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”

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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?”

Jesus invites us to a party

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Jesus invites us to a party, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 6 March, 2016. The Reading was Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.

We’re fine with equality so long as we come out on top.

Now, I’m hoping that you will appreciate my jokes a bit more than Liesl does, but I’d like to start off with a joke today. The story goes that this is an old Jewish story. There was a hardworking farmer, and the Lord appeared to him and in response to his hard work and faithfulness granted him three wishes, but with the condition that whatever he wished for, the Lord would give double to his neighbour. The farmer, scarcely believing his good fortune, wished for a hundred cattle. Immediately he received one hundred cattle and was overjoyed until he saw that his neighbour had two hundred. So he wished for a hundred acres of land, and again he was filled with joy  until he saw that his neighbour had two hundred acres of land. Rather than celebrating God’s goodness, the farmer could not escape feeling jealous and slighted because his neighbour had received more than he did. Finally, he stated his third wish – that God would strike him blind in one eye. And God wept. Continue reading “Jesus invites us to a party”

E-mail to Brett Whiteley, MP re Humanitarian Intake

Hi Brett,
I write to you in regards to your suggestion to quarantine the increase of humanitarian refugees to Christians (and other persecuted minorities) from Syria and Iraq. While I do commend the increasing of the humanitarian intake, and do recommend that you continue to fight for this, I must question the limiting of it to Christians.
As a former Pastor, I am sure you are aware of Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan. It has much to tell us about being hospitable, and being neighbourly. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new in how the Jews and the Samaritans weren’t exactly on the best of terms. You might even suggest that the customs around being separate could breed the fear of the different and unknown that is similarly striking around Australia at the moment. So it is striking that it was the Samaritan, not the Priest or Levite, who helped the Jew who had been attacked by bandits. And in Luke 10:37, in response to Jesus’ question of who acted like a neighbour, even the Lawyer couldn’t bring himself to say that it was the Samaritan, instead saying “The one who showed him mercy.”
This is what being a neighbour is about. This is what being a Christian is about. Even though the Samaritan may not had the same religion as the Jew, or agreed about the same things, when he was in trouble, none of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was helping those who were not able to help themselves.
So with your announcement, you are suggesting that we protect our own, and not look after those who are different. You are effectively saying that as a nation, we should discriminate based on religion – that those who might be Muslim and fleeing persecution, fleeing a war zone, are less deserving of our protection than a Christian. And that goes right against what Christ taught. Christ teaches us that we are to love all, no matter of their ethnicity or religious identification.
So Brett, I ask you to keep fighting, and being Christ’s light in the parliament. But remember that Christ taught us to love all people, and it doesn’t matter who they are, what they’ve done, where they’ve come from, why they’ve come, or anything else. We are to show love to them, to be hospitable to them, and to be neighbourly to them.
With thanks,
Ben
This e-mail was sent to Brett Whiteley’s office on 7 September, 2015. He must have been waiting for responses, as this came back very quickly:

Thanks Ben for your response.

I hear your concerns and encouragement to consider widening the net so to speak.

As I have said previously the role of an MP is often one of balancing all aspects of the debate.

If we want to carry the community with us on an increased humanitarian intake we need to hear their thoughts and concerns as well.

Over the last few weeks I have held numerous community meetings. It is clear that there is not community support for a blanket intake.

I welcome your input.

Regards

Brett

Transforming Lives (Vision and Mission Part 2)

This is part two in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 19:1-10.

A news story caught my eye recently. A group of kids at a school was a cat stuck up a tree. They saw a cop, and begged him to rescue the cat: “You gotta get the cat! You gotta get the cat!” So the cop dutifully started to climb up the tree to rescue the cat. Except the cat didn’t really want to be rescued, so it jumped a bit higher, and the officer dutifully climbed a bit higher… until he realised that he was stuck. The cop had to call the New York Fire Department to bring a tower ladder and bucket in order to rescue him and the black and white cat. It’s probably a good thing that Zacchaeus didn’t get stuck when Jesus invited himself over for dinner.

When have you been left out?

We continue our series on our vision and mission today, and we’re looking at the first mission intention: Transforming Lives. And I want to ask you whether you remember ever being left out for something. Who was ever the last picked on the sports team? Have you ever been the next person in line when the “Sold Out” sign was put up? Have you ever been dropped from a team?

