There is no I in Church…

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, There is no I in Church, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 12 February, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 5:21-37.

The Vicar and the Ember

In a small village, somewhere in England, so the story goes, there was a man who had been going to church all his life, and had thought that he had heard every sermon that there was to be preached. So, one day, as his wife got ready for church, he decided that instead he would prefer to sleep in. His wife, though concerned, didn’t think much of it, thinking it was only one week.

The next Sunday came around, and the husband thought to himself – I’ve been reading my bible every day, and saying my prayers, but I really don’t want to go to church today. So, he announced to his wife that he wasn’t going to go to church again, and instead he was going to go fishing. And his wife, again concerned, hoped that it was just that week, and thought nothing of it. Continue reading “There is no I in Church…”

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 7

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

12 February 2013

Today started off simple, then got complicated. The mornings are always quiet, as many sleep until later in the day. So it’s often a case of hanging out in one of the meeting places until people start to show up. I’ve also been helping out in the canteen, so that fills up a bit of time.

This afternoon, while I wanted to catch up with X about his poem, I ended up spending most of the afternoon in the internet room. Not hard work, but the changeovers are tough. It would be interesting to see how it could develop into more of a ministry opportunity, than just assigning computers. It’s one of the few times community members come to you.

There was an incident towards the end of my shift. It made my adrenaline levels raised, but I think that for my part, I acted as best I could, did my role, and as such am OK now.

There was also a foreshadowing of things to come with news of the PNG Supreme Court case happening. If they announce that it is illegal and must be shut down, there will be rejoicing, followed by uncertainty about what happens next, and possibly anger over any statement from the Australian Government, and perhaps over them remaining locked up If the court declares it legal, then there could well be fights, protests, and increased levels of despair. Either way, the community will be a very different place over the next few days.

I had a chance to chat with Liesl tonight, and she said how Annabelle was growing up so much. She’s now saying Dadda and Nanna, as well as Mama. She’s now almost a size 3 in shoes. Every day, something new is developing. I’m missing her, and can’t wait to see her in person.

Mental state – OK. I’m doing fine, but I am cautious about my shift tomorrow, and about the community over the next few days.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 6

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

11 February 2013

I’m really loving it in families. This morning, I filled in where needed, including in the canteen, then in the last 15 minutes helped pull rocks from an area to create a new volleyball court, as the old one was being lost to make a new mess hall. It was mindless work, but I loved it, as the community members pitched in as well, which was fantastic. Instead of getting upset about the loss of their volleyball court, they saw a solution, and worked at getting it ready.

In the afternoon, after shadowing a care worker, I sat and played Monopoly for three hours, with a group of Tamils. I twas the fastest paced Monopoly game I’d ever seen, and I often had trouble keeping up.

Tomorrow, I need to track down X. He’s an Iranian who was fleeing because he played Heavy Metal, and he’s written a poem in Farsi that he wants to turn into a song in English. It will be tricky, but I’d love to spend some time working on it with him.

Annabelle is sick, and will have to stay home all week. Thankfully, Liesl can still finish the unit by finishing the assignments, and will have the remaining sessions recorded so she can still get the info. Mental state – good.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 5

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

10 February 2013. Today was a good day. I started off the canteen, and spent the morning in there. Nice and cool, and out of the sun, however it gives me little opportunity to interact with the community members. I think if I am in there again, I will try and use their names as much as I can, and try and engage them when tehy are not busy.

In the afternoon, I was again in the canteen, but I had some time off afterwards to “loiter with intent.” It’s something I am getting better at, though I still feel slightly uncomfortable. I might need to start asking more questions, instead of just answering and answer more fully – look for opportunities to share my story.

Tonight, P [The Salvation Army program director] ran into me outside using the internet, and asked me to share in a service with the Persian Christians by playing Guitar. It was a great time, to worship freely with these people, who were persecuted for doing to in Iran.

Mood – Good, but sad that Annabelle is sick with conjunctivitis, and that it will affect Liesl’s intensive.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 4

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

9 February 2013. First shift today. Working in Families from 9am – 7pm. However, I was first thrown into the intake of SAMs (Single Adult Males), where I was collecting their shoes to be cleaned, then returned. They were afraid that this new lot would be angry, however, it doesn’t seem like they have caused any commotion yet.

