Sermon: The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 10th August 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am and St Aidan’s Anglican Church Epping 8.30am

Readings:  Genesis 17:1-4, 12-28  Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22  Romans 10:4-15  Matthew 14:22-34

Jesus said to Peter: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The “little faith” of the disciples is a theme that runs through the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew has Jesus using the concept five times always in relation to the disciples.

Littleness of faith does not mean utter lack of faith; the disciples waver back and forth throughout the gospel. The specific nature of the “little faith” varies from passage to passage. In chapter 6, the problem is worry over material welfare; in chapter 8, it is fear in the face of physical danger; in chapter 16 it is lack of understanding; in chapter 17 it is lack of confidence in God’s power in the face of a demon.

In today’s passage, it is again lack of confidence in divine power, this time combined with fear, as Peter loses heart in his attempt to join Jesus in walking on the water. It is precisely that element of losing heart that distinguishes this passage from the others, because Peter is initially able to walk this miraculous kind of walk but allows doubt to overcome him when the going gets rough.

Fear is present throughout the story. The disciples are at first terrified when they see Jesus, in the night, walking on the sea; they think he is a ghost. We can thus see and hear that sense of the awesome and terrifying mystery of the holy as an important component in religious experience. It is a sense of the utter otherness and inexpressibility of the divine, an unsettling combination of difference, fear and fascination in the face of ultimate mystery. Such as we see in the call of Isaiah in the temple, where Isaiah says,

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is I! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

The fear and understanding of difference are here expressed by the perception of Jesus as a ghost, but they are balanced by his comforting words: “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.” The disciples by now know Jesus and trust him, even if their faith remains incomplete. Thus, for him to say, “It is I” is to bring their fear and awesomeness of the scene under control by relating it to what is familiar. This is the Jesus with whom they have walked and shared bread, who has offered compassion to the suffering and fed the hungry, even though he has also spoken words of judgment.

Peter’s fear, however, seems to be of another sort, a more mundane timid state of mind in the face of physical danger. Here again, as in the story of the feeding of the five thousand, it is doubt, doubt about what human beings can do by making use of the divine power to which they have access, which undermines the accomplishment of a task.

In the feeding of the 5000, it is a ministry to the hungry that is momentarily delayed, but here it is something that Peter himself has desired that is undermined. It was Peter who asked to join Jesus on the water. He did so, however, in full knowledge that he needed Jesus’ help in order to accomplish the feat, as we can see in the fact that he asks Jesus to command him to do it. ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ And yet, in the face of the wind, he loses heart and begins to sink.

Although he has clearly earned the title of “little faith”, he has confidence enough in Jesus to ask again for help: “Lord, save me”. Thus we might suspect that his lack of faith was less in Jesus’ ability to unilaterally perform mighty deeds than in the process of divine-human cooperation. This is an unwillingness to trust what he could do when empowered by Jesus. We should not think of this as a simple lack of confidence in himself.

To understand the reading in this manner is to challenge the tendency in our culture to overemphasize the power of the individual will: a bit of illusionary idolatry that we might call the “you can be anything you want to be” or “believe in yourself”. As important as it is to teach children to dream big dreams and make use of their capacities, it is equally important both to avoid creating unrealistic expectations and to dispel the illusion of self-sufficiency.

I have no doubt that I might have accomplished more in some areas of life if I had worked harder at them. I am also equally certain that no amount of effort on my part would have made me a star player in the Australian cricket team, a competent theoretical physicist, or a great musician, however much I might have desired to be such!

Faith requires of us to walk the tightrope of self-sufficiency verses total dependency by fostering a sense of interdependence. We are not what we are as a result of simple self-creation, nor are we the helpless products of genes, social conditioning, or divine direction. We are all parts of larger wholes that contribute to our evolution as who we are but which leave room for our individual decisions and actions. Social systems, from the immediate circle of families to whole societies, both open us to possibilities and limit our options.

In the end, we, like all entities in the universe, are parts of the universal whole from which our being and our power to act derive. The self-made individual is an illusion, but no more so than the passive cog in a machine beyond our control. Those who attribute everything to God or society or genes and those who claim self-sufficiency are equally wrong.

At the end of the story, the disciples worship Jesus and proclaim him Son of God, thus anticipating Peter’s definitive declaration later in Matthew’s gospel: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

This confession of faith by the disciples, in the reading this morning, is presumably a response to all that they have seen Jesus do so far. It is now brought to a head by the dramatic events portrayed: the walking on the water, the rescue of Peter and the sudden cessation of the wind as Jesus and Peter get into the boat. It is, also, a clear advance over the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ miraculous powers when he calmed the winds and the sea in chapter 8: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?”

The disciples have thus come to a much clearer understanding of Jesus’ identity, and that is a step forward in their faith development. However, just as in chapter 8, Jesus still makes the charge of “little faith” and will continue to do so. Although they have made progress in one dimension of their faith, they are lacking in others; and one of those dimensions appears to be a failure to believe what Jesus can do through them.

Peter’s failure might have been that he was thinking too individualistically. The desire to walk on the water with Jesus was, after all, Peter’s idea, not Jesus’! As well as that his request was only for himself, not his fellow disciples. Why did he want to do this? To prove his own faith as a matter of pride or simply to get in on the bandwagon of deeds of power?

His problem I think was a failure to accept one’s essential relatedness. The truth is that when we deny our relatedness, whether to God or our fellow creatures, we end up losing our individuality as well. Without access to the power that comes from outside us, our limited power is cut off from its sources. Conversely, when we deny the degree of power that we do in fact have, by thinking that others or God must do all the work, we also lose those connections: the power available to us has nowhere to go[i], no channel through which to work cooperatively.

 

[i] This sermon based upon material produced by R Pregeant found at http://processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yeara/2014-08-10/proper-14

Sermon: The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 3rd August 2014

St Aidan’s Anglican Church Epping 8.30am

Readings: Genesis 28:10-19a    Psalm 139:1-11, 23-24   Romans 8:12-25   Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

It’s a big jump from the story of the birth of Jesus to the martyrdom of Stephen, but St.Stephen’s Day has been celebrated on December 26th, the day after Christmas, since the 5th century. Why so close to Christmas? Probably because he was the first Christian martyr. Of course he was not the first person to die for the sake of Jesus: the children of Bethlehem massacred by Herod’s troops sadly take that position. Sadly we still hear of children massacred in that part of the world in a culture of fear and violence and distrust. But it was Stephen who died as a follower of Jesus, bearing witness to the message and the claims of Jesus, and that gives him a unique place in the story of the church.

Of course, the church calendar is rather crowded around Christmas, and Stephen can easily get crowded out. And so now we have an alternate date, August 3rd – today – for commemorating St.Stephen the Martyr.

The sixth and seventh chapters of Acts tell us most of what we know of Stephen’s story. He was one of seven who were chosen to assist the twelve apostles in ministry as the early church expanded. He fulfilled an administrative and assisting role, so that the apostles could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. An example of the body of Christ at work: different people with different gifts sharing in co-operation in different forms of Christian ministry.

Stephen was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Clearly he was an outstanding servant of Christ: while he was initially appointed to help ensure that the poorer members of the church were properly provided for, he became known for his miraculous works, and also as a thinker and communicator. Indeed that’s what got him into trouble!

Acts tells us that he debated with members of certain synagogues: clearly his arguments were powerful enough to rattle his opponents. Stephen’s problem was that he was radical in his thinking, literally getting to the root of the matter. And by doing that, he found that many assumptions made by his opponents had no basis. That made him a threat to the system – just as Jesus had been!