On the other hand, have you ever been given an opportunity to skip the queue? For example, you’re lining up in the supermarket for the only lane that’s open, and there’s five or six people in front of you. Then an assistant comes and asks if you’d like to move to their lane – how awesome is that! An opportunity to skip the queue.

Zacchaeus – the doubly disadvantaged

It’s really tough to be left out of something, or to be the last one picked. For Zacchaeus, although he was rather influential, he was marginalized both socially and religiously. Firstly, he was short, and society, like today’s society, wants to admire the tall, not the short. You need to be big and strong, not short and weak. But on top of that, Zacchaeus was the Chief Tax Collector. Now, tax collectors – as a whole – were hated amongst the Jews, and seen as being traitors by them, and despised by the Romans they worked for as being Jews. But Zacchaeus wasn’t just a tax collector, he was the chief tax collector. He had a number of tax collectors who worked under him, who would siphon the money back to him, who would then siphon the money up to the Romans, with each one taking their own cut. He was hated by everyone.

So when he wants to go and see this teacher guy who has a habit of loving the unloveable, he knows that no-one in the crowd is going to get out of his way so that he can see. So he decides that the best thing to do is to climb up a tree – which is the sort of activity that a child would do, not some important official (even if no-one respected the important official).

Zacchaeus jumps over every disadvantage that he has, in order to hear or see this teacher guy.

Zacchaeus jumps the queue

This extravagant gesture by Zacchaeus is matched by Jesus, who also acts to overcome Zacchaeus’ double disadvantage. He invites himself over for dinner. He just walks up to the tree, and says “Zacchaeus, what are you doing up there? I’m gonna stay at your place today, so hurry up and get down here.” Now Zacchaeus was over the moon – this incredible teacher, who people wouldn’t even get out of the way to let him see, singled him out and was going to stay at his place.

Now, of course, this got a few people grumpy. I mean, no-one likes being looked over,  and there were all these other people there who thought that they should be look at before this “sinner”. Luke doesn’t name this group. It’s just “They.” “All who saw it” were grumbling. “They” – this unnamed group – probably represents the crowd that Jesus is actually trying to teach. Zacchaeus isn’t who Jesus’ teaching was intended for, it was this group.

So what are they offended at? They’re angry that Zacchaeus was included. They’re angry that he jumped the queue. They’re angry that he got the preferential treatment.

It’s so easy to get like that isn’t it? How do you feel if you’re 4th in line, and the teller comes and grabs everyone behind you to go and join a new lane? Or if you’ve been waiting for something, and someone else gets it before you do?

This jumping the queue – that’s what grace is like. And it’s so annoying, isn’t it? We feel like we’ve been putting in the hard yards, and then someone comes along and gets just the same as us. It’s offensive to our sense of entitlement.

But Jesus doesn’t care about that. In one way he’s saying “The Age of Entitlement is over” – but in another, he’s saying “The Age of Entitlement is Here… for everyone.” Jesus acts in radical acceptance of Zacchaeus, and shows him grace. This grace goes before any change that can happen in him. It is only through this grace – that isn’t just available for Zacchaeus, but is available for everyone – that transformation can happen within Zacchaeus.

So what does Zacchaeus do with this gift? See, the gift of grace – while it’s there for all of us to take – is actually an invitation. Once we receive it, we must do something with it. For Zacchaeus, he reconnects with his community. He puts the wrongs he has done right, he gives away half his possessions, and pays back anyone he’s defrauded. So Jesus declares that salvation has come to this house – because of the actions in response to that grace, Zacchaeus is transformed, and is saved. By grace, anyone can be saved – even a rich man who society hates.

We can help others jump the queue

One of our mission priorities is transforming lives. This is described as “Working for personal renewal through Jesus Christ, that touches and integrates the whole person.” For us to do that, we need to show grace to everyone who comes through our door. When we show the radical acceptance that Jesus showed to Zacchaeus, we open the door to allowing radical transformation within people’s lives.

