Give Freely

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Give Freely, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday September 3, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 13:1-9.

I feel as it is Father’s day, this story is appropriate.

A weathy Texan was in the habit of giving his dad unique gifts on Father’s Day. One year, it was lessons on hang-gliding. The year before, it was the entire record collection of Slim Whitman. But this year, he felt like his had outdone himself. He purchase a rare kind of talking bird that could speak five languages and sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while standing on one foot. The talented bird cost ten thousand dollars, but he felt it was worth every penny. This would be a Father’s Day gift his dad would never forget.

A week after Father’s Day, he called his father. “Dad, how did you like the bird?” His father responded, “It was delicious!” Continue reading “Give Freely”

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Honour God

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Honour God, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday August 27, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 6:1-4.

There are some things, as an officer, you learn to give up. Some, you’re aware of before you start. For example, I knew that I was giving up my freedom in choosing where to live. Don’t get me wrong, I love living here, but I am a long way from my family. But I knew that going in it would be unlikely that I ever get sent back to WA. At the very least – I don’t have the choice. But there are some things that you aren’t told going in, and one of them is my very minor OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Continue reading “Honour God”

Living in the Holy Land

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Moving outside the private faith, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday June 25, 2017. The Reading was Romans 6:1-13.

Living in a Foreign Land

I want you to imagine that you have moved to live in another country. Not there for a holiday, but moved there permanently. But you haven’t moved to one of the English-speaking countries – you’ve moved to France, or Germany, or China, Uzbekistan or Chile. And you don’t know the language. What are you going to do? Continue reading “Living in the Holy Land”

Moving outside the private faith

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Moving outside the private faith, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday May 21, 2017. The Reading was John 14:12-24.

The Joy of being an Introvert

A couple of years ago, I was able to go and do a study unit that involved spending a week at a Monastery over in Perth. And part of what that unit involved was taking part in the Monk’s daily routine, which included their six daily prayer sessions, and maintaining silence between their final prayers of the day at 8.15pm and their first prayers of the morning, at 5.15am.

Now I’m sure that some of you might wonder why anyone would subject themselves to such a life for even a week, let alone commit their whole lives to it. But I found myself bubbling with energy after just a couple of days. You might even say that I was overflowing with energy.

You see, I am an introvert, and that means I get energy from being by myself.

I love running… by myself.
I love reading… by myself.
I love having coffee… by myself.
I love going to the movies… by myself. Continue reading “Moving outside the private faith”

Listen to the Shepherd

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Listen to the Shepherd, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday May 7, 2017. The Reading was John 10:1-10.

Over the Top Miracles

It can be said of the Jesus presented in John’s Gospel that Jesus never did things by half. Neither, did he give just enough, nor 95%, nor even 100%. He didn’t even give the sporting maxim of 110%. No, the Jesus that we see in John’s Gospel is completely over the top. When we look at his miracles, we see that he goes far above and beyond what was expected, to show the miraculous nature of God.

In John 2, we see Jesus at a wedding in Cana. When all the wine has been drunk, Jesus turns some water into wine. Jesus doesn’t just turn a cup, or a small jug of water into wine. Instead, he uses six stone water jars that held somewhere between 75 and 110 Litres of water. He doesn’t just provide enough, he goes completely over the top.

In John 4:46-54, we’re again in Cana, and a royal official comes to Jesus and begs him to go to his house and heal his son, who is at the point of death. But Jesus doesn’t go to him, but says he will be well and at that exact moment, the boy was healed. So different to the healing tradition where you had to go to the person, Jesus goes beyond what was expected, and goes completely over the top.

In John 5, we have the story of the bland man who had been blind for 38 years. And again, Jesus goes over the top by healing a man blind for so long.

In John 6, we have the feeding of the five thousand, where not only were five barley loaves and two fish enough to feed five thousand men, but enough to fill twelve baskets with left overs.

In John 9 – the passage immediately preceeding and joined to the passage we heard today, a man was born blind, but Jesus healed him, the person thought incurable, who would never have had an opportunity in his life, Jesus goes over the top and heals him.

In John 11, Lazarus has been dead for four days – at which point the Jews believed the soul had left the body, and Jesus raises him from the dead. Jesus raises a man thought to be completely and utterly dead, and goes over the top.

These are the miracles that we see in John’s Gospel. And that common theme is there – Jesus doesn’t just to the bare minimum, or even everything that’s expected. Jesus goes completely over the top.

Are you a thief or a sheep?

So, bearing those things in mind, let’s turn our attention to this passage. As I said, this is a continuation of the Miracle of the man born blind, and so it’s important to hear the context in which Jesus is saying these words. Allow me to read from John 9:35-40

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

John 9:35-40 (NRSV)

As we come to this continuation of Jesus’ words, we see that he is addressing these words to the Pharisees – although his disciples would be listening as well, and Jesus uses this metaphor of a sheepfold. There are a few characters in this metaphor that I just want to highlight. Now, there is the Shepherd – the one who looks after the sheep. There is also the gatekeeper, the one who protects the sheep and only allows in the right people. Then there’s the thief or bandit, and of course, the sheep. Now, if the Shepherd is Jesus, and the gatekeeper is one of the other members of the Trinity – God or the Holy Spirit, they could both work as protector in this circumstance – then the next obvious question is who are the thieves and who are the sheep.

And perhaps the more pertinent question is who are you – the thief, or the sheep?

The thief is one who doesn’t come through the gate, is one who doesn’t recognise the voice of the Shepherd, and comes only to steal, kill and destroy.

The thief doesn’t enter by the gate, doesn’t recognise the voice of the shepherd, and only comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

The sheep on the other hand are led into the fold for protection, they hear the voice of the shepherd and respond, they follow the Shepherd because they know his voice.

