Sermon: Pentecost 12, 12 August 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Think- Ephesians 4:17-5:7

-It’s funny the little rabbit holes you often fall down when you google one piece of information.

-‘I think therefore I am’ popped into my mind as I was preparing this sermon,

-But sadly the philosopher’s name didn’t.

-So I googled it and the name . . .

-Descartes came up.

-So I brushed up on ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ and was encouraged to know,

-That if I ever begin to doubt my existence I can take comfort in the thought,

-That the mere act of doubting means I must exist.

-Well that led me to the Scottish philosopher John MacMurray who rejected the ‘I think’ idea,

In order to place action at the centre of his philosophical system.

-He argued;

“The reliance on thought creates an irreconcilable dualism between thought and action in which the unity of experience is lost, thus dissolving the integrity of our selves, and destroying any connection with reality.” Wikipedia

 

-I quite liked MacMurray’s argument,

-Because after reading Ephesians ch4,

-My mind was more attuned to actions rather than reflections.

-I’m sure Latin is a much more precise language than English,

-So Descartes’ proposition probably said nothing more than ‘if you can think then you must exist’,

-Or at least your mind does!

-But English can be a little sloppier.

That I think might prove I exist,

-But what I think will seep out into what I do,

-Who I am.

-‘I think therefore I am’ screams out,

-‘I am what?’

-Like MacMurray says,

-If you just focus on thinking,

-Then you divorce your thoughts from the real world of consequence and experience.

-And that truth is evidenced in our reading from Ephesians for today.

 

-But before we jump into vv17ff we need to back up to vv14-16 where Paul sets up a contrast;

“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:14-16

-Paul has argued in ch4 that after Christ ascended to heaven,

-He gave a number of spiritual gifts that give every follower of Jesus,

-The ability to serve others so that all of us together will grow in maturity,

-And attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

-Jesus wants us to be mature in our faith,

-Spiritual grown ups not babies.

-The contrast here is between a mature person,

-Whose mind is shaped by their knowledge of God and his truth,

-And the immature who are intellectually buffeted by false doctrines,

-Tricked and deceived by crafty schemers intent on destroying God’s good purposes.

-We live by faith,

-But not credulity.

-There can be no faith without engaging our minds to the facts that separate the faithful,

-From the fool hardy.

 

-We’ve been created as rational beings,

-Given the ability to engage intelligently with our environment and our Creator.

-Our lifestyle and our thinking, however, cannot be separated.

-Notice that in vv17-19;

“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. 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

-Futility of mind,

-Darkened in understanding,

-Ignorant.

-Each of those words highlights the intellect,

-How the Gentiles were thinking.

-Or maybe more accurately how the thought processes of the Gentiles were governed.

 

-I’ve been reading the theologian Alistair McGrath’s book ‘Inventing the Universe’,

-And he describes how as a young atheistic scientist;

“I happily accepted the Enlightenment’s worldview of the constant improvement of the human condition through science and technology. I do not anymore- not because I have lapsed into some kind of irrationality, but simply because the evidence so strongly suggests it is wrong.” ‘Inventing the Universe’ pp.130-131

-Human beings are not getting better and better,

-And twentieth century history should disabuse even the most optimistic humanist of that belief.

-McGrath explains his thinking now,

-Is founded on an appreciation of the notion of ‘original sin’.

-‘Original sin’ is not about personal fault or guilt;

“. . .  but affirms the uncomfortable insights that human nature is wounded and damaged and thus prone to think and act wrongly.” P.133

-Calvin described that same ‘uncomfortable insight’ as ‘the total depravity of sin’.

-That’s not to say we human beings are slavering immoral beasts,

-But rather every aspect of every element of our human nature,

-Heart, mind, soul, will,

-Has been twisted, bent, corrupted from the good and perfect condition of our original creation.

-It’s this twisted and bent condition which raises the frustrating experience of humanity,

-That we’re capable of both incredible acts of goodness,

-And the most heinous of evils.

-And because of the fallen character of our minds,

-Our darkened understanding and ignorance,

-The way we think leads every human being,

-Not just ancient Gentiles,

-To lose all sensitivity and abandon ourselves to the pursuit of our own self-indulgence and gratification.

-‘I think therefore I am what I think!’

 

-But,

“That is not the way you learned Christ!” 4:20

-Remember back in ch2 Paul’s description of his readers’ lives;

“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. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses,” Ephesians 2:1-3

-But;

“God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5

-We’ve been saved.

-We’ve been adopted as sons and daughters into the family of God.

-We’re now part of Christ’s body the church.

-We’re God’s workmanship;

“Created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:10

-And just as vv17-19 described the thinking of the Gentiles,

-So vv20-23 contrast the Christian’s mind and thinking to the Gentiles’ behaviour;

“That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,” Ephesians 4: 20-13

-You learned Christ,

-You were taught,

-Your minds were renewed.

-What was twisted has been straightened,

-What was corrupt has been purified.

-So now certain behaviours are required,

-‘I think therefore I do.’

 

-In Romans 12:2 Paul writes;

“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

-Notice Paul says to be different to the world around you,

-Don’t conform to it,

-But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

-Because it’s only with a transformed mind that you’ll be able to discern God’s will.

-In Ephesians 4:30 Paul puts that in a negative form when he says;

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30

-The Holy Spirit is grieved when we fail to keep or even discern God’s will.

-But with a transformed or renewed mind we’ll be able to see what God’s will is,

-We won’t do things that’ll grieve his Spirit.

 

-Now throughout Ephesians,

-Paul has alluded to the new life we have because we now belong to Christ.

-Just think of some of the big themes we’ve been introduced to.

-Paul opened his letter with the address;

“To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:” Ephesians 1:1

-Then in v10 he declares God’s plan;

“To bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Ephesians 1:10

-Beginning with God’s holy people,

-Jesus’ faithful followers,

-God will bring unity to heaven and earth.

-The church is that foretaste on earth of what will finally be heralded in for all eternity.

-That’s why Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 4:3-6;

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:3-6

-God’s will is that we would have unity amongst his people.

