Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sermon for Christ the King

“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.”

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him,
then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
All the nations will be gathered before him,
and he will separate people one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 

We are at the judgement.
Jesus sits on a throne in glory, angels around him.

This must will be wonderful sight, one we will all behold, one we will all share in.
Christ the King,

All the nations will be gathered before him,
and he will separate people one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

It gets a bit trickier there.
This idea of separation.
Sheep and goats.

It all seems quite harsh.
But I suppose the good thing is that in the passage, we are given the criteria of this judgement.
In this passage, Jesus tells what it is that we are to be judged on.
And with the overall message of Matthew’s Gospel,
we are given a lens with which we can focus the message

Jesus says to the those at his right hand, the sheep:

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
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.” 

This list is more or less repeated four times in this passage.

Hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned.

Listen to those.

Hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned.

Think of the kind of people that will suffer them.
These are the people who are having it really tough.
Some may have made bad decisions that have led them to be in such a situation.
But I don’t hear anything in what Jesus says that would allow that to be a reason to not help.

Food, water, welcomed, clothed, care, visited.

Listen to those.

Think of the kind of person that would respond to those in trouble in such a way.
This is a person who responds to need.

Think of the kind of heart that responds in such a way.

This is a heart that is open to another.
This is a heart that is not hardened by life.
This is a heart that is not cynical or suspicious.
This is a heart that responds openly with love.

The actual acts, the actual needs are not the important element.
They are repeated to emphasize the idea of need,
to really bring home the hopelessness of some people’s lives,
but in and of themselves they are not the point.

The main point is what is going on in the person who responds.

It is about showing mercy.

Mercy is a strong feature in Matthew’s Gospel.

In the calling of Matthew,
when Jesus is being criticized for associating with tax collectors and sinners, he replies
Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Again, when he is criticized for doing something unlawful on the Sabbath, he replies
But if you had known what this means,
“I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless.

I desire mercy and not sacrifice

In both instances Jesus is quoting the Prophet Hosea
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
   the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings. 

Steadfast love, mercy.

This is more important to God than anything else.
To do the works,
to clothe, feed, visit, and care,
but without a heart that is filled with steadfast love,
to do such works as these without a heart that is acting out of mercy
is to miss the point.

It is mercy that God desires from us.

He longs for us to not only look after those who are doing it tough,
but more so to join them in their pain and suffering,
to be one with them, hearts joined, their pain is our pain.

At the outset of his ministry,
Jesus laid out his manifesto of sorts, in which he said:
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

He says to those who have shown such mercy
Come, you that are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world

Mercy, true heartfelt, at one with others mercy will receive mercy from him.

But this goes even deeper that just judgement.

Look who is speaking.
Look at who is being fed, clothed and cared for.

It is Jesus.

“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.” 

So, on this feast of Christ the King, when we celebrate the exalted Lord,
we are to remember Christ as one of the least.

And think of Jesus words when questioned about the greatest commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 

With Jesus self identification with the least, our neighbour, this statement becomes deeper.

In loving and serving our neighbour, we are loving and serving Christ.

The two commandments have become one and the same.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

It will be in our showing mercy, that we will receive mercy

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other.

Jesus tells us this parable about the three slaves and their master.
He uses the things of the world around him to express a greater truth.
He uses the present to express the eternal.

He uses these images to express something about the Kingdom:
The master is God, we are the slaves.

The master is going away
and before he leaves he gives his slaves money according to their ability.
Some are given more than others.
They are to do their best with this money.
Invest, build, whatever.
It is a gift to them and they are to use it according to their abilities.

Two of them do well with this.

They use their gifts to increase the amount.

The master returns, and they present their results.

Here’s the thing.

They are given this according to their ability.
They are given this to use their gifts.
Not someone’s else idea of what their gift is, but their own abilities, strengths.

It is their true being,
their heart and soul that is being given the opportunity,
not their ability to follow instructions,
or their ability to please someone else,
but it is their very being that is asked to do this.

God asks the true self to use its gifts for the growth of the kingdom.

“Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things,
I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

Now I hope that when I die and I am called to give an account of what I did with the gifts that God gave me,
that I am able to answer honestly from my true self.
I hope that I can say I used the gifts I was given for the good of the kingdom.
I hope that I don’t have to make excuses.

I hope I don’t hear:
“Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things,
You have done exactly what the parishes demanded of you.
You have done everything that everyone has asked of you,
even when they were the opposite of each other.
Well done, good and trustworthy slave,
you completely lost your true self to the will of a few.
I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

That is not what will be said.

