon: Pentecost 13, 19 August 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 19th August 2018

LIVING IN THE LIGHT

(I Kings 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:8-20; John 6:51-58)

When I was at Moore College, Sarah and I lived in a terrace house owned by the college in Newtown. It was great being part of the college community, but there was a down side. We shared our houses with thousands of tiny cockroaches, so that whenever we arrived home after dark, we would turn on the kitchen light and see lots and lots of tiny cockroaches scuttling around on the bench trying to get out of sight before I came down on them heavily to get rid of at least some more of them. We never did find a way to get rid of them, but when I read in the Bible words such as those words of Paul about the effects of light in today’s reading from Ephesians, I am reminded of them. Cockroaches are creatures of the dark. They prefer not to be exposed by the light. And indeed that exposure could be quite dangerous for them.

Light shows things as they are. It can help us see faults and flaws and cracks: things that need to be corrected or dealt with. These recent Royal Commissions have been trying to shine a light on various forms of wrongdoing. Those who do wrong prefer to do it out of sight: they don’t want to be seen in the light. But on the other hand, light also helps us to see clearly and see the way forward.

Paul tells his Christian readers: “Once you were darkness, but now you are light.” Remember how Jesus told his followers: “You are the light of the world.” We are to show the light of Christ to a world where the darkness of sin is so powerful. And Paul goes on to say to his readers and to us: “Live as children of light.” We are not to take part in the works of darkness. As I said last week, we must be prepared to be different: not by being “holier than thou”, but by reflecting in our own lives the love and goodness of Christ. Remember that Christ lived a holy life, but was still loved by people of all kinds, including those who were regarded as sinners.

Paul also tells us to try to find out what pleases the Lord. Of course we have a pretty good idea of that: we have the scriptures, and our own knowledge of God’s purposes and character. We have God’s truth; so, as Paul says, we can live as wise people, who understand what the will of the Lord is.

Paul tells us to make the most of the time, for the days are evil. We need to demonstrate a different way to live. It is not that Paul wants us to feel that we must be rushing around every minute of the day, worried that we might waste a second. We are people who need rest and refreshment, and we cannot serve God effectively without it. But let us take the opportunities we get to serve God, to bear witness to his love, and to serve others in Christ’s name.

In the verses leading up to our passage, Paul points out one of the areas in which he observes how evil the days are, and it is characteristic of society today also. People’s attitudes to sex then were very different from the purposes of God, just as they are now. The idea that sex is a beautiful and loving expression of a relationship between husband and wife is seen as outdated. Sex today is seen just as a desire to be fulfilled, or an appetite to be satisfied, or an experience to be enjoyed, in whatever way supposedly works, regardless of the couple’s relationship, or lack of it. Its meaning and significance have been trivialized, and guess what? There is so much hurt and pain associated with sexual activity and expectations! We have lost the plot these days, missed the point. No, it is not for us to go round lecturing people about their “immorality”, but perhaps at times there will be the opportunity to point to a better way.

Paul points out another area which was problematic back then as it is today. “Do not be drunk with wine”, he says. And he would certainly see the need to say it today. The scriptures do not condemn the drinking of alcohol, but they warn against its dangers, and they make clear that drunkenness is contrary to God’s will.

Indeed it is a denial of our true humanity. For as humans made in God’s image we are responsible for our actions, and we are called to make wise decisions. We certainly can’t do that if we are drunk, or for that matter, if we are under the influence of other mind-altering drugs. Clearly, as Christians, if we say “Yes” to a drink, we also need to know when it is time to say “No”.

We are not to be filled with alcohol, but instead we are to be filled with the Spirit: to allow the Holy Spirit to be in control of our lives and our actions.

And what happens when we are filled with the Spirit? We will be “singing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”. Paul’s words remind us that there are different kinds of spiritual songs we might be singing. There are those we sing to each other, stirring each other up to faithfulness and Christian service. Next week at the Patronal Festival, for instance, the congregation will sing “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”. That is what Aidan our patron saint certainly did, and it is what we are called to do.

In our hymns we can encourage each other to be faithful followers of Christ. But we can also sing our praises to God, acknowledging his power and goodness, and giving thanks for his kindness, and seeking his help.

Paul tells us to give thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ at all times and for everything. I don’t think he is saying that we need to give thanks for the evil things that happen to us or to other people. But it can be healthy to recognize that God is with us even when things go wrong, and to give thanks for that, as we seek his help in our struggles.

At the end of our passage, Paul writes one more important command. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That may sound a bit strange. To be subject to someone suggests that they have power over you. How then can people be subject to one another? Paul’s phrase tells us that this command is not all about who has power and who doesn’t have power.

There is a sense in which we can indeed be subject to one another, to submit to each other. It is by giving priority to each other’s needs and well-being. It is putting each other first, rather than putting ourselves first. It is another way of saying that we are to love each other, to serve each other. Remember that Jesus Christ, who is truly Lord, became a servant, our servant. And so we are to be willing to serve each other in love.