People expect religion to provide security and comfort: reality is not always what they look for. Marx condemned religion as the opium of the people. He claimed that it dulled people’s awareness of the realities of life in an unjust world, and led people to accept things that they should see were intolerable. Religion sapped people’s energy for the struggle for justice. He did have a point. Christians have sometimes been justly accused of being so heavenly-minded they are no earthly use!

The Christian faith should not be like that. As someone has said, the purpose of the Christian faith is to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable. I suspect Stephen would agree!

As Stephen’s debating skills and his challenging message became better known. He found himself hauled up before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews. The accusation against him was that he was speaking against the temple, the holy place, and against the law. He was understood to be saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs handed down from Moses and the prophets. And there was some point to these claims. The most powerful lies are not out-and-out whoppers, but those which have a certain amount of truth connected to them, along with a degree of distortion. There is generally less danger from an obvious lie than from the more subtle lie.

Most of Acts 7, a long chapter of which we heard the last few verses, is taken up with Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin. He takes his listeners through the Old Testament: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, the prophets.

Now I suspect that I would have told Stephen not to push things too hard: his ideas were new and challenging. He should be sensitive and take things carefully. Don’t compromise of course, but take it gently.

But Stephen was not a disciple of Dale Carnegie: no “how to win friends and influence people” approach for him! A bomb needed to be set off, and Stephen was the one to do it.

And as the Sanhedrin listened, they realized that they were not simply getting a scripture lesson or a history lesson: there was a very clear slant to what Stephen was telling them. In one sense he was making clear a familiar lesson: the one thing we learn from history is that we never learn anything from history.

What was Stephen getting at? He had been accused of insulting the temple of God, and rejecting the Law of Moses. But what was he actually trying to say? There were two important points.

The first message is that God cannot be tied down to particular places. Stephen demonstrates from the Old Testament that God is a God on the move. He spoke to Abram in Ur, hundreds of kilometres to the East. He guided Joseph in Egypt, and revealed himself to Moses at Mount Sinai. He journeyed with his people through the desert, where his presence was expressed through the cloud and the pillar of fire, and the mobile tent or tabernacle.

Stephen’s point was that God meets with his people wherever he chooses: he can’t be imprisoned in a temple or any building. He does not dwell in houses made with hands. However significant the temple was therefore, it was not indispensible. The prophets themselves had made clear that the temple was not to be treated as a guarantee that God would automatically always keep the Israelites safe. It was not to be viewed in an almost superstitious way. God did not need the temple – and actually they did not need the temple when it came to the crunch.

If God has an earthly home, it is amongst his people rather than in particular buildings. And that is relevant for us today. There were no church buildings in the first 2 or 3 centuries of the church. We take them for granted today, but buildings must always take second place. They are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

Church buildings can be useful and beautiful. They provide a setting and an atmosphere for us as we gather for worship. They can point to the message of Christ. They can remind us of our Saviour and point us to the presence of God.

But ultimately we must remember that we can meet with God anywhere: the point of coming to church is not so much that we go into a building, but that we gather with Christ’s community. We can be thankful for St.Aidan’s and St.Alban’s church buildings, and for the halls and other facilities that we have, which are so much loved and so helpful to us: but let us remember that God is with us wherever we are, that we can pray to God wherever we are. God is not tied down to particular buildings. And from Stephen’s point of view, that meant that the temple was not as vital as the members of the Sanhedrin thought. It was dispensable. And within 30 years or so, the Jewish people would have to rethink their understanding as the temple was destroyed in AD70, not by Christians but by the Romans. God is not to be tied down to particular buildings or particular places.

If that side of Stephen’s message was provocative, it was not really new. As Stephen pointed out, it was all there in the Law and the Prophets. In fact his other main point, which was even more provocative, was also a significant theme of the Old Testament. But it had a particularly pointed sting in the tail.

Stephen’s second point was that God’s people have consistently rejected God’s messengers. And so he guides his listeners through stories of Joseph who was sold as a slave by his brothers, but saved his family from famine. Moses, who was rejected by his people in Egypt, and so often rejected on the way to the Promised Land. The prophets, who were rejected and even persecuted by the people of Israel, to whom the Lord had sent them. There was a clear pattern: God’s people were quite happy to listen to people who told them what they wanted to hear, but they would react against those who challenged or rebuked or warned them in the name of the Lord. They were unprepared to have their disobedience, their unfaithfulness, their hypocrisy exposed.

And so Stephen comes to the crunch: what they did to the prophets of old, they did to Jesus. Their reaction to Jesus fits the old pattern: Jesus was God’s messenger, in fact he was the righteous Son of God. But they had not merely rejected his message: they had had him murdered. This was strong stuff indeed. Stephen is no longer merely explaining: he is on the attack, accusing them of murdering the Messiah, the Holy One.

It is no surprise that what the people did to the prophets and to Jesus, they did to Stephen. He had asked questions no one else had been asking, and coming up with answers none of them wanted to hear. And so Stephen was executed: he died with the words of Jesus on his lips, words of forgiveness and trust. And he saw Jesus standing at his Father’s right hand, waiting to welcome him into the kingdom.

We need radicals like Stephen to challenge us when we are too comfortable. We need to keep thinking, to ask old questions again and to ask new questions. Yes, sometimes the new answers will be wrong, and we will have to say so. But let us remember that God is still a God on the move, a God with new things to say, as well as old things to remind us about. Let us be open to his message, even if we find it challenging. For God may well bring us new challenges if we are too comfortable.

Following Jesus is not always safe and secure and comfortable, even in a country when thankfully martyrs are thin on the ground. We must still accept the risk of taking up our cross and following Jesus. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 27th July 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Genesis 29:15-28   Psalm 105:1-11   Romans 8:26-39  Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The Kingdom of God was always on the mind of Jesus. There are almost one-hundred and fifty references to God’s Kingdom in the New Testament, fifty-two of them in St. Matthew’s gospel alone. The more Jesus spoke about the Kingdom the more unreal it seemed to his listeners. Perhaps that’s because in a world gone insane, sane things seem to be unreal. How do we cope with gross inhumanity: in shooting down a civilian plane, the madness of Middle Eastern wars, the kidnapping of hundreds of young girls.

In today’s gospel account Jesus referred to the Kingdom as a hidden treasure buried somewhere in a field. Likewise He spoke of the Kingdom as a precious pearl found by a businessman who astutely sold everything he owned in order to buy it. He spoke, too, of the Kingdom as a fishing net filled that contained fish both good and bad. Later he referred to the Kingdom as a mustard seed and as yeast. In other places he uses other metaphors for the kingdom.

We wonder what the Kingdom is for us, in everyday terms, as we live out life here in our modern Western environment this week, next month, throughout the rest of this year, and beyond. How do we identify and describe God’s Kingdom here on earth? Where is God in all this madness? Some people think of the Kingdom as a remote and distant heaven in another world at the end of life. Others think it’s an ideal political and economic order. Some people think that the Kingdom is exclusively God’s business, not ours and we have only to wait and receive it from God’s hands. Some identify the Kingdom as the Church; what’s inside the Church is the Kingdom, what’s outside of the Church is not a part of God’s Kingdom.

What is the Kingdom of God? When did it start? Where did it begin? How did it come into being? For the answer one must go back to the beginning. In the beginning God divided light from the dark. Then God divided the land from the water. Then God made the earth fertile so that living things would grow in it. Then the oceans, lakes and rivers were made to crawl with reptiles and be filled with swimming fish. The lands God filled with climbers and creepers, bushes and great trees. The air and the sky God filled with insects and birds and on the ground wondrous animals and creatures of all sorts and varieties.

