4 December 16: Advent 2_Martin Robinson

Isaiah 11.1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3.1-12

                                          REPENTANCE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

‘An acceptable people in thy sight…’

Introduction: ‘Wild Preachers?’

Today’s collect, (or the BCP one on which it is based), to which you have added your Amen, prays that the clergy would be like John the Baptist! Perhaps people would take more notice of me if I wore clothing made of camels’ hair, with a rough leather belt around my waist, and I survived on bush tucker!? Dirty, smelly, loud, eating with my fingers…Is that what is called for? It does not seem to be a strong suit in Anglican history, although Sidney Smith, an early 19th Century Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, once said of someone that ‘He deserves to be preached to death by wild curates’. He was not a friend of the Evangelical Revival

What is it to prepare the way for the Lord, Jesus Christ? How would we at St Jude’s do this? How might we promote a moral renewal of the community of Randwick, so that there was a glad anticipation of Christ’s return? John the Baptist was uncompromising in his calling sin for what it is, and in urging people to change their ways: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near!’ To the religious he said, ‘What are you doing here: Get lost! You already know what God wants of you!’ [’You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance!’] So Matthew, Mark and Luke bear witness to John’s preaching. The Gospel of John summarises John’s task in different language: ‘he came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all might believe’ (John1.7). So then, the Collect prays that your preachers will testify to Jesus as the light of the world.

  1. Hearts that turn

The prayer is also that we preachers be effective in turning hearts (not heads). I wonder how effective we are. How often have I (or those whose preaching you have sat under) turned your heart? I know I have turned some, by God’s grace, but the common resistance in many to the act of preaching suggests that our hearts may not be all that ready to turn, and that the preaching is not very skillful. And these two weaknesses may form a vicious cycle, where each reinforces the other. I confess that I find it very hard to listen to other preachers’ sermons. Of course we have to work much harder at preaching today, with such competition from other media. Comedians have made sport of ineffective preaching (Rowan Atkinson; the 1948 Show etc). But even a couple of hundred years ago, most communication was in this form. Earlier, most could not read, and if they could, they could not afford to buy books. We must commend those in our age who try to use other media, like novels or films or plays, to communicate Christian truth (eg Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ; the novels of Tim Winton, Annie Dillard, Marilynne Robinson etc). But what do our attitudes to hearing sermons say about us? If our hearts are disinclined to listen and turn, when sitting in church, how serious is our prayer that the hearts of others should turn? The Collect at least directs us to prepare ourselves to listen to faithful preaching.

  1. ‘The Wisdom of the Just’

The prayer is that ministers would ‘turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just’, the expression used by the angel Gabriel when announcing the conception of John the Baptist to Zechariah, his father (Luke 1.16-17). What is ‘the wisdom of the just (=righteous)’? Certainly, at least, it is a condition acceptable to Jesus, the Son of Man, who is coming ‘in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead’.  So again we should think of wise bridesmaids, and servants wise with the talents (=opportunities) given them; those not just late invitees to the heavenly feast., but dressed appropriately for taking our place.

The prophecy of Isaiah read as the reading of the Old Testament today gladdens our hearts; we want such a ruler:

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and  understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord…He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins“(Isaiah 11.2-5).

The psalm today, Psalm 72, likewise hopes that the king of Israel will be like this. This is the kind of ruler we all long for. Yet we are puzzled by Christ himself, who is more lamb than lion in his earthly manifestation as Jesus, but who still never pulls back from the picture of a radical reorientation of everything in what we call the day of the Lord, or Judgement Day. But it is clear that as a community of faith we are to be those never embarrassed by the sudden appearance of our Lord in our midst and not presumptuous of his gentleness.

Jesus is both Light, and Fire. The Word, heard and received gladly, is light that restores, guides, leads. This is the Shepherd at work. But ignored or repudiated, the Word is a fire that burns, that consumes. Here is the farmer at work: ‘his winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, and will gather his wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3.12)’.

  1. Where are the People?

How will we turn the hearts of the disobedient? John the Baptist drew large crowds out of the cities to a bush jamboree. John Wesley claimed that the world was his parish, and preached in the open air, as did George Whitefield. Billy Graham stands in this line. The genius of the parish concept and system is under question and threat today (though not by me). Contemporary and commercial models abound. If we are serious in our Amen to this prayer, what are we prepared to do to see it answered? This is an important time in this parish’s life. What kind of pastor, preacher, priest, prophet, evangelist are you hoping for in Andrew Schmidt. Will you tie him up in limiting expectations? Or will you want  to partner with him in finding integrity in your praying of the Collect for this Day and this Week ? [Pray Collect]

MBR 4.12.16

 

 

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on 4 December 16: Advent 2_Martin Robinson

27 November 16: Advent Sunday_Martin Robinson

8.00am & 6.30pm: Isaiah 2.1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13.9-14; Matthew 24.36-44
9.30am: Is.2.1-5; Is.40.1-11; Lk 1.66-79; Mk 1.1-13; Mt 25.31-40.

‘Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your son Jesus Christ came among us in great humility, that on the last day, when he shall come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.’ (The Collect for the first Sunday in Advent)

Introduction: Thomas Cranmer’s new collect for Advent Sunday (in the 1549 first Book of Common Prayer) takes it’s main request from the Epistle of the Day, St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapter 13, verse 12: ‘Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.’ It is an exhortation to a changed life: ‘Let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. The parallel use of ‘put on’ tells us the that ‘the armour of light’ is Jesus Christ himself, in whom we dress ourselves. It was the reading of these words as a Bible lay open near him that finally triggered the conversion of Augustine of Hippo, as described in his Confessions, and related by FF Bruce in his Commentary on Romans: “In the summer of AD 386 Aurelius Augustinus, native of Tagaste in North Africa, and now for two years Professor of Rhetoric at Milan, sat weeping in the garden of his friend Alypius, almost persuaded to begin a new life, yet lacking the final resolution to break with the old. As he sat, he heard a child singing in a neighbouring house, Tolle, lege! Tolle, lege! (‘Take up and read! Take up and read!’). Taking up the scroll which lay at his friend’s side, he let his eyes rest on the words: ’not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof (Rom 13.13b-14). ‘No further would I read,’ he tells us, ‘nor had I any need; instantly, at the end of the sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.’ What the Church and the world owes to this influx of light which illuminated Augustine’s mind as he read these words of Paul is something beyond our power to compute.” (Romans, Tyndale, p.58)

‘Give us Grace.’ God used that moment to allow Augustine to apprehend his grace. In the Collect today our fundamental request is for such grace. We have lit the Advent Candle. Light is our theme. We have symbolically challenged the darkness in Christ’s name. We have undertaken to be like the wise virgins who had oil enough to remain ready, lamps lit, when the Bridegroom appeared. And in the Collect we have requested the grace to resist the darkness, both within and without.

1. The Meaning of Grace

At the advent of Advent we turn our thinking to Christ’s coming ‘to judge the world’; by which we mean ‘to set all to rights’. So what is it that secures us for the rocky road that may well lie ahead? It is grace: God’s generous, unmerited kindness to us. And grace not only holds out deliverance to us, but also enables us to live lives that please God. The Christian life begins, continues, and ends by the active grace of God in our lives.

