Monday, June 30, 2014

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—
truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward

What is the cup of cold water?
Who are these little ones?

What do these things say about our understanding of God?

The phrase “one of these little ones” is only used in one other place in the Gospel, Matthew 18:
"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea." 
So what we have is reward in doing good, a cup of cold water,
and in this later case,
punishment for doing wrong, a stumbling block.
Both reward and punishment are described in the case of what is done to “One of these little ones.”

Who are these little ones?
Who are these who we are to give a cup of cold water to?
Who are these who are not to put a stumbling block before?

They are anyone in need.
We are called to meet those needs, big or small, meaningful or seemingly meaningless.

Jesus will say in Matthew 25:
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Hunger, thirst, alone, naked, sick, imprisoned.

If anyone is in need we are to answer.
Calling them little ones implies a helplessness.
It implies someone who will grow.
Think of a little one as someone who knows nothing of Jesus.
They hear about this wonderful man, fully human, fully divine.
They hear the stories of healing, his compassion, his feeding the hungry. They hear how he gave his life for those he loved.

Think of that little one seeing a community of people who follow this same man.

They would rightly expect to see those same qualities being displayed.
A community that follows Jesus should do the same as Jesus did while he walked on earth.

For a community to not be will only lead to being thought of as hypocrites.
Talking the talk but walking the walk.

The letter of James puts it this way:
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

He goes on:
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

So the little ones are anyone in need.
What is the cold water?
It can be anything.
It can be something tangible: food, drink, clothing.
It can be something different: a hug, a smile, a kind word.
Sometimes the most significant thing we can give is our time.
Just to listen.

That cup of cold water will make the difference to a little ones day.
It can make a difference to their life.

It shows what following Jesus means.
It shows who Jesus is and what he does.

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

The way we act for and with the least of our society is shows our understanding of how God acts with us.
If we think we don’t need God’s help, we won’t think anyone deserves our help.
God helps those who help themselves is not in the Bible.
Our relationship with God is expressed in how we treat others, especially those who are in need.

We express our love for God in in our love for others:
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

This is one of Jesus best sayings.
We need only listen to it.

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Much like last week’s ‘I am with you to the end of the age,’
it has an aura of truth that goes beyond the norm.

I am with you always was a promise, a promise we receive.
Likewise today, but here there is a condition.

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

So, what is meant by life?
What is meant by lose?
What is meant by find?

Life here is a decent translation.
The Greek word means either life or soul.
The Greek itself is a translation of the Aramaic.
The word there is self.

Furthermore, the grammar is different.

Closer to what Jesus said is this:

Those whose aim has been to save themselves shall lose themselves,
and those who lose themselves for my sake will themselves.

So Jesus isn’t talking about life, what we do, and the things that we surround ourselves with.
He isn’t talking about our families, as the earlier part of the reading suggests:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth;
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

He is talking about the inner part, the soul, the essence,
he is talking about who we really are.

If your aim has been to keep yourself in first place,
to keep yourself as number one,
to put your own interest above all others,
above community,
above God,
you will lose.

This is incredibly countercultural.
It is always has been, but is even more so today.
 Our time is incredibly narcissistic.
It is all about me.
It is about what is in it for me.
It is about selfies.
It is about online presence.
All this creates a culture that revels in self importance.
This is isn’t just a problem for the young.
It is engrained in our society at all levels.

When we see ourselves as so important, it is even easier to see others as lesser.
It then becomes ok to look at someone else as not being as significant to society.
It then becomes ok to see others as less important to God.

We can start to see other races as less worthy as our own.
We can start to see people with less money as less.
We start to see young people as wrong and old people as irrelevant.
We can start to see people who arrive on our shores on boats as less than human.
All because we think we are so important.
Our self is central, not God.
Our ego is in charge, and God is put into a tidy little Sunday box.
Our selfishness reigns during the week, and God gets a peek for an hour.

Those whose aim has been to save themselves shall lose themselves

We lose our compassion and empathy in ourselves and in doing so we lose who we are meant to be. We lose our calling from God.

Jesus tells us: Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.
Love yourself yes, love your neighbour the same.
That takes the self out of it.
And loving God removes the self. It removes selfishness.

Jesus says those who lose themselves for my sake will find themselves.

If we lose our self, we find ourselves.
If we lose our sense of self importance and find ourselves in others and find ourselves in Christ.
This is another part of letting go:
Letting go of what separates us from our neighbour and God.
Letting go of our self centredness, to look toward where the Spirit is guiding us.

And that is how we find ourselves.
We find ourselves when we let go of what we think we need and listen to what God needs from us.
We lose our wants and find the needs of God.
We find them in our neighbour, we find them in the least of humanity.
And it is there that we find ourselves and God.