Then God made the likes of you and me. God blew the breath of life into our forebears, saying: “Live you woman! Live you man!” “ Live as I live. I place you over the world as my agents, my ministers, my stewards … my sons and daughters. I give you all the earth that you may return it back to me with all that you have done to make it fruitful, productive, wondrous and beautiful, filled with people for me to love and who love me in return. Have life! Be joyful! Give life! Give happiness and joy, give your love and your life to each other and to all. Give my life that I have placed within you to your children and your children’s children forever and ever. Live together in my love.”

Where is the Kingdom of God? On earth, here as it is in heaven, in us … as it is in God. It is our human life, that sacred space in which lives the Spirit of God. If that’s not true then the Incarnation is meaningless. The Kingdom is found where God wants to establish it, in our human relationships with each other. That is when it started; that is where it began; that is how it came into being. Jesus is tireless in pointing that out to us.

God’s Kingdom is where God’s will reigns. It is God’s desire for humans to live quality lives. God’s Kingdom is the expression of God’s will that your life, and those who live in your life, might be filled with God’s joy, God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s justice, God’s truth, and God’s peace.

Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer we pray to God: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth…” God’s desire and will is nothing else but that we be filled with the fullness of well-being, happy living, total life. Nothing else is God’s will. The Kingdom of God here on earth is human life, high quality human life, filled with His glory.

The reason Jesus was recognized as the Son of God was because those around him discovered in him the same exclusive divine purpose. That was to work for the well-being of all people. So we read in the verse before this portion in which we read last week it is recorded Jesus as saying: “Let any one with ears listen!”

“Stop being blind! That’s no good. Receive your sight, see!”

“Stop being crippled. That’s no good. Throw away your crutches and move!”

“Stop being mute. That’s no good. Speak and make a joyful noise!”

When he met the bleeding woman he said: “Stop bleeding. That’s no good, may your body be restored to normal!”

When he met the widow of Nain holding her only child, dead in her arms … and the dead daughter of Jairus, and he wept at the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus, he cried out: “Come forth! Live!”

It was God’s Word, the same Word that God shouted into the black chaos of the cosmos back in the beginning of creation, went forth from Jesus’ mouth and came back bringing life, life in its fullness, life fully healed and complete in his glory.

Jesus gave life; he restored life; he repaired life; he affirmed life. He lived life among the broken, prostitutes, adulterers, widows, and the aged … among orphans, street people, crooks, vagrants and the outcast. He unbound Zacchaeus, a greedy, grasping, mean man who sat on piles of ill-gotten money. Who when he was freed, became prodigally generous, unreasonably and unbelievably generous. Zacchaeus became just as unbelievably and irrationally generous.

Jesus detested injustice; he hated unfairness, he was distressed by sickness, deformity and disease; Jesus was disgusted with violence; he set His face against oppressors. When the prince of darkness and father of lies tried to conquer him, he stood on the ground of his Father’s kingdom. Even death itself could not do away with him because he lived for the well-being of all humans, having in his heart the same will of his Father for all human life.

Are we living for the Kingdom? Do we sacrifice our own personal comfort and convenience for the well-being of those around us? Does our work give value added to the lives of those around us? Does it add to the sum total of the happiness in their lives? Do our choices, our attitudes and decisions, contribute to the well-being of others? Do we give them life, or do we drain life from them? Do we give them joy or take the joy of living away from them? Are we like Zacchaeus before he met Jesus, or are we like Zacchaeus after he started to really live following his encounter with Jesus?

For if we are a wise businesspersons we will invest only in that which will last and in that which will allow others to value us. After all, God’s total personal investment was in the humanity of Jesus. Jesus risen in glory as the Christ who was given by God to enable us to live in his kingdom. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God invested God’s own Spirit; God’s own life, God’s Holy Spirit in your humanity and mine. In the Spirit-filled humanity of the risen Christ, God gives us the opportunity to share God’s very own life. That reality is more real than anything this world can ever dream of offering us.[1]

 

 

[1]Based upon a sermon by the Reverend. Fr. Charles E. Irvin, M.B.A., M.Div., J.D., St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Manchester, Michigan

 

Sermon: The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 20th July 2014

St Aidan’s Anglican Church Epping 8.30am

Readings: Genesis 28:10-19a    Psalm 139:1-11, 23-24   Romans 8:12-25   Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Privacy has become a big issue nowadays. It seems that more and more people know more and more about us. Phone tapping and hacking into computers has become more and more common. Google Earth can show our house and yard to anyone in the world. Not so long ago, I looked up a particular product on an internet website: a few days later I received an email asking me why I hadn’t bought it, and would I like to? And of course so many of us love to read of celebrities whose private flaws and foibles suddenly make it into the media. It seems that real privacy is a thing of the past. Big Brother seems to be more and more of a reality.

Well, whether or not Big Brother is a reality, the Lord God our Creator is a reality, and he knows absolutely everything about us. In relation to God, we have no privacy at all. And this is an important theme in our readings today.

In our first reading, from Genesis 28, we read part of the story of Jacob. Jacob was the younger of twins born to Isaac, with Esau his older brother. Jacob had talked his brother into handing him his rights as the oldest son, in exchange for a bowl of stew. He had then tricked his father into confirming those rights with his blessing. Esau was of course not happy, and Jacob knew it was time to leave home for a while. He would spend time with relations far to the east of the promised land. While he was there he would also try to find a wife – but that’s another story!

Before Jacob had left the land he rested overnight. In his dreams he saw a ladder reaching to heaven with angels going up and down. God spoke to him and assured him that he would be with him even when he left the land. He would bless him, bring him back safely to his home, and fulfil the great promises made to his grandfather Abraham: that his offspring would become a great nation, and bring blessing to all nations. When Jacob woke, he exclaimed “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

Of course, Jacob’s understanding of God was limited. But it is true of so many people today. God is in fact always with us where we are, and so many do not know it!

The Psalmist in today’s Psalm 139 knew it however. He realized that God knows us inside out. He knows what we are doing. He knows our thoughts: our ideas and schemes, our fears and our confusion, our understanding and our misunderstanding, our past and our future, our intentions and our plans – not to mention which of them will fall flat!

How does the Psalmist react to this realization? I get the impression that his reaction is mixed. God’s all-encompassing knowledge of us is daunting, threatening. Life feels easier if no one is watching! How can we escape somewhere away from God’s view? And the Psalmist realizes that there is nowhere. North and south, east and west, up and down, the tops of the mountains or the bottom of the sea, even the world of the dead: there is nowhere I am away from God’s sight and knowledge. He is always there with us. There is no point in denying it, and it is foolish to ignore it. The question is whether we resent it or rejoice in it.

We live in God’s presence. There is no point in pretending with God. He knows the best about us and the worst about us; he knows our good points and also our bad points; he knows our achievements and our mistakes; he sees our deeds of kindness and generosity, and our unkind and unjust words and actions; he knows all our sins and failings. When we confess our sins, we are not telling him anything he didn’t know already!

He knows it all, and he understands it all. He knows far better than we do why we are the way we are. He is not happy with the wrongs we do, but he continues to love us. That’s why he came amongst us to share our life in the person of Jesus, and to die for our sin to open the way to forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation.

Over three weeks we are reading the wonderful 8th Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In the previous chapters Paul has clearly set out the reality of human sin, but also the assurance of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. In the opening verses which we heard last week, Paul assured us that there is no condemnation for those who are Christ’s people: in Christ we have been set free from a way of life dominated by sin and death.

Today we are reminded that there is a new life for us to live. But more than that: we have God’s presence through the Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us as we live our lives following Christ. We have God’s personal presence and help as we seek to live the life that Christ calls us to. And as we follow Jesus, we find a growing confidence in God’s wonderful promises and his eternal purposes for us. We are not on our own, and our destiny is the glorious fullness of his perfect and joyous kingdom. God is not just our great Creator who sees us from a distance, but our loving Father who invites us into his eternal loving presence.