We can do nothing good apart from the Father’s gracious initiative towards. Mary is highly favoured with grace (‘full of grace’), in that she is enabled to serve God’s purposes as she did; she was filled with God’s grace, not a source of any in herself, but rather a reflection of it. Similarly, every covenant relationship recorded in the scriptures is an act of God’s sovereign initiative, his grace and mercy. Our part is merely thankfully to accept and co-operate with the gracious initiative of a loving Creator.

2. The Importance of Grace

Some of us may have wondered about the reality of grace as we have listened to Luke’s Gospel over recent months and reflected upon Christ’s challenge, both to Jews and to others, but particularly to his disciples. We may have done so particularly as we heard of the last days of our Lord’s public and private teaching before his arrest and subsequent suffering. It may have left you with an overwhelming sense of obligation, yet seemingly with no power to meet this obligation. ‘I’m clearly not good enough!’ springs easily to our lips, or ‘I’m not sure there is much oil in my lamp!’ And if insiders like us are unsure whether there is grace enough for us, just consider the confusion of the outsider! So the Collect is spot on: ‘Almighty God, give us grace!’

3. The Promise of Grace

We must recall the covenants of grace in the Scriptures: with Noah; with Israel through Moses; with David and with Solomon; with the exiles in Babylon, and with those who returned. We recall also the new covenant in Christ’s blood which we have accepted, and which we recall in every Eucharist. For us the seal of the Covenant is the Holy Spirit, who provided evidence of our relationship with God, whom we address as ‘Father’, and with the Son, Jesus, whom we identify as Lord. Accordingly the Spirit shapes our actions to be those of God’s children, and the behaviour of those who are servants of Christ. This is an invitation to be good, to display goodness. Goodness is so often seen as bland in literature and art, but has been restored as a powerful force in the fantasy literature of Tolkein, Lewis, and JK Rowling.

And as with Mary, Christ’s grace received by you is also a gift to others, when we reflect it in our attitudes and actions: Light in darkness; Yeast I Flour; Salt in Food. Let us not downplay the significance of this in our interactions with our neighbours, geographical, occasional, or global.

4. The Prayer for Grace

This prayer for grace is a request for something which has been promised already; our prayer indicates our acceptance of the gift. It helps us not to resist God’s grace, or to try to please him on our own, or to imagine we are alright without such help, without such grace. It is at hand. Live by it. Put on Christ, the armour of light!

MBR 27.11.16

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on 27 November 16: Advent Sunday_Martin Robinson

6 November 16: All Saints Sunday_Martin Robinson

Haggai 1.15b-2.9; Psalm 145; 2 Thessalonians 2.1-5,13-17; Luke 20.27-40

Who or What are the Saints?

‘But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth’                                           –   2 Thessalonians 2.13

Introduction:  One month ago I stood in St Peter’s Square in Rome as the tour guide gave our group of school students the quick run-down on the marvels of the basilica:  Michaelangelo’s Great Dome and the Pieta, Bellini’s colonnades, and so on. Once he had finished I could not resist taking a moment (we were after all in the queue waiting to enter), to observe that the building of this enormous Cathedral was the trigger for the Protestant Reformation, and that in just one year we will mark the 500th Anniversary of the event which started the Reformation. And it was about saints.

Every history of the period describes and explains the event. Some begin with it, as does GR Elton on page 1 of his history of Reformation Europe:

‘On 31 October 1517, Dr Martin Luther, professor of theology in the recently founded Saxon University of Wittenberg, nailed a paper of Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in that town. There was nothing unusual about this. Any scholar who wished to defend any propositions of law or doctrine could invite learned debate by putting forth such theses, and church doors were the customary place for mediaeval publicity. Luther’s Ninety-Five attacked the practice of selling indulgences – documents offering commutation of penance for money payments. Certainly Luther had no thought of starting a schism in the Church. These were not the first theses he had offered for public disputation, nor did they embody necessarily revolutionary doctrines. Nevertheless the day continues to be celebrated in Lutheran countries as the anniversary of the Reformation, and justly so. The controversy over indulgences brought together the man and the occasion: it signalled the end of the mediaeval church.’

  1. What has this to do with Saints? Luther’s choice of date was very deliberate: the Eve of November 1, All Saints’ Day, (now regrettably obscured by the maintenance of a mediaeval tradition around the same day, All Hallow’s Even, or Hallowe’en.) Luther had a pastoral concern; he was angry at the aggressive marketing of ‘indulgences’ by a fund-raising Dominican, Johann Tetzel, who was paid 20 times a professorial salary (plus expenses) to raise money for the rebuilding of St Peter’s in Rome, and to do so by selling documents that asserted remission of years in purgatory based on the intercessionary prayers of saints. ‘It was pastoral concern that moved Luther to act. People had come to make their confessions to him but had shown no signs of sincere repentance for their sins. On the contrary, they produced copies of indulgences that they had bought and obviously thought of them as licences to sin with impunity. Luther declined to give them absolution. Tetzel was also to give half what he raised to the Archbishop of Mainz to discharge his debts, and it was to this Archbishop that Luther also sent a copy of his Theses on October 31. Unsurprisingly, he was ignored ‘(Tudor Jones p.34f). But copies of the theses spread, assisted by the new world-changing technology of the printing press, and Tetzel and others began to engage in debate with Luther’s contentions. Doubtless the coming year will provide occasions to recall the Reformation period. It is sufficient today to note the significance of October 31, noted in our lectionary as a day to remember Martin Luther and other Continental Reformers, and pray a Collect of Teachers, with awareness that it was a controversy about the nature and activity of saints that lit the flame that set Europe alight.
  1. Who are the Saints? I imagine we are all somewhat familiar with the process of canonization in the Roman Church, whereby some dead Christians are identified as ‘saints’ on the basis of (inter alia) miracles performed. It remains a sticking point in moves for interchurch agreement. The idea that ‘saints’ so recognized can be appealed to to ask mercy from God, or even to grant such mercy or aid, was squarely attacked by Luther, and Protestant churches have maintained his opposition to such practices. I have pinned a copy of the 95 Theses to the church porch Noticeboard, here, and will refer to a few of them: ‘A true Christian who is truly repentant has remission from both the guilt and penalty of sin because he participates in the benefits of Christ ‘(16-17). ‘He has no need of letters of pardon and it is misleading to teach that buying indulgences is a good act when it is manifestly better to give the money to the poor’ (41-45). At most the pope can only remit punishments imposed by the church during this mortal life (20.21,24,25); his authority cannot possibly extend beyond the grave to purgatory (13-19,22,25). In any case ‘The Pope can remit no guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God‘(6). Nor is there any such thing as a treasury of the accumulated merits of the saints. The ‘true treasure of the Church is the holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God’ (62). In a way Luther identified the heart of the problem in his first Thesis: ‘Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when he said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.’ This Latin phrase for ‘repentance’ in The Vulgate, the common Bible of the day, literally means ‘do penance’ and was so translated into vernacular languages and taught. Unsurprisingly, a key feature of the reformation was the translation of the scriptures into the language of the people, and their discovery of the power of God’s word for themselves. [Erasmus had produced a more sound new Greek New Testament, and this encouraged translations into native languages: William Tyndale’s English New Testament was published in 1534. Luther himself produced a Bible in German, a version as significant in German cultural history as the Authorised Version was to become in English speaking countries]. Part of the result of this was it enabled Christians to see how the New Testament talks about all believers as ‘the saints’, or ‘the holy ones’. We are all saints, if we have received the holiness of Christ through faith, by virtue of his death and resurrection. We acknowledge the example of godly believers who have gone before, and we rejoice in the encouragement of their lives, or are challenged by their sacrifices. [For example, I note that next Friday, November 11, is St Martin’s Day. From what we now call Hungary, and the son of a soldier in Constantine’s army, and who named his son after Mars, the god of War, Martin, himself a soldier who left the army to pursue the life of a monk, was to become reluctantly the Bishop of Tours in France. He died about 400AD, but though he never crossed the English Channel he became a hero of the Faith to the Celtic missionaries who re-evangelised Britain from the West and North in the 6th and 7th Centuries, from bases on the Holy Islands of Iona and Lindisfarne. His example explains why so many churches in Britain (and therefore even in Sydney: at least seven) are dedicated to St Martin. This is an example of helpful identification of some Christians whose saintly lives can be a model for others]. Last week I noted St Paul’s particular use of the word ‘the saints’ for the original church in Jerusalem. Today, in one of his earliest letters, Paul uses the same language (holy/sanctification/saint are related words) for the believers of the infant church in Thessalonica: that their salvation was due to God’s choosing them; that their sanctification (=saintliness in God’s eyes) was the work of the Holy Spirit following their ‘belief in the truth’ (2.13). Theirs would be ‘the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’. And, in an echo of last week’s mention of tradition: ‘So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, whether by word of mouth or by letter’ (2.15). These traditions are the facts about the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. Here, then, Paul has given a sound summary of what a saint is: one who has heard or read the gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and who has believed it, by God’s grace; who now shares in Christ’s holiness as a gift; and who determines by the influence of the Holy Spirit to live a life pleasing to God, holy and generous, remaining forever dependent upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