The point is that God has given us all gifts,
and we are to use them for the good of the kingdom, not to keep others happy.
We aren’t to lose our true selves.
If we lose our very being at the altar of criticism, we have lost everything.

Think of the last slave.

This is a man who is acting out of fear, or rather inacting out of fear.
He hides the gifts given to him.

Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.

The problem is he has misread his master.
He views him as a figure to fear.
And in doing so, he hides the gifts that were entrusted to him.

He is more afraid of getting it wrong and getting in trouble than using the gifts that God has given him.

How many of us view God like that?
How many of us think it is better not to do something in the risk of getting it wrong?
How many of us have hidden our gifts because we are afraid that we will get it in the neck?

How many in the church are afraid of doing ministry
because they think they will be told they aren’t good enough?

How many in this congregation hide their gifts from the parish
 because they are afraid they will only end up in the middle of some stupid historical battle that no one really understands anymore?

How many within this parish bury their gifts
because they know if they actually revealed them they would only receive grief and whinging?

Is that how it is?

Have we all become like the third slave,
acting out of fear and hiding our true God given selves in the hope that we just don’t cop a serve if we get it slightly wrong?

From my own experience, I can say that is exactly how it feels some days.

I am not surprised many have hidden their gifts.
The culture of blame, criticism, us and them,
all tangled up in a survival mentality has taken a strong root in this parish.

It fractures relationships between parishoners and clergy,
it limits relationships with the greater community,
and nullifies any evangelism and ministry that might take place.

More importantly, all this can have a very negative effect on our spirituality.
If the church negates our gifts, we start to think of God as being the same way:

Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, so I was afraid,
and I went and hid your talent in the ground. 

In his letter to the Thessalonians,
Paul tells them that the God is not about wrath, but about eternal life in Jesus Christ.

If the church acts towards those within with wrath, what are we saying about God?
What might that look like to those who are not yet with us?
It can only reinforce the image of a vengeful God.

Paul writes:
God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other.

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other.
Not criticize and tear down.

Everyone has been given gifts by God.
Jesus calls us to use them for his kingdom and the building up his body, the church.

To bury your gifts in fear is to deny yourself who you really are, and to deny yourself what God has given you.

To chastise, criticize, wear down, and complain about someone’s ministry or work is only to deny that person the chance to be who God has called them to be.

Paul tells us:

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other.

It is in doing that that we will be able to be who God has called us to be, so we will hear:

Well done, good and trustworthy slave; enter into the joy of your master

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sermon for the Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

When I hear of the second coming of Jesus, I think of a few things. 
In my prechristian days, I think I heard about this more than anything. 
I’d see pictures of people with sandwich boards proclaiming “The day is near” or something. 
I thought they were mad. 
To this day, when people carry on about Jesus return, 
I still think they are a bit unbalanced. 

It also reminds me of the Jesus people movement of the 1970s. 
Much of the music that was recorded at that time speaks of Jesus return. 
Nearly every album by these artists will contain a song about Jesus return. 
The two texts that the hippy Christians really responded to were Revelation and the reading we had from 1 Thessalonians today:

For the Lord himself,
with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left,
will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air;
and so we will be with the Lord for ever. 

It is true, we do need to consider this. 
It is something we all believe: 
we say it together in the Creed, 
we acclaim it in the Eucharist, 
so this is not something foreign or wrong. 
It is though, an issue of emphasis. 

The problem is that this has been used as a way of control and keeping people in a state of fear. 
Fear is the best way to control people, as governments past and present know full well. 
Life with Christ should not be based on fear. 
It should be based on love:
Love of God and love of neighbour.

So what is Jesus getting at with this parable about the ten maidens.
We can look at all the details, 
we can question whether the 5 wise ones should have given the oil to the 5 foolish ones. 
We can ask what does that mean for us? 
Should we not share our oil with those who have none? 
Are we to look out for ourselves and not worry about those who can’t, 
for what ever reason?

All that is is to miss the main point:

Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Keep awake.
Be ready.
Be prepared.
I was a scout. Be prepared was the motto. 
I can’t exactly remember what that meant as a scout, but it has stayed with me.

There will be items that you will always have with you. 
Wallet, phone, whatever. 
You know the things you need to have with you so you can do whatever it is you need to do, 
and if there something you might have to do.

It is those ‘just in case’ things though. 

Back home, there was a rule: always take a coat. 
You never knew how cold it was going to get, or how long you were going to be.

These days, there are several things I do to always be prepared. 
There are items I always carry with me: 
  • the Scriptures, 
  • the Prayer Book, 
  • Reserved Sacrament, 
  • Oil of the Infirm, 
  • a Stole. 

These are always in  my bag, wherever I go. 
So whatever situation I am called into, I have what I need.