And so when we hear Jesus’ serious words in today’s Gospel, we can take them seriously without relapsing into fear. The story of the weeds sown among the good grain is explained by Jesus. We live in a mixed-up world, where there are God’s people and there are also those who determinedly reject God and his ways. There are people who seek to know and honour and serve God, and those who live deliberately as God’s enemies. We see the evidence of the evil done by people in our news every day, especially in the dreadful acts of violence and murder we have recently been hearing about. How do we sort out those who are God’s enemies from those who are God’s friends?

Perhaps some acts which we recognize as evil are done because of ignorance and misunderstanding, rather than human malice. I do not know. I can judge the act, but how can I judge the perpetrator? I myself am not the person I should be. I am vulnerable to temptation, even if my temptations are far less dramatic than those that reach the media. Which of us can really say how we would act in very different circumstances?

We must never go soft when it comes to recognizing the evil that people do. But let us also keep those well-known words in mind: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Of course we must recognize the evil acts of people for what they are. Some will be given the task of handing down judgement on the crimes that people commit. But it is not for us to be judges of human sinners. Perhaps some of those we believe to be weeds in Jesus’ story will turn out to be good seed after all. Only God really knows, and he is the real judge. We may want evildoers to be judged now, but judgement will happen rightly, in God’s time.

Yes, God will establish his kingdom in its fullness, and in doing so he will put down all that is evil, and deal appropriately with those who align themselves with evil. It is not for us to do the sorting out. We struggle to understand ourselves: God alone will get it right.

So as we reflect on our readings today, let us be real about the presence and knowledge of God. He does know us inside out: let us never try to pretend with him, let us seek to live as his people in his presence, and let us rest our confidence in his understanding and his love for us all.

And let us be wary of the temptation to judge others: judgement is God’s business. We know so little, but God alone will get it right. Our task is not to judge our neighbour, but to love our neighbour. Amen.

Paul Weaver

 

 

 

 

Sermon: The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 20th July 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Genesis 28:10-19a    Psalm 139:1-11, 23-24   Romans 8:12-25   Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Tired, weary from travel, Jacob finds a spot where he can lie down for a few hours of sleep. For his “pillow” he uses a stone on which to place his head, and he falls asleep. In a dream he sees a ladder rising to the heavens, and the angels of God climbing up and down on it. Then the Lord speaks to him and offers him the land on which he lies and his “offspring shall spread to the east, north and south and all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” As well, God adds, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” Today as we read this story again, let’s think about our daily dramas as they unfold, and in them try to find the grace of God leading us to new hope and renewed faith.

hen did you last have such a dream as Jacob had? You may say never! However, haven’t there been times during your life when God spoke to you at very unusual times? Times that you might not have even realized it was God until events happened later in your life. God speaks to us in many and varied ways.

There is much good news in how God speaks to us. It is more than in this simple story of Jacob showing us the relationship between earth and heaven.

  • God speaks to us in moments of despair when we awaken to the hope that is shared with us from a stranger. Such as the disciples on the road to Emmaus having their eyes opened by the resurrected Jesus.
  • God speaks to us as we are nudged by a hymn that we have sung many times but really only mouthed the words, but then suddenly those words seem to be words written only for us to hear, to soothe us into the presence of Jesus. There is hope.
  • God speaks to us when we find we are unable to pray, but we can just sit and listen for that still small voice that brings volumes of love at a time that we may feel un-loveable. In times of winter in our lives, there is hope!
  • God speaks to us when we find ourselves breaking out of a time of uncertainty into the daylight of holy hope.
  • God speaks to us when we come to God’s table in thanksgiving for God’s blessing.

We can discover, just as Jacob did, that when we awaken from all the questioning that rumbles through our mind and we open our eyes and clear our ears and stretch our being we discover God is with us. We find healing, the blessing of God’s presence, the guidance of God’s spirit to help and to transform.

It is the same with Jesus as he tells one of his many parables. Today, this one about the Kingdom of Heaven and the contrast between good and evil, the good seeds in the field and the weeds among the wheat. The labourers want to go into the field and pull up the weeds, but Jesus says, “No; because in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them”. His disciples did not understand.

Jesus added, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of God. The weeds are the children of the evil one; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.”

We are talking about the battle of good and evil. None the less, there is hope in this battle, even more hope than we find in the story of Jacob’s Dream. Evil is in the process of being defeated. The end began on the first Easter Day. The great hope in this story is the life-changing experience of knowing Jesus Christ and being a living part of his body in this world the church.

We see the gentleness of Jesus’ wisdom as he talks about the angels culling out the evil of humankind, allowing humankind’s goodness to grow. For us it will take patience; patience on the part of those quick to condemn; patience for the redeeming power of Jesus to touch the lives of those who have lost their way. Consider the patience of God in using as God’s minister, Moses, a murderer; David, murder and manipulator; Paul, a religious parasite and encourager of persecution; Peter, a hypocrite and coward. God walked with each of these men. God loved them, God made them great. God forgave them. God granted them the blessings of God’s Kingdom. There is hope for the hopeless.

God can do that for us all. There is hope for us. God wants us to wait for the harvest. God wants us to be forgiving of those with whom we disagree. To be forgiving of ourselves. To be hopeful for a new tomorrow, to be hopeful that in diversity we can find the righteousness in all peoples and bring all to the same saving grace of Jesus Christ.

When that happens, then indeed we have heard with our ears the call of the Kingdom of God and we have found that surely the Lord is in this place.

The reading tells us that Jacob poured oil on the stone he used as a pillow and he named it Bethel; the House of God. He was inspired by his experience and said, “How awesome is this place! It is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Here as the church worshipping as the body of the risen Lord Jesus we make this world where we fear and long for comfort and think we have none; yet, it is the place in which the lost are found and the blind are given sight. We do not know what is coming next; but we find hope and prepare ourselves for the goodness of God as God reaps the harvest of the faithful, and changes the lives of the lost.

We let God do whatever it is that God does and trust in God’s unbounded goodness! We thank God for God’s infallible wisdom, for God’s infinite love, and for God’s forbearance that goes beyond our understanding. God is a god of surprises. God meets us with hope, compassion, concern, acceptance and guidance, even when we are not even looking for God. God even reaches out and touches the lives of those who do not seek God.

We need to awaken to God’s presence each and every day. It is then that we discover where we are: we are in the House of God, the body of Christ and we find that because of God’s son Jesus, we are at the gate of heaven. We find hope! 
 We need not sit in judgment upon others and for those who judge themselves with a judgment that is not our own. We need to trust in the judgment of God. We need to hear God when God asks us to pray for those who are disheartened by evil and for those who feel oppressed because the life they have known may be changing faster than they are emotionally or spiritually able to comprehend. We pray that God might work a healing in those lives. When this happens we find we are part of God’s plan in doing God’s work and growing the wheat of the harvest that leads us to God.

We do have hope and hope gives way to faith and faith gives us the presence of Christ and Christ forgives us and welcomes us to spend eternity in his presence. The Holy Spirit is working in us even this moment. We have an Easter experience of the resurrection and a Pentecost experience of the movement of the Holy Spirit. Let these experiences guide our next breath and fill us with a refreshing breeze of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Though we are all different as children of God, let us build the gate of Heaven here in this place on the solid rock of Jesus Christ that makes us faithful to him, today, tomorrow and through eternity.

One of the ways we can build the Gate of Heaven here is to be aware God throughout all the seasons both of life and in everyday living, “God can speak to us through the Seasons”.

Each of the seasons is a classroom for the heart. If you sink your roots deep into the soil of a season’s truth, God can use it as a mentor for you. The four seasons are a universal archetype or model for the soul. They are metaphors for the cycles of our spiritual growth.

