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”

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.

I don’t need your gifts, only your presence

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, I don’t need your gifts, only your presence, was given at The Rochester and Elmore District Health Service Hostel and nursing Home’s Ecumenical Christmas Service on Tuesday 13 December, 2016. The Reading was Matthew 2:1-12.

What are the best Christmas gifts you’ve received?

I wonder what the best Christmas gift you ever received was? Can you think of any memorable ones?

To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember many Christmas gifts. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m certainly appreciative of everything that I’ve been given. But my memory is a bit hazy on whether I received it as a gift at Christmas, my birthday, or whether I bought it for myself.

But that’s not to say I’m not excited to see my Christmas gifts for this year. Already, I have one sitting under the tree – which I can only guess from the envelope is a couple of tickets to see the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

We can lose focus on the real meaning of Christmas

Now don’t get me wrong, but I find that there can be too much of an emphasis on gift giving, or more so, gift receiving, at Christmas time. I’m sure you have probably been asked before what the best present you’ve received is, but has anyone ever asked you what the best present you ever gave was? Even at Christmas time, we focus more on receiving than giving.

If we’re not careful, we can lose touch with what the real message of Christmas is. When we focus more on the gifts, we lose touch with the one who is the reason we give.

Seek out the Presence of Christ

I want to focus on the story of the Magi that we’ve just heard. The magi come, having followed the star and recognising that this particular star meant the birth of the King of the Jews. Now, we don’t know how they knew what that meant, but all the same, having recognised the meaning, they set out and sought to find this King of the Jews, in order to pay him homage.

But, having set out, and followed the star for so long, they ended up in Jerusalem, which if you were expecting a King to be born, it would make sense that it would be in the capital city. So the magi started asking around, and word comes to Herod – the so-called “King” – although he gave himself that title, as he was actually in his role through the authority of the Romans. When Herod heard that there was an actual King somewhere he was quite rightly nervous, and set his Chief Priests and scribes to search the scriptures to see where this child was to be born.

And so it was that it was discovered that in Bethlehem, a tiny town about 6km from Jerusalem, this “King of the Jews” was to be born. So Herod instructs them to search for the child, and report back to him so he may go and worship as well.

But here we see the difference of intentions. The magi had travelled far to come and pay homage – to worship this child, to be in his presence. They recognised that this child was someone special, and was worth them making the long trek to find him. On the other hand, Herod wanted only to hold onto his power – the power that was gifted to him by the Romans, and that he wanted to hang onto at any cost.

Herod was only thinking of his gift. The magi only wanted His – that is, Christ’s – presence.

We can find the true present

We know that when the magi came, they gave gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh – gifts known for being the most costly of the day, but gifts also found in the prophecies, in Isaiah 60, and the Song of Solomon. But more importantly, before they gave those gifts, they “knelt down and paid him homage.”

For the magi, being in the presence of Christ was more important than the giving of any gifts that they had brought.

In the same way, we need to make sure that we find the true present this Christmas – that is, to be in the Presence of Christ.

We don’t want to get distracted by the commercialisation of Christmas. We don’t want to get distracted by whether we give the best gifts, or receive more gifts than we did last year. We don’t want to get distracted by the power that might give us over another person.

We don’t need gifts. We only want your presence – the presence of Jesus Christ.

We don’t need gifts, we just want your presence.

This Christmas, I hope you will seek out the presence of Christ in your life. If you haven’t asked Christ into your life, there’s never a better time than right now, to ask Christ to be with you, and to sit in his presence. And if you have been following Christ for a long time, then there’s never a better time than at Christmas to be reminded of being in the presence of Christ, and how spending that time can transform our lives.

We don’t need gifts, we just want your presence.

The inspiration for the title of this message came from Phil Laeger‘s Christmas album, The Light Where It Leads You, (which is no longer available). Please check out some of Phil’s other releases and support the wonderful message that he brings through his music.