So, Saints of this parish of St Jude, be glad to be ‘saints’, following the example of our Lord Jesus, and of those who have set a pattern to us of living for Christ in their own time and place.

MBR

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on 6 November 16: All Saints Sunday_Martin Robinson

30 October 16: Patronal Festival_Martin Robinson

Deuteronomy 32.1-4; Psalm 19; Jude 1-3,17-25; Luke 6.12-16

                                            A Lively Tradition at St Jude’s

Introduction: [The role of an Acting Rector or locum tenes.]

Since taking up the role of locum here I have had a three-point mantra to guide my disposition: Continuity; Energy; Optimism, and I hope these make sense to you, and that I am in fact acting in such a way. However, your Churchwardens thought that by this stage I would have gained some idea of the kind of community you are, and might usefully make an observation or two, by way perhaps of digging around the roots of a healthy plant to promote further healthy growth, as one does in Springtime. But let me first attend to the day itself.

‘Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3)

We know so little about St Jude; there are several Judes referred to in the NT, and their identities not clear. It was, like James, a very common name. The author of today’s Epistle is very likely the Jude who was the (youngest?) brother of the Lord, rather than the Jude listed as a disciple in Luke 6. But this disciple is the Jude of our festival today, the one associated with Simon, and comparison of the lists of disciples would suggest this Jude was also known as Thaddeus (or Lebbaeus). These issues contributed to the long delay in the Epistle of Jude being accepted as belonging in the Canon of the NT. The criterion of being written by an Apostle was fundamental, though being consistent with the teaching of The Apostle, Paul, has kept Jude in our New Testament in the face of doubts. Though once thought to be a late letter, there is now seen no good reason to maintain this view. Nonetheless, we read the Letter of Jude today as Scripture, even if we are not confident it is the apostle of that name. However, this is not a commitment requiring hard thinking, as Jude is little more than an exhortation to keep faithful to what is taught elsewhere, in the Letters of Paul and in the Gospels: ‘Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’.

The word ‘entrusted’, (or ‘delivered’), translates the Geek word paradosis, a key term linked to the concept of tradition, or ‘handing on’ a vital deposit of truth. As a traditional church we at St Jude’s are very committed to this, and I will turn to this in a moment. The tradition in this case is the Gospel of deliverance through the actions of Jesus our Lord, and the changed lives we live as a response to what God has done for us through Jesus. This gospel was experienced and in time understood by the Apostles, and they delivered it to the earliest believers, who were mostly Jews [see 1 Corinthians 15.1-11]. Paul refers to the first believers in Palestine as the saints, especially when collecting money to take to them in Jerusalem to relieve them during a famine (Romans 15.26; 1 Corinthians 16.1; 2 Corinthians 8.4; 9.11ff), as well as showing his respect for them as the foundation church.

This process of passing on the faith to the next generation, or to the next geographical region, is the essential movement of Christianity. However, the enduring use of the word ‘tradition’ has not always been beneficial. Properly understood, the tradition is our present enjoyment and living out of the treasures of Christ: our gratitude, our ethics, our servant-heartedness, our instruction of the young by word and deed. In doing this we pass it on as a living thing to those who will be the church when we have gone. To keep this clear in my mind I have relied on the aphorism of the Yale Theologian Jaroslav Pelikan, in his book The Vindication of Tradition, where he writes: ‘Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living’ [repeat]. We must be on guard against traditionalism, which is when we become attached to the outward things that have carried the tradition in the past, but have lost connection with the substance, with the real thing. To put it another way, we have mistaken the shell for the kernel. Attachment to Gothic buildings, traditional language, and rites of passage, in the absence of vital activity and confidence, is mere traditionalism. To call it Christianity, with a backwards look to an assumed golden age, is unbelief, dead faith, even if I am physically alive. We see a lot of this dead faith around churches like ours. The real thing, the tradition, is something we are able to communicate to the next generation of children or neighbours, so that they embrace it, live it, and pass it on as a living thing to others. For example, these buildings do not evangelise: we do (or don’t, as the case may be).

But the danger Jude was warning against was of those who undermined confidence in the Gospel, and the reality of the Christian hope, confidence in the resurrection and Christ’s return, and the believers’ commitment to a holy lifestyle. This was nothing new, as the catalogue of OT references to disobedience (see vv 4-16, not read today) is designed to illustrate. Verse 20ff has the action points, following up from our text in verse 3; and the beloved doxology leads us to place ourselves solely in the hands of God our Saviour.