Winter is a barren time. There is little growth. We too can have barrenness in our lives. We can discover beauty in the midst of our barrenness. Imagine standing out there with the lonely trees, stripped of all our bright knowing. We are empty and we are lonely. Do not be afraid of loneliness. In the heart of that loneliness we will discover our great need for God and for others. Find a deciduous tree. Stand beside it in its winter watch. Keep it company. Discover its beauty. Listen to its wordless sermon. Put your ear to God’s dormant ground and listen to the seeds as they dream.

Snuggle up in your prayers and ponder these winter questions.

  • Where do I find silence in my life?

• When do I feel free from the pressure to produce?

• What are the most challenging aspects of winter for me?

• How is the prayer of contemplation a part of me life?

• What have I discovered during my barren seasons?

• What can I do to provide the creative space that I need for myself?

• If I were to choose a passage from scripture that speaks to me of winter, what would it be?[1]

 

[1] This sermon was prepared using the resources of www.dfms.org/worship-that-works/ (17 July 2005, 9th Sunday after Pentecost) and “God can speak to us through the seasons” from “The Circle of Life: The Heart’s Journey Through the Seasons” by Rupp and Wiederkehr, 2005, Ave Maria Press.

 

Sermon: The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 13th July 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Gen 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-23

A CHAPLAIN’S STORY

It is more than eleven years since I commenced my ministry as Anglicare Chaplain at Concord Hospital. In the previous 22 years I had served as Rector in Botany-Mascot and Woollahra, and as Precentor at St.Andrew’s Cathedral. As I reached my mid-50’s, I felt that it was not right to stay at Woollahra until I reached retirement age, and wondered whether God was calling me to a different kind of ministry.

In due course, I received what I believe was God’s answer to that question, and was appointed by Anglicare as Chaplain at Concord Hospital. Sarah and I had purchased a house at West Ryde a few months before I was offered the position, and its ideal location within 15 minute’s drive of the hospital seemed confirmation that God was indeed leading the way. Certainly I have never felt any doubts that this is the ministry to which I have been called: something for which I am very thankful. And having now reached my 65th birthday, I feel enough energy to keep going a bit longer, rather than retiring just yet.

As I said, I was appointed by Anglicare, who receive a payment from the State Health Department for the provision of Chaplaincy services to the hospital. There are altogether 32 hospital chaplain positions in the state, held by representatives of a number of different denominations and faiths, which are funded this way. It probably won’t surprise you that the real cost of providing and supporting chaplains is a lot more than Anglicare gets from State Health, although it certainly helps.

And that is why I am delighted that July’s Mission of the Month is Anglicare Chaplaincy. I believe that my ministry at Concord Hospital is an extension and an expression of my membership not just of the Anglican community in general, but in particular of this part of the Anglican community in Epping Parish. I know that many parishioners pray for me; a number have provided financial support for the ministry; and three members have been or are currently involved in voluntary ministry with me at the hospital.

I would love to see as many parishioners as possible feeling a certain sense of ownership or connection with this ministry. I am hoping that even more parishioners will pray regularly for this ministry, and I also hope that a number of parishioners will be able to commit themselves to regular financial support of Chaplaincy ministry. The leaflets you have received will tell you more about Anglicare Chaplaincy, and also how to become a regular supporter. It would also be great to have more people from St.Alban’s or St.Aidan’s who might commit themselves to a few hours a week sharing in this special ministry at Concord.

I am one of about 30 Chaplains working with Anglicare not only in hospitals, but also in prisons, mental health centres, Chesalon Aged Care facilities, and the Juniperina Juvenile Justice Centre for girls who have got into trouble with the law. Under Anglicare I am supported not only financially, but with education, supervision, encouragement and advice, and in a number of very practical ways. My impression is that compared with many other churches, the Anglican church provides a very helpful and supportive framework to undergird the work of Chaplains, and actually to keep us up to the mark!

Many of you will have heard me talk of the work in which I am involved at Concord Hospital. My basic work is to spend time with patients and their loved ones, and support them as they go through tough times.

They may just want company or a listening ear. Many will appreciate the opportunity for prayer together. I may share the scriptures or the sacrament with them. Some will have a strong faith, and possibly a regular connection with their church.

The majority for all sorts of reasons will have little or no connection, though many of them will see themselves as believers. My task is to be with them where they are at, to give them space to express their fears and worries and frustrations, not to mention their hopes and their joys. And I seek to be an understanding and accepting listener, not forcing the Christian message on them, but ready to share God’s love in a helpful and appropriate and gracious way. I also see myself as part of the hospital team, playing my unique part in the care of patients.

There are around 500 beds in Concord Hospital, and it would be impossible for one person to spend worthwhile time with all the patients. I work with a full-time Catholic Chaplain, and also with a team of volunteers, not only Anglican but from a variety of other churches and faith traditions. We have regular visits from Presbyterian and Uniting Church representatives, and from the Buddhist and Moslem traditions. I am delighted that we have recently started regular visitations from the Greek Orthodox Church.

The volunteers not only share the responsibility of meeting and ministering to patients: they also alert me to patients who would like to see me, or whom it might be helpful for me to look in on. I try to spend time with the volunteers when they come, to encourage and support and guide them in their ministries. I wear a pager so that I can be contacted by the hospital 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. No doubt some of you have seen me phoning the hospital before, during or after services when I have been paged!

As well as the usual range of wards including Emergency and Intensive Care, Concord Hospital has a world-class Burns Unit, where patients may spend weeks or months in treatment following serious burns, or skin conditions and injuries.

This month the hospital has opened a new Palliative Care Unit, caring for people as they come to the end of their life: focussing on keeping them comfortable and giving support to them and their loved ones at what can be a very difficult time. I have been asked to spend regular time in this ward, which I am very happy to do, and I would appreciate prayer for God’s help as I seek to provide compassionate, wise and sensitive care, which will provide people with understanding and hope. This is a time-consuming ministry, and I am still working out how to fulfil this responsibility, along with the other calls on my time.

There are some unusual sides of my ministry at Concord Hospital. For many years it has been the pattern there that the Chaplains are also Justices of the Peace. Most days I spend some time certifying copies of documents or witnessing signatures of staff and others, including members of staff taking maternity leave, who require a statutory declaration to access their leave payments. I am sometimes one of the first to know that a slight change in shape is not because of too much cake, but because a staff member is pregnant!

Although my JP-ing is not always convenient, it also enables me to meet a range of people whom I might not otherwise get to know: sometimes these contacts have led to quite significant ministry.

In keeping with the hospital’s background as a Veterans’ hospital, I also prepare and lead a number of public commemorative services each year, including Anzac Day, VP Day, Remembrance Day, and commemorations of the Vietnam and Korean wars. I also get together each week with a group of veterans and War Widows who would not otherwise get out much: they come once a week to the hospital’s Veterans’ Day Centre and enjoy each other’s company and various activities. I spend an hour with them doing some community singing and talking with them. And I serve on the hospital’s Research Ethics Committee.

It is a privilege to spend time with people going through tough times, to give them the opportunity to open up to me about how they are going, and to share something of myself and of Christ’s love with them. As I said, about 30 other Chaplains serve with Anglicare in ministries to people in difficult circumstances. I hope that you may be able to make a special gift through the Mission side of the Parish offertory envelopes, or even use the Anglicare envelopes to link up as a more regular supporter of Anglicare Chaplaincy. And of course your prayer support will be greatly valued.

If you think you might be interested in finding out more about joining the team of volunteer pastoral visitors, please let me know. If you don’t catch me at church, you can ring the hospital, and ask to be put through to me.