When I got to the Families, I was able to sit and chat with a couple of families, first a Sri Lankan family, then an Iranian. They were both wonderful, but the Iranians really tried to make me feel welcome. They even tried to teach me some Farsi, but all I remember is “Biya” – come.

In the afternoon, I helped out in the canteen, then the Internet room. Nice and chilled, nice and relaxed. [The canteen and Internet room were the two areas inside the camp that I could access that were air conditioned. The education room was also air conditioned, but I didn’t have need to go in there]

In the evening, I got to Facetime Liesl and Annabelle. It was so good to see their faces and to see that Annabelle still recognised me [She was six months at the time – this was a real concern of mine when leaving for a month. Also, that I’d miss her first steps]. I really do hope that she will walk/run to me when I first see her.

Mood – Good. I’m feeling settled both in the camp, and in my work.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 3

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.
8 February 2013. RDO Today. Had a lazy morning, before waiting to head into town. Bus was supposed ot leave at 11 – didn’t end up going until 12.

Lorengau Market Place (Credit: Kings Note)
Lorengau Market Place (Credit: Kings Note)

Lorengau is tiny. It is focused around its market, and there are a number of supermarket type shops that sell mostly the same products. What struck me most was the items available for single purchase that we wouldn’t expect in Australia, such as a single roll of toilet paper, or a single nappie. Looking back, I’m also suprised how little fresh fruit I saw. There was some at the markets – mostly coconut, but little in the supermarkets.
This afternoon, I rested, I watched a couple of Star Trek episodes, played Subway Surfers, and read my book.

I have my first shift tomorrow – 9am to 7pm, with the Families. I’m apprehensive about what I’ll see, but excited to finally get into ministry.

Mood – Great. Moving in with N and S (Session mates from College) really helped, and I’ve been having good contact with Liesl.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 2

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

7 February 2013. Flew from Cairns to Port Moresby, then on to Manus Island. Travelled to the compound.

Coming in, I was quite amazed. The old army base is completely overgrown and rusted, however the design of buildings hasn’t changed much. The main buildings are still half-cylinders, and our accommodation is shipping containers.

We had induction today, basically getting to know the campsite and the work. We go on roster from tomorrow, and I have an RDO.

I need to find ways to keep myself busy. I found that when I kept to myself, and in my own thoughts, I would focus on how much I was missing Liesl and Annabelle. It didn’t help that I couldn’t get into my room because I don’t have a key, and my roommates have got into the habit of locking the door. That compounded things because I didn’t have a link home. As soon as I could get in and send a message home, I was ok.

Learning to live with a couple of other guys, on different shifts, will be tough, but I’m sure it will be ok.

Mentally – ok. Missing Liesl and Annabelle. Happy my communication channels aren’t as bad as first thought.

Manus Island 2013 – my experiences, pt 1

In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.

leaving-for-manus6 February 2013. Left today. Flight to Carins, where we’ll stay over night, before an early flight to Port Moresby. When we got to the airport (in Melbourne), we read that there had been a Tsunami alert for PNG after an earthquake in the Solomon Islands. Thankfully cancelled by the time we got off the flight.

God a short call to Liesl in before bed. Annabelle came looking for me after childcare. She was sad I wasn’t there. But she did enjoy the video of me reading her story.

She was also playing Peekaboo with Granny via Facetime.

I’m going to miss so much this month, but I’m going to do so much as well.

Mentally – I’m ok, miss Liesl and Annabelle a bit. Will be tougher when I can’t contact them as readily.

What does God value?

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What is it that makes you, you? What is it that makes you the things that you identify as?

There’s some sense in today’s society that the identifying characteristics of gender roles are no longer appropriate. Women are no longer expected to stay at home and look after the kids. They can if they want, but they don’t have to. And many would say that our workspaces are all the better for it.

But some people do seem to be taking a while in getting used to this. For example, this week, the NSW Liberals elected Gladys Berejiklian as their new party leader, meaning that she will be the NSW Premier in the coming days. Yet, it took just 15 minutes into her first press conference for someone to ask whether people wouldn’t be able to identify with her because she doesn’t have children.

But it’s not just females adjusting to these new roles. As men adjust to this new society, they are finding that roles traditionally filled by men – and used to define their masculinity – are no longer appropriate, and as such, there are men out there struggling to determine what it means to be a man.

What does the world tell us?