These are practical things.

We keep our houses tidy in case someone pops around.
We check how much petrol we have before we go on a long drive.
Basic stuff.
We are now being told to get our bushfire plans in place. 
Be prepared.
Jesus is telling us the same thing, but on a much more serious scale. 
And even more so, he is talking about a constant state of readiness. 

Keep awake.

What does that really entail for us.
What is our state of preparedness?

I think one of the key issues is that this can’t be based out of fear.

If we only do good because we are scared of being punished, 
because we are scared of not going to heaven, 
then we are missing the point. 

Keeping awake is important for its own sake.
Being prepared is being awake to God. 

By being awake to others around us, 
we are awake to what God is doing in and around our lives. 
By being awake our hearts are opened to know the pain in other peoples lives, 
to see where God is present to begin his healing work. 
When we are truly awake, we understand that it is through us that this work is done.

When we are awake, we are prepared. 
We are prepared to see Christ among us, in us, and with us. 

We are awake and prepared when we live our lives loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves

By keeping awake, we are not only ready to see Jesus when he returns,  
but also our true selves are awoken to know his presence in every moment of our lives. 

We are awoken to the eternal presence of God.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sermon for All Saints' Day

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; 
and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 
Then he began to speak, and taught them

Last week we heard Jesus being tested about what the greatest commandment was, and his masterful answer:
Love God and your neighbour as yourself. 
Jesus reveals that love is the law.
All things must come from love.

With talk of commandments, when we hear from the gospel today,
we will be struck by the similarities between Jesus and Moses.

Indeed that is the connection Matthew is making.
As Moses ascended the mountain to speak with God,
Jesus here ascends the mountain and the recently called disciples follow him.

Matthew is setting this scene as a new beginning.

But then we hear what Jesus says.
Blessed are the…..

Compare it with what Moses says when he descends the mountain:
You shall not…. You shall

And this is why we need to be careful with the Beatitudes.
They are not a list of proscriptive rules or laws.
Many try to turn them into such things, and many interpret them in such a way,
Be merciful.
Be pure.
Be meek.

This is not how they are to be treated.

Jesus isn’t telling us how we should be.
Unlike the commandments,
where God through Moses told the people what they should and shouldn’t do, here Jesus is telling us how things actually are.

Jesus isn’t telling us we should be poor in spirit.
Rather he is telling us how God views those that are.
He is telling us that these are favoured.
God will look after such people.
Everything will be ok.
This is how things actually are, not how we are to be.
Jesus is informing us of the reality, of how God views us, how it actually is.

But is this the reality we live in?
Is this the reality of our world?

Look at who is blessed.

‘Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Those who mourn for a loved one are generally given a month or so to grieve, then everyone expects them to sort themselves out.
Those who mourn the way things used to be are told to get with the times.

‘Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

The meek if anything inherit nothing.
The meek are trodden on and seen as weak and useless.
They are ignored, abused and forgotten.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Those who protest at injustice are seen as troublemakers and lawbreakers.
They are seen as whingers.

‘Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.

To show mercy in the face of wrongdoing is seen as weakness and backing down. It is the giving of power to those who would harm us.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
To be pure of heart is seen as naïve and idealistic.
It is to be a dreamer with no hold on reality.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

To yearn for peace,
especially at this time is seen to not be part of Team Australia.
It is to be unpatriotic, it is weakness,
it goes against the grain so much that we dare not suggest it as the way to be.
Our world seeks vengeance and violence not peace.

If we think about it, the world that Jesus is talking about,
and the world we live are two very different things.

This may indeed be the point.

Jesus is saying
you lot see the world like this,
a world where being gentle, caring, generous, idealistic, humble, peaceful,
are seen as weakness.
But God see’s these very things as qualities that he blesses.
God favours people who are these things.

In this way, the beatitudes are a protest against the values of the world,
and statement of the kingdom.
They are what we need to value when we see them in others

Jesus tells those first disciples the values of the kingdom.
He isn’t commanding them to be like them,
He is telling them to view the meek, the mourning, the merciful,
as God views them.

On All saint’s Day we are reminded of the very qualities of saints,
qualities that we see in the beatitudes.
Saints are those who hold these qualities
while the world around them does all it can to pull them down.

The kingdom Jesus is telling us of,
and what he showed us in his life, is a new way of seeing,
and ultimately a radical way of being.
The world may reject those who God blesses,
but we are invited to see the new reality that is coming.

When we learn to recognise such qualities as being blessed,
when we call those who embody such qualities saints,
we begin to participate in the realisation of the kingdom.

For theirs is the kingdom of God