Chaplaincy ministry provides opportunities for sowing the seed, the message of God’s love, as Jesus describes it in his parable. Some people are ready for that message: others are not ready to hear of the peace and hope that Jesus brings, and we never push it on people. As Jesus’ parable describes the different responses of people to the message, one might feel that there was such little response that it was hardly worth the effort. But Jesus makes clear that there are those who are indeed ready to open up to God’s love in a new way: sometimes we will be there when it happens – often we are just links in a chain. But whatever the attitude of those we visit, our aim is to demonstrate God’s love and understanding, not only by our words, but by our compassion and understanding which reflects God’s compassion and understanding to us all. And is that not the foundation of all our witness to the Gospel of Christ? Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Ascension Sunday -The Seventh Sunday of Easter (A) – 1st June 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Acts 1: 1-11; Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15- 23; Mark 16: 15-20;

Ascension Day is the fortieth day after Easter Sunday, commemorating the Ascension of Christ into heaven; an important part of the resurrection.
In the Eastern Church this feast was known as the taking up and as the salvation, denoting that by ascending into his glory Christ completed the work of our redemption through the resurrection.  The terms used in the Western Church, signify that Christ was raised up by his own powers.  Tradition designates Mount Olivet near Bethany as the place where Christ left the earth.  Ascension Day falls on Thursday but recently churches across the world such as ours offers an alternative, today the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

The observance of this feast is of great antiquity.  Although no documentary evidence of it exists prior to the beginning of the fifth century, St. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time.  Frequent mention of it is made in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles.  The Pilgrimage of Sylvia (speaks of the vigil of this feast and of the feast itself, as they were kept in the church built over the grotto in Bethlehem in which tradition suggests that Christ was born.  It may be that prior to the fifth century the fact narrated in the Gospels was commemorated in conjunction with the feast of Easter or Pentecost.  Representations of the mystery are found in diptychs and frescoes dating as early as the fifth century.

Certain customs were connected with the liturgical celebration of the feast, such as the blessing of beans and grapes, the blessing of first fruits, the blessing of a candle, the wearing of mitres by the deacon and subdeacon, the extinction of the paschal candle and triumphal processions with torches and banners outside the churches to commemorate the entry of Christ into heaven.

These days the Paschal candle is extinguished on Pentecost Sunday because Easter it is understood to not be completed by Ascension but with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.  Easter is resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Spirit.  It is all one act.

There is an English custom of carrying at the head of the procession the banner bearing a lion and at the foot a dragon, to symbolize the triumph of Christ in his ascension over the evil one.  In some churches the scene of the Ascension was vividly reproduced by elevating the figure of Christ above the altar through an opening in the roof of the church.  In others, whilst the figure of Christ was made to ascend, that of the devil was made to descend.  On one Ascension Day in England Christine and I went with members of the local church in Devon up to the church tower to sing hymns to welcome the Ascension.  It was very cold!

To say that Jesus was taken up or that he ascended does not necessarily imply that they locate heaven directly above the earth; no more than the words “sitting on the right hand of God” means that this is his actual position.  In disappearing from their view “He was raised up and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9), and entering into glory he dwells with the Father in the honour and power given by the reading.

The celebration of the Ascension, reminds the disciples and us that we are the ones who are to demonstrate what it is like to live in the footsteps of Jesus.  When their Lord Jesus was taken from the disciples, when the clouds received him, there was no sky gazing for them, watching after their ascended Lord.  The proclamation of the good news would no longer be through Jesus, but through Jesus’ disciples, down through the ages, as they lived out the faith he had brought to them.  Disciples then and now have a mission.  By the witness of believers, the word spreads from Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth.

Even though there were just a few witnesses to this Ascension event, it had great implications for the future of the entire church.  Up until that moment, Jesus was seen only where he was, in and around the towns surrounding Galilee. Now, with his Ascension to sit at the right hand of the Father, Jesus was Lord of heaven and earth, present to all believers.

This is the great paradox of the Ascension.  By removing himself from the world, Jesus would no longer be confined to a single place or a single moment, but he would be alive and available in the Spirit to all people for all time.  While it seemed at first glance to be an isolated heavenly event, in truth that moment opened the way for the message that Christ is risen and has conquered death to spread throughout the world forever.  The message reminds all people that wherever people live in his Spirit by faith the Spirit abides in them.

The church is the Body of Christ, his presence in the world and it is only as we live as the Body of Christ in our lives that the good news of the Resurrection can continue to be spread throughout the world.  We are his presence in the world, seen by all as they observe how we treat one another, in our work and in our worship.  This should bring to all of us who call ourselves by his name, who call ourselves Christians, an awesome sense of responsibility.  Such responsibility is why we are staging our “Fully Alive: Fully Human” festival week beginning on Trinity Sunday in two weeks time.

In many of our churches these days, the celebration of Ascension Day is in danger of becoming a forgotten practice.  However, in church or out, the message of the Ascension of our Lord continues and the proclamation of that message of Easter that falls to each of us.  We are to proclaim that Jesus’ does metaphorically sit at the right hand of God.  He is in God’s presence pleading our cause.  In the early church this proclamation fell to the disciples.  Unsure as they were they were able to muster their strength and go forth, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, to do the Lord’s work.  As frail as we are we too are to go forth rejoicing the power of the Spirit to do the Lord’s work.

All of us who are baptized have that same Spirit, and now it is our turn to proclaim our Lord’s message of love and forgiveness, to bring the good news of the Gospel to this weary and war torn world.  Let us go forth.

As we carry out our proclamation of the message of God’s saving grace being freely available to all, we should bear a few things in mind.

The resurrection is the ultimately decisive event for human history, not merely something spectacular that happened to Jesus.  Thus resurrection faith is not merely believing that a dead body came back to life, or that a tomb was empty on Easter morning.  Those who believed that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead did not have resurrection faith.  The soldiers and chief priests who knew the fact that Jesus had “come back to life” did not have Christian faith in the resurrection.

The resurrection itself is not to be described.  No one was there to see it take place.  No Gospel narrates the resurrection, only the discovery and appearances of the risen Christ.  The event happens offstage, a matter of testimony and proclamation, not of empirical observation.  Therefore we should understand that the stories of the Resurrection are the vehicles of faith, but is not to be identified with it.  The Easter stories are not to be harmonized, but each describes a different view of the Easter faith, much the same way we each have different ways in which we have come to faith.

The resurrection is not merely the happy ending of an almost tragic story of Jesus.  The resurrection permeates the telling of the story of Jesus’ life and it is testimony to the risen Lord of the church.  Without the resurrection, the whole story evaporates: Jesus is meaningless.
Resurrection faith does not arise on the basis of evidence, of which the chief priests and soldiers had plenty, but on the basis of the expected presence of the risen Christ by accounts of those to whom he appeared, and by his own continuing presence among his disciples today.  Faith in the resurrection is a matter of worship not of analysis and inference; it does not exclude doubt, but takes doubt into itself.  As Jesus said to Thomas, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Resurrection faith is not to be identified with faith in an empty tomb.  The whole New Testament affirms the resurrection, but stories of the empty tomb are only one way of expressing it, a way found only in the Gospels.

All of us who are baptized have that same Spirit, and now it is our turn to proclaim our Lord’s message of love and forgiveness, to bring the good news of the Gospel to this weary and war torn world.  Let us go forth.

 

Sermon: The Sixth Sunday of Easter (A) – 25th May 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Acts17: 22-31; Psalm 66: 7-19; 1 Peter 3: 8-22; John 14: 15-21

Our Parish Mission “Fully Alive: Fully Human” commences in just three weeks on Trinity Sunday. One of the most difficult questions for non-fundamentalist Christians, which I believe is “how shall we do mission and evangelism in a pluralistic age?” For the most part, we happily embrace religious pluralism and spiritual diversity but how then are we to promote the value of Christian faith as we experience it?

