Flood and Promise

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Flood and Promise, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday September 9, 2018. The Reading was Genesis 6:5-22, 9:8-17, and 8:1-12.

This sermon was given as 3 separate messages given throughout the meeting.

Message 1: Going Deeper in the Story

This is a familiar reading, but we know the Sunday School version. Have you ever gone a bit deeper into this story – and thought about how that initial conversation God had with Noah might have gone?

God: (standing on a chair behind Noah, he rings a bell once) NOAH.  
Noah: (Looks up) Is someone calling me? (Shrugs and goes back to his work)
God: (Ding) NOAH!!  
Noah: Who is that?  
God: It’s the Lord, Noah.  
Noah: Right … Where are ya? What do ya want? I’ve been good.  
God: I want you to build an ark.  
Noah: Right … What’s an ark?  
God: Get some wood and build it 300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits.  
Noah: Right … What’s a cubit?  
God: Well never mind. Don’t worry about that right now. After you build the   ark, I want you to go out into the world and collect all the animals of the   world, two by two, male and female, and put them into the ark.  
Noah: Right … Who is this really? What’s going on? How come you want me to   do all these weird things?  
God: I’m going to destroy the world.  
Noah: Right … Am I on Candid Camera? How are you gonna do it?  
God: I’m going to make it rain for a thousand days and drown them right out.
Noah: Right … Listen, do this and you’ll save water. Let it rain for forty days and forty nights and wait for the sewers to back up.  
God: Right…  

Bill Cosby

It’s a bit of a humorous look at that situation, but it’s a worthwhile point. We often read the words, but don’t think about what is happening, or what is happening around the story.

And a big part that we often overlook is God’s role in the flood. When we think about Noah building the ark to protect all the animals from the flood – that is, the Sunday school story – we often forget that it was God who caused the flood because he wanted to destroy the earth. That the only way to redeem what God had made was to destroy it all.

Does that make you uncomfortable?

Or what about if I was to point out that as Noah locked up his ark, with all the animals inside, and the waters began to rise, there would have been a large number of bodies floating around the ark – a constant reminder of what God had done.

We’re not in Sunday School anymore with this story, are we?

But there is something that I want to go a bit deeper still in. In verse 18, God says to Noah, “I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.”

Now, a covenant was a reciprocal promise of sorts. It would generally take the form of “If you do this, then I will do that for you”. And when normal people would make a covenant, they would often invoke a higher power – that is, God – as a witness to that covenant. But God can’t invoke himself in order to keep this promise. And the promise that he makes is somewhat different to what a normal covenant would be. There is no reciprocity. God isn’t expecting Noah to do anything – just that God will let him and his family on the ark. And maybe that is the covenant – that Noah and his family will be allowed in the ark. Or maybe this isn’t the covenant, and what God is saying is a promise that there will be a covenant established.

We’ll come back to that – I promise.

Message 2: God Remembers his Promise

It’s amazing how Davey can show me just how awful my memory is. He can remember things that happened to him ages ago like they were only yesterday. I have trouble trying to remember what I did last week. Why, even on Thursday, between talking about my day with Liesl before leaving about 8:30am, and just after lunchtime, I had managed to forget something I had on that night which threw the rest of my day out. Some may claim baby brain, but I guess now that Micah is 1, I can no longer claim that.

Our memory is an interesting thing. At times, we can completely forget about something, and then all of a sudden, we have remembered it. Where did it come from? Where did it go? What made it come back? Have you ever had those experiences, where for some unknown reason you’re remembering some event that happened to you years, or decades ago? At times, it can seem like it is a switch – when we have forgotten about something, it’s switched off, and when we are reminded, it’s switched back on, with seemingly no in between ground between the two.

And when used in that context, this passage seems a bit odd. Almost as if God had completely forgotten about Noah and the ark, and one of the angels reminded God about it. Or maybe, as in Genesis 1, God was hovering over the waters, and all of a sudden saw this strange looking boat on the waters and went, “Oh, that’s right, Noah. I had completely forgotten about that! Guess I better do something about them now.”

However, the way that the Hebrew verb is constructed, it is indicating an action that happens in the past, but is continuing to unfold in the present. So, perhaps a better way of explaining this phrase was that God had remembered and continued to remember Noah and the promise that was made.

We’re still early in the book of Genesis. We don’t even have the name of God at this stage – that doesn’t come until the book of Exodus with Moses. Through these stories we are learning about the nature of God. We are learning that God is a God who is remembering. A God who doesn’t forget the promises that were made.

We’ll come back to that – I promise.

Message 3: God’s Covenant – then and now

I have my computer in the living room at home. It means that I can work on it while the kids are watching something and I can still keep half an eye on them. But it also means that sometimes, they will come over to the computer, and start hitting keys. Sometimes, I’ll get to the computer and there will be a whole heap of nonsense in the middle of my sermon. And that’s easy enough to delete. But sometimes, they’ll have done something that I have absolutely no idea what they’ve done, and the computer is doing something wrong. I have no idea what to do to fix it, so the general solution is for me to reset the computer – turn it off and on, and start again.

Sometimes, it’s like that with the various projects that we do. I know there’s been times where Liesl has been doing some crochet, and has got most of the way through a project, only to realise that she made a mistake somewhere along the way and now it’s all wrong. Sometimes, the only way to fix something is to take it all apart and start again.

