Monthly Archives: October 2012

Sunday 28 October – Reformation Sunday

Readings and sermon – Reformation Sunday

Psa 32:1  Of David. A maskil. Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

Psa 32:2  Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Psa 32:3  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.

Psa 32:4  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah

Psa 32:5  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

Psa 32:6  Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.

Psa 32:7  You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah

Psa 32:8  I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.

Psa 32:9  Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.

Psa 32:10  Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.

Psa 32:11  Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Joh 8:31  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.

Joh 8:32  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Joh 8:33  They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Joh 8:34  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

Joh 8:35  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.

Joh 8:36  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Sermon

There were two things that struck me last week when our guest preacher shared with us. The one was his comment about Noah’s Ark – that we don’t believe in drowning our children when they fail, and the other was his passion and compassion for families, especially those where things go horribly wrong. It was hard not to notice the emotion in his voice when speaking about his work in counselling. Bringing love and hope to people defines his work which he has persisted with for 23 years. And that would be 23 years of sharing in peoples’ painful struggles and failures.

Failure in life is a certainty. It’s only in the movies that you get lines like that in the film  Apollo 13 when NASA’s Flight Director Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris), boldly declares, “Failure is not an option.”

Here’s a thought. If you could never fail – would you try things with the same courage and boldness? Would you do anything at all? And would it matter?

Martin Luther, whose courage we celebrate on this Reformation Sunday, ended his days in the town of his birth. We are told that at the end, only five people showed up for what was to be his last sermon. He wrote to a friend lamenting a “failed” reformation. He was probably mad (in the sense of fed-up) or depressed.  Mind you, he was in good company. One only has to think of Elijah, who was victorious against the prophets of Baal, but depressed and ready to give up and die when pursued by Jezebel. How quickly Luther seemed to forget what he taught and wrote – and how little it matters if only 5 people show up to hear your sermon. For some reason he forgot the last lines of his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” which go like this:

Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse,

Though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.

The Kingdom’s ours forever!

When it comes to sin and failure, that’s us. And the words of Jesus challenge us today.

Joh 8:34  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

Joh 8:35  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.

Joh 8:36  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

“Everyone who sins is a slave to sin”.

How easily we look to others when we hear this. How often we hear a sermon convicting people of specific sins and we say to ourselves “if only so-and-so was here today! They needed to hear that”.

How quickly we forget Romans 3:23, a central scripture in the Reformation, which says quite categorically: “…  all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

How ironical that we see our own faults most clearly in others.

We think of the “slaves of sin” as addicts and drunks, those stuck in bad habits and horribly racist attitudes.

How slow we are to realise that all have sinned, and everyone who sins is a slave to sin. The sinful nature is our inheritance as human beings.

Small wonder that the Psalmist (David) writes:

Psa 32:3  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.

Psa 32:4  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

Psa 32:5  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

David knew it. And he knew he had to come clean before God. Often. Regularly. To good effect because of the liberating effect forgiveness has.

SIN IS MORE THAN INDIVIDUAL FAILURE

There are some key issues that we have to face when it comes to our sins.

At the heart of the freedom we attain as sons of God is forgiveness.

And it is forgiveness that we are the slowest to grant to others.

Two examples come to mind. Or two illustrations.

THE FIRST STORY

One – in a book I’ve been reading by Philip Yancey entitled “What’s so amazing about Grace”.

He tells the story of Simon Wiesenthal (recounted in his work “The Sunflower”). The Sunflower is about forgiveness.

Wiesenthal was a young Polish prisoner of the Nazis in 1944. He lost 89 of his Jewish relatives altogether to the Nazis. He watched his grandmother being killed on the steps of her house. He tried to commit suicide when first captured but failed.

In the prison camp he was called by a nurse who asked him “are you a Jew?” and took him to a room where a soldier lay dying, his face covered in gauze and bandages. He was left alone with this man, a wounded SS officer, for a deathbed confession. His name was Karl. Karl had been raised a Catholic – a faith which he lost when he joined the Hitler Youth.

Three times Simon Wiesenthal tried to leave – and Karl reached out to grab his arm – begging him to listen. In the Ukraine, some 30 of his colleagues were killed by booby traps left by the retreating Russians. The SS – as an act of revenge – rounded up three hundred Jews, herded them into a three-story house, doused it with petrol, and fired grenades at it. Karl and his men encircled the house and shot anyone who tried to escape. Burning people with their children leapt out the house and were shot – in a bizarre kind of target practice.

Simon Wiesenthal sat listen to this account and other atrocities. “I am left here with my guilt” said Karl.

“In the last hours of my life you are with me. I do not know who you are. I only know that you are a Jew, and that is enough.