Power to the Powerless

Rosa ParksIt’s December 1st, 1955. A sensibly dressed woman in her forties gets on a bus in the early evening. Despite having spent all day bent over an ironing board in the basement tailor shop at Montgomery Fair department store, she carries her swollen feet and aching shoulders erectly. She sits in the first row of the Coloured section on the bus, and watches the bus fill with riders. Until, that is, the driver orders her to give her seat to a white passenger. Her response was just a single word, but that word was filled with so much meaning and started something that would only be realised later. She said, “No.”

The Story goes that Rosa Parks was tired of being pushed around and decided to sit down. For me, this is part of the story that resonates with me. After years of fighting for the rights of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Australia, Christian leaders are tired. They have worked, and continue to work the political process. They have written letters, signed petitions, visited politicians on all sides of the spectrum, and still our nations treats those in the most need in ever increasingly worse ways. We are tired of fighting and getting nowhere.

Praying inside Senator Bushby's office
Praying inside Senator Bushby’s office

So on Tuesday, I joined in with a movement of other tired Christian leaders, and with five others, we sat. We asked for a response, and got none. So we sat. We prayed. And we waited for a response.

Ben being led out by the police after being arrested
Ben being led out by the police after being arrested

We sat, asking the Senator to release a statement saying that it was abhorrent that there were 127 children in immigration detention. We offered for him to be a hero to these children, insisting to the Prime Minister and Immigration minister to release them and their families immediately. But we received no response. So we sat, and we prayed, and having received no response, we were eventually arrested.

Ben in the Divvy van
Ben in the Divvy van

So we sat in the Divvy van, knowing that while the police had treated us well, there were many in Manus Island and Nauru who have been treated harshly by security guards and police.

The Love Makes A Way group in the watch house
The Love Makes A Way group in the watch house

So we sat in the watch house, while the wonderful police officers promptly filled out the paperwork and processed us, knowing that there still has not been one asylum seeker claim that has been processed on Manus Island.

The Love Makes A Way crew, released on bail
The Love Makes A Way crew, released on bail

And as we walked free from the Police Station, into the waiting arms of our support crew, we go knowing that there are still 127 children locked away in immigration detention. That there are still over 2000 people locked away in immigration detention, many who have been there for over two years. And that while the boats may have appeared to have stopped, that there are still millions of people seeking protection and asylum all over our world, seeking safety from oppression.

Aside – My Love Makes A Way Action

I feel, at this point, that I need to step aside and clarify a few things that may have been raised in your mind. Firstly, this action has been a long time coming. I have been preparing myself for this action for over a year, and planning for this action started in April. I also sought, and received, approval and support to take part in this from both the Territorial Commander and the Divisional Commander. So I didn’t act on this alone, but with the approval and support of leadership. You may wonder why I hadn’t mentioned that I was intending to take this action. Part of it is that it is kept confidential, so as not to alert the senator and his office prior to the action. Another part is that it helps gain discussion throughout the community and social media, with people surprised that it is happening. This is a vital part to continue the discussion, as we aim to not only change the policy, but also to change the discussion within the community and within the church. And while we weren’t able to change the policy in this action, we are still able to change the discussion in the community and in the church. So feel free to come up and chat with me about anything relating to Asylum Seekers if you have any questions.

There are people in this world who are oppressed

The reality is that in our world today, there are many people who are oppressed. They are oppressed by people who have power. They have their rights taken away from them by people who have power. They could be asylum seekers seeking safety from war-torn countries. They could be the disabled, facing uncertainty about the level of support by a government intent on reducing our welfare bill. They could be Aboriginals, being pushed out of their traditional lands. That’s just a few situations that are happening right here in Australia, but there are thousands more all around the world. And quite often, people in those situations will think that they have no hope. How can they possibly change the world – they are, after all, just one person.

But that’s exactly what Jesus was teaching right here in this passage. Jesus was giving those people who were oppressed the opportunity to be seen as an equal. To give them some power back. How? Let me show you.

First, I need a volunteer. Now, back in Jesus’ day, there were very strict rules as to what you would do with your hands. One of the things is that you would only ever slap someone with your right hand. So, please put your left hand behind your back. Now, there are two ways to slap someone. Open handed, or back-handed. Now, Open handed slaps, they were for men of equal standing. Think of those days of old, or possibly in the movies, where someone would challenge another to a duel by slapping them. But a back-handed slap, that was for someone who was lower than you – a master slapping his slave for example.

