God’s Kingdom is Mercy

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, God’s Kingdom is Mercy, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday March 3, 2019. The Reading was Luke 6:27-38.

Follow the leader

Our reading today follows on from the reading we had last week, so it makes sense that my sermon should follow on in many aspects. We still have Jesus speaking to his disciples in that level place. But we also need to remember that Luke is writing this gospel for his congregation, and as such, much of what he is writing here are instructions for his church. Just as Jesus is saying this is how I want you to live, Luke is saying to his church “This is how you need to be as a church”.

In Jesus’ day, many groups believed that not only did the individual need to imitate their leader, but the community needed to imitate their leader as well. Therefore, the values that Jesus and God showed and show as central should also be the values that the church holds as central.

For us, in our passage today, that grounding is found right in the center of our reading. It’s a short verse, but it sums up everything that comes before and after it in the passage, as well as being our guide for what we should be as a community. Verse 36 says “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

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Discipleship amidst the desolation

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Discipleship amidst the desolation, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday February 24, 2019. The Reading was Luke 6:17-26.

Placing us – Have you ever?

I want to start by playing a little game. I’m going to ask a question, and if it applies to you, I want you to raise your hand.

I want you to think back over the last week. Has anybody paid you a compliment? If someone has spoken some kind words about you in the last week, please raise your hands. (For those with their hands up, you might like to look to those with their hands down and see if you can repay that compliment).

Again, over the last week, if you can think of a time where you have laughed – either a little chuckle, or a full bellied guffaw, then raise your hands.

If you have food in your fridge, which is in a house that you are able to live in and gives you a safe place to sleep and to store the clothes that you are wearing, please raise your hands.

If you have money in your bank, some in your purse or wallet (either actual cash or accessible through a debit card), and some loose change in a dish at home somewhere, raise your hand.

Let me read this passage again.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Luke 6:20-26 (NRSV)

Did you know that if you have food in the fridge, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head with a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world.

If you have money in the bank, in your purse or wallet, and spare change in a dish somewhere, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthiest people.

In response to those statistics, how do you feel about this reading?

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Teaching, Catching, Calling

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Teaching, Catching, Calling, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday February 10, 2019. The Reading was Luke 5:1-11.

Big Picture

There are plenty of accounts of boats throughout the bible, and many of them involve fishing of some kind. But do you know where there is strangely no mention of fishing? In Chapter 7 of Genesis. Now, if you’re not up to date with your bible reading plan, and that reference doesn’t come straight to your head, let me refresh your memory. Genesis starts with the creation of the world, of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They get cast out of Egypt, and Cain murders Abel, and then civilisation expands, and we get all the descendents from Adam through to Noah, whom we meet in chapter 6. Chapter 7, therefore, is the great flood. And there is no fishing there. Do you want to know why Noah didn’t go fishing while on the ark? He only brought two worms.

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Good News Is Bad News Is Good News

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Good News Is Bad News Is Good News, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday January 27, 2019. The Reading was Luke 4:14-21.

Back Handed Compliments

The English language is a wonderful thing isn’t it? Our words have so many different meanings, all depending on where we place the emphasis. When my mum was working with refugees, helping other people to teach them to learn English, she would use the example of this sentence to show how difficult our language was, as this sentence can have different meanings all depending on where we place the emphasis.

Do I know Elvis Presley? Do I know Elvis Presley? Do I know Elvis Presley? Do I Know Elvis Presley? Do I know Elvis Presley? Do I know Elvis Presley?

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Making Disciples (Vision and Mission Part 4)

This is part four in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 6:12-49.

We’re into part four of our series on our Vision and Mission, and today we’re talking about Disciples. Specifically, how we can make disciples, and how we can be disciples. So, I want to start with a bit of a question to get you thinking: What influential moments have you had in your journey of Christian Discipleship? By that I mean, what teaching, studies, reading, actions, retreats, mentors, personal relationships have been most influential in your journey to be a Christian Disciple? Let me share a couple with you.

When I was in year 11, I was still part of the Anglican Church. The Anglican Diocese in Perth was trialling a new idea that (it was hoped) would encourage young people to consider seriously entering into ministry in the church. So a group of us headed down to Rockingham in the Southern Suburbs of Perth, and had a retreat with the Bishop, and a few other priests, looking at ministry and life as a Christian. It was a big success – of the 5 people who went, 3 have moved onto different denominations, one is notionally attending, and one has entered ministry… in a different church. But the reality was that this time was a period that planted the seed of ministry service in my life.

The other influential time for my discipleship was through a retreat community called Chrysalis. This was a three day retreat that looked at various aspects of Christian life and discipleship. While the initial retreat was awesome, what was more influential for me was being involved in the community after that. Serving in various roles, from general support, to musician, to an assistant lay director, and speaking on various topics, helped focus my own Christian life and helped me work through some of the issues that I had in my life.

Both of these retreats had three common aspects that relate to our Christian Discipleship, and we see these aspects coming through in today’s readings. They are calling, Teaching and Doing.

Calling

For both of these retreats, I was invited to attend. My priest put my name forward for me to be invited to attend the ministry exploration retreat by the Bishop, and I was invited to attend Chrysalis by one of my good mates who had attended a retreat before me. We see similar things in Jesus’ calling of the twelve apostles. Traditionally, Disciples sought out a rabbi and asked to follow him and learn from him through question and observation. Jesus flipped this on its head, and sought out and asked Disciples to come and follow him.