 

-This unity originates because the Gentiles;

“Also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Ephesians 1:13

-When the Gentiles learned the truth about God,

-When they were taught the truth that’s in Jesus,

-As opposed to the myths and superstitions of their previous pagan world,

-They became united with Jewish believers in the body of Christ.

-Truth is another major theme in the book of Ephesians,

-Which is not surprising given Jesus’ frequent references to truth and specifically his words that;

“‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

-And that claim was as affronting to the Jews of Jesus’ day,

-As it was to the worshippers of Artemis in Paul’s time in Ephesus.

-And it is just as confronting to our modern world where truth is whatever you want it to be,

-Where ‘what is true for you is not true for me’,

 

-That belief of course brings great comfort in a narcissistic hedonist society,

-Where any lie will be believed if it permits me to indulge my every desire.

-But Paul reminds the Ephesians that that was the lifestyle they were rescued from,

-A lifestyle that was an affront to the holiness of God.

-Remember that descriptor in Paul’s opening address;

“To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:” Ephesians 1:1

-God’s holy people.

-Three verses later Paul reminds his readers;

“He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Ephesians 1:4

-In ch.2:21 Christians are described as ‘a holy temple in the Lord’,

-And then in ch5 Paul says Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

-To make her holy and blameless.

-Holy means separate or different.

-God is described as holy because he’s separate and different to his creation.

-The church is called holy because it’s separate and different to the world.

-We’re called ‘holy’ and ‘to be holy’,

-Because we’re to be separate and different to the world around us.

-That’s why if we’re no different to the world,

-If we continue to live in our old worldly ways,

-If we conform to the world rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds,

-Then we’ll grieve the Holy Spirit.

-Unity, truth and holiness is what we’ve been called to.

-To fail to be these things will grieve the Holy Spirit.

 

-That’s why Paul has so focussed on our thinking,

-Because what we think,

How we think will directly impact our hearts,

-And ultimately control our behaviour.

-That’s the warning down there at v18 where the Gentiles darkened understanding and ignorance,

-Has resulted in hardness of heart,

-An unwillingness to even consider obeying God.

-But that’s not how Paul sees his readers,

-Who’ve been renewed in the spirit of their minds, v23,

-And clothed with the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness, v24.

-Now we’ve been given the power to live differently,

“Created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:10

 

-That way of life is described very practically by Paul in a series of triplets beginning at v25.

-And they’re significant because when we live this way,

-We will we protect unity, truth and holiness,

-We will not grieve the Holy Spirit.

-So then,

-Put away falsehood and speak the truth,

-Because we’re members of one another.

-Be angry but don’t sin,

-Because that will make room for the devil.

-Stop stealing and work honestly

-So that you can share with the needy.

-Don’t let evil talk come out of your mouth but only what builds up,

-So that your words will give grace.

-Put away bitterness, wrath, wrangling, slander and malice,

-And be kind, tender hearted and forgiving,

-Because God in Christ has forgiven you.

-There shouldn’t be even a hint of sexual immorality, greed, obscene, silly and vulgar talk,

-But let there be thanksgiving,

-Because there will be no space in the kingdom for those behaviours.

 

-Let me leave you then with these other words of Paul from Philippians 4:8;

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

Sermon: Pentecost 12, 12 August 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 12th August 2018
A DIFFERENT WAY TO LIVE
(2 Samuel 18; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:17-5:2; John 6:35,41-51)

Business ethics has become a big issue these days. Small business owners who knowingly underpay their workers, particularly if they are vulnerable migrants. Financial executives who approve and even encourage dishonest processes, with the aim of maximizing profits. Gambling establishments that deliberately encourage people to spend and to lose more than they can afford to.

Now I suspect that many of the people who do these things think of themselves as reasonably good decent people. They probably don’t think of themselves as criminals, although many of their actions are not merely unethical but actually criminal. However they convince themselves that these very questionable practices are necessary, normal, and certainly the sort of thing that everyone else is doing.

But Christians are called to be different: not to be just like other people, for we are to be the light of the world, pointing people to Jesus, the true light of the world, and reflecting the light of Jesus in our own lives. We are God’s people, God’s holy people. And to be holy is to be different.

In his Letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul has written about God’s great plan to draw people into a community of love, forgiving them and calling them to a new way of living: loving and caring for one another, and showing that love in our daily lives and our relationships. In today’s reading Paul calls us as Christians not to live as the Gentiles live. Theirs is a futile approach to life; they miss the point of it all. This merely human and therefore sinful way of life is reflected in those examples I mentioned a few moments ago. And it is seen also in the trivializing of sex, the justifying of violence and self-centredness, the legitimizing of hatred and division as has become so much a part of life today. This is life apart from God. This is life lived in the dark.

Oh yes, people will do the right thing at times, but it will not necessarily be for the right reason, or on a sound basis. People more often will simply do what they think works for them. And far too often that will be contrary to God’s will, God’s laws, God’s standards.
But as Christians we are called to live a new life. As Paul keeps insisting, this new life is not in order to get into God’s good books: it is a response to God’s love shown to us in Jesus Christ.

This is not just turning over a new leaf: new leaves easily get caught in the wind, and good resolutions easily get broken. Paul is talking about a new life, a new direction, arising out of a new relationship with God, and also a new power to live the life God wants us to live.

And so Paul calls us to put off our old self and our old way of life, to be made new in our minds, and to put on the new self. I used to have a special set of clothes that I wore when doing dirty jobs in the garden. It included a really daggy old check shirt, an ancient pair of patched jeans, and a half-collapsed pair of joggers. It was my scungy outfit. For filthy jobs it was just the thing, but it was not exactly glamorous.

When I had finished in the garden I would take these clothes off, have a good shower, and then put on some fresh clothes. There was a definite contrast between the “before” and the “after”. I now looked more or less respectable. And I was not totally unpleasant to be near, as I had probably been before. I had put off the old clothes, been refreshed and cleansed by my shower, and now my new clothes were suitable for the other things I was going to do.

And so Paul says to take off those old clothes, those old ways, those old standards which give people the excuse to live in selfishness, sinfulness, and compromise. We are to get rid of them, to have nothing to do with them.