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

I remember in the earliest days of my conversion,
everything all floaty and light,
when the promise of God’s life bought purpose, understanding, and clarity to everything.


I remember even after that initial excitement realising “All this AND eternal life!”

It was a joyous discovery, to know that God had somehow found me in all my mess and uselessness. And further to that, I was going to be able to be with him forever.

In this time, I was devouring the scriptures.
I read John several times, I slowly read through Luke, and Mark was like a flash and a rush.

And then there was Matthew.
Somewhere along the line, I had picked up a prejudice against Matthew’s gospel.
It was the church’s gospel.
It struck me as the most boring and ordinary.
I avoided it.

When I did eventually read Matthew, all my prejudices were confirmed.
It did seem dull compared with Luke or John.
Until the last line.
Yes, there were bits that were awesome, but the last line.

And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world

There, all the promise I had felt was spoken by Jesus to all who ever have believed in him,
who ever guided by the Holy Spirit have been able to proclaim Jesus is Lord!

I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

I knew then I would never be alone.

The words were true.
I could hear Jesus speak them to the disciples. .
I could hear him speak them to me.
The words bypass our brain and go directly to our spirit, they enliven us with hope and life.
They are the truth.

And they are quite a promise.

I am with you always, to the end of the age.

No one else can say this and it be truth.

I love my wife, but the best I can say to her is I will be with most of the time,
but there will be times when I am not around.
Like when I am at the shop and you are at home.
Like when I am at church and you are the market.

And as Jesus says to the Sadducees in Matthew 22:
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
And I can’t say I will be with you to the end of the age.
I can say I will be with you until I die, or I’ll be with until you die,
but other than that I can’t say anything.

So I can’t say this. I might want to, I might think it, but I can’t say it and it be true.
Only Jesus can say this:
I am with you always, to the end of the age.
He is the only person who ever has or will exist that can say this.
He said it to the disciples before he ascended, and those words are spoken to us.

Think of what that means.

It is the promise that God will always be with us.
And not just us here today.
He will be here with those who come after us.

It is to all those who will ever follow him.

There is great comfort in this.

We should all feel reassured and safe by this promise.

And in feeling such a way, we need not worry.

We need not fret over the future of the church.
Jesus tells us he will be with us to the end of the age.
The church will continue.

Again, we need not be afraid.

We need to take Jesus at his word.

We have the people and the gifts we need for the work of this parish.
What that work is, and how our parish will look is not for us to worry about.

It is up to us to release ourselves from what was, and enter into what will be.
This means letting go.

It means entering into a period of time where we don’t know what is going to happen,
when we aren’t in control of what is going to happen,
Where we can’t guarantee we will even agree with what is going to happen.

But knowing that Jesus will be with us.
Knowing he will continue to be here with those who come after us.
Knowing the Holy Spirit will be inspiring those for God’s glory.

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

After the prayers, there will be a time for the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. Everyone is welcome to come forward to receive healing.
If you would rather not, that is fine too.
I ask that while this happens,
we all pray for the healing of our parish, our relationships, our bodies and our minds.

Know that you can be healed, and that Jesus is with us, now and forever.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost

Two stories of the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit.

One which is more familiar, tongues of fire landing on their heads, a great whooshing sound.
The other, Jesus coming to them and breathing on them.

Both involve the disciples being together inside together.

A bunch of people, who believe that Jesus is the messiah together, inside. Sounds very familiar.

In the gospel version of events, John tells us that
the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.

They are inside, doors locked, because they are scared of those who might harm them, who might even kill them.

They lock the doors. They are safe. They are together.

Yet what can they do?

The outside world can’t get at them, but they can’t go and be with the world.

Fear has stopped them from being with others.

Again, sounds familiar.

We become stuck inside, and look at ourselves, and pray and do our stuff, but if we are honest, we are a bit scared of interacting with the world when it comes to the gospel.
Fear has us locking our doors and gates, for fear of those outside.

What would happen if they came in?
What would they think of us?
What would they do to us?
What would happen if they decided to stay with us?
What would that do to our time together?

We can hold on to what we are, who we are, or we can let go, and as happens to the disciples, receive the Holy Spirit.

Of course, we have received the Holy Spirit, as the reading from Acts tells us, no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is Lord.

So it isn’t a matter of us receiving the Holy Spirit, he is already with us.
Rather, it is a matter of us recognising his presence with us, waking up and letting go.

To let go and be guided, inspired and given life by the Holy Spirit is where we are up to.
To let go, to see, feel, smell, taste, to know, where he is working within us,
as a church, as a parish, as a congregation, as one of God’s children.

All of us have been given gifts
Paul tells us:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

To each is given a manifestation of the spirit for the common good.
Each one of us has been given a gift which is the Holy Spirit working within us.
A gift for the common good of the mission of the church.
Some of you may know what yours is.
Some of you may still be unsure.
I don’t think it is a static thing.