One such Google search on “What does it mean to be a man?” led me to this list, which was the top result on Google. They listed 10 things which makes a “real” man:

  1. A real man can defend himself – that is, in arguments, not necessarily in physical fights.
  2. A real man keeps his house in order
  3. A real man takes care of his appearance
  4. A real man makes his own fortune
  5. A real man strives to be a role model
  6. A real man’s word his his bond
  7. A real man doesn’t gossip
  8. A real man knows the importance of family
  9. A real man is focused
  10. A real man is strong.

Now, I look at that list, and I can see the value in many of those things. But at the same time – they are things that the world values, and they are things that is not exclusive to being a man. A real woman can do all of those things just as well as a man.

And unfortunately, some men – in some supposed need to strictly define their masculinity – seek to find clarity by over-exerting themselves on women, pursuing blatantly sexist behaviours, and seeking to deride feminists at any opportunity.

But this goes to show some of the values that are forced on us by the world. It’s important for men to be strong. It’s important for men to be rich. It’s important for women to be beautiful. It’s important for women to be maternal.

The Bible Tells us what God desires

Now, that’s all good and well. But we know that what the World wants and what God wants are often two different things.

The readings that we heard today are just two passages that highlight the sorts of things that God desires.

Our first reading, from Micah, we are in a hypothetical courtroom scene. We have the Lord, pleading his case before Israel, in front of the mountains and hills – the “enduring foundations of the earth” who will sit as judge in this case. The Lord pleads his case, “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” He goes on to say how time after time, he sent people to come and rescue the Israelites – he sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam; he sent Balaam, son of Beor; and he reminds them of “the saving acts of the Lord.”

Yet, the Israelites respond with their own question: What sort of offerings should we give to God? Does he want burnt ones, or thousands of rams, or should we sacrifice our first born children to seek forgiveness for our sins?

The Israelites are seeking to offer sacrifices to God, and these suggestions are the things that they think will please God. They think that he would be pleased with the incense of year old calves, a burnt offering that is giving up the future wealth and production that a calf would bring. Or maybe he desires quantity over quality – thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil. Or maybe, God desires the biggest sacrifice of all – the first born child – that which guarantees the continuation of the family line, the benefit of having someone to work for the family, to look after the parents, the wealth that comes with marriage – giving all of that up in order to please God.

I wonder whether sometimes, we think in the same way as those Israelites.

Do we think that there are certain sacrifices that we have to make, in order to please God?

Thankfully, we no longer take up human or animal sacrifices, but there are other things. Do you maybe think of your Tithe as a sacrifice, that you do it in order to make God pleased? Or maybe there might be soldiers amongst us who see our not partaking in alcohol, drugs, or gambling as a sacrifice, done in order to please God? I wonder if there are officers who see the sacrifices we make – sacrifices of better paid jobs, freedom to move, to live where we choose, to engage in other activities – I wonder whether there are those who see our sacrifice in this area as a sacrifice in order to please God?

But God comes back to the Israelites and reminds them of the things that are good – that is, the things that really please God. And we see that it isn’t sacrifices that God requires. It isn’t giving up things. It’s actually taking up things. To Do justice, to Love kindness, to walk humbly with God.

And then we look at the Gospel, where we have Matthew’s first lot of teaching from Jesus. And it’s here that we see more of the things that God values. And again, this is Jesus reminding the people about what they should already know – everything in here can be found in the scriptures.

God values the poor in spirit – or as we find it in Luke’s gospel – just the poor. In Jesus’ day, and even through the scriptures and particularly the Psalms, we see an alignment of God’s love for the poor, but also an understanding that poverty was linked with the spirit. What Jesus is saying here isn’t just that the poor are to be valued, but also those who are poor in spirit, those whose only identity and security is found in God.

This is different from what the world tells us, that the accumulation of wealth is to be sought after furiously, at the expense of others; and often that we need to take care of ourselves, even at the expense of others.

Jesus turns this upsidedown – these things aren’t valued in God’s kingdom.

God values those who mourn. Mourning is something that we all go through – we mourn the loss of a loved one, we mourn the loss of a friend moving away, there are lots of things that will cause us to grieve.

Yet the world would often tell us that we need to push aside that grief, that we can’t allow ourselves to mourn, because it gets in the way of us making money.