And we are to clothe ourselves with the new self: to be made new in our minds. Of course we can’t do that for ourselves. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to do it for us and in us. We need the Spirit’s help to become the people God wants us to be, to reflect more and more the character of God in our lives. That is certainly necessary if we are going to be imitators of God, which is the standard Paul sets before us. Of course it’s beyond us to truly imitate God: but this is the goal, and right now it is to be direction of our lives: seeking to live our lives reflecting the love of Christ, reflecting the goodness of God.
After all, we have become God’s beloved children: ought we not to seek to reflect the goodness of our heavenly Father? And we have God’s Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us in this challenge: it is for us to be open to that leading and to the strength which he offers to us. The question is how open to his leading we really are! Do we follow his leading or do we grieve him?

Paul wants us to see how the new life works in practice. So he picks out some areas of our lives, to show us how God wants to live, how the Spirit calls us to live, how we are to relate to people.

He talks about honesty. We are to put away falsehood, and speak the truth to one another. Why? Because we are members of one another. We members of Christ’s church are family: we need to be able to trust each other. But even beyond that, as human beings we are all made in the image of God, and we know the problems that arise because people do not, cannot trust each other. It is so easy for us to stretch the truth, to embellish, to omit awkward parts of it, so that we look better or stay out of trouble or make sure that things are comfortable for us. As God’s children, we are to speak the truth to one another.

Paul then turns to the importance of self-control. Yes, things do happen that make us angry. Jesus was certainly angry at times. But we are not to let that anger lead us into sin. We are not lash out in anger physically or verbally. Our feelings are not sinful in themselves: sin comes when we respond to those feelings in the wrong way. We need to find a healthy way to be real about what we feel, and why we are angry: we may be able to do that with the person themselves, or talk it through with someone else.
Ignoring our anger doesn’t help. Neither does losing our temper or nursing grudges. Hence Paul tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. Ultimately our aim must be to resolve the problem, to forgive the other person, recognizing that we also may need to be forgiven and even to put things right ourselves. When things get us angry, let us handle it in a godly way.

But Paul turns to another type of honesty. The thief is no longer to steal. Instead he is to find an honest way of earning his money. But the aim is not simply so that he doesn’t steal from others: the aim is that he will be in a position to be generous to those who need his help. The new life is not just an honest life: it is a generous life. So we are to use our honestly-acquired money not only for our own desires and purposes, but to look for ways it can help others, who may well need it more than we do.

And then Paul writes about helpful talk. Christians are not immune to temptation about the things we say. Do we spread gossip? Do we spread discontent? Do we criticize others behind their backs? Do we put people down? Do we use offensive language? James in his letter points out that the tongue is a small member of our bodies, but it is capable of doing immense harm.

Paul here makes clear that the things we say, the conversations we have, are to be helpful, not harmful. They must seek to build people up and benefit those who hear us. Is that true of the things we talk about?

And Paul talks about kindness. We are to get rid of those attitudes that put up barriers and do harm to others. We are to be people of compassion. Being generous and helpful to others. Trying to understand people and their needs, and responding with warmth rather than coldness. Forgiving others as God has forgiven us. Kindness needs to demonstrated in our words and deeds.

Honesty. Self-control. Generosity. Helpful talk. Kindness. These are the things which show the difference in that new life that God has given us in Christ. These are the things that demonstrate the reality of our faith. These are things which show that we are genuinely seeking to be imitators of God.

Billy Graham once challenged an audience about the reality of their faith. “Think about the way you live, the way you act”, he said. “Think about the words you say. Think about what you do with your time. If it was illegal to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Would there? Do our lives truly reflect our faith, and our relationship to our heavenly Father who loves us so much? Are we really living new lives, walking each day in the light of Christ? Amen.
Paul Weaver

Sermon: Pentecost 11, 5 August 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 5th August 2018

SERVING TOGETHER IN CHRIST’S CHURCH

(2 Sam. 11:26-12:13; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35)

In our 10am service this morning, I will be baptizing little Emily Wickham. Before the baptism can take place, however, I will need to ask her some questions: these will be answered on her behalf by her parents and godparents. Will Emily turn away from sin and evil? Will she trust in God and seek to live as Christ’s follower? For baptism is an expression of Christian faith and commitment. As we place our faith in God’s grace, and in Jesus who died and rose for us, we receive God’s cleansing and forgiveness, and we receive new and eternal life: blessings symbolized by the water of baptism. Of course, our prayer is that later on Emily will own these answers and these realities for herself. Baptism is more of a starting point in the Christian life, than a graduation ceremony from Christianity.

But the service of baptism also expresses the important reality that as we trust in Christ, we also become members of God’s family, the church. That is why it is so appropriate that baptisms take place where possible at our regular Sunday services. Baptism is a personal thing, but it is not a private thing. And so, as part of the service, Emily will be welcomed into the church family by all who are there.

These issues which are expressed in the Baptism service are the realities of which Paul has been writing in the first part of his Letter to the Ephesians. Paul has been explaining God’s great plan to bring people who are sinners from darkness to light, from condemnation to acceptance, from death to life. It is God’s gift that we receive as we trust in Jesus – we don’t have to try to earn or deserve it. In other words, it is all by grace.

But God’s purpose is not simply to save a lot of individuals: he has a much bigger plan – to gather a community of love, and ultimately to bring about a transformed creation of praise and righteousness and love. And the wonderful and the amazing thing is that the church, with all its frailties and failures and divisions and misunderstandings, the church is right at the heart of this wonderful plan. Church matters! Christian faith is not just about me and God: it is equally about us and God.

Over the past three Sundays, our lectionary readings have taken us through the first half of this letter, the first three chapters. Over the next four Sundays, we explore the second half of the letter. In a sense this is the practical part: mind you, chapters 1-3 had much to say that had very practical implications, as chapters 4-6 have much truth to teach us. But here is where Paul spells out those practical outcomes of his message.

Through Christ we have been brought into God’s kingdom. But if that is the case, we need to live like it, we need to show it. As Paul puts it, we need to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called by the God who is love. And he is not so much telling us things like “be good, keep the rules”, or even “go to church”. Those are fair enough, but it is not what Paul wants to emphasize here. He focuses on our character: things like humility, gentleness and patience. But these are not just nice qualities: they are expressed in the way we relate to people, the way we treat them.