Implications for St Jude’s

A liturgy that preserves the centrality of the Scriptures – all of them, Old and New Testament, with the Psalms – is a great treasure. It embodies the truth that Christ our Lord exercises his rule among us by his Word. The priority this church gives the Sunday Holy Communion (or Eucharist) is exemplary. To this is to be added openness to critical reflection and understanding, expressed through the preaching, your reading, and your study (alone or in discussion groups). This is stage 1 of ‘contending for the faith that was once for all committed to the saints’.

As a second point, may this remain as firm as your commitment has been to the preservation and maintenance of this church and its associated buildings, and the financial security which underpins this. We must allow the teaching of our Lord, especially in Luke, to guide us into converting worldly wealth into eternal relationships, showing such smarts, such pragmatic thinking, as even the Unjust Steward did in the parable (Luke 16.1-9).

The Joy of serving you here

I must make clear as I reflect in this way how much it has been a pleasure to be part of St Jude’s for these few months. I have found an open, warm community, bound together, as I have implied, by the Holy Communion; one blessed by the vision, generosity and devoted hard work of leaders among you, so that as a whole you are being good stewards of what you have received, which is half (at least) of the ‘traditioning’ task. You have been guided by 24 years of humble, hard-working ministry by Greg and Catherine, maintaining good practices in a lively way. I have found some interesting distinctives. For example, what I would describe as Greg’s ‘shared priesthood’, whereby he seemed not to distinguish his ministry from those of his fellow priests and the competent women he has involved in the liturgy. The liturgy Sunday by Sunday is as well prepared and well-conducted as I have experienced anywhere I have been (for more than one occasion), and the hand-outs are part of this, enabling the even flow of the service, with enough variety to prevent stagnation.

However, that you do not have the book in your hands may make you unaware of some things, the rubrics (or stage directions) in particular, and I am so bold as to suggest one or two ways the services might be fine-tuned (for that is all it would be):

  1. Let the Rector preside.

The rubrics in APBA, following AAPB and BCP, tend to indicate that the incumbent (the Rector in our situation) presides whenever present. He is ‘the priest’, and this is reflected in the rubrics directing that the priest says the greeting at the beginning of the service, the absolution after confession, the collect for the day, the greeting of peace, the thanksgiving, the prayer after communion, and the blessing. Everything else may be delegated to assistant priests or other authorized persons, and some sections to deacons or lay persons. If the Archbishop or Regional Bishop is present, the senior of them pronounces absolution, as directed in the rubric in BCP (still the standard of worship and doctrine in this church). With a new Rector coming, and someone younger than you have had of late, I think his role should be allowed to express itself in this standard and correct way. I will explore this over coming weeks.

  1. Distinguish APBA 1 from APBA 2.

When both AAPB HC2 and APBA HC 2 were introduced, some churches made choices to assist in their acceptance. The main ones were to allow kneeling for the second half of the Thanksgiving, for those who found the change to standing too radical, (but for which the rubrics do not cater), and the continuing use of the Prayer of Humble Access, which is a beloved part of the BCP HC, but really does not fit the movement of APBA 2, which has a celebratory character. Kneeling for the Thanksgiving makes no sense, and as evidence I observe that today (as usual) we will sing two of the acclamations while kneeling! I think you should dispense with the direction to kneel in APBA 2. If Kneeling is important to you, attend at 8.00am, where we follow APBA 1, based on the BCP HC, and where the Prayer of Humble Access belongs, or kneel anyway, but as your individual choice. I suggest also that the option of the Prayer of Humble Access in Order 2 be dispensed with. It does not affect the movement of the service, and will improve it. [If however, in the future, you combine the 8 and 9.30 services to make room for a new type of service for a new demographic, you may have to consider some of these compromises again.]

  1. Reflect on the Greeting of Peace.

It was very hard to introduce the Greeting of Peace when we started to use AAPB HC2, some 38 years ago. Now we seem addicted to it, but I am not sure this is a good thing. Now it seems like half-time in a football match. What am I saying? The Greeting occurs at a vital point in the service. We have heard Scripture, and have responded with the Creed, declaring faith in the Trinitarian Godhead; we have confessed and been absolved. In the Greeting we recognise that we are in Christ on the basis of these factors: our faith in God as Father, and Christ as Lord, neither of which are possible (sincerely) without the Holy Spirit working in us. This means that our fellowship is not based on anything else, like human friendship. I believe one should only greet those immediately adjacent to where one is standing, and not leave the pew one is in unless one needs to so as to greet one’s neighbour. I also observe how off-putting or excluding the greeting can be to visitors. The extensive greeting is, in my view in danger of reflecting small-church thinking, and of replacing Christian identity with closed group community mentality. This is a personal opinion, offered for your reflection. I would observe, however, that the second and third of my suggestions would shorten the service by some minutes, which may make some inclined to view them favourably.

I offer these to a church that takes such things seriously, and where they may fruitfully enhance your reflection upon your practice. Even if no changes are made, I think it appropriate to encourage reflection upon your practice. I will work with the other clergy to introduce the first (Let the Rector preside). The second (Humble Access and kneeling in HC2) I will leave for thinking through and for Andrew Schmidt to consider with you when you reprint the service orders to update the names of the clergy. The third (The Greeting of Peace) is, of course, up to you.

Formal Liturgy is a serious thing, and a great gift to the church, though misunderstood and rejected by many. It is not familiar. Even our public schools have given up on the rituals we remember from primary school . But Anglicans do their theology this way. Liturgy proclaims; liturgy teaches; liturgy preserves; liturgy protects. If we are to ‘contend for the faith that was once and for all entrusted to the saints’; and ‘build ourselves up in our most holy faith’; then we will have formal, but lively, intelligible services that embody these treasures that lead to eternal life, and encourage us in living out the faith we proclaim.

MBR

 

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on 30 October 16: Patronal Festival_Martin Robinson

16 October 16: Luke 18.1-14_Martin Robinson

Jeremiah 31.27-34; Psalm 119.97-104; 2 Timothy 3.10-4.5; Luke 18.1-14

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk.18.8)

PRAYER AND PRACTICE

  1. Prayer in context: Earlier in his focussed progress to Jerusalem (see 9.51), Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer as a template for his disciples (11.1-13), and teased it out with parables about an inconvenient night visitor and about how parents respond to their children’s requests. The point was that if frail humans respond to requests, be sure that God, good and almighty, will! We gave attention to this some weeks ago. Here in today’s Gospel reading our Lord takes up the question of the importance of prayer once more.

Again Jesus uses a parable. The purpose is to encourage prayer, persistent prayer. The woman in the parable is of the Winston Churchill ‘never, never, never give up’ type, or, from the point of view of the judge in question, of the ‘dripping tap’ variety. The problem portrayed centres on a judge who is corrupt. While we expect a judge to be impartial, and no respector of persons, this one is a perversion of these qualities, having no regard for God (from whom all authority derives), nor the personal realities of those who appeared before him. He shows no mercy, and very likely is being bribed by the opponent who is making her life a misery – or more than it is already for a widow in that society. The only way to break down the judge’s willful hard-heartedness is to be a pest. So she becomes a pest. And it works! The point? If being a pest can break down a crook magistrate’s intransigence, surely (a fortiori) God will hear us favourably.