We don’t hear about all of the Disciples calling, but earlier in Luke’s gospel, we hear about some of them. Simon was cleaning his nets after fishing on the lake of Gennesaret, when Jesus sat in his boat to start teaching. After catching nothing all night, Jesus told Simon to go out again, where he caught so many fish his nets were beginning to break. Jesus said, “from now on you will be catching people” and Simon left his boats and followed Jesus.

Levi was sitting at the tax booth, and Jesus walked up to him and said “Follow me” so he left everything and followed Jesus.

Both these guys (who would have their names changed – Simon to Peter, and Levi to Matthew), were called by Jesus to come and follow them, and they listened and had their lives changed.

Similarly, a lot of our discipleship has been part of a calling. Maybe you can remember who first invited you to come to church. Or maybe someone invited you to take part in a bible study that ended up changing your life. Or someone invited you to come along on this camp or retreat where you learned something new about God.

Teaching

The next part of my discipleship experiences is teaching. All of my significant moments contain a bit of teaching. My ministry retreat contained teaching from the Bishop, as well as some other priests, as to what ministry can look like – both biblically and in today’s society. Chrysalis contains as the crux of it fourteen talks about different areas of Christian living – Faith, Means of Grace, Marriage and the Single life, and others. In every discipleship moment, there must be an element of teaching, because it is through the teaching that we grow to be more like Christ.

Let’s look at Jesus’ discipleship moment here. He came and stood on a level place, and the multitude from all over the place came to hear him. So he looked up and started speaking. First, in Luke’s version of the Beattitudes, Jesus highlighted the values that he revered, and the values that he didn’t. Blessed are the poor, woe to the rich. Blessed are the hungry, woe to the full.

He then went on to describe a new way of living. This is such a long reading, and each section could quite rightly have a sermon in itself, so I’m not going to get into each section, but through all of this teaching, Jesus shows the crowd a new way of living, that will usher in the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is one of equality, and one of non-violence, where Love is the central theme, not power.

You might like to start thinking about some of your discipleship moments where you’ve experienced some great teaching – and it’s ok, it doesn’t have to be one of my sermons – but while you do that, realise that it doesn’t have to be a single event. While the time’s I’ve illustrated were retreats – that’s what was significant for me. I’ve also enjoyed sharing time over the past few weeks sharing with people who have spent significant time just reading their bibles, and the teaching that they have learnt from that one book alone could well be more than could be gained at a single retreat.

Discipleship isn’t just a one time event. We must be continually learning, accessing the teaching of Jesus, maybe even looking further afield at some of the writings of other great Christian teachers, to get an understanding of what God is telling us, and how he is shaping us into being more of him.

Doing

The final aspect of our discipleship trifecta is the aspect of doing. Now, we don’t earn our faith because of the good works that we do. God loves us, all of us, no matter whether we do great works or not. However, the teaching of Jesus is so rooted in things that we can do, that the only real response to accepting the teaching of Jesus is to say, “Yes Lord, I will do that” – I will live in that way, I will love my enemy, I will turn the other cheek.

I’ve been reading a book recently called Jim and Caspar go to Church. Jim is a former pastor turned author, who employed an Athiest, Caspar, to go with him to various churches and critique their worship services. It’s a fascinating read. Reading through it, I noticed one of Caspar’s common critiques was that the service focussed too much on the inward, and didn’t result in a demonstratable action that could be done. Once the sermon was over, there was no call to action, no “Come do this” or “Go do that”.

Caspar, I feel, hit the nail on the head. Yes, a lot of our faith is an internal, private affair, and that’s how it is. But the result of the love of God that we experience should propel us into action.

James wrote about this in his letter, saying “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  This isn’t to put an emphasis on works above faith, or faith above works. They come out of each other – because we have faith, we do works.

My discipleship moments all had strong elements of doing. My ministry retreat sought to encourage me to go out and explore ministry, to go and experience it and see where God was leading me. Chrysalis had a strong action call at the end of the retreat, to apply Christ’s teachings to your life and to step up into ministry.

When we get out there and apply Christ’s teachings to our lives, we also have the opportunity to learn from what it does to our lives. We grow as disciples through our works.

Conclusion

The wonderful thing about all of this is that we can do it no matter where we are on our journey of discipleship. If you’ve been here for 80 years, God’s still calling you, still teaching you, and still encouraging you to action. If this is your first time here, something or someone has called you to be here, and you have the opportunity to learn from Jesus’ teachings and go apply it to your life. Whether it’s your first day or your 800th, Christ is giving you the opportunity to progress along your journey of discipleship.

And the wonderful thing is that we as a church can support you in that. As individuals, we can invite people to come along, to give them that calling so that they may start the next part of their journey. As a church, we have bible studies, we have classes, we have opportunities to apply that faith into works, so that we can all share in our discipleship journey together. But of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and maybe God has put on your heart something that he would like you to do. Maybe Christ is calling you to get back into your bible reading. Maybe the Holy Spirit is leading you towards a retreat, or a bible study, or to share what you’ve experienced with someone else.

Hear God’s call on your life. Learn from the word of God. Go out and do it in community.