We don’t treat people as if we are superior to them. We don’t push our own agendas too hard. We listen to people and show respect to them and even to their ideas. And we allow for our differences, and even those irritating qualities that so many people seem to have. It is all about maintaining the unity of the Spirit.

You see, church unity is not something we are to strive for. God’s church is already one, just as a family is still a family when there are squabbles, or where members are physically distant from each other. What God wants us to do is to express the unity of his church in our life together, to relate to each other in love as members together of God’s family.

But that raises the question of what the church really is. In Paul’s day, the church institutions and denominations that we are familiar with did not exist. In most places there were congregations meeting in people’s homes: no doubt they developed their structures and leadership, but that was not the important thing. Paul is first of all making clear to members of individual congregations that unity must be evident in their life together, as they relate to each other with love and humility and patience. And of course that is still an important part of our life together.

But Paul wants his readers not just to see how it works within the congregation, but to see the bigger picture. In a large city like Ephesus there were probably a number of “house churches”. There may well have been the temptation for members of a congregation to compare, to criticize, to judge possible weaknesses of another church, rather than to acknowledge each other as fellow Christians, as part of God’s wonderful family. Paul expects them to welcome each other, and treat each other with love and understanding and humility, expressing the reality that we are all members of God’s great family. And so when Christians came travelling from other places, Paul would have expected them to be welcomed and accepted, not treated with unnecessary suspicion by their fellow-Christians.

Our ecumenical relationship with other churches in Epping is an expression of what Paul is talking about. Some of our differences from other churches are simply that. Differences! We are not cardboard replicas of each other. Different churches have different stories, different styles and traditions, different emphases, different strengths and weaknesses. None of us has arrived yet, and of course there will be diversity: so in humility we need to continue to express our unity in Christ, and support our shared ecumenical activities and worship as we have the opportunity.

But let us also remember that there is an even bigger picture: for all Christians, no matter what their gender, their race or  skin-colour, their economic status, their church, their differences from us, are also members of the family of God. We must also express that in our attitudes and our relationships with each other. As Paul puts it, there is one body; one Spirit – the Holy Spirit; one great hope we share; one Lord, our Saviour Jesus Christ; one faith, even if we sometimes have different understandings on certain issues; one Baptism, even when we have different customs and traditions; one God who is Father of us all. Unity is not uniformity! We are all part of God’s wonderful plan for creation, and for his church, which is not limited by denominational boundaries and varied traditions.

Unity is more than anything about loving one another, being committed to one another, even with all our differences. God is a God of variety. Yes, Henry Ford told his customers that they could have any colour as long as it was black. But our Creator has made a world of variety, and something of that variety is seen in his church family. We can be suspicious of differences, or we can be open to consider them, and even to learn from those different approaches and insights. Yes, sometimes we shall believe that another person or another church has made a mistake: but we shall be careful about easily making judgements or condemning others, particularly when we may have misunderstood or missed something significant.

Variety is an important part of the life of any church. Each of us is an individual, with our own contribution to make. Paul talks about the gifts God has given to his church. In other letters he refers to the gifts as different forms of ministry: teaching, leading, giving, serving. Here he describes apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors themselves as God’s gifts to his church. In a sense Paul is indicating it is not just the ministries we offer that are God’s gifts: we ourselves are God’s gifts to each other. Next time we are inclined to take someone for granted or put someone down, perhaps we can remind ourselves that we all are God’s gifts to each other!

Those who have gifts of leadership and teaching do have a particular role, and Paul describes it in a significant way. We who are pastors are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”. So Ross and I and others who preach and teach and lead are not there to be the ministers: our purpose is to help us all to be the ministers, to encourage and even equip us all to serve one another in love.

As Paul puts it, part of the church leader’s job is to help us to grow to maturity in our understanding and character and service and love. Part of our job is to help keep us all on track in our faith and understanding, so that we are not led down the garden path. I was watching a program on “Compass” on ABC-TV about an American Bible teacher who convinced his followers that the world would end on 21st May 2011: you may even have seen posters about it displayed in Sydney. But the scriptures give no encouragement to us to try to predict the date of Christ’s return: they encourage us to live as people who are always ready for the great day simply by living truly Christian lives. Of course the preacher got the date wrong, but he also confused many people, and made many people more cynical about the faith, no matter how sincere he was. We do need to grow in our knowledge of the scriptures, so that, as Paul says, we will not be carried about by every wind of doctrine, like those confused ideas about Judgement Day. Our various small groups can be very helpful that way.

Truth matters. And the truth of the Gospel is worth holding on to. Paul tells us to “speak the truth in love.” People can speak the truth harshly and arrogantly: that is not love. People can avoid speaking uncomfortable truths, thinking that this is loving, whereas sometimes it is just taking the easy way. Truth and love are both vital.

We are members of Christ’s eternal family. Let us all play our part, relating to each other in love, serving each other and accepting each other’s service, and growing together in our understanding and maturity, so that our church, God’s church, can go forward playing its part in God’s wonderful and eternal plan for his people. Amen.                    Paul Weaver

Sermon: Pentecost 11, 5 August 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Aidan’s

Unity and Diversity- Ephesians 4:1-16
-I stumbled across a quote from a book I’d read a number of years ago by Bill Hull.
-He wrote in ‘The Disciple Making Pastor’;
“The evangelical church has become weak, flabby and too dependent on artificial means that can only simulate real spiritual power. Churches are too little like training centres to shape up the saints and too much like cardiopulmonary wards at the local hospital. We have proliferated self-indulgent consumer religion, the what-can-the-church-do-for-me syndrome. We are too easily satisfied with conventional success: bodies, bucks and buildings. The average Christian resides in the comfort zone of ‘I pay the pastor to preach, administrate, and counsel. I pay him, he ministers to me. . . I am the consumer, he is the retailer . . . I have the needs, he meets them . . . that’s what I pay for.”
-That is really a scathing commentary on modern church life, isn’t it?
-Hull goes on to say that we see this most clearly in the American megachurch.
-The bigger it is,
-And the more it mimics the American entrepreneurial spirit, the better.
-The measure of greatness of these churches is the number of people who turn up.
-If there’s three thousand people filling the pews,
-The snap judgement is that ‘this is a great church’.
-Bigger is better.
-More is definitely the merrier!
-But Hull says the measure shouldn’t be ‘how many people are present?’
-But rather ‘what are these people like?’