Why does Jesus revert to the theme of prayer at this point? Verse 1 indicates a general motivation to the disciples, and therefore to us, to ‘pray without ceasing’:

‘Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart’. But the first word, ‘then’, is a strong connective to the preceding passage, where Jesus speaks of the end of things as we know them: the ‘days of the Son of Man’. The Son of Man is the figure in the vision of the prophet Daniel who is given all authority to judge evil and vindicate God’s people (Daniel 7.9-18).

[Perhaps a footnote about Daniel’s vision is needed here: The vision related in the Book of Daniel chapter 7 relates to events in Judaea and Jerusalem in the 2nd Century BC. After the death of Alexander the Great, his infant son was murdered and the Empire carved up between three generals. One was based in Macedonia, one in Babylon, one in Egypt. Judaea was part of the boundary, with its tensions, between the latter two. In time, the Antiochian kings came to dominate Palestine, and in particular the fourth of their line Antiochus IV (‘Epiphanes’: indicating he claimed to be the manifestation of God). He captured Jerusalem, desecrated the Temple, and proceeded to turn it into a gymnasium. Resistance was led by Mattithaias and his sons, notably Judas ‘Maccabeus’ (=’the Hammer’). Their guerilla movement was successful, leading to the restoration of Jewish sovereignty and the rededication of the Temple (Hannukah). The vision of Daniel symbolically relates this history, but includes a scene where God (the Ancient of Days) is seated in heaven’s throne room, and a human figure (‘one like a son of man’) is led into his presence, and receives full power (in terms similar to Nebuchadnezzar’s blasphemous claim to power in Daniel 4): ‘To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall never be destroyed’ (Daniel 7.14)]

By his manner of taking up this language, Jesus appears to be indicating that he is this majestic figure that God has appointed as the instrument of judgement (Luke 17.25). The conclusion to the parable makes this link: ‘And the Lord said, ‘listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ (18.6-8)

[Note the ambiguity here: the Son of Man has come, and has been largely rejected; but his second coming will be irresistible.]

  1. Prayer and Practice: It seems Luke has now taken the opportunity to include some more general teaching about prayer, or ‘saying our prayers’. The setting moves to the temple, (to which we have not yet actually arrived in our journey with Jesus). We may be reminded of the old criticism of church-going hypocrites as a reason not to go to church. Perhaps this had some weight when churchgoing was the social norm, but it was always a misplaced complaint, as most services call attenders to a sincere repentance, and the declaration of forgiveness only on the basis of such sincere repentance, recognising the cost of such forgiveness in Christ’s sacrifice alone. So perhaps the test of our prayers in church will not be so much what we were like last week, as what we will prove to be like next week. This link of prayer and practice comes before us in this next parable. It is a neat segue: the need to pray in the light of a traumatic future, patient and faithful while looking for the Son of Man to return for us (Luke 18.1-8), but balanced with prayer addressing the here and now (Luke 18.9-14).

But we do well again to take note of the context. The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector introduces a series of episodes which illustrate how important is the heart’s attitude when presuming to be in the presence of God: ‘All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted’ Luke 18.14). The episodes are:

i) The disciples’ rejection of the little children being brought to Jesus; Jesus repudiates their overlooking the humility of children (and often their parents). Without childlike humility no-one enters heaven;

ii) The rich ruler who discovers he is more attached to his wealth than to the way of Jesus; he cannot envisage a future in which he is not respectable and wealthy;

iii) A blind beggar whose humility sees him regain his eyesight;

iv) A tax-collector who is prepared to change and put his wealth under God’s rule. His change of heart leads to the Messiah inviting himself to lunch at his place! This episode with Zacchaeus is the last event related ‘on the road to Jerusalem’. All four incidents are about decisive and saving change occurring when our hearts are humble, and not occurring when they are not.

Prayer is about change. That is what each of these incidents illustrates.

Let me try a long shot on you: The philosophies of the ancient world generally rejected the concept of change. History was cyclical, perhaps, but it was a closed universe: nothing really changed. The ancients were great at the sciences of closed systems: mathematics, algebra, architecture, engineering. The experimental sciences which produced the scientific revolution emerged in the Christian West. It has been argued persuasively that the Judaeo-Christian world-view is of an open universe, that the creation is good, and humankind has a stewardship of it and a freedom to explore and enjoy it. As was said by Albert Einstein (not an orthodox believer, but certainly a Jew), Science is ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him’.  There is in Christian theology a frank acceptance of human sin and its effect upon the creation, but with grateful acceptance of God’s continuing sovereign hand being at work in Creation and with a firm belief that the ultimate good envisaged in Creation will be brought about. [I am indebted to Emeritus Professor Edwin Judge of Macquarie University for these observations, in his paper ‘How Religion Created Science: the 2016 William Orange Memorial Lecture’.]

This view of reality also makes Christian prayer different.  We pray in the light of the Biblical world-view. There is justice and peace in God’s future, and we need not (if we are disadvantaged), and we must not (if we are doing well), become accommodated to the present. We must not use God as a means of legitimating our prosperity and security. Thanksgiving is vital, but it must be an expression of our accountability for the things God has blessed us with. Change comes through the humble heart. That is the message of the parable. The closed heart of the Pharisee sees no need for change, and no responsibility for engaging with others. The abject tax-collector realizes he is stuck, but that there is a way out, a way forward.  Prayer changes things, for us, and for all who pray. The parable before us must lead us to humility in God’s presence, and to a profound awareness of both the need for change, and the possibility of change.

MBR

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on 16 October 16: Luke 18.1-14_Martin Robinson

9 October 16: Luke 17.11-19_Martin Robinson

Jeremiah 29.1-7; Psalm 66.1-11; 2 Timothy 2.1-15; Luke 17.11-19

                                        WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM GOD?

                                                (Jesus heals ten lepers)

  1. FAITH: Though only recorded for us by Luke, the event before us today is familiar, resting in the consciousness of many of us like a bright, hard nugget! Why is this? Is it because of its simplicity? Its challenge to our lack of gratitude? The irony that the one who goes back to say thank-you to Jesus was a Samaritan? Or that Jesus heals at a distance (as with the nobleman’s son, in John: 4.46-54)?

The narrative is brief, if powerful. Ten men with a nasty contagious or infectious skin condition (‘leprosy’?) that forces them to live away from home, family, and normal community, in that era’s distressing equivalent of exile, an isolation ward or quarantine station, encounter Jesus on the road, at the margin of society, ‘along the border between Samaria and Galilee’. They clearly know of Jesus, and recognise him; and, perhaps excited at the possibilities of this chance encounter, yet still keeping their obligatory distance, they call out in a loud voice: ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’

In this action, surely, even as a group initiative, we have an example of faith. They knew their need, they see one whom they believe can meet their need, and they respectfully ask for mercy and pity and healing.