So if you were only to use your right hand while slapping, and you were going to slap me on the right cheek, would you have to do it open-handed or back-handed? And this would be known by the crowd – if someone slapped you on the right cheek, it was because someone saw you as less than them. However, if you then turned the other cheek, forcing them to hit you on the left cheek – there was only two options for them. To slap you again, this time with an open hand, signifying you as equal, or to walk away, surrendering their position. In this way, Jesus was able to put power back into the hands of the powerless.

In the same way, if someone was suing you to take your coat – it was only because you had nothing else left to give. For someone to sue you for your coat means that they are so insistent on damaging you that they will take everything that you have. The cloak – that was effectively their last layer of clothing, it was the only thing giving them any dignity. So when Jesus says, give them your cloak, he was effectively saying for them to disrobe, to get naked. Why? Because it gave the powerless a voice. It was allowing the person being sued an opportunity to say to the oppressor, “look at what you are doing to me. You have reduced me to this – that I have no dignity left.” And by doing that, it forces the oppressor to think about what he is doing – to be the person that left someone naked (and lose standing in the community), or to give up his claim on the other person. Again, Jesus was putting power back into the hands of the powerless.

This is an accurate photo of a Roman centurion, right?
This is an accurate photo of a Roman centurion, right?

The final example Jesus gives is going the second mile. Now, we know that the Romans were occupying Israel at the time, and a Centurion was able to conscript a Jewish person to carry their pack for them, but only for the distance of one mile, no more. If it was carried further, then the Centurion was able to get in quite serious trouble. So if a Jew was to get to that one mile mark, and to just keep on walking, the Centurion would be running behind them, pleading with them to put the pack down. And with that, the power has once again gone from the powerful to the powerless.

Jesus gives us dignity through our choices

This is what Jesus was hoping to achieve through this. He wanted to give power to the powerless. To give them a dignity in life. And he offers that same dignity to us as well. It’s unlikely that you will be slapped in today’s age, and our understanding of position and customs are different from what they were back then. Taking off your cloak will not have the same effect that it did in Jesus’ day. And there aren’t any Roman Centurions around to force us to carry their packs. But through what Jesus is saying here, we can take his message and apply it to our own lives. In every situation, we have a choice on how we act. We can choose to act and show love to all people. We can choose to treat all people as equals. And we can choose to stand up and be a voice for those whose voices are oppressed by people in power. In Proverbs 31:8-9 it reads “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” This is what God is all about – because we are all God’s creation, and we are all created equally in God’s image.

We can see all people equally, and love all people equally

When we start to see all people equally, we start to see them how God created them. When we start to see them how God created them, we start to understand that they deserve to be treated with the same love and respect that God shows us. The same love and respect that gave us dignity in our choices. The same love and respect that doesn’t force us to worship him, but invites us to come and worship him as we see fit. The same love and respect that sent his son to die for our sins, so that we could enter into a full relationship with him.

Go, love your neighbour, and all others

That same love that God shows us, he calls us to love each other. Because if God shows it to us, and we are all created equal, then we should show it to all others as well. So we need to Go out from our building here, and show love to all people that we meet. We need to give love and dignity to all people that we come in contact with, because that’s what God gives us. And whether we are the powerful or we are the powerless, we need to treat all people as equals.

What’s God telling you today? Maybe he’s asking you to speak out for those who have no voice. Maybe he’s showing you people who you need to treat with love and respect. Maybe he’s showing you a way to stand up and be treated with love and respect.

In our response time today, you’re welcome to come and pray about whatever it is that GOd has told you today. Maybe you just want to come and pray for the 127 children who are still in detention. Or maybe you want to come and pray for the children in our community who go to school without breakfast or lunch. To pray for those around the world suffering in war zones, or to pray for God’s creation, and the way it has been ravaged by humanity’s greed.

As we do that, you are invited to join in this song that says “God of the Poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray. Melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain. Come, change our love from a spark to a flame.”