Sheep are led into the fold for protection, hear and respond to the voice of the shepherd, and follow the shepherd since they know his voice.

So are you a thief, or a sheep?

In today’s society, it’s sometimes looked down on as being a sheep – that is, someone who blindly follows the crowd without willing to think about what it is they’re actually saying. You can see this with some who have taken a stance against Vaccinations, or climate change, despite there being a large body of evidence for the causes they are fighting against.
But in this context, being a sheep is a good thing. A sheep is someone who is protected, a sheep is someone who is part of the community, who is welcomed by the shepherd and known by name and loved.

And I think most of us would say we are sheep – or desire to be sheep. We are here because we love Christ, and we want to be part of his flock. But are there times where we sometimes act as thieves? Are there times where we don’t listen to Jesus? Are there times where our actions or words harm those within the flock? Or even harm those outside of the flock?

When we don’t listen to Jesus, we can harm others, and prevent others from coming into the love of Christ.

We can listen to Jesus

So how do we make sure we are a sheep and not a thief? We listen to Jesus.
Let’s look at those miracles again. John 2 – the wedding at Cana. Jesus tells the servants to fill up the jars with water, then to take a cup to the chief steward. If they hadn’t listened to Jesus, the miracle would not have happened.

John 4 – Royal official hears Jesus is in town, and went to speak to him
The man who was ill for 38 years listened to Jesus, and was healed. The man born blind listened to Jesus’ instruction to wash in the pool of Siloam, and was healed. Lazarus listened to the call of Jesus, and rose from the dead.

Again, they all have this common thread – of listening to Jesus.

But the Pharisees – they didn’t listen. In Chapter 9 – as they investigate this miraculous healing, they weren’t willing to listen to the evidence showing Jesus’ miraculous healing. And as the man gains an understanding of what has happened to him, he tells the pharisees,

“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

John 9:30-33 (NRSV)

Yet the Pharisees say to him,

“You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

He points out their hypocrisy, but they aren’t willing to listen. Jesus finds the man and reveals himself, and on hearing his words, the man says “Lord, I believe.”But the pharisees near by still refused to accept his teaching. They weren’t willing to listen.

The Pharisees – by not listening to Jesus, drove a man out of community. Jesus welcomed him into community – the community of Believers.

Listening to Jesus leads to abundant life

When we listen to Jesus, we are lead into an abundant life. Jesus concludes this passage, saying that he came “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Now, it’s important to recognise what abundant life means. An abundant life is not having lots and lots of possessions. It is not having more than others. In fact, we get a picture of what an abundant life means in Acts 2.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 2:43-47 (NRSV)

So this is just after Pentecost, and the believers are living together. And here we get a picture of what abundant life is about. They take care of each other – even selling their possessions and goods if there is a need in the community. They spend time together in the wider community – that is, in the temple – but they also spent time together in private, sharing meals at home with glad and generous hearts. They praised God – and they had the goodwill of all the people. They were thought highly of by the community they were living in. They knew that by listening to Jesus, they would have an abundant life through living in community with each other. We find value in others. We find value in loving others. We find value in seeing others succeed.

The servants, the man born blind, the man ill for 38 years – they all listened to Jesus, and were brought into the fold, where they could have an abundant life. They were on the outside, excluded from community. But Jesus saw them, and welcomed them, and invited them to be part of something more.

Listen to Jesus, and have abundant life

So listen to Jesus. Be a sheep. Find protection as part of his flock. And find abundant life as part of his flock. We do that by living in our community – helping where needed, caring where needed, feeding where needed, loving where needed. Why? Because we love Jesus, and he knows us by name, he calls us and we listen, and we follow.

As we reflect on that message, I invite you to listen to Jesus. To be in a place where you can be enfolded by Christ’s love, and listen to him. Maybe you need to be reassured of God’s protection over you. Maybe you’re being called to live out Christ’s love in community. Maybe you’re being promised an abundant life, if you live in community. Or maybe, you might be hearing Christ for the first time, inviting you to come into his flock, opening the gate for you, and calling you in by name.

As we sing this song, you are invited to come forward and spend some time in prayer, seeking out God, and listening to what Jesus is saying to you. And may we all be enfolded by God’s love, as we lift our hands in sweet surrender to Jesus’ name.

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?”

Part of our World

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Part of our World, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 5 March, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 4:1-11.

90/40

Now, it’s Ray’s 90th birthday today, and I know that numbers are often very meaningful in the Bible – sometimes, numbers are chosen not because they were necessarily historically accurate, but because they linked back to some religious meaning. For example, in today’s story we heard that Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. Now the number 40 appears many times in the bible – Noah was in the ark for how long? 40 days and 40 nights. Moses fasted on Mount Sinai while he inscribed the words of God’s covenant for how long? 40 days and 40 nights. Elijah also fasted in the desert before receiving a new commission from God for how long? 40 days and 40 nights. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for how long? Who said 40 days and 40 nights? No, 40 years they wandered in the desert. But there’s more – David reigned for 40 years, and so did Solomon. So we can see that 40 is quite a significant number.

So I thought to search up and see if there was anything special about the number 90. Now, numerologically, it would make sense for it to be there. This is the idea that certain numbers, due to the way they are made up, have added significance. So for 90 – you could argue that it’s very special because it is 3 times 3 (Three is significant because of the Trinity) times 10 (10 commandments). However, I could only find two significant mentions of 90 exactly. One comes in Ezekiel 41:12 – where Ezekiel describes the depth of the third temple as 90 cubits. The second reference comes from Genesis 5:9, where it says that Enosh was ninety years old when he became the father of Kenan. Now, I’m not suggesting anything with that reference, just that it was the only reference to an exact ninety year old that I could find. Continue reading “Part of our World”

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…”

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.”