While most of us lack the missionary zeal of Paul in Athens, we may find his experience of the Areopagus quite familiar. Still, like Paul we look for a point of contact with seekers as well as persons from other religious faiths. Today’s readings call us to wrestle with the reality of Christian proclamation in our time and where we might find a point of contact between our Christian beliefs and the hopes and searching our family and friends.

Today, we need to recover a reason to share the good news, not just for others but also for our own vitality. Paul’s approach to the Athenians is two-sided. He agrees that there is truth in their quest. Then he asserts that Christ is what they are truly seeking. He does not exactly say they are not “lost”, nor do we. Still, he calls them to experience something more profound: the God of all peoples, who is beyond human control, yet embodied in the Risen Christ.

Paul’s words say, perhaps, more than he intended.  Indeed, despite the evangelical and fundamentalist critique of there being many god’s being as heretical, Paul comes close to supporting such a position. Indeed, his use of non-Christian philosophical sayings to bolster the Christian message further under girds the possibility of global revelation. Paul affirms that God is “not far from each one of us” and, then, quoting Seneca a Greek philosopher, he describes God as the One in whom “we live, move, and have our being”. Even bolder, he continues his dialogue with Greek philosophy and Seneca, “for we too are God’s offspring”. That is, despite humanity’s God-forgetfulness and alienation, we live in a divine environment. Our sin and brokenness do not disguise our original wholeness as God’s children, nor do they create an insurmountable chasm between God and us.

Still, Paul believes the gospel must be proclaimed. Perhaps, he remembers another passage passed down among the apostles, and later inscribed in John’s gospel, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  Though we are always connected with God, we may be unaware of our divine heritage.  We may forget our true identity and the source of inspiration and growth. When we are consciously connected with God, we bear fruit and live abundantly. We can confidently share the good news as a means of helping others, particularly our families and friends, “find” themselves as God’s beloved children, the recipients of gift and grace.

John’s gospel speaks of the Divine Advocate, the inner Spirit of truth. Though this truth is accessible to all, only those who seek the truth will know God’s truth for themselves and the world.  Only those who seek God’s truth will experience the Spirit consciously in their lives. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. Yet, this treasure may remain buried apart from the awakening word of a loving community or friend.

The passage from John opens to us two concepts, both of which must eventually be joined in our personal and our congregational faith: the path of spiritual discipline and practice and the path of public proclamation. To use the words of Thomas Merton, we need to practice contemplation in a world of action. Our faith must be a faith of action. We are to be God’s ambassadors.

John’s Gospel tells us that God’s Spirit always calls in “sighs too deep for words” we need to train ourselves to listen. We need to practice awakening to God’s presence and listening for God’s purpose for our personal and communal lives. This is what we hope will be the result of “fully Alive: Fully Human”.

God speaks to humanity in many and various ways. God has revealed God’s self to the world over the eons in many and various ways and continues to so in our age. We meet God usually in the most unexpected occurrences and places. We must be alert.

In the burning bush God revealed to Moses his plan for Moses to be God’s agent in the salvation of the captive people of Israel.

Isaiah was participating in the Temple liturgy when, he saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him. Amos was tending his sheep and his trees when God spoke to him.

Elijah thinking that the whole world was against him, meet with God in the most unexpected way, in the sound of sheer silence.

The Psalmist met with God in the beauty of creation. “I lift up my eyes to the hills from where my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

Paul, full of zeal to destroy the fledgling church, was unexpectedly confronted with the Son of God through a blazing light and a booming voice.

Thomas met God in the evidence of the resurrection. He said ‘My Lord and my God!’

We are all different in how we discover God and the impact of God’s will affects each of our lives differently. Whether God is revealed to us in a fire, or in worship in church, walking along a road or in silence; each of our special revelations is important to us and our experience is helpful to others.

The contingent movement in faith once we have heard God speak is often more difficult for most of us. How shall we share our faith to seekers and non-Christians? This, like the spiritual disciplines, takes practice. We need to be reminded of the God moments in our lives, the moments when God became more than a word or when God made a way when there was no way. From these God moments we can discern the gospel we will proclaim. We do not speak a truth from above, but we can speak of a living truth grounded in our own lives that do not have all the questions, but are informed by our experience and faith, and this personal and experienced truth will speak to our families, friends and neighbours.

We need to live and breathe a gospel that reflects Christian wisdom and experience from the perspective of a broad and inclusive faith. Our faith is inclusive not exclusive. Our faith is based upon the example of Jesus who met with sinners of all sorts and loved them.

With the example of Paul speaking in the Areopagus and John understanding, there is an understanding that can be broken down into a number of spiritual affirmations upon which we can build a way to speak of our faith to others.

God lives in all things, and in my life.
We are all children of God.
We can experience God in our life.
We can experience God’s wisdom and abundance in every situation.
Christ reveals God to us.
Christ constantly gives us the wisdom we need to flourish and serve.

Yes, we dwell in the modern Areopagus and are ourselves Athenians in our quests for an inclusive faith. In our continual searching we need to let our light shine; to speak the truth of faith, as we know it, to connect that truth with the experiences of the people outside of the Church. This is achieved by using the example of our own experiences of God in our lives. This is real benefit for the people with which we come into contact in our daily living.  That is how we can validly speak of faith in both word and deed.

God is “not far from each one of us”. The dynamic, loving and inclusive God is in our midst. When we promote this understanding then it will be heard in the Areopagus’ of today.[1]

 

 

 

[1] This sermon is based upon the work of Bruce Epperly found at www.processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yeara/2005-05-01/6th-sunday-easter

 

Sermon: The Fifth Sunday of Easter (A) – 18th May 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Acts 7: 55-60; Psalm 31: 1-5, 17-18;  1 Peter 2: 11-25; John 14: 1-14

When you think of home, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of a building. Perhaps you think of home as a shelter from the storm, a place of refuge. Perhaps when you hear the word “home”, you think more of the hopes and dreams of the people who inhabit a home, a place where people build and share a life together. A place where families share the hopes, hurts, the joys and sorrows of life. Perhaps when you hear the word “home” you think of a place of solace and comfort a place where you feel safe and whole.

Some say home is where the heart is. Others say home is where you hang your hat. The American poet Robert Frost once wrote, “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Somehow, someway, home has a special place in the human heart. It seems as though we are all longing for a place to call home. Whenever we feel lonely or abandoned, we want to go home. Whenever we are filled with doubt or despair, we want to go home. Whenever we feel cut off or lost, we want to go home. I want to go home. I want to feel at home. It’s a phrase that expresses the deepest longings of the human heart.

St. Augustine gave famous expression to this longing when he wrote of God, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee”. Somehow our restless hearts are always looking for a place to rest, a place to find true and abiding peace, a place to call home. Maybe we feel like if we only had the perfect job in the perfect community, then finally we wouldn’t feel so restless. Maybe we feel like if we could meet that perfect someone, that perfect spouse or partner, then finally we would be ready to settle down. Maybe we feel like if we can just get the children educated then finally we can rest.

And yet even when we land our dream job, and find our soul mate, and raise our children, somehow the human heart is still restless, still looking for a place to find true and genuine peace. Somehow, we are all still longing for a place to truly call our home.

“Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” In the good times and the bad times, we are all longing for a place called home.

In our gospel reading today, we hear words that speak directly to the longing of the human heart for a home. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be.”

The Gospel reading is part of the central section of the Gospel of John that follows Jesus’ public ministry and precedes his passion. After an account of the last supper and foot washing, John presents Jesus’ farewell discourse, followed by his high priestly prayer. The lengthy farewell discourse focuses on topics relevant to the disciples after Jesus departure. Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them in the flesh. They must have been broken-hearted, but Jesus assures them that even though their relationship is changing, it is not ending. Even though he will no longer be with them in the flesh, they will remain connected. Jesus is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, where they will remain united to him forever, “so that where I am, there you may be also”.