The Gift of Grace

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, The Gift of Grace, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 21 September, 2014. The Reading was Matthew 20:1-16

Have you ever received a gift, but it wasn’t what you were expecting? I’d like to tell you about a guy who was going to college in America. His father had told him that on his graduation, he would get the same present as his brothers – a new car. Now, this wasn’t just any car, but it was the top of the range, Porsche 911

A 2014 Porsche 911 GT3
A 2014 Porsche 911 GT3

, with all the trimmings. It was this that kept him going through college. He pushed through every class, he studied hard every night and passed his exams, and eventually came to graduation. He got up on stage, got his paper, and after the ceremony, his dad came over to him and handed him a present. He opened up the present, hoping to see the keys to his new car, but instead, what he found was a bible.

He was furious. He said to his dad, “I’ve spent four years working as hard as I can, to get the grades to let me pass, and all you give me at the end of it is this stupid book!” He marched off home, and threw the book in the corner of his room, never even opening it. He never talked to his father again.

Years later, one of his brothers called him to tell him that his father had died. He’d moved many times since, but he still had that bible. He opened it up, and found a letter, tucked inside. The letter said, “I am, and always will be, proud of you, my son. Your car is waiting for you at the dealership, all you need to do is pick it up.” Continue reading “The Gift of Grace”

Sowing Seeds of Hope

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Sowing Seeds of Hope, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 30 March, 2014, which was the Altar Service for our self-denial campaign, with the theme “Sowing Seeds of Hope”. The Bible reading was Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Sowing Seeds of Hope

Do you have hope? How important is hope for you in your life? Where does your hope come from? What do you do when your hope is gone?

In 1965, naval aviator James B. Stockdale became one of the first American pilots to be shot down during the Vientam War. As a prisoner of the Vietcong, he spent seven years as a P.O.W., during which he was frequently tortured in an attempt to break him and get him to denounce the U.S. involvement in the war. He was chained for days at a time with his hands above his head so that he could not even swat the mosquitoes. Today, he still cannot bend his left knee and walks with a severe limp from having his leg broken by his captors and never reset. One of the worst things done to him was that he was held in isolation away from the other American P.O.W.s and allowed to see only his guards and interrogators.

How could anyone survive seven years of such treatment? As he looks back on that time, Stockdale says that it was his hope that kept him alive. Hope of one day going home, that each day could be the day of his release. Without hope, he knew that he would die in hopelessness, as others had done.

Indeed, Victor Frankl, the successor of Sigmund Freud at Vienna, argued that the “loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect on a man.” As a result of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, Frankl contended that when a man no longer possesses a motive for living, no future to look toward he curls up in a corner and dies. Is there really any wonder that asylum seekers, when told they have no hope of ever being settled, are willing to risk their lives in protest, or are willing to attempt to take their own life, as their last sliver of hope is removed?

There is a dying world

The reality of our world is that it is a dying world. Alcohol, Drugs and Gambling hold a firm grip over our society. Football season is back, which leads to gambling ads returning at every break in play, and more alcohol ads than you can point a stick at. We have wars, famines, pestilence, violence. The poor are poorer and the rich make themselves richer. Homelessness – an in particular youth homelessness is at an all time high, and there’s very little housing available for them.

We are living in a dying world, where people look around them and see no hope. Generational poverty is still a massive problem, where children see their parents and their grandparents living in poverty, and give up hope, and – as Frankl said – curl up in a corner and wait to die.

Hope provides the opportunity to save the dying world.

But just as a lack of hope can cause people to curl up and die, when you can give that hope back, you have the opportunity to give life to people. Hope gave James Stockdale the ability to survive. Because Leigh Ann Tuohy had faith in Michael Oher, she invested in him, gave him a family, gave him hope, and was able to turn his life around to becoming a first round NFL Draft pick, as depicted in The Blind Side. Hope gives us the ability to turn lives around.

But it’s important that that hope is in the right place. Gamblers hope that their bet will be the one that wins them the jackpot, and not the one that loses them their house. Alcoholics hope that the next drink will be the one that dulls the pain, and not the one that causes them to do something that could get them in trouble.

Our hope has to come from the source of all hope – from God, through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. When we have that hope, we can then take on the role of the planter, scattering seeds of hope wherever we go.