-Paul begins Ephesians 4 with these words;
“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
-Like Bill Hull,
-Paul’s concern is not with numbers but with character,
-What he wants his readers to be like,
-How they are living,
-How they’re relating.
-And that standard is to be ‘living a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called’.
-It’s taken Paul three chapters to describe that calling beginning in the very first verse:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:” Ephesians 1:1
-To the saints.
-Don’t be fooled by that word,
-A saint just means a follower of Jesus.
-But Paul shows how significant that idea of being a follower of Jesus is when he says in vv3-5;
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,” Ephesians 1:3-5
-Can you see how Paul is laying a foundation for the answer to,
-‘What are these people like?’
-What should a people be like who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing?
-Chosen to be holy and blameless?
-Destined for adoption as God’s children?

-Well Paul’s not ready to answer that yet because he still has to remind his readers,
-That this was not how they always were.
-In fact once;
“You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 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. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath,” Ephesians 2:1-3
-Once, even the saints, the followers of Jesus,
-Were spiritually dead,
-Enslaved to evil,
-God forsaken.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5
-We’ve been saved.
-We’ve been moved from enemies of God,
-To children in his family,
-Members of his body the Church.

-Now it would be very easy to think that those first three chapters of Ephesians are about you and me.
-But they’re not,
-They’re about us.
-Bill Hull has rightly assessed the nature of the modern church as individualistic, spiritual consumers.
-I once got an email from someone leaving a church because, they wrote;
-‘I am finding that Saint Dot-dot-dot’s no longer gives me the spiritual nourishment I require.’
-Notice the focus on ‘I’ and ‘me’,
-My requirements.
-But for the first three chapters of Ephesians Paul talks about we, us, youse.
-And just to drive home the significance of this new community,
-He reminds his Gentile readers that this new body, the church,
-Is made up of two groups that once had an implacable enmity,
-Jews and Gentiles.
-But now both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
-Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled in Christ to form a new society, the church.

-And to life in that new society Paul now turns with his opening exhortation in ch4:1;
“Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
-Humility, gentleness, patience, forebearance, love.
-To show how radically different this new society the church is,
-From the old societies both Jews and Gentiles have come from,
-Paul begins with ‘humility’.
-To a certain extent we accept humility as an honourable virtue,
-We hate arrogance and posers,
-But in the ancient world humility was seen as a weakness,
-As something to be avoided.
-They equated humility with humiliation.
-But with the coming of Jesus,
-These values are turned on their head.
-Jesus humbled himself,
-The Son of God descended to the human realm in order to die for our sins.
-That gives a whole new meaning to humility.

-Maybe surprising to us,
-‘Gentleness’ or meekness was seen as a virtue in the ancient world.
-Gentle Jesus, meek and mild sounds very weak and wishy washy to our ears,
-But to Aristotle and other Greeks meekness wasn’t weakness,
-But rather strength,
-A strength that navigated the narrow path between being too angry and never angry at all.
-Gentleness is strength under control.
-The meek don’t fly off the handle,
-But will energetically defend the weak against the powerful,
-Truth against lies.
-Humility with gentleness is a potent combination.

-As is patience and forebearance.
-Whenever any group of humans get together there will be friction and misunderstandings.
-Throughout the Old Testament God is said to have been patient with the failings of his people.
-Paul argues that a life worthy of God’s calling will reflect God’s character,
-The follower of Jesus will reflect his patience with our weakness.
-In Romans 12:18 Paul writes;
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18
-That is a direct call to exercise patience and forebearance.
-In order to live together peacefully we need to make allowances for others’ shortcomings.
-There was a reason Jesus said,
-‘Before you take the speck out of your brother’s eye,
-‘Remove the log in your own.’

-With humility and gentleness,
-Patience and forebearance,
-Then the foundation of our life together will be evident,
-Love.
-In ch3:17 Paul prays for his readers
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” Ephesians 3:17
-Now he urges them to live that way.
-In our narcissistic society,
-Love has been reduced from the powerful sacrificial love,
-Demonstrated in Jesus’ death on the cross for those who put him there,
-To an emotional sensation that strokes personal desire.
-Love in the Bible is other person centred,
-The romanticised love of Western culture is self-centred.
-And what comes next is a direct challenge to that individualistic, consumer culture we breathe in,
-As Paul calls the followers of Jesus to make;
“every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:3-6
-Paul again is stressing the unity we have as the people of God, the Church.
-It’s a unity that lies in the Trinitarian nature of God,
-Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
-We’re one body because there is only one Holy Spirit.
-We have one hope because there’s only one Lord, Jesus,
-We are one family because we have only one God, the Father,
-Who is above all and through all and in all.
-That unity raises us above the petty individualisms that mark the self-centred life,
-We’re called to live for others.

-And only after laying that foundation of unity does Paul move from the corporate to the individual,
-Because unity doesn’t mean uniformity.
“But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’” Ephesians 4:7-8
-Notice he says to ‘each of us’.
-Now Paul is going to get personal,
-As he tells his readers that each and everyone one of us has a unique contribution to make to the life of the church.
-He quotes a verse from Psalm 68 that pictures God as the victorious king,
-Returning to his capital city with the conquered people and captured booty,
-In a huge procession.
-This would have been a picture citizens of the Roman Empire would have been well aware of.
-But here the allusion is to Jesus,
-Who after conquering sin and death on our behalf on the cross,
-Rose from the dead and ascended victoriously to heaven.
-And just as the Roman Emperor would share the victor’s spoils with his people,
-So Jesus gives gifts to his people.
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13

-These are spiritual gifts that come through the Holy Spirit for building up the church.
-Apostles were not just those first disciples who saw the risen Jesus.
-The word apostle means ‘one who is sent’.
-In this case sent to begin or contribute to new ministries.
-It’s a leadership function.
-Similarly prophets spoke forth the word of God in the Old Testament,
-It was an authoritative message spoken by God to the prophet.
-In the early church the prophets brought words from God,
-But the church was to test these words,
-They didn’t carry the same divine authority of an Old Testament prophet.
-Evangelists are specially gifted to give a compelling witness to Jesus.
-Pastors provide care and biblical support to others.
-And teachers open up God’s word to guide, reprove, correct and train in righteousness.
-There’s a good argument that each of these different roles are essential to the health of every local church.
-But again note why these gifts are given;
“To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” Ephesians 4:12
-These gifts are not for personal use,
-They’re for serving,
-For helping others to be what they were created to be,
-With the end goal that we’ll all grow in maturity.
-What does maturity look like?
-It’s being united in the faith,
-Knowing Jesus more deeply,
-And ultimately becoming exactly like Christ.