You may have the gift of public speaking, but it may only be for a time.
A time when what you were able to say and the way you were able to say was important.
Then it may be gone.
Like the disciples in Acts.
They were given the gift of being able to speak in all languages, as that was what was needed at that time.

I believe as a parish we have the people we need with the gifts they have for the common good of our mission.
I believe what we need for our work is already here.
It is up to us to release ourselves from what was, and enter into what will be.

Letting go is not easy.
It means entering into a period of time where we don’t know what is going to happen, when we aren’t in control of what is going to happen,
Where we can’t guarantee we will even agree with what is going to happen.

Jesus says to the disciples:
Receive the Holy Spirit.
The Greek which is translated to receive is not quite that passive. It is more like take.

The inspiration of the Holy Spirit is not something that we receive passively,
rather it is something that we meet with personal effort.
That effort will be in a prayer life together, and as individuals.
It will be by being aware that we can receive the inspiration.
It will be by being aware that we will know that we will know we are being inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Those moments when an idea appears.

That is waking up.

Then comes letting go.
Being open to where that takes us.

Letting go and letting the Holy Spirit be our guide and comforter,
to let him be the one that gives us courage, strength and life for what lies ahead is where are now.

Come Holy Spirit.
Be our guide, be our strength, be our comfort, be our peace.
Come Holy Spirit, Come.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sermon for The Ascension

 ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 

It is very natural for the disciples to ask this question at this time.
They know that Jesus is leaving.
He has told them that the Holy Spirit is coming soon.

It is only fair they ask whether this will be the time when all things are fixed up.

But if we look at what they are asking about,
it becomes clear that they are looking in the wrong place.

The restoration of the kingdom to Israel is no small thing,
but things have just gotten a lot bigger,
and things are about to get even bigger.

The Son of God has walked the earth,
has taught, healed, been crucified and rose from the dead.
Things have changed.
His message is not just about Israel, it is about all the nations.
His teaching, his being is for the whole world, not just one race.

So things have expanded a lot.

Even more so, the Holy Spirit will come soon,
and that will change things even more.
They are to be empowered to make disciples,
to teach Jesus’ message of eternal life and love for all who hear.

Israel must seem small when compared with the eternal God.
Israel must seem like years ago when compared with eternity that stands in front of them.

Think that these men and women had followed Jesus and been with him,
seen and heard and felt all that he had done and been.
Their vision still reverted to the smaller things, to the normal.
The restoration of Israel was something that they did not need to worry about.

Their focus needed to be on Jesus, he who was about to ascend.

Things haven’t changed in many ways.

We do the same thing.

The worldwide church is brilliant at looking at other issues instead of the greater purpose.
Whether or not women can be priests.
Whether or not Anglican orders are valid.
We argue about justification by works.
Issues of human sexuality take up thousands of blog pages and hours and hours of peoples time.

Is it right to wear robes?
Is it wrong to bow to the altar?
Is it an altar or the Lord’s Table?

These things are small.

The church argues within itself about things that really don’t matter.
All the time it is focussed on these issues, it ignores the greater the greater purpose.

The greater purpose is Jesus Christ.

The disciples who ask about Israel were witnesses to his life, death, resurrection,
and now his ascension.

There was the focus.

As a part of the Church universal, we suffer the same issues, but on a smaller scale.

We worry about lawns, vacuuming, flowers.
We worry about the budget.
Are we going to be able to keep going?
We worry about whether enough people are coming to church.

I feel that we are so worried about surviving and keeping going
that we may have forgotten what we are surviving and keeping going for.

Like the disciples, we look at small issues in the grand scheme of things.

The focus needs to be Jesus.

We need to be here to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

And the good news is that we do not need to rely on ourselves to be able to do it.

‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 

As the first disciples received the Holy Spirit,
so too are we given life to be able to go and be witnesses to Jesus where we are.

If we think about longing, and waking up, then there is letting go.

By letting go of what we think we need to be in control of,
we make room for God.

We make room for guidance from the Holy Spirit.
We are open to see the bigger picture.
We are to see Jesus in all we meet, in all we do, in all we desire.

By letting go of what used to be,
what we think we need to be,
who we think we need to be,
we make room for who God needs us to be:
as individuals, as a community, as a church.

This can be very uncomfortable.
It can be unsettling.
It can also be comforting and restful.

When we let go, we hear where God is working.
We let go of expectation
and let the spirit guide, inspire, and take us where we need to be.

It is by Jesus ascension that this is at all possible:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 

And it is not only the ends of the earth, but the end of time:
 ‘And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Letting go may be a bit scarey,
but remember it is not being alone,
it is in fact being more together.

It is about unifying our hearts together as one, and joining with God on where he wants to take us.

This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’