As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, I don’t need your gifts, only your presence, was given at The Rochester and Elmore District Health Service Hostel and nursing Home’s Ecumenical Christmas Service on Tuesday 13 December, 2016. The Reading was Matthew 2:1-12.
What are the best Christmas gifts you’ve received?
I wonder what the best Christmas gift you ever received was? Can you think of any memorable ones?
To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember many Christmas gifts. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m certainly appreciative of everything that I’ve been given. But my memory is a bit hazy on whether I received it as a gift at Christmas, my birthday, or whether I bought it for myself.
But that’s not to say I’m not excited to see my Christmas gifts for this year. Already, I have one sitting under the tree – which I can only guess from the envelope is a couple of tickets to see the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
We can lose focus on the real meaning of Christmas
Now don’t get me wrong, but I find that there can be too much of an emphasis on gift giving, or more so, gift receiving, at Christmas time. I’m sure you have probably been asked before what the best present you’ve received is, but has anyone ever asked you what the best present you ever gave was? Even at Christmas time, we focus more on receiving than giving.
If we’re not careful, we can lose touch with what the real message of Christmas is. When we focus more on the gifts, we lose touch with the one who is the reason we give.
Seek out the Presence of Christ
I want to focus on the story of the Magi that we’ve just heard. The magi come, having followed the star and recognising that this particular star meant the birth of the King of the Jews. Now, we don’t know how they knew what that meant, but all the same, having recognised the meaning, they set out and sought to find this King of the Jews, in order to pay him homage.
But, having set out, and followed the star for so long, they ended up in Jerusalem, which if you were expecting a King to be born, it would make sense that it would be in the capital city. So the magi started asking around, and word comes to Herod – the so-called “King” – although he gave himself that title, as he was actually in his role through the authority of the Romans. When Herod heard that there was an actual King somewhere he was quite rightly nervous, and set his Chief Priests and scribes to search the scriptures to see where this child was to be born.
And so it was that it was discovered that in Bethlehem, a tiny town about 6km from Jerusalem, this “King of the Jews” was to be born. So Herod instructs them to search for the child, and report back to him so he may go and worship as well.
But here we see the difference of intentions. The magi had travelled far to come and pay homage – to worship this child, to be in his presence. They recognised that this child was someone special, and was worth them making the long trek to find him. On the other hand, Herod wanted only to hold onto his power – the power that was gifted to him by the Romans, and that he wanted to hang onto at any cost.
Herod was only thinking of his gift. The magi only wanted His – that is, Christ’s – presence.
We can find the true present
We know that when the magi came, they gave gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh – gifts known for being the most costly of the day, but gifts also found in the prophecies, in Isaiah 60, and the Song of Solomon. But more importantly, before they gave those gifts, they “knelt down and paid him homage.”
For the magi, being in the presence of Christ was more important than the giving of any gifts that they had brought.
In the same way, we need to make sure that we find the true present this Christmas – that is, to be in the Presence of Christ.
We don’t want to get distracted by the commercialisation of Christmas. We don’t want to get distracted by whether we give the best gifts, or receive more gifts than we did last year. We don’t want to get distracted by the power that might give us over another person.
We don’t need gifts. We only want your presence – the presence of Jesus Christ.
We don’t need gifts, we just want your presence.
This Christmas, I hope you will seek out the presence of Christ in your life. If you haven’t asked Christ into your life, there’s never a better time than right now, to ask Christ to be with you, and to sit in his presence. And if you have been following Christ for a long time, then there’s never a better time than at Christmas to be reminded of being in the presence of Christ, and how spending that time can transform our lives.
We don’t need gifts, we just want your presence.
The inspiration for the title of this message came from Phil Laeger‘s Christmas album, The Light Where It Leads You, (which is no longer available). Please check out some of Phil’s other releases and support the wonderful message that he brings through his music.
I know that some of you are hurting right now. Like many around the world, you’re wondering – where did it all go wrong? Like many, you’re wondering how you went from a President such as Obama, one who didn’t have any controversies, who spoke well, was funny, eloquent, and always strives to show how America could be better – a President who personified his campaign slogan of Hope – to a President such as Donald Trump, who is seen by many as racist, sexist, and a bigot who spreads fear and prejudice. Continue reading “President Trump: A call to action”
To Mr Drum,
As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Don’t worry about what others think, but do what God asks, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 28 August, 2016. The Reading was Luke 14:1, 7-14.