-In a rather clever but pointed way Paul contrasts the mature from the childish.
-He’s spoken of maturity in the context of the unity of the body of Christ,
-But using the plural ‘children’ implies an immature individualism,
-That’s easily swayed by seductive doctrines,
-People’s trickery,
-And the Evil One’s deceitful schemings.
-The antidote to such immaturity is not just speaking the truth in love,
-But living a life that proclaims the reality of a changed life in Christ.
-And in saying this Paul has come full circle.
-Opening this chapter he’s begged his readers to live a life worthy of the calling of Jesus.
-This isn’t just an individual action,
-But a corporate lifestyle that encourages and strengthens each follower of Jesus,
-To live out that calling.
-As members of the one body,
-Through the gift of the Spirit and the spiritual gifts he pours upon the church,
-We work together,
-Loving and serving each other with the aim that as one,
-We will all come to the full stature of Christ.

Sermon: Pentecost 9, 22 July 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 22nd July 2018

THE CHURCH: GOD’S TEMPLE, GOD’S BUILDING

(2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:21-38; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-56)

“By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Powerful words, and I imagine that they will be familiar to many of you. They make very clear that our relationship with God is based not on how good we are, not on our efforts to be good enough; but rather on God’s generous love which reaches out to us, and forgives and accepts us despite our sins and our shortcomings. These words also point us to God’s purpose for us: he has good works for us to do, to be our way of life. This passage makes clear that the good things we do are not an attempt to earn our way into God’s good books, but rather they are the working out of God’s purposes in our lives. They are not a way to win God’s acceptance, but rather our thankful response to God’s grace shown to us in Christ.

And where do we find these powerful words? In the first half of Ephesians 2, which the compilers of our lectionary have omitted from our readings as we explore Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. The compilers couldn’t fit the whole of the letter if they were to make reasonable length readings over seven Sundays: but I think I would have certainly included the first half of Chapter 2. It makes clear how God in his mercy has rescued us from a life without God and a life without hope, and has made us his children. By grace indeed we have been saved!

In a sense, the first half of Ephesians 2 is pretty personal: in a way it is the story of each one of us who are believers. But the second half of this chapter, which we did read this morning, takes us to a bigger picture: part of that big picture I spoke about last Sunday. For, as I have said on other occasions, God’s purpose in the Gospel is not just to save a lot of individuals, but in fact to gather a great community.

Perhaps Paul’s best-known image of the church is the body of Christ, with each member of the body playing their part in the life of God’s family. But in today’s reading he uses another image: he pictures the church as a holy temple.

And what is a temple? Some of you will have visited the ruins of great temples in your travels: mostly grand buildings, often capable of holding large numbers of worshippers. For a temple was often a place where a particular god was believed to make his or her home.

 

The temple in Jerusalem was a wonderful building set impressively on top of the hill: it had been started in 19BC, but was not completed till around 63AD, soon after this letter was written: over 80 years after from start to completion! It was a uniquely holy place, expressing God’s presence with his people. People knew that it was not God’s literal home: the eternal Creator of all could not be tied down to one location on earth. Nevertheless the temple was a symbol of God’s presence in the midst of his people.

God’s holiness was expressed in powerful ways in the temple. The central sections of the temple had significant entry restrictions, and no Gentile was permitted beyond the outer court of the temple. In fact there were prominent signs with the authority of the Roman governor warning that any non-Jew who went beyond the officially sanctioned point would be executed. The barriers were up, well and truly!

When Paul writes about a temple, the first thing he will have in mind is this temple of Jerusalem. But now he says that his Gentile readers are part of God’s temple. How could this be? How could this happen?

Paul starts by reminding the Ephesians what they once were.

They were the “uncircumcision”: they lacked that special physical sign that all male Jews had, to indicate that they belonged to God’s covenant people. They didn’t belong to God’s people. “You were outsiders”, he writes. “You were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” You were spiritually cut off from God, and you were cut off from being the people of God.

But now, says Paul, “you who were once far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.” And he says that to us too! Our sins, which put up such a barrier between us and God, have been forgiven. We are reconciled to God, spiritually cleansed. We have been given eternal life, God’s kind of life. We are God’s friends rather than his enemies. We who were separated from God have been brought near. There is peace between us and God.

But peace with God is not simply a vertical thing: it has a horizontal expression. When I regularly took weddings many years ago, I used to encourage the newlywed couple to make their grand exit back down the aisle with the husband still on the bride’s right hand side. I would tell them: “That will give you a good chance to see who all your new relatives are, and to greet them.” Marriage connects you to a whole new family: for better and for worse. And faith in Christ makes us part of a new family under our loving heavenly Father. The church is the family of God. It’s a very mixed family. But it is the family of God.

And so Paul reminds us of that big barrier in the temple of Jerusalem which expressed the huge barrier between Jew and Gentile. He makes clear that in Christ the spiritual barrier between Jews and Gentiles has been abolished. Jesus himself is our peace. He has “made both groups one and destroyed the dividing wall of hostility.” The old religious laws and customs and restrictions which divided people have been abolished in Christ. Peace is his purpose for those who are near, both for Jewish people who were the very first Christians, and for Gentiles who have become followers of Christ. And that of course includes us.

Through Christ the barriers are down between us and God. Through Christ the barriers are down between his followers. Our different races and backgrounds, our different traditions and styles, must not be a barrier which prevents us relating to each other as members of the one family. The Christian Gospel does not call us to uniformity, but it does call us to express a unity that is real.