The verse following our reading raises hackles for lots of people. Having written about submitting to each other, Paul goes on to say: “Wives, submit to your husbands.” If we don’t see this command in the light of Paul’s call to submit to one another, we will miss the point.

As I said, this is not about power: it is about loving service, and that is part of the way a wife is to relate to her husband, especially if the husband does what he is called to do a few verses later. Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church: a husband is to love his wife sacrificially, as Christ gave himself sacrificially for his people. So husbands and wives are called to love each other, to serve each other, to put each other’s needs and desires ahead of their own. That is what a healthy and a godly marriage is all about. Being there for each other.

To use any part of Paul’s words about submission to justify violence or abuse is dealing with Paul’s teaching in a dishonest and ungodly way. Love each other: that is the message, and when a couple truly love each other, truly seeking each other’s welfare, truly valuing and appreciating each other, there indeed is a happy marriage.

So there it is: this new life which we are called to live. Living in the light, the light of Christ. It is different from the self-seeking life, the life taken up with easy results and short cuts to pleasure. It is life led by the Holy Spirit, who seeks to fill our lives. And it is life which seeks to reflects the goodness and love of God.

As Jesus put it: we are the light of the world. May our light so shine before others that they will see our good works, recognize our faith and our direction in life, and give glory to our Father in heaven, and perhaps even come to follow Jesus themselves. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Pentecost 13, 19 August 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Darkness and Light- Ephesians 5

-While Jenn and I were in Jerusalem we went on a tour of the City of David,

-And I went through the Hezekiah tunnel.

-This was a shaft ordered cut by King Hezekiah to divert spring water from the upper Gihon,

-To deprive the invading army of Assyria a water supply.

-About 100 metres into the tunnel the person I was following’s phone light stopped working.

-In that short time before I got my phone out we were cast into pitch darkness.

-That can sometimes freak people out,

-But when I was younger I used to go caving and it was one of the rituals with any new cavers,

-To get everyone to turn out their lights to experience what is a total absence of light.

-I never really asked,

-But I have wondered how many people opened and closed their eyes to see if there really was a difference.

-I can assure you there is no difference.

-Part of the exercise with new cavers,

-Was to demonstrate how impossible it would be to navigate your way out of a cave system if you lost your light.

-But the other astounding thing about total darkness,

-Is how even the smallest of lights can dispel its immobilising power.

-A single match could illuminate a large cavern.

-Even the screen of my mobile phone,

-Was enough to eliminate the darkness of Hezekiah’s tunnel till I turned on the torch.

-The gospel of John opens with that memorable picture of the incarnation of Jesus;

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:5

-It’s a theological statement of a physical reality,

-Where there’s light there’s no darkness,

-Light dispels darkness.

-Later in John Jesus announces;

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

-In Ephesians 4 Paul has introduced his readers to this theme of darkness and light,

-With the negative description of their Gentile background;

“You must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of impurity.” Ephesians 4:17-19

-The darkness that holds the Gentiles in its thrall,

-Can be seen in their alienation from God,

-The ignorance of their minds,

-And the hardness of their hearts.

-Paul says they’ve lost all sensitivity,

-Which is an interesting metaphor given their state of darkness.

-There are cells in our eyes that are sensitive to light.

-If those cells lose that sensitivity,

-Or something impedes or blocks the light hitting those cells then we’re blind.

-Paul is alluding to a moral blindness that has occurred in the lives of the Gentiles,

-And because of this loss of sensitivity,

-They’ve abandoned themselves to licentiousness,

“Greedy to practise every kind of impurity.” Ephesians 4:19

-In ch5:8 Paul again reminds the Ephesians that once they were in the exact same position.

-At the beginning of ch2 he’s described their condition;

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 2:1-2

-There are real dark spiritual powers at work in the universe that lead humanity astray.

-In ch6:12 Paul reveals the identity of these forces arrayed against us;

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

-The darkness we see all around us in this world has its roots in the demonic forces at work in our world.

-But Paul doesn’t want to dwell on the negative so he now exhorts his readers, vv8-9;

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

-Chapters 1 to 3 of the Ephesians letter are explanations of how God has moved us from darkness to light,

-From death to life,

-From ignorance to knowledge.

-Our relationship with God is now changed from alienation and wrath,

-To family and blessing.

-And with that changed status comes a changed life.

-Paul gives four exhortations to live this new life beginning in Ephesians 4:1;

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” Ephesians 4:1

– 4:17

“Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.” Ephesians 4:17

– 5:1

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2

-And from our reading this morning 5:8;

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-” Ephesians 5:8-9

-In celebration of their 200th anniversary the Bible Society used the slogan ‘Live light’.

-In the new colony of Australia,

-Christian leaders knew it would take more than government to build a nation.

-It would need people of hope,

-People who live light.

-And so the Bible Society was formed.

-Live light,

-Live as children of light.

-The Bible Society and Paul are just picking up and practically expanding,

-What Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount;

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

-Even a single match can dispel total darkness,

-But Jesus and Paul are not calling us to be a single match.

-As cute as ‘This little light of mine’ may have sounded in Sunday School,

-We are to be a people who shine on a much greater scale.