Did you know that there is only 119 days until Christmas? That’s 2856 hours, 171,300 minutes or 10,281,600 seconds. Not that I’m counting of course. Now, Christmas is a wonderful time of year because everyone is excited about the birth of Jesus, right? The whole world stops, and celebrates the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, because the whole world realises what an important and holy occasion this is, and that’s all that happens, right? No, for the vast majority of the western world, Christmas means one thing: Presents. Lots and lots of presents. The big department stores have already had their big Christmas lay-by sales, there will be more and more sales as we get closer and closer. Come next week we will probably start seeing Christmas decorations being put up into stores as they encourage us to spend more money to buy more presents because if we start buying earlier we can afford to buy more presents and buy bigger and better presents. But gift giving isn’t everything that it’s cracked up to be. Sheldon knows this. If you don’t know who Sheldon is, allow me to introduce you to him. Dr. Sheldon Cooper is one of the main characters from the TV Sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. He is a Caltech theoretical physicist who received his first Ph.D at the age of 16. He is incredibly smart, incredibly nerdy, and incredibly socially awkward. Now, despite coming from a deeply religious family from the Bible Belt of Texas, Sheldon doesn’t celebrate Christmas – or as he puts it, the pagan festival of Saturnalia. And he similarly doesn’t like the tradition of gift giving, as demonstrated here. Continue reading “Don’t worry about what others think, but do what God asks”
As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Run the Race with Endurance, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 14 August, 2016. The Reading was Galatians 1:11-24.
The final lap
Right about now, the 10,000m race is underway at the Rio Olympics. Now, when I say 10,000m it seems like it’s a really long race. And as I was preparing for this message, and I looked up to see when these various running races would be on, I saw the 10,000m and thought “wow, that’s really long.” And then I realised – wait, that’s just a 10km. What I would do in about an hour. Then I looked at the time they’ve allowed for it, and saw that they’ve allowed half an hour. Which means that the athletes will be completing the 10km in less time than it takes me to run 5km. I better get back on the training track.
I enjoy running. When I can get out, I love to go for a run, and a bit of a long run as well every now and then. But it hasn’t always been that way. I really only started running at college, running around Princes Park. I started with what’s known as a the Couch to 5k, which is designed to get a couch bound person to running 5kms in half an hour. So I did that. Then I started reaching towards 10kms. And I set myself a goal of completing a fun run that year, which I did with the 2012 City to Sea, a 14km fun run from the Melbourne Arts Centre to St Kilda. And then I did it the year after, in 2013, with some more friends. Then in 2014, I started going to Parkrun in Devonport, a weekly timed 5km run. And I did the City to Sea again that year. And I really enjoy it.
One thing I love about the fun runs and Parkruns as well is the finish line. More so for the Parkruns, but with the Fun Run’s as well, when you get to the finish line, there are always competitors around who are cheering you on, encouraging you to the finish. Encouraging you to finish well. To strive for that line, to pick up that extra second with a bit of extra effort. It focusses you onto what your focus should be – crossing that finish line. Continue reading “Run the Race with Endurance”
As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Faith in the Game Plan, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Trinity Sunday 5 June, 2016. The Reading was Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16.
I love this time of year. Well, this time of every couple of years. It will see me getting up early, staying up late, and even pulling the mattress into the lounge room so I can make the most of every single second. See, I love the Olympics. I was up early yesterday morning, to watch the Opening Ceremony… and then realised I got the time wrong. So after Men’s breakfast, I was back quick smart to keep watching it.
And yes, Liesl and I will most likely bring out the mattress at some stage so we can watch the games until we fall asleep. We love it. I love the stories that come about every year, of athletes pushing through adversity, of never giving up, and finishing, even when all hope is lost.
I was just six years old when this happened, so I have no idea if I actually saw it live, or have just seen it in so many replays and telecasts that it feels as if I was there, but this video captures so much of that Olympic spirit that I love. Continue reading “Faith in the Game Plan”
As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Who is my Neighbour?, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 10 July, 2016. The Reading was Luke 10:25-37.