Planting hope gives us and others life

We need to take on that role of the planter. Have you ever put yourself in his shoes when looking at this reading? So often, we use this reading to ask the question, well where am I in my spiritual journey? Am I in the good soil, and growing strong, or am I in the rocky ground, having had a strong start, but soon to die and fade away? And while that’s a really important analogy, we can gain just as much from putting ourselves in the shoes of the sower.

Now, I’m not great at planting seeds. We’ve got a bunch of pots of dirt that I water regularly, but the seeds that were in there… well I’m guessing that they got eaten up by the birds because there’s certainly no plant there now. However, one thing that I do know is that if I am to gain the most success, then I need to start it off in some really good soil. I’m going to get some seed-raising soil mix, and put the seed in, and theoretically, so long as I give it just the right amount of water and the birds don’t steal it, then I should get some lovely plants.

However, the sower that Jesus depicts – he’s a bit different than me. He’s almost a bit lazy. The way he’s depicted, it’s almost like he’s being paid by the bag of seed that he’s used, and they don’t care where it goes. Or maybe he’s like the Oprah of sowers, “You get some seed, and You get some seed, EVERYBODY GETS SOME SEED!”

But this is what I love about the depiction. The sower doesn’t care about where the seed goes. While you would think that he should direct the majority of the seed to the good soil, he throws it wherever he goes, it lands wherever it lands, and what happens to it is whatever happens to it.

That’s how we need to be with sowing the seeds of hope. We could sow only with those people we think are in good soil, but there’s two reasons why we shouldn’t.

First – those who are in good soil already have reason to hope. They’ve got the good stuff. They’ve got all the right conditions around them to make them succeed. Sure, they need hope too, but we can’t restrict it just to them.

Secondly – how are we to really know who is in good soil and who isn’t? We don’t know. What we are called to do is to be faithful, and to sow seeds wherever we go.

Plant seeds of hope wherever you go

Today, we planted seeds of hope in Bangladesh, in Bolivia, in China and Tanzania. But today, commit to planting seeds of hope in the way that the sower did. Wherever you go, plant hope. Form relationships with people. Encourage them. Show them love and joy, be at peace with them and have patience with them. Be kind and generous to them, and faithful towards them. These are the fruit of the spirit, which as Paul says, there is no law against such things. When we live out the gospel, when we live out the glory of Christ, when we let the spirit guide our lives, then wherever we go we will have the opportunity to plant hope. And when we plant hope, we can then let God take over – We don’t know if the seed we planted landed in good soil, or whether it landed on a path that God is about to rip up and turn into good soil. So be faithful, trust in God, and this week, plant the seeds of hope everywhere you go.

As we think on that, we’re going to sing a song, the words may be familiar but the tune may be new. But these words speak of where our hope comes from, and what it can do. The opening lines states that “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” And the chorus says what it can do: “Weak made strong in the saviour’s love. It’s through Jesus that we can do it, and when that time comes, with trumpet sound, then we will be found in him, and that is our hope, that we will be dressed in his righteousness, and can stand faultless before his throne.

Living Lives of Love

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Living lives of love, was given at Devonport Salvation Army on Sunday 16 February, 2014. The Bible reading was Matthew 5:17-37.

I wonder what your families were like when you were growing up. Were there any topics of conversation that you didn’t talk about? Maybe football was completely off the table – bring it up and you’d get sent to your room. Or maybe it was politics, or religion. In my Dad’s family, the taboo topic was divorce. You didn’t talk about it when my grandparents were in the room – it just wasn’t done. And I don’t know why, because it was the sort of thing that, while we did ignore it, it didn’t ignore our family. In fact, the only one of my Dad’s family who hasn’t got divorced is my Dad. All this in a family where Divorce just wasn’t talked about. Looking back, I would say that the divorce was a good thing for all of my aunties and uncles. So when I look at today’s reading, and I read Jesus speak out so harshly against divorce, I have a bit of trouble accepting that. I’m not saying that I advocate divorce – I think it’s a shocking indictment on the church that there are just as many divorces within the church as there are outside of the church – but I feel like there must be more to this passage than the first, initial reading. Continue reading “Living Lives of Love”