-Just listen again to the language Jesus uses,

-‘You are the light of the world.’

-‘A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.’

-This is not a little light he wants us to be.

-So how do we live light?

-Look at v10;

“Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:10

-This isn’t a difficult task.

-In the preceding verse Paul has already said;

“Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Ephesians 5:9

-If God is light,

-If Jesus is the light of the world,

-Then whatever is good, right and true would have to be pleasing to the Lord.

-But there’s a rider on that.

-In a narcissistic culture like ours in the West,

-What is ‘good and right and true’ is what is ‘good and right and true’ for me.

-Just look at the issue of euthanasia being raised again in federal parliament,

-Under the guise of a territory’s right to legislate.

-Here is Senator David Leyonhjelm’s argument;

“To Liberal Democrats, to libertarians, the right to control your life, and not have the Government say you can or you can’t do things with your life, is fundamental to us,” Senator David Leyonhjelm

-So old people, sick people,

-Even people who are just tired with life should have the right to end their own lives.

-He would see that as ‘good and right and true’,

-And according to the proponents of assisted suicide,

-So do 80% of Australians.

-But following that same logic,

-Why shouldn’t a teenager have the exact same control over their own life?

-The rider comes in v11;

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Ephesians 5:11

-And then again in v17;

“So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:17

-Paul is calling the followers of Jesus to be wise in how we live.

-Remember how the end of ch4 focussed on the renewal of our minds,

-The intellectual reformation that allows us to understand what’s pleasing to God?

-Rather than conforming to what the world says is good and right and true,

-We need to follow Paul’s direction to the Roman Christians;

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

-The world says ‘only you decide what things you can or can’t do with your life’.

-But God says you need to think carefully about these worldviews.

-Let me jump back to the euthanasia assisted suicide debate.

-Research has shown that there is,

-And I quote;

“a process by which exposure to the suicide or suicidal behavior of one or more persons influences others to commit or attempt suicide” https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00031539.htm

-This is what’s known as suicide clusters, ‘contagion’ or more colloquially, copy cat suicide.

-Now if you’re attracted to the idea that the terminally ill,

-Or just plain terminally tired of life,

-Should have the right to kill themselves when they choose,

-What message does that send to a depressed teenager,

-If our culture says there are times when it’s perfectly acceptable to kill yourself?

-What goes through a young person’s mind who is constantly exposed to that message?

-If one persons’ actions had no influence on any other,

-Then maybe a libertarian, utilitarian worldview is good and right and true.

-But remember what Paul has said about the unity that God has created us for.

-It’s no wonder that he says in v15;

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,” Ephesians 5:15

-How you live will affect the lives of others.

-That comes out in a rather remarkable way in vv13-14;

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light.” Ephesians 5:11-13

-The first part of this verse is pretty straightforward.

-As a follower of Jesus you should no longer do the works of darkness you once did,

-Rather you should expose them for what they are,

-Evil behaviours that destroy relationships and devalue life.

-Paul has given a list of those negative behaviours at the end of ch4 and beginning of ch5,

-Put away falsehood,

-Stop stealing,

-No more malicious talk,

-Get rid of bitterness, wrath, slander,

-Fornication, impurity, greed,

-Even obscene, silly and vulgar talk,

-And here in v12 he says there are even some behaviours too shameful to even mention.

-But if a light gets shone onto these thing,

-If people can clearly see how negative those behaviours are,

-How destructive to life those actions are then something remarkable happens;

“. . . everything that becomes visible is light.” Ephesians 5:14

-I have to confess it took me a while to get my head around this,

-But it’s that little poem that hints at the transforming power of light;

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14

-Paul is suggesting that when you shine a light on a negative behaviour,

-When the person sees their life for what it is,

-Dead in transgression and sin,

-They’ll repent and be saved.

-The light that Paul is calling us to live is not just an ethical reorientation,

-‘Oh yeah I’ve been living badly now I’d better be good!’

-That’s what Paul negates when he states;

“Even when we were dead through our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:5

-No, when the light of Christ shines into the dark corners of our lives,

-We are redeemed,

-We’re taken out of the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light.

-Were no longer aliens and strangers to God and each other,

-Now we’re part of God’s family with a whole new orientation, v8;

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.” Ephesians 5:8

-Can you see the gravity of those words?

-You were darkness,

-Not you were in darkness.

-You were darkness itself!

-But now you are light,

-Not just in the light,

-But you’ve been transformed by the light into light.

-What an amazing transformation that is.

-It’s happened to those of us who follow Jesus,

-And it can happen to those whose sins are exposed by the light of Christ and our witness.

-We sometimes underestimate the power of the life we live.

-We underestimate what others are seeing in our lives,

-And the transforming power that can have.

-When we turned off our lights on those caving trips,

-It was to show the impossibility of escape,

-And the desperate straights a person would be in if their light went out.

-That’s how we are before God when we live for ourselves in the spiritual darkness.

-But when Jesus shines his light onto our lives,

-When the light of Jesus shines out of our life onto others,

-We’re shown the way out,

-Then people can clearly see and will be able to respond to the Holy Spirit’s call;

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14