I know that what I have told you is terrible. In the long nights while I have been waiting for death, time and time again I have longed to talk about it to a Jew and beg forgiveness from him. Only I didn’t know whether there are any Jews left… I know that what I am asking is almost too much for you, but without your answer I cannot die in peace”.

Yancey writes:

Simon Wiesenthal, an architect in his early twenties, now a prisoner dressed in a shabby uniform marked with the yellow Star of David, felt the immense crushing burden of his race bear down on him. He stared out the window at the sunlit courtyard. He looked at the eyeless heap of bandages lying in the bed. He watched a bluebottle fly buzzing the dying man’s body, attracted by the smell.

“At last I made up my mind,” Wiesenthal writes, “and without a word I left the room.”

The SS office died. Wiesenthal lived and later visited the man’s mother, trying to deal with his own guilt. He struggled with this for years, and 20 years on told the story and wrote to the brightest ethical minds of the day. “What would you have done in my place?” was the question he asked them.

Thirty-two men and women responded. Only six of them said that Wiesenthal had erred in not forgiving the German. Two Christians said that forgiveness would end his struggle of conscience. One was a black man.

Some Jewish writers said the sins of the Nazis were too big for forgiveness to be possible. One Christian writer confessed: “I think I would strangle him in his bed”.

Question:

So what would you have advised? Who knows what we would have done or said.

Behind Karl’s request and Simon’s quest is the deep desire for freedom. In the words of Jesus himself: “… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

ARE YOU FREE?

THE SECOND STORY

This story is one for you to figure out yourselves. You have to be tough and a movie lover. Mind you the movie is tame compares to some of the violence on the circuit at the moment.

Go and watch the movie “Taken 2”. It is a thriller. There is one moment where I jumped so high I gave my son a fright. Mind you I am old.

It’s the last few minutes of the film that speaks. It’s fascinating.

Of course – it’s all about revenge, justice and forgiveness. And no, I don’t have shares in Event Cinemas here in Albany. But it’s a good movie. I think it illustrates the point today.

WHAT ABOUT OUR STORIES?

We could carry on telling stories today about our families and our churches. About people who have not forgiven. About people who have deliberately chosen to blame, to lie, to malign others – fellow Christians – family members – and amazingly they still show up on Sundays and seem to have no conscience at all. Of course, some stop going to worship, because their hearts become hardened. Better that they come!

Being a slave to sin is not much fun. Living in hell (cut off from God in this life) can’t be fun either.

I doesn’t take being an SS officer to need to confess sins. All it takes is being a human being.

So many of the world’s conflicts are a cycle of revenge between groups of people. It’s not just about individuals. And it’s always about revenge, or vengeance.

There is only one way to end conflicts – from those between ethnic groups to family feuds. It’s forgiveness. Vengeance ties both the injured and the injurer, in the words of Lewis Smedes, to an “escalator of pain”. You never get off as long as parity is required.

Or as Gandhi noted – if everyone followed the “eye for an eye” principle of justice the whole world would eventually go blind.

SO WHAT ABOUT OUR CONFESSIONS

You can’t celebrate forgiveness until you confess your sins!

You can’t understand the freedom of being a child of God – unless you understand the tyranny of slavery – to sin and evil – and deal with it.

The moment you say “I wish so-and-so would hear this” you are no different from Jesus’ opposition who cried out: “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Really?

Never been slaves of anyone? Hmm they seemed to have missed the reason why the Passover was necessary back in Egypt – apart from missing their slavery to pride.

So on this reformation Sunday – we remember that sin was so serious that it took God himself to take it away through Jesus. For in the words of Paul:

(NLT)  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.

Or in these words:

Rom 5:6  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Rom 5:7  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.

Rom 5:8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

HOW ON EARTH CAN WE NOT FORGIVE?

As we celebrate what God has done for us, there is one question that remains:

How on earth can we not forgive others? Is there someone you have not forgiven?

There’s at least one parable – the parable of the unforgiving servant – that is a steady and stark reminder of what grace received does not mean.

Don’t leave the building today until you resolve to go down that track – the forgiveness trail in your life – no matter what the cost.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!

Amen.

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Sunday sermon 14 October – What will you leave for Jesus?

Readings:     Hebrews 4:12-16;  Mark 10: 17-31

Message: “What will you leave for Jesus?”

Heb 4:12  For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Heb 4:13  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Heb 4:14  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

Heb 4:15  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

Heb 4:16  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Mar 10:17  As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Mar 10:18  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.

Mar 10:19  You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”

Mar 10:20  “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Mar 10:21  Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Mar 10:22  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Mar 10:23  Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Mar 10:24  The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Mar 10:25  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mar 10:26  The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Mar 10:27  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Mar 10:28  Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”

Mar 10:29  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel

Mar 10:30  will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.

Mar 10:31  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

 Message:

Billy Graham once said: ‘The test of a preacher is that his congregation goes away saying, not, “What a lovely sermon!” but “I will do something.”