Before I get into looking at this text, I want to introduce you to one of my favourite theological concepts. See, I am a bit of a theology nerd.
That image up there? That’s me on the inside. And you see, this afternoon, I’m heading down to Melbourne to do a study unit. So a week of studying Theology means that
this will be me by the end of the week.
But enough about me. See, what I want to introduce to you is this idea of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This is something that comes out of our own faith tradition, and is something that can be really helpful in coming to understand difficult issues. I’m just going to briefly touch on it today, because while I may not understand why everybody isn’t a theology nerd, I do understand that not everyone is a theology nerd. So we’ll just dabble today, and maybe that will spark something for you to become a theology nerd like me.
So for the Wesleyan faith, there are four things that they hold as valuable to our faith. These things are Scripture, of course, Tradition, Reason and Experience. So when looking at any particular issue, we look to see how it has been traditionally interpreted by the Church, Experience is our own individual experience, reason is the discerning and cogent thought that we give to the issue, and scripture of course is what the Word of God says. The way that we apply the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is that we look at all of these things, Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience, and we interpret them through the lens of Scripture. So Tradition, interpreted through scripture, Reason, interpreted through scripture, experience, interpreted through scripture, and Scripture, interpreted through Scripture. And as I said, going through this can be a really helpful way of dealing with difficult issues.
But, enough about that. I could be talking all day here. Continue reading “Who is my Neighbour?”
As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, All One in Christ Jesus, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 19 June, 2016. The Reading was Galatians 3:23-29.
I am, perhaps showing my lack of age here. And I mean that in no disrespect to my elders. Just recently, Liesl and I watched the movie, The Butler. If you haven’t seen it, I really do recommend it. It tells the story of an African American who started picking cotton, then after his father was shot was brought inside and trained as – to use the terminology from the movie – a “house nigger”. You follow him as he eventually becomes a butler, and finally a butler within the White House.
As you watch the movie, you get a real sense of the exclusion that was held at the time. That they couldn’t sit at the same lunch counter. Sit in the same seats on the bus. Drink from the same water fountains. And when I watch other films dealing with similar issues, such as The Help, or read books like To Kill a Mockingbird, you get an understanding that these things were held to be “just the way things are”.
And then I realise that segregation was outlawed in 1964, some 52 years ago. And that’s what hit me – when my parents was born, the United States of America was still segregated. I think nothing of it these days, because that’s the way it’s always been for me. I have to remember that it wasn’t always that way. Continue reading “All One in Christ Jesus”
As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, From Extremist to Evangelist: Paul’s Conversion and Ours, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Trinity Sunday 5 June, 2016. The Reading was Galatians 1:11-24.
I’m doing a lot of reading at the moment. For my 30th birthday, I set myself a challenge to read 30 books in my 30th year – books that I had been meaning to read, or I really should have read, by my 30th. So I’ve already read books like Frankenstein, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and a the moment, I’m Reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, titled Long Walk to Freedom. And I was thinking this week about the titles of Autobiographies. And there are some fantastic titles out there. Such as the lead singer of the band KISS, Gene Simmons, who titled his autobiography, Kiss and Make Up. Or Davy Jones’ autobiography – They made a Monkee out of me. One of my favourites that I’ve read – Never have your Dog Stuffed: and other things I’ve learned by Alan Alda. There’s a wonderful spoonerism in Tori Spelling’s book, sTORI Telling. And David Hasselhoff plays on his name with his book, Don’t Hassel the Hoff.
Picking the title of your Autobiography can be quite tough. Trying to sum up your life in a short, eye catching phrase, or in just a few words. I wonder what your autobiography might be called. I’ve got a few thoughts for mine: This is my story, this is my song. Or maybe What’s a Violinist doing in the Salvation Army? Could be an interesting read.
Our reading today is Paul telling the Galatians a little bit of his own story. And I read through it, and I think I’ve got the perfect title for Paul’s Autobiography: Paul: From Extremist to Evangelist. What do you think? Would you read it? Continue reading “From Extremist to Evangelist: Paul’s Conversion and Ours”