We are only too aware of the divisions and conflicts in various parts of the world today: as Christians, if we are to be true to our Lord, we ought to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Sadly throughout history, that has been far from the case for the church. Now of course there will be differences of opinion and understanding in such a varied community as God’s worldwide church: and so often committed Christians express our differences in ways which deny our fundamental unity, which display arrogance rather than humility, which push people apart rather than draw people together, which express closed minds rather than a respect which will allow us to consider ideas different from our own. These attitudes are a denial of who we are in Christ. They are a denial of the one who has brought us reconciliation. To belong to Christ is to belong to his family.

So as Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians, what are the implications of all this? “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” A holy temple in the Lord: that’s what we are meant to become. It’s not made of bricks and mortar, of stones and cement. The real temple is the people of God. Even this church building which we love and appreciate is not the real church: the real church is the people, the community. We are the church.

The temple of Christ which is the church has as its foundation the apostles and prophets, those who first preached and taught and explained the good news of Christ. Ultimately we could say that its foundation is the message of Christ we find in the scriptures.

And the cornerstone of this temple is Jesus Christ himself. Like a cornerstone, he is the starting point, from where everything else finds its position. In him alone we place our trust. It is he whom we follow through life.

And the temple is joined together and growing. God’s church is a community which is still growing. We play our part in the life of this community. And we are to welcome new members of the community, and to seek to make visitors and newcomers feel welcome and at home.

And this temple is a spiritual dwelling place for God. Yes, God is among us, sharing in our life and valuing our worship and helping us to grow in faith and love.

The church, with all its variety, is right at the heart of God’s purposes for creation. What a wonderful privilege to be part of that plan! Let us seek to play our part in the life of God’s church. Let us always remember that we gather as God’s people and in God’s loving presence. Let us be open to Christians from other churches and traditions and styles from whom we might learn, and with whom we can share in faith and love.

So then, let’s actively share in the life and witness of our part of the church, remembering that we are the living spiritual temple of God, and called to show Christ’s love to one another and to the world. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Pentecost 9, 22 July 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Outsiders- Ephesians 2

-Have you ever felt like an outsider?

-Have you been in one of those situations where there is a clear us and a them,

-And you are the them?

-Every time we travel there comes that moment when you’re labelled an outsider.

-Every immigration hall,

-At every international airport,

-Makes it very clear who are the insiders and who are the outsiders.

-There’s the queue for the locals,

-And the queue ten times longer and with half the immigration booths,

-For the foreigners,

-The outsiders,

-The ‘them’.

 

-This theme of the outsider runs through the first two chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

-It’s a bit subtle in ch1,

-But the nuance of such phrases as ‘he chose us’ and ‘to be adopted’,

-Describe an us and them,

-An insider and outsider.

-In this opening chapter it’s the difference between us and God,

-Of the heavenly and the earthly that’s been eliminated,

-According to the eternal purposes of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

-Paul paints a big picture of the new identity we have as God’s people,

-As God’s plan to bring all things in heaven and earth together under the one head, Jesus Christ,

-Are fulfilled.

-Outsiders made insiders.

 

-Then ch2 zooms in from the heavenlies to the deeply personal,

-And it’s a reminder of why we were the outsiders;

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 2:1-2

-Paul is stark and unflattering in the contrast between us and God,

-We were dead in our transgressions,

-Gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature,

-Objects of wrath.

-This is a reminder of the deep and calamitous circumstances of all humanity,

-That goes right back to that first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden,

-Where we chose selfish autonomy over obedience to our Creator.

-And through that sin,

-Death, disease and the demonic disrupted our world.

-From insiders created in the image of God,

-We became spiritual outsiders cut off from the life we once had.

 

-But then comes the contrast;

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:4-6

-Love,

-Mercy,

-Life.

-We deserved wrath and judgement,

-Instead we got love.

-We were dead in transgressions,

-But were made alive in Christ.

-We were slaves to this world,

-But raised to heaven to be seated with Christ.

-All by the free gift of God.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

-What a contrast,

-From rebels to rescued.

 

-And after explaining how our new life has come about,

-How we’ve been adopted as sons and daughters,

-Paul offers up another contrast,

-And another reminder of the outsider status that has been changed.

“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands) – 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” Ephesians 2:11-12

-The whole Old Testament is the story of the Jewish people,

-And how God planned to use his Chosen People to bring salvation to the whole world.

-Beginning with Abraham and the covenant of circumcision,

-Through the rescue from Egypt by Moses and the Exodus to the Promised Land,

-God was working his purposes out through Israel.

-And with the incarnation of Jesus as a descendant of King David,

-His death and resurrection,

-God’s plans were fulfilled.

-But for all this history,

-All God’s leading that the Jews were to be a blessing to the whole world,

-His people considered themselves to be just that,

His people,

-To the exclusion of all others.

 

-And that was what Paul experienced on his arrival at Ephesus.

-Although he went to the Jewish synagogue first,

-Within three months Luke writes;

“. . . some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way.” Acts 19:9

-Even Paul’s own history should have warned him of the reception that he’d get from a Jewish audience.

-It’s no surprise that Paul describes this attitude as hostility.

-Because they had that covenant and promise to Abraham,

-Because they had the Law handed down to them by God through Moses,

-Because they had the Temple,

-The dwelling place of God,

-They had an antagonism against all those who were not Jews.

-They thought that because they had all these things they had a unique relationship with God,

-They were the insiders and everyone else were outsiders.

-But they were wrong.

 

-Although ch 2 is clearly directed to his Gentile readers,

-The Jews were not exempt from that universal condemnation of vv1-3.

-Although they believed that possession of the Law put them right with God,

-The problem that Jesus himself highlighted,

-Was that they failed to keep the Law 100%.

-Rather than the Law being a means of a relationship with God,

-The Law was actually a reminder of how far short everybody falls from the perfection God calls for.

-In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said;

“I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20

-And just in case people missed the point he goes on;

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Matthew 5:21-22

-And to really drive it home;

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

-Two commandments,

-Two obligations of the Law,

-And anger and lust,

-Not just murder and adultery,

-Disbar a person from the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

-At my Mum’s funeral on Monday I told the guests that a common refrain from my Mum for five or more years was,

-‘I just want to go home to be with Jesus.’