Through every program that we run, we must be inclusive of everyone, no matter what state they come in. Now, sure, we’ve got some women’s groups, and some Men’s groups, but we must be inclusive of all that come along to those groups. Now, I think we do a pretty good job at that, however, we must always be careful to make sure that we measure up to our ideal. I’m sure that the people surrounding Zacchaeus who were grumbling thought that they were pretty good – indeed they thought that Jesus should come to them before going to Zacchaeus. So who are the people that are rejected by society today, and how would we react if they came through our doors one Sunday? How would we react if they wanted to join one of our programs?

Andrew Marr wrote that “The challenge of this story… is not limited to the possible conversion of one person, but it extends to the possible conversion of the whole community.” When we show grace to one person, yes, it opens up the possibility of conversion there. But when we show grace to one person, it opens up the possibility of conversion to the whole community of people that that person influences as well.

Each week, I meet with some of the local pastors around the place. This week just gone, we met at Gateway church, where that church was having a conference with some guest pastors. They had had a rally the night before, and they were sharing stories of people who were healed, people who were converted and so on. And the lead pastor there really stressed that as their church were following what they were called to do, and every other church did what God was calling them to do, that through all of that, we can witness the transformation of our whole community, all across the North West. Each person that is transformed is a witness to that transformation, and in turn has the opportunity to transform others.

We can jump the queue ourselves

The beauty of it is that it all starts with us. The grace of God, which goes before us, which is there before we even start seeking for it, is always there, waiting for us to take it and be transformed.

Grace doesn’t care where you’ve come from. Grace doesn’t care where you’ve been. Grace doesn’t care whether you’ve been here 80 years or you’ve been here 8 minutes. Grace doesn’t care.

But, Grace will be with you wherever you go. Grace will help shape your every actions. And grace can stay with you for the rest of your life. Grace has the ability to transform your life.

If we’re going to transform our community, and transform others lives, we have to be open to allowing grace to transform our own life. I’m going to play a video, and it very basically tells peoples stories that have been transformed by grace. Their lives have been transformed by grace, and yours can as well. And as we are transformed, we can then go out to transform others.

While you listen to that, you might want to ask Jesus to transform your life. Maybe you’re willing to accept that grace that is being offered to you. Maybe, you’ve been guilty of being the others, the crowd that judged and excluded Zacchaeus. Maybe you’re willing to stand today, and say I am going to show the radical, inclusive love that Jesus showed me, and I’m going to live that out in my life.

The Budget, Two Parables and some Teaching from Jesus

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, The Budget, Two Parables and some Teaching from Jesus, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 18 May, 2014. The Reading was Luke 18:1-30

On Tuesday night, I sat myself down at my computer, loaded up the live stream of ABC24 and watched Treasurer Joe Hockey’s first budget speech. Due to the numerous leaks and strategic misinformation that was around, I was prepared for a lot of what would be presented. But that still didn’t make it any easier. In a word, ouch.

There’s a lot of pain in that budget, and in some ways the only upside that I can see is that we will be getting a lot more people through our doors, just that they’ll all be for our Doorways service. But as I thought about how this budget would affect our nation, I turned to the teachings of Jesus. And I wrote a whole sermon out, and then last night I threw it away and started again. When I returned to the passage, and widened my view, I saw that Jesus’ teaching throughout this chapter, and even the passage following, Jesus’ parables and teaching is just as relevant for us today as it was to those he was with back then. Continue reading “The Budget, Two Parables and some Teaching from Jesus”

Who is my neighbour?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijna...
The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670) shows the Good Samaritan tending the injured man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Luke 10, we find the “Parable of the Good Samaritan”, where an expert in the law comes to Jesus and asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking him what is written in the law, to which the expert answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” These two laws are also found in Matthew 22 and Mark 12 in the context of the Two Great Commandments. There’s a general rule in biblical literature. If it’s said once, it’s important. If it’s said twice, it’s really important. If it’s said three times, you better listen, because this is so very important. EG: Holy is the Lord – important. Holy of Holies – really important. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty – so very important. We’ve got these two great commandments repeated in three of the Gospels – there’s something rather important about what is said here.

The expert goes on to ask a really good question: “Who is my neighbour?” which Jesus then launches into this parable.

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Luke 10:30-35 (NIV – Bible Gateway)

As with many bible stories, the modern listener loses a lot of the intricacies that are involved here. It seems like a rather nice story, but instead, it would have provoked his audience, it would have shocked them. Continue reading “Who is my neighbour?”