Jesus tells us that it is a good thing to mourn – whether over a death, a loss, or over an injustice, and those who mourn will be comforted. Mourning is something that is of value in God’s kingdom.

God values the meek. Now, meek isn’t a word that we overly use these days – but it means the quiet, the gentle, the patient. Yet this is often seen as a negative trait to have by the world – it might be described as someone who is easily imposed upon, who is submissive, or long-suffering, or resigned.

Our world values those who are loud, confident and can stand up for themselves. God values the meek, for in their patience, and in their quietness, they will find God.

God values those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Matthew spiritualises Luke’s version here, where God values those who hunger and thirst. And that is still here in Matthew, the hungry and thirsty will be filled, but in the same way, those who hunger and thirst for rightousness or justice, and who seek after it with the same voracity that a hungry person would seek after food.

And again, we see a difference to the world – where they would value eating to excess, and supersizing meal after meal; or they value activities which belittle others, and stomp on the little guy, or lock up those fleeing persecution – God values the opposite.

God values the merciful – and this isn’t just a merciful attitude, but is referring the physical acts of mercy. Yet, the world would have us believe that showing mercy is a bad thing – just look at the desire to bring back the death penalty following the incident in Bourke St last week. Yet Jesus says that we are to not only behave mercifully, but act mercifully.

God values the pure, yet we have a world where there is more and more dirt coming into our lives. Language is more and more accepting of swearing, we are seeing more and more skin on TV, many movies have scenes that would be hard to differentiate from pornography. But God values not just purity, but pure in heart, those who are single minded in their devotion to the one God.

God values the peacemakers. These are those who move to live against violence, who aren’t passive, but are active and making positive actions for reconciliation. But our world values violence. We take pride in our heroic military acts. We give millions of dollars away to see two guys beat their brains out – the biggest fight in 2015, Floyd Mayweather and Manna Pacquiao, took in an estimated $500 million, and that’s not including however much was spent on betting on the match. But God values peacemakers, and calls them his children.

God values those who have been oppressed. It’s not something that we should strive for – but if we find ourselves in a situation, we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. So often, the world wants to tell us to just bunker down, to not share with others the problems that we are facing. But if we do that, then no-one will know what we are going through. If we share, then it opens up opportunities for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – to allow others to help lift us up out of that situation, for the glory of God.

These values that God has as so against the grain of what the world wants us to live by.

And if we live this way, we will often rub people up the wrong way. They will tell us that we’re just goody too shoes, or they will tell us that we’re crazy, or tell us that we’re stupid for believing in something that we can’t see. They will make fun of us, to try and get us to live in the way the world does. If we live according to God’s values, these things will happen. And I’m not just saying that because it matches with the next verse – I’m saying that because there have been faithful people throughout history who have sought to live out these values, and have been reviled and persecuted. But God reminds us that when these things happen, we need to stay strong, because we’re doing what God values.

Go and live to God’s commands

So as you head out this week, go confidently, and choose to live by God’s commands. Give it everything that you have, all that you are. Walk with God wherever you go – and worship God constantly, because it is through living out these values that we can worship God.

You’re invited to sing this lovely song, With all I am. If you would like to come and commit your life to living out God’s values in your life, and not the values of the world, then you might like to come forward and spend some time in prayer. Or you might like to come and pray about somehting that you’re going through in your life – come, and let us bring it before God, and lift you up in prayer, so that you might be able to sing once again, with all you are.

What are you looking for? Come and see.

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, What are you looking for? Come and see, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 15 January, 2017. The Reading was John 1:35-42.

Famous First Words

I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase, Famous Last Words. However, have you heard of any famous first words? You might be able to remember your own kids first words, but so often these are either not remembered or of little importance that they are not noteworthy for those who go on to become famous. However, when you look at fictional characters, it’s easy to work out what their first words were. Sometimes, these first words are able to reveal to us some valuable information about that character.

16092For example, in the TV show the Simpsons, Marge Simpson’s first words are “Ooh, careful, Homer”. To which Homer responds with his first words, “There’s no time to be careful.” It explains a bit about these two characters.

In the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins’ first words are “What’s this? A ring!” Again, revealing an important part about this character, his discovery, and later obsession with this ring.

Of course, at other times, a character’s first lines just serve the plot. For example, Juliet’s first words in Romeo and Juliet is “How now, who calls? Continue reading “What are you looking for? Come and see.”