  1. OBEDIENCE: And their world changes in an instant:

But let us look more closely:

They called him ‘Master’, and he showed they were correct: he is the Master, the one who binds the strong man, the evil one, and lets his captives free (Luke 11.21-2=Mk 3.27). Here is evidence of the Kingdom of God breaking into our world. Here is revealed a glimpse of the Judge-Vindicator, the Divine Son of Man, whom Christians recognise (far beyond the borders of Galilee and Samaria) as the international, indeed the cosmic Saviour.

What begins the change in their world is the obedience of the ten lepers, following on from the simple faith of their appeal to Jesus: ‘When Jesus saw them, he said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.’ (v.14) The action of obedience triggers the healing.

  1. THANKSGIVING: And yet the unfolding story makes clear that the faith expressed in the lepers’ request to Jesus, and their obedience in acting upon his direction to get a clean bill of health from the authorities, is not sufficient, not complete, as a response to Christ the Master. “Jesus’s mercy is offered to all, but they must acknowledge what God has done through him; to faith must be added thanksgiving” (IHMarshall, The Gospel of Luke). The irony is that it was the Jewish lepers who should have been mindful of this rather than the Samaritan.

What this illustrates to us is that salvation is mare than physical. Miracles are rather ambiguous: we must ask what is their real point, and be mindful that ‘healing’ and ‘salvation’ are both translations of the one word, so that the miracle of God’s mercy and grace “is not properly experienced unless it leads to a change of inner orientation” (IHM).

  1. WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM GOD? Here is the ongoing challenge for us:

What do you want from God?

There are some who come to church only when things are going badly.

There are some who come only when things are going well.

There are some who stay away, not daring to risk disappointment.

There are some who pray only in a crisis (‘no atheists in foxholes’).

There is the true story of a man, diagnosed with a serious cancer and a poor prognosis, who accepted a friend’s invitation to attend the Healing Service in the Cathedral, and became a devoted and regular member of that fellowship. He went into remission, but soon after ceased his attendance. When asked by his friend why this was, he replied that he had got what he went for, and did not need to worship any more. He saw his involvement as a transaction, not a transformation.

What completes the transformation of the one leper is that he returns to thank Jesus, praising God as he comes: ‘Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’s feet and thanked him…’ (v.15-16) The others seem content with a transaction, without inner transformation. The Samaritan leper sees the implication of his outer healing, and is changed within as well. The words of Jesus drive home the point: ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? Then he said to him, ’Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well’ (v.17-19).  It is this transformation that God wishes to effect in us. May this be what we want from Him, why we are here today, and what we want for our friends and neighbours, our children and our young people. Faith is made effective when it is expressed, not only in dependence, but in obedience, and in thanksgiving, in deep gratitude.

MBR

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on 9 October 16: Luke 17.11-19_Martin Robinson

4 Sept 16 (Father’s Day): Luke 14.25-35_ Martin Robinson

Jeremiah 18.1-11; Psalm 139.1-5,12-18; Philemon; Luke 14.25-35

                               ATTACHMENTS, HEALTHY AND UNHEALTHY

Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; they throw it away.’ (Luke 14.34-5)

INTRODUCTION: It was a bit of a challenge to discover that the gospel for Father’s Day, and text for my sermon, begins: ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.’ How do I turn this into a Father’s Day message!? Perhaps I should have changed the reading, and rehearsed the Fourth Commandment: ‘Honour your Father and your Mother, that your days may be long in the land…’ Clearly Father’s Day is not a red-letter day in the Church Calendar. Yet the churches, by and large, have felt compelled to sanctify Father’s Day, to the extent of welcoming families, arranging Family Services on the theme, or at least praying for fathers. Are we contradicting ourselves, or worse, selling out the Gospel, and the clear words of our Lord, Jesus Christ?

But these are not the only uncompromising words of Jesus in the Gospel today; we also heard : ‘whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’; and ‘So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.’ All my possessions? Now we recognise that there have been martyrs for the faith, and there are martyrs today. I was raised with the story of the four young American missionaries who planned a long-term mission to the Auca Indians of the Amazon basin, an entirely uncontacted tribe. This involved training not only in theology, but in translation work, and for some of them, flying the plane to land them to where they had identified a possible point of contact. The outcome was that they were all killed and eaten by this cannibal people, though further contact saw the effective evangelism of some of the Aucas, including the son of one of the cannibals. Nate Saint, the pilot, had a poster in his college room, which read ‘He is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose’. Is this dedication just for the devoted few?

What about us, largely in domestic settings, in a worthwhile job, perhaps married, or in a family owned house, having others depending on us, and what about fathers, heads of households, among us?

  1. On the road with Jesus. We note the context (again): On the road with Jesus, on the way to the Cross; proclaiming the Kingdom to those they encountered, as opportunity provided, but drawing out the implications for disciples in the small group, and one-on-one; and we wrestle with the mystery of faith and unbelief, as those we might expect to welcome Jesus do not, and those we might write off as not interested become disciples. In this case today we are told that large crowds were travelling with Jesus, so the uncompromising language may in part reflect his impatience with those who were mainly enjoying the crowd atmosphere, and hoping to see a miracle or two. This might well have been the best entertainment available.
  2. Responding to his stark challenges: However, we simply cannot avoid the stark contrasts Jesus makes about the cost of discipleship. Stop! He is saying. Think! Beware of rationalizing away his challenges. The parables he tells, one about the realities of a building project, and one of embarking upon a military campaign, have a genuinely modern ring about them: think any number of failed projects that become blots on the urban landscape; or of the second Iraq War. You may suggest similar modern analogies: preparing properly for a bushwalk of several days; or being ambitious to have a really decent wine collection. Think it through: Do not pretend to Christian discipleship unless you have thought through the consequences.
  3. Healthy attachments? Perhaps one way to think about what Jesus challenges us with is to see our projects: building a tower, going to war, our possessions, our various family ties, as forms of attachment. Attachments are all those influences which claim us in one way or another: interests, loyalties, habits, ambitions, and particularly the relationships upon which we depend for our sense of self. Now we can evaluate these by asking if they are healthy attachments or unhealthy ones. Are they good for us? Are they good for the others involved? As an aside about Father’s Day, for example, we could recognise that not everyone is enthusiastic about making a fuss on Father’s Day because not all fathers are or were admirable in their expression of their fatherhood. Our attachment to our fathers, or theirs to us, may be or have been dysfunctional. The Commandment largely bids us acknowledge our debt under God to those who brought us into the world, and that it is God’s design that we be in families and communities. We are to care for them in their decline. But at the same time the Bible is not naïve about brutal fathers, lazy fathers, unfaithful fathers. When Jesus grabs our attention by requiring us to hate our parents and siblings he is addressing the question of what psychologists call ‘attachment’. Parents and families have a vital, God-given role, but we should not prioritise the emotional or material claims of family members over the Kingdom of God, and the invitation of Christ the King to follow him. The family is not the Kingdom (and nor is the church).