And that’s effectively what God did with this Flood. The creation that he had made had become so out of hand, so corrupt, that the only way for him to fix it was to turn it off and on again. And we see that in the command that God gives to Noah to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” But you can also see that God was hurting from having to destroy his creation.

It’s never easy to start over. It’s never easy to change what you thought was going to work. In doing so, you have to recognise the mistakes that you made. Maybe God destroying the whole world was the right thing to do. Maybe, it was a mistake. Either way, I think we see God’s heart grieve the loss of life that he inflicted. And so we get this covenant.

This is the covenant that was promised to Noah. Known in theological circles as the Noahic Covenant, this is the true covenant that follows the standard form. Noah, and his descendants, will be fruitful and multiply, and will respect the sanctity of life in all things. In response, God committed to never destroying the world again. And to remind us both of this covenant, God adds some meaning to the Rainbow. The rainbow was already in existance – the text reads “I have set my bow in the clouds” not, “I will set”. The bow was already there, part of God’s magnificent creation. But with it being a regular sign, God uses that to remind us – and to remind God – about the covenant that was made.

But, as we’ve already established, God doesn’t forget. God isn’t going to destroy the world again. But us humans – we forget. We forget often. The Jews would find more and more ways to break the will of God, to grow hard in their hearts. And us as humans, we would find more and more ways to destroy the sanctity of life. We keep finding new ways to destroy life – there is a whole industry that seems hell bent on getting stronger and more powerful weapons in to the hands of the general public. We’re finding more and more dangerous ways to go to war. We’re finding new words that can be used to destroy a person and break them down so that we don’t kill them, but they kill themselves. We’re finding new and harsh ways to torture the people that we don’t like. We have forgotten the sanctity of life. We have forgotten that humankind was created in the image of God.

Now normally, if one party was to break the covenant, the covenant would be invalid. But as we have established, God is a God who remembers. He has been constantly remembering the covenant made with Noah. And since the world couldn’t be destroyed again, there had to be a new plan. Jesus. Jesus is the answer to all the mistakes in our world. The answer to all the death and destruction that we have created. When God said “For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning”, it wasn’t to institute the death penalty. It wasn’t to say, if you kill one person, then you will be killed likewise. No, the reckoning, the blood that was to be shed was the blood of Jesus. God’s ultimate reset. For in Jesus offering himself up as this sacrifice, he took on the sins of the world – both the ones that had been made and the ones that will be made, and said “God, this is that reckoning. Remember those sins no more”.

God knew that in hitting the reset button, that humanity wouldn’t change. We were corrupt before, and in Genesis 8:21, God acknowledges that “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.” So instead, God sets in place a plan that will allow God’s mercy to win. God blesses Abraham and Sarah in order that they will be a blessing. God calls the Israelites to be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” God calls prophets and priests, shepherds and vine-dressers, to proclaim God’s judgement and God’s mercy, and call people back to this covenantal loyalty.

This is the story of Noah – a story about a God who always remembers, sets in action a path that will allow God to forget our sins. A promise, a covenant with us that God will never forget.

You’re invited to come into that covental relationship. To come in and be remembered by the God who will never forget. To be re-membered as a part of God’s creation, made in God’s image. All that is needed is what we find in Romans 10: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” If you haven’t done that before, then I invite you to come and be a part of God’s covenant. To be party to that incredible mercy that means our all-remembering God will forget your sins. And if you have confessed that Jesus is Lord, and you do believe that God raised him from the dead, then I invite you to remember that amazing Grace that transformed your life.

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Win this nation back?

There are some worship songs that I really get into. And there are some bands and writers that I especially get into. At the moment, one of the bands that I’m absolutely loving is Rend Collective. They have this funky, Irish-Bluegrass type feel to much of their recordings, and their songs are just great to sing along to.

I’ve used some of their Campfire Christmas versions of Christmas Carols at Christmas time, and their albums are on a high rotation in my iTunes playlists. And one of my favourite songs – and one that seems to be gaining more and more traction particularly within The Salvation Army here in Australia – is Build Your Kingdom Here.

Continue reading “Win this nation back?”

Expanding our idea of love

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Expanding our idea of love, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 19 February, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 5:38-48.

Who wants to hit me?

Last week, I talked about how Jesus expanded the law from just the command against murder to say that we shouldn’t get angry. Bill cornered me after the service to remind me that there are different sorts of anger – there is violent anger, which is was Jesus was speaking about, and there is a just or a holy anger. And sometimes it is good for us to get angry about some things – for example we should get angry about injustices. However, in all things, we should  not get violent in our anger – instead, we should seek a response that is grounded in love, and invites the oppressor to change their ways.

So to start with today, I’d like a volunteer who is willing to hit me. Continue reading “Expanding our idea of love”

I don’t need your gifts, only your presence

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.

President Trump: A call to action

Dear America,

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”

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, 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”

Faith in the Game Plan

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”

Who is my Neighbour?

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.

Wesleyan Quadrilateral

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.

Me on the inside (Credit: Adam4d.com)
Me on the inside (Credit: Adam4d.com)

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

Me after a week of study. (Credit: Adam4d.com)
Me after a week of study. (Credit: Adam4d.com)

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.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, Reason
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, Reason

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?”

All One in Christ Jesus

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”

From Extremist to Evangelist: Paul’s Conversion and Ours

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.

Autobiography Titles

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”