I’ve been thinking about all the sermons that I’ve preached.

Sitting in that little church in Ebenezer in the Hawkesbury, Sydney  – over 200 years old – made me think about the many sermons that have been preached around the world for centuries, never mind decades.

What did people do in response to most of them? Nothing!

I console myself with the fact that sermons do feed people’s faith each week. It reminds me of the man who complained about the preaching – that he never really remembered what was said. The preacher responded – how many meals did your mum cook for you as a child? “Oh hundreds”, he replied.  “Do you remember what they all were?” he asked. “No” said the man. “I’m sure they fed you” said the pastor.

That of course is a consolation for preachers.

In some churches people are too busy criticizing than actually opening their hearts to the Word of God.

Today’s readings are contradictory in this regard.

The Word of God is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” says the writer to the Hebrews.

But the word of Jesus to the rich young ruler wasn’t. Even the words of Jesus could not penetrate his heart.

Oh yes he understood – it penetrated his understanding.

But it did not have the effect it could have.

The man turned away. He went away sad, we are told. Had he been Scrooge McDuck, like the kids’ cartoons years ago – he might have been happier. Although I suspect all the Scrooges on screen are really not happy.

Two questions today.

  1. Why did he turn away?
  2. Are we like him?

 

WHY DID HE TURN AWAY?

To quote Jesus:  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

 

Interesting image. People speculate about it. It is said that Jesus could have been referring to a very low gate in a city though which camels could not pass without unloading their cargo. There is no evidence of this kind of gate in Jesus’ time.

Another suggestion is that the word “camel” (kamelos) can also be translated as “rope” (kamilos). Fair enough – still an impossible situation, threading a rope through the eye of a needle, but an unlikely meaning as there is no textual evidence of this.

It’s much simpler: This guy loved his stuff too much. The overwhelming sense in Scripture is that money is an issue! For example:

1Ti_6:10  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Heb_13:5  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

And best of all:

Mat_6:24  “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

To this man’s credit, he does not seem to be trying to trick Jesus like some of the others.  Verse 21 indicates that he was probably genuine. Listen again:

Mar 10:21  Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Good intentions, but a bad outcome. He turned away, sadly. And then the second question:

ARE WE LIKE HIM?

That’s a silly question really. Although – maybe yes maybe no. And in different ways.

I think we are all like him in this sense – that we all have something that we notch up as our achievement or self-justification. It’s the false economy of human achievements!

This man kept the commandments! He certainly knew them.

We battle to recite the 10 commandments these days!

What is his claim to fame? In verse 20 we read:  “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

You can be around for years – you can start your religious journey as a child – and claim this as your pedigree – and yet it can count for nothing.

We are like him!

Now as we begin to sweat it out and think – o dear am I in trouble? – we can be relieved to know that WE ARE NOT LIKE HIM in this sense.

For many of us great wealth is hardly a problem that haunts us or distracts us.

Ding. The bell rings and we are counted out. Wrong again.

“One thing you lack,” he said. (v21) most probably applies to us in some way or another.

There is always something that stands in the way really.

If it’s not wealth, it’s status or our view of our status. Or our culture – we assume that what we have and what we are is better than others. Or we hold onto it too tightly, never suspecting that the Lord is probably calling us to let it go and trust him.

Don’t forget that the discussion ends with the great leveller – this unnerving statement by Jesus:

Mar 10:31  “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Much to our relief – towards the end of this passage we read verses 26 and 27

Mar 10:26  The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”  Mar 10:27  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

All things are possible with God through grace and faith.

Our salvation certainly doesn’t depend on our bank balance or our achievements. And there is no special salvation for people because they are poor per se. They probably have little to lose in one sense – perhaps they can throw caution to the wind and follow Jesus?

As long as you truly follow Jesus. Are you? And what will you leave for Jesus?

Amen.

From the archives – Is your life a ferry ride on a calm day?

A sermon from the archives from my Chaplaincy days – Secondary Chapel  – April 2008

Readings: Jonah 1:1-4,  2 Corinthians 11:24-27

Jonah 1:1-4

Jon 1:1  A message from the LORD came to Jonah. He was the son of Amittai. The LORD said,

Jon 1:2  “Go to the great city of Nineveh. Preach against it. The sins of its people have come to my attention.”

Jon 1:3  But Jonah ran away from the LORD. He headed for Tarshish. So he went down to the port of Joppa. There he found a ship that was going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board. Then he sailed for Tarshish. He was running away from the LORD.

Jon 1:4  But the LORD sent a strong wind over the Mediterranean Sea. A wild storm came up. It was so wild that the ship was in danger of breaking apart.

Second Corinthians 11: 24-27

2Co 11:24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.