Our true home is with God, and Jesus, who comes from their very bosom of God, is preparing a place for his disciples in God’s home, in God’s heart. Our true home, ultimately, is not a place, but a relationship, a relationship in the very heart of God, made possible by Christ, eternal in the heavens. Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.

Here’s the surprise thing. Even though the fullness of this relationship remains in our future, even now we can know the reality of this relationship. Even now we can experience a foretaste of this eternal home. When we do the works that Christ commands us to do, when we love one another as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, then God’s love will dwell in us, then God’s love will make a home in us. When the brokenhearted are comforted, then God will make a home with us. When people lay down their lives for one another, then God will make a home with us. When all of God’s children are invited to God’s table to share in his body and blood, then God will make a home with us.

In her memoir, “Traveling Mercies”, Anne Lamott writes about why she stays so close to her church. She says, I have stayed so close to mine – because no matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church, when I hear their tawny voices, I can always find my way home.”

“Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”[1]

 

[1] This sermon prepared using the work of the Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano found at www.episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw and material found at www.processandfaith.org.

 

 

 

Sermon: The Fifth Sunday of Lent (A) – 6th April 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8: 6-11; John11: 1-45

What do we make of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones?  The central message is clear enough: God can breathe new life into old bones.  It applies to a community of faith that appears to have been defeated, even destroyed like an army that was overcome in battle.  It applies to the individual person who feels defeated in life and faith and has lost hope.  The message is, “You can live!”  If you hear the Word of God and respond to it you not only can live, but you shall live.  The dry bones will come together no matter how far they have been scattered.  Sinews will come upon them so that they can work together again, and flesh will cover them.  Even the breath of life will come into those dead bodies when the wind of the Spirit blows.  It is a message of hope.  It’s the same hope that Jesus gave when he raised Lazarus from the dead.

The story of Ezekiel is not really focussed on what happened to the dry bones.  The actors are not the bones, or the bodies they represent.  The real characters in the drama are God, Ezekiel and the Spirit.  They are the characters who produce the action.  It was quite a challenge for the prophet to do what God told him to do.  It was an act of faith to tell the dry bones that they would live.  The first point of the drama, even in a dreamlike vision, was to decide whether Ezekiel had the faith to do what was asked of him.

Does it make any sense for the prophet to speak to the bones if they don’t know that they dead?  Well, you might say it is a silly idea anyway talking to a lot of old bones.  Whoever thought of any sane person doing that.  Like Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb, you must have great faith in what you are doing to do that.  Jesus calling froth Lazarus must have looked very silly.  He had been dead four days.  He had great faith in what God can do.  Yet if you really believe in the power of God to give new life and you believe that God cares enough to answer our pleas for life, then you will have faith enough to speak the word of hope to even the most hopeless.

What if the dryness of the bones goes unrecognised!  What if people, as individuals or as the church or nation, do not know that they are dead?  I suspect that in fact, when the life has gone most people do know in their bones, that it has gone.  Yet I fear that all too often we are afraid to admit the state we in.

The message of hope can only be heard when you are prepared to admit you are in trouble, when you can feel the dryness of the bones.  As Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish existential philosopher, said, We hope only when we cease to hope”.  It takes a lot of faith to proclaim the message of hope with honesty when you don’t know whether people recognise the marks of death that are upon them.  We are a people who live by hope.

We must be realistic and stop looking for quick fixes or easy ways to bringing new life to a life that has gone dry.  The short cuts to the new world are an illusion.  First we must face the reality.  There is not just a little bit of sickness around, but a mortal shadow is cast.  To change the metaphor if you don’t know that the ship is virtually on the rocks you might not be very interested in changing direction.  It takes a lot of time and effort to turn a ship around.  It can be done if your small strength is multiplied by the mechanisms that are built into the ship.  If you make use of power beyond yourself, especially the driving force that propels the ship you can change.  In nautical terms we would have said we must allow the wind to blow the ship in the right direction.  The point is that whether you are steering a ship or commanding an army in the desert you have to know the dangers you are in and the source of life which gives you power to change if you are to survive.

Ezekiel had the faith to proclaim the word of hope to a people without hope.  He believed in the power of God to breathe new life into old bones in a bleak windswept desert valley.  That is what we able to tell our family, friends, associates and ourselves, God can make the dead live.  Ezekiel reminds us that there is meaning in the world and life where there was once death.

This is a beautiful world.  There is life were others say that there is death.  Whether there is life or death God is there and we need not fear.  Because of our hope many will believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  They will see that those who believe in him although they are mortal and will physically die, will live and they never die.

 “I am the resurrection and the life.”

How many of the central and most fundamental sayings of the gospel that have brought new hope and courage to a hard-pressed world, were given in the first place to single, unimportant individuals.

Martha had hoped against hope that her friend would quickly come to her.  However it wasn’t to happen, it was too late, Lazarus had died.  So politely she said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that God will give you what ever you ask of him.”  What did she mean by that?  She probably had no real idea.  Yet her attitude was very natural.  It can be seen in other, troubled confused souls who have faith in the power of God, yet who can’t see how their troubles will be overcome.  For those who know Jesus Christ well, learn to give him blind trust.  They don’t know what it is that he will do, or what they themselves ought to ask from him.  They are however sure of his interest in them, and his power to carry through what no one else could do for them.

To help Martha, Christ gave her that saying which has benefited Christian’s ever since; “I am the resurrection and the life.”  These words have been spoken on many occasions since to give reassurance, particularly at the time of death.

Those words can give hope in times of life too.  In ordinary, everyday life, for those who seek it, resurrection comes from Jesus.  Through him the day-to-day lives of ordinary people have been resurrected.  Souls, which appear dead and lifeless, are restored to life and vitality.  They are like Ezekiel’s dry bones.  Those people can rise out of the sleep of death into which they have descended.  Lives that do not produce anything but dust can produce very abundantly.  They are restored, grow sensitive, active, purposeful and be endowed with powers they haven’t had before.  Where there was once death there is life, because of the way, the truth and the life that only Jesus can give.

What Jesus said to Martha has leaped out through the barriers of death, to give all members of humanity a tremendous promise for the future life.  “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  Calvary was not the end but the beginning.

As we partake in the sharing of the Communion cup we are recalling that Jesus is still today for us the resurrection and the life.  Not in some disembodied, impersonal way, but in a real sense here and now!  We proclaim our, past, present, and future in Christ.  Sharing the cup bonds us as Christians and identifies us as followers of Jesus who proclaim his death and resurrection, as we await his coming in glory.

Wine conjures times of enjoyment and friendship.  In the Psalms it is said; (God you make) “wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine and bread to strengthen the human heart”.  (Psalm 104:15)  To often we meet as the body of Christ, as if it was a funeral.  We meet as if Jesus had not risen from the dead, or as if he did not offer hope for the future.  We meet as if Jesus’ life death and resurrection means nothing.  He is risen from the dead, our lives do have a purpose and we must celebrate.  Easter is for celebration.  The word Eucharist means to give thanks and so every time we meet like this we must celebrate.

The need to celebrate is why we have an Easter party.  We certainly do have much to celebrate.  As the father of the Prodigal Son said, to his other son, who complained about the party given to celebrate the return of his wayward son: ”My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.  But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”

We have much to celebrate.  Let’s throw off our sad faces and begin to enjoy ourselves when we meet together.  Let’s show ourselves, our families and our neighbours that we are more than just dry bones, that we are people of substance who have a purpose in life and in death.  We have Jesus who has given us direction, truth and life!

Let’s party!  Shake those bones!