Some of you may have heard the name Stanley Hauerwas, reportedly the most quoted theologian in the USA, and designated America’s best theologian by Time Magazine. You can find dozens of his aphorisms through Google. His best known books are A Peaceable Kingdom and Resident Aliens. A Texan, with a strong line against violence, and reserved about American power, he is unlikely to be asked to pray at a Democratic Presidential Inauguration. He was once engaged by a reporter who, learning that he was a theologian of repute, with a distinctive view of the church, (‘The first task of the church is to be the church’) asked him ‘So, Professor, you are a strong supporter of family values, then?’ To which Hauerwas replied: ‘Hell, no! I’m a Christian!’ He echoes Jesus in ways that grab attention. Jesus urges us not to be half-hearted about discipleship. Echoing our Lord, Hauerwas calls out the ways Western Christians have accommodated to the mainstream of society and politics. His most pithy one-liner would be: ‘Jesus is Lord, and everything else is bullshit.’

Which takes us to how Jesus concludes his challenge to serious discipleship: ‘Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap: they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’  May we all, fathers in particular, serve the Kingdom.

MBR

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on 4 Sept 16 (Father’s Day): Luke 14.25-35_ Martin Robinson

21 August 16: Luke 13.1-9(-17)_Martin Robinson

Jeremiah 1.4-10; Psalm 71.1-6; Hebrews 12.18-29; Luke 13.1-17

THE LIFE OF FAITH IN A FRAGILE WORLD

Introduction: How should we respond when bad things happen? A sudden accidental death; an earthquake; the Darwin Cyclone; the Granville train disaster; a child goes missing and is not found; the markets collapse…

This is a pretty fundamental human issue. Not surprisingly then, the Bible has a bit to say on it. The Book of Job is a classic text on the ‘problem’ of personal suffering. You know the scene: Job is an exemplary man in every way, yet God allows him to be put through the ringer, with the loss of all his resources, and his children, and his health. The Book of Job consists of set piece statements about the experience of Job, and what God is doing with him. His three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar give expression to the common Israelite/Jewish outlook:

‘Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?’ (Job 4.7); ‘Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right? If your children sinned against him, he delivered them into the power of their transgression. If you will seek God, and make supplication to the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you, and restore you to your rightful place…’ (Job 8.3-6).

In John’s Gospel we hear the disciples ask, in response to coming across a man blind from birth; ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ (John 9.1ff).

In our own day we hear of superstitions (black cats, walking under ladders, things happening on the 13th day of the month) to explain bad luck. Chinese popular culture is enslaved to the idea of luck. Other Eastern religions propose reincarnation as a resolution of the problem of evil in this world. So, what should our position be?

 

  1. Another Interruption: ‘At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices’ (13.1). It is a shocking incident, though plausible. Jesus rejects the usual view: ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?’ Jesus rejects the common attitude: no, they did not particularly deserve it. All people are equally under judgment unless they are penitent toward God, unless they embrace the Kingdom. Jesus reinforces this by relating another incident of random violence, this time without an obviously human origin: ‘Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’

That is, people at random, and religious people in particular, are vulnerable to    the disorder that is in the world. So, the Godly person recognizes three realities:

i) The permissive will of the sovereign Lord God

ii) Penitence as a constant underlying disposition

iii) Trust in the salvation to which those of the Kingdom can look forward

  1. A Related Parable: the following parable is tied to what Jesus has just been saying, as is conveyed by the word ‘then’, a strong connective of these two sections. This parable sounds familiar, agricultural, concerning a fig tree and its fruit or lack of it, and the debate between the owner and the gardener about its future. It is clearly a further warning to the listening crowds about their position with the Lord God. Three points again may be derived from the parable:

i) Repentance will have its evidence;

ii) God’s patience is not unlimited, so

iii) Do not presume upon God’s mercy

  1. Conclusion: The Life of Faith in a Fragile World: The faithful person lives in the present, but does so in the light of the future, or the end and the goal of history. The end will be just, and therefore of comfort and security for the community of Jesus, the children of the Kingdom. Judgment and vindication will come in God’s time. We are to be ready at any time to meet the Lord, even if we are murdered in the middle of church or killed by a collapsing tower. We all die, so we live humbly before God, every day being a gift and a trust.

But even as we contemplate the seriousness of ‘this mortal coil’, let us note the third part of the Gospel today, where we heard the mercy of Jesus toward a crippled woman, and his healing of her on the Sabbath day. Here is ‘a postcard from heaven’. The Sabbath represents the end, the climax, the purpose of Creation, how things will be for the Community of Jesus. It reminds and assures us that God’s purposes are good for the people of God.

We live fragile lives in a fragile world. Living in the light of our Lord’s teaching today, walking with him along the way, lies the deep assurance Christians call Joy.

MBR

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on 21 August 16: Luke 13.1-9(-17)_Martin Robinson

7 August 16: Luke 12.32-40_Martin Robinson

Isaiah 63.7-9; Psalm 33.13-21; Hebrews 11.1-19; Luke 12.32-48

                                   THE ADVANTAGES OF MODEST MEANS

Do not be afraid, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’

Introduction: One of the more important purchases faced by my wife is that of a new purse. I have been known to need a new wallet very occasionally, but they are much the same as each other, apart from the need for more space for credit cards and less for banknotes. But a woman’s purse is a strategic and complicated piece of equipment, not lightly acquired. How often do you need a new purse?  Beyond purses, can you change the way you operate in the market-place? And with respect to other lifestyle matters, how flexible are you? How do you feel when you hear the urgings to eat less, exercise more’? Jesus means more change than merely of our purses.

Today we follow on from the Parable of the Rich Fool, which Jesus tells in response to an interjection from someone in the crowd, and is directed at the public in general. The teaching which follows is directed to the disciples, as we are specifically told in verse 22: ‘ He said to his disciples,” Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing…”’  And he concludes (v.31): “Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well”. A new section then begins with our text for the day.

We recall briefly that we are with the disciples on the road with Jesus, bound for Jerusalem and his fate there, continuing to wrestle with the nature of God’s kingdom in our daily lives, and what it means to believe. We could express it as ‘Kingdom discipleship on the road, not falling away due to the distractions and attractions of material things: assets, food, clothing.’

  1. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock’:

With these gentle words to his disciples our Lord shows his understanding of our frailty, and his careful persuasion of the better way than that of the Rich Fool. We should remember that wealth was admired in this culture, even more than in ours, being seen unambiguously as a sign of divine favour. Yet Jesus is uncompromising in his outlining of a different way for his followers. We must wrestle with how he would want us to act in our own day: “Sell your possessions and give alms”. Over the next several chapters, and climaxing with the story of Zacchaeus, the penitent wealthy tax-farmer, Jesus keeps at this theme, but in ways we can work with. Here the emphasis is that we should travel light, faithful, focused, flexible. Those of you who have travelled a lot overseas know how advantageous it is to simplify your luggage. Is it so difficult to apply this more broadly? We heard today of the example of Abraham, who was prepared not to be tied down geographically in his obedience. Yet God blessed him with great wealth. However, his real treasure was in his confidence in God’s faithfulness. This drove him, not his wealth. He was able to hazard his wealth in pursuit of his obedience to God’s call.