-After the service my aunty came up to me and said,

-‘It was lovely that Denise had such a firm faith.

-‘It must be wonderful being so sure of where you’re going.’

-Now that Aunty is a very committed and devout Catholic,

-But from her wistful tone,

-I think I have more confidence I’ll see her in heaven than she has herself.

-But she wouldn’t be alone as a follower of Jesus who lacks assurance of their own salvation.

-The Jews thought that they had an automatic ticket to heaven because they had the Law,

-Their confidence lay in their hereditary.

-But what was Paul’s assessment of humanity?

-And not just Gentiles;

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air . . . All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” Ephesians 2:1-3

-And what was the antidote,

-What saved us from our deserved wrath?

-Being a Jew?

-Keeping the Law?

-Being a good person?

-No!

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

 

-It’s by grace you’ve been saved.

-And just in case his readers missed the significance of this Paul repeats it in v8-9;

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

-It’s nothing you do that gets you salvation,

-It’s what Jesus has done for you.

-Do you know why that’s good news?

-Because it means you can be sure that you are a Christian,

-You can be assured you will spend eternity with Christ,

-You can know that you will meet again all those you have loved who have died trusting in Jesus?

-How can a human being possibly have such confidence?

-Because God,

-God who is rich in mercy,

-God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.

-That’s why my Mum kept saying with confidence,

-‘I just want to go home to be with Jesus.’

-It’s why my Aunty can have the same confidence,

-It’s why you can have such confidence.

 

-Paul is implying in this second half of Ephesians 2,

-‘We’re all in the same boat’

-It’s not just the Gentiles who were,

-Separated from Christ,

-Excluded from citizenship in the People of God,

-Foreigners to the covenants of promise,

-Without hope,

-And without God in the world,

-That’s the plight of all humanity;

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:13

-And it’s the same blood that saves the Jews;

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.” Ephesians 2:14-15

-You see, the Jews thought they had the jump on the Gentiles because they had the Law.

-That was a huge barrier in relationships between the Jews and Gentiles in the ancient world.

-The Jews smugly believed they were better than everyone else,

-And not surprisingly the Gentiles were put out by the arrogance of that belief.

-But because the law can’t save,

-That barrier is removed because we’re all on the same footing.

-We’re all dependant on the grace and mercy of God.

-And it is that grace and mercy that brings all lost humanity together,

-Whether Jew or Gentile.

 

-Remember Paul’s description of God’s plan back in Ephesians 1:10;

“. . . to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Ephesians 1:10

-Well that gets expanded in ch2:15-18;

“His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

-The outsiders are made insiders.

-Those relying on the Law,

-And those far from it.

-Paul’s readers,

-Coming from that culture of hostility would have seen the great miracle that this was,

-And a confirmation that God was indeed bringing all things under heaven and on earth,

-Together under one head, Jesus.

-No longer were Gentiles foreigners and strangers,

-What God had always wanted Israel to do finally comes to being through his Son,

-With the nations of the world coming to worship the Lord our Creator God.

 

-We too are part of that story.

-Once we were outsiders,

-Hopeless,

-Separated from God by our selfishness and sinfulness.

-But through his love and mercy,

-In Christ we have a sure and certain hope;

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-22

 

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

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

GOD’S AMAZING PLAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Weaver

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

Identity- Ephesians 1

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

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

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

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

-Those two colours identified where allegiances lay.

 

-On two occasions this week,

-In close succession,

-I heard the term ‘cultural appropriation’ used.

-If you’ve never heard the phrase,

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

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

-And during this NAIDOC week,

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

 

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

-Identity politics.

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

-Because her campaign too tightly focussed,

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

-With which a minority of people identified.

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

 

-Identity is very powerful.

-In an article earlier this year,

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

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

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

-Identity,

-Or more accurately,

-One small aspect of that identity,

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

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

 

-But identity politics is nothing new.

-It was even around in Jesus’ day.

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

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

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

-Over a conquered Jewish state.

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

-There’s nothing wrong with identity per se,

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

 

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

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

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

-Another patristic scholar,

-Noting the number of quotations in early Christian literature,

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

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

-And they were all much longer documents.

-The reason for the influence of this short letter,

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

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

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

 

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

-He starts with his own identity;

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

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

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

-You could imagine the significance of those words,

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

 

-When Paul arrived in Ephesus,

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

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

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

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

-After this,

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

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

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

-Luke writes that God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,

-The sick were healed and demons were exorcised.

-This confrontation between Paul and the evil supernatural realm,

-Had an incredible impact upon the believers in Ephesus,

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

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

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

-That is a serious and costly change of lifestyle!

 

-So when Paul identifies himself as;

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

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

-And his relationship with Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-A blinding light halted his journey,

-And a voice called out,

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

-Saul asks;

-‘Who are you Lord?’

-An identity question.

-In Acts 9 the answer was a very simple,

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

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

-And is described within an incredibly profound Trinitarian description.

 

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

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

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

-Eight times Paul refers to him just as Christ.

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

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

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

-The kings of Israel were anointed for their role.

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

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

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

-When Paul adds ‘Lord’ to Jesus Christ,

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

-And intimately identifying Jesus with God the Father,

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

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

 

-But Paul is not only concerned to identify himself,

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

-He wants us to know who we are.

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

-Where Paul says;

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

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

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

-We are not our ethnic identity,

-Our economic or gender identity,

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

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

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

-And it just keeps on getting better;

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

 

-Whatever we may think of ourselves,

-Whoever we may think we are,

-Whoever others tell us we are,

-Whatever failings, struggles, flaws or shortcomings,

-Clamber within our souls to define our identity,

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

-In Christ Jesus you are a child of God!

-That’s what it means to be redeemed,

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

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

-All the failings of our past have been forgiven.

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

-We’re made new,

-Restored,

-Prepared for something better.

 

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

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

-Stan Grants observation that;

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

-Is very insightful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

-This will be the message of Ephesians,

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

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

-And be the people God created us to be.

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

St.Alban’s Epping, 8th July 2018

CLOSED MINDS OR OPEN HEARTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Weaver

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

St.Alban’s Epping, 1st July 2018

 Rev. Paul Weaver

A GENTLE MESSAGE ABOUT GIVING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Weaver