2Co 11:25  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,

2Co 11:26  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.

2Co 11:27  I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

 

Message:

High performance. Are you a high performer?  Are you an “achieved with excellence” person?

Do you have great exploits and conquests – do you win all the time?

There are some real dangers in the ethos of our school – because in our obsession with image, success, and achievement, we sometimes forget that there is a world out there of lots of failure, struggle and disaster.

And if failure and disaster never hits us, we probably never learn the skills required to cope in the real world. Something has to give eventually.

Ever been really hungry? Slept on the street? Been unemployed and walked the streets looking for work? Been thrown out by your parents, beaten, abused, and rejected? Ever faced murder of a friend, war that’s taken your family members away from you?

If you life has been a smooth road and a bed of roses, then you may well not be concerned by the 40 hour famine – the plight of others may not be your concern.

Or the beggar in the streets of the cities of the world.

Or the people who remember anniversaries of tragedies and deaths. Like the Wahine disaster.

I’m very nervous of ships really. We planned to go on the Oceanos some years back. A few weeks after visiting the ship at Durban harbour it sank off the wild coast. All 571 people onboard were saved. The weather was much kinder.

Then there was the Achille Lauro. It was high jacked by terrorists and later also sank after a fire. Cruise two cancelled.

The last ship we planned to sail on was arrested by the Sheriff of the City of Durban because its owners had not paid their bills.

I was pleased that my first Ferry ride to the South Island was on a calm day.

If your life is life a ferry ride on a calm day, then you may have some shocks coming your way. Listening to the stories of the survivors of the Wahine tragedy this week reminded me of the trauma of such events. Reflecting on the Anzac day history is a stark reminder of real failure.

What we need is resilience to cope with failures, and not just the buzz of each weekend’s highs and the endless accolades for our achievements.

An international resilience project indicated that the following challenges were experienced the most in students lives, in order of frequency:

  • death of parents or grandparents
  • divorce
  • separation
  • illness of parent or siblings
  • poverty
  • moving, family or friends
  • accident causing personal injuries
  • abuse, including sexual abuse
  • abandonment
  • suicide
  • remarriage
  • homelessness
  • poor health and hospitalizations
  • fires causing personal injury
  • forced repatriation of family
  • disabled family member
  • parent’s loss of a job or income
  • murder of a family member

Parents report on these challenges:

  • robberies
  • war
  • fire
  • earthquake
  • flood
  • car accident
  • adverse economic conditions
  • illegal, refugee status
  • migrant status
  • property damage from storms, floods, cold
  • political detention
  • famine
  • abuse by a non-relative
  • murders in neighbourhood
  • unstable government
  • drought

And then I listen to conversations of children here at school who are always “annoyed” by some inconvenience, some responsibility, and some person who is a bit different and challenges their thinking. Someone tells them they have done wrong, and they wangle their way out of responsibility with such aplomb.

Life is not just high performance, fame and fortune! I apologise to you on behalf of your world. We have done you a disfavour by helping you want to win all the time.

The bulk of the world lacks the basics. They lose. Ask the people of Zimbabwe – especially the 4 million plus who have become refugees in the streets and cities of South Africa.

And how we grumble. Shame on us all.

In the readings today there were two characters in danger on the sea. One was Jonah – running away from his responsibilities that God had given him. There were reasons for the disaster that followed him. God was getting his attention.

Paul was the other – and we have a litany of disasters. Beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, bandits, hunger, cold and nakedness. Add in a couple of stints in jail like my fellow ministers in Zimbabwe and you get a most colourful life.

Some people’s tragedies are because of the tasks they take up. Others seem must more random and without obvious reason.

What really matters is how we choose to respond. Our ultimate freedom is the freedom not to give up, not to despair, not to try again.

I will spare you the lecture about how you can redeem your time to study. That’s not my job.

But I will suggest that you use your time to get out of your selfish world and look at what is really happening out there.

Draw alongside someone who is in the midst of the muck – the excrement of life – and ask yourself if you have any reason to really complain.

Listen to the stories of immigrants – of those who have been abused – of those who lived through tragedy and disaster.

Resilience is about overcoming adversity. Most people around the world understand the idea of overcoming adversity with courage, skills and faith.

You can sail through your education and make your millions, grab your stake of fame and fortune.

Or you could use your real tests in life – those tests of adversity – to grow into a better person, developing real strength of character.

You could grow your faith, in stead of being dismissive about the things of faith and paranoid about offending other people’s sensibilities.

The people who caught the Wahine on that 9th of April 1968 had no idea what would happen. The young men who went to war were excited about seeing the world. They saw blood and guts, and shattered bodies, and many saw the lights go out on their future.

Unaware. Unprepared.

May you sail your ship of life far more alert, far more wise, and filled with passion to make a difference even if you face the worst.

Amen.