  1. Servants of Our Master:

Jesus then changes the image to that of servants in their master’s household, ready for the master’s return at any time, even in the middle of the night, or at dawn. The inversion of usual values (both then and now) continues in the declaration that if the master finds his servants alert and waiting for him at any time, he will reward them by taking the servant role and serving them! The kingdom of God is certainly different from contemporary secular examples! The theme is that we should always be ‘dressed for service’, ready for the cue to action in accordance with the values of the kingdom. The challenge for us of English-speaking Middle-Class culture, then, is our settled lives, with business and diary and budget obsessions. These all make us slow to pick up the opportunities that may come to us, impatient with interruptions.

[‘African Time’ is not all bad! Re recent Compass Program on Shepparton Lutheran Church’s transformation through welcoming Sudanese migrants].

‘Dressed for service’ means having the right attitude. This is more significant than thinking about possessions alone.

  1. ‘For us or for everyone?’ (v.41): The final part of the Gospel today is of particular interest and relevance in view of the different audiences referred to earlier, the pressing crowds around, and the disciples, closer to Jesus. Hearing Jesus speak of servants in the master’s household, using a parable, Peter asks ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’ It is a good question. In answering, with yet another parable, Jesus does not appear to answer Peter’s question, but tells of slaves with differing levels of responsibility and ability. He raises the stakes by telling of different levels of punishment relative to the degree of failure of performance of these different responsibilities and capacities. It seems Jesus does not want to draw a clear line between who is in the kingdom and who is not, saying only that judgement will be just and proportionate: ‘From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.’ Just as the Rich Fool was held accountable, so too disciples, then and now, must avoid complacency.

Conclusion: ‘It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’

It is a lovely word from Jesus. The Father wants us in his presence. We  must encourage each other in being ‘kingdom people’. We are to use our assets accordingly, to sit light to them, to convert money and time and abilities into the kingdom, whether it be financial, or in volunteering and caring, or visiting, or casseroles, or surprising random acts of generosity or kindness.  Paradoxically, it is in this way that we find our kingdom citizenship, and it is through this that the early churches changed the Roman world in under three hundred years, and it is the way we will change our world in our own day.

‘Freely you have received; Freely give.’ (Matthew 10.8; Acts 20.35)

‘Fear not, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’

 

MBR

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31 July 16: Luke 12.13-21 (Psalm 49)_Martin Robinson

Hosea 11.1-11; Psalm 49.1-12; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21

LASTING VALUE, LASTING VALUES

‘The rich without understanding are like the beasts that perish’ (Psalm 49.12)

Introduction:  There is a lot of mention of ‘values’ these days, as well as ‘value’. And there are so-called ‘valued customers’. We are constantly confronted with the state of the real estate market, and the refrain that we know the value of our property, and consider capturing it by selling it. [I find this demoralizing, in a strict sense of undermining my Christian faith and trust in God, so I don’t read the real estate pages unless I am in the market, which has only happened twice.] Personally, I am much more challenged by the debate around schooling, and the growth in the number of parents who choose independent schools, especially those of Christian foundation, for their ‘values’. They want the discipline and the ethics that derive from the Christian Faith, but not the personal conviction and obedience upon which it depends. So the words ‘value’ or ‘values’ are not as substantial as they may sound, lacking definition and content. However, they are evidence of a quest for things that last, which brings us to the Gospel for today, and the ultimate question about what really lasts.

We have jumped a bit from our Lord’s giving the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples (because the teaching is also in Matthew). We are further along the road, watching through the eyes and ears of Luke’s special witnesses.  The themes remain: Proclaiming the Kingdom; Discipleship ‘on the road’; the mystery of belief and unbelief; growing opposition; the dangers of possessions (as we see today).

  1. Interruptions along the way: the way Jesus takes moves inexorably toward Jerusalem, but it is less than direct, Jesus choosing to avoid some places, and attending to others. There are dinner invitations (11.37, 14.1; both from Pharisees eager to make a close assessment of Jesus); and crowd interjections, such as triggers the episode today. We will hear another in a few weeks time (14.1). Today, Jesus is being mobbed: ‘Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples…’ (12.1). Then a voice cries out: ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me’. The tone is ‘it’s not fair! Justice for me, please!’ The details are very typically Palestinian of the day.
  1. Jesus Responds: The response of Jesus is in three parts.

i) Our Lord answers the interjector, not to address his appeal, but to challenge the underlying assumption, the covetous instinct that motivates him. In fact he refuses to arbitrate, asserting that it is not his job to give formal judgement in the dispute: ‘Man, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ i.e. Jesus is more heart-surgeon than lawyer, and will not give any oxygen to the materialist motivation he sees in the interjector’s outburst. The response is conditioned by the context, and the interjector’s tone, which suggests he as no motivation but his own benefit.

ii) Jesus at once makes it a lesson for the disciples, turning to them and saying: ‘take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.’ This is no more that the tenth commandment, and we know St Paul relayed the same warning against the idolatry of covetousness: it is idol-worship to invest created things with meaning independent of the Creator who made them. To spell it out Jesus goes on: ‘One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Your life is more than your things! I hope we are all aware of how we can become attached to them, so that sometimes it seems as if they actually possess us.

iii) Perhaps because the crowd is still surrounding them, Jesus tells a parable, to reinforce the lesson for the disciples, but also to arouse the crowd to think about the issue at stake. ‘The Parable of the Rich Fool’ is how it has become known. Brief, dramatic: READ vv 16-20.

Two themes are underlined: a. You can’t take it with you, which echoes the Psalm (49) today; and b. You will be held accountable for what you did with it all.

  1. The Message for Us: We are to see ourselves as among the disciples, and there is direct advice for us from our Lord himself. However, this episode comes from an interjection, and the main weight of the response from Jesus is to the outsider, as is suggested by his use of a parable. Next week we will hear teaching more directed to the disciples. But we can’t miss the relevance to our situation. The rich man of the parable thinks he is being prudent. He is forward-looking; he is making plans. In this he sounds like one of us; he could be in an advertisement for any of a hundred financial products commended to us in the media. But he is revealed to us as a fool: ‘But God said to him

‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ The implication is that he has prepared for his own comfort, rather than for his ultimate destiny. And there is a hint that he has not even provided in his will for anyone that might benefit from his prosperity.

We in Sydney are generally in danger of the seduction of middle-class values. Most of us probably voted recently for the party that would attend best to wealth creation, and would place more wealth in our own hands to distribute than in the hands of government. Did we vote for them so we could give more away? I don’t think I did. Luke will not let us off the hook. It seems every scrap of teaching from Jesus to do with wealth and possessions has been gathered by him for his Gospel. He challenges us. What are our defining values? What do we have of value? The rich fool’s fate is that of ‘those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God’. Many of us do make it our business to be rich toward God. I really do recognise this, and commend you. But we must never be complacent. One test of this might be to ask what our neighbours think of us. Or what do our diocesan schools do to influence their students and their families with the values of the Kingdom? Do we pray for them? What might each of us do this week to reflect a desire to be ‘rich toward God’?

MBR

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on 31 July 16: Luke 12.13-21 (Psalm 49)_Martin Robinson