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”

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Reforming Society (Vision and Mission Part 5)

This is part five and the final part in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 4:14-30.

What will you fight for?

This speech is one of the most famous quotes of The Salvation Army, and has served for years as a rallying cry. It speaks of the battle that we as an army face – that while there is still one person in need, that we will fight, we will fight to the very end.

Where that end is, we do not know. But, still, we must fight, and fight as if the end is both tomorrow, and in the next millennium.

This quote fits so incredibly well with the words that Jesus spoke in today’s reading. Quoting from Isaiah, this passage speaks of Jesus’ mission, that would shape his mission and ministry from that point in.

Jesus fights for Justice

Jesus returned to Nazareth, to his home town, and went to the Synagogue to read and teach. He found his way to this quote from Isaiah, and declared: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

These themes that this passage highlights bare particular emphasis in Luke’s gospel, but it should also be noted that this passage is found in Mark as well. But all through Luke’s gospel, we see the themes of justice, inclusiveness and freedom included as a central part of Jesus’ message. Let’s have a quick overview of Luke, to show these themes.

Luke’s birth narrative focusses in on Mary, and includes what is (I believe) the longest monologue by a female in the bible, in what became known as the Magnificat, or the Song of Mary. The first people to see Jesus, besides his parents, were the shepherds, not exactly the most well respected people in the bible, but the ones chosen by God. Following the reading we had today, Jesus begins his ministry, and heals a demoniac, Simon’s mother-in-law (separate people, I’m not saying Simon’s mother-in-law was a demoniac), a leper, a paralytic – the people generally avoided by society. He calls his first disciples, a fisherman and a tax collector, and teaches on the plain giving praise to the poor, hungry and sorrowful, and declares love for all as what is expected. There’s more healings of women in Luke’s gospel than in the others, and it’s in Luke’s gospel that we hear that there were a number of women who followed Jesus in the same way as the 12 apostles did.

More and more, all the way through, these themes are realised in Luke’s gospel, even through to it being the women who first see Jesus after he had risen.

Jesus is here to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, make the blind see, and to free the oppressed, declaring the year of God’s favour. Jesus is fighting for Justice, so that all may live in the kingdom of God.

The Salvation Army fights for Justice

Similarly, The Salvation Army has had a long history of fighting for justice. Now, I just want to first clarify that there are two aspects here: Social Action and Social Advocacy. Let’s put it like this: Social action is applying first aid when we see someone fall over and get injured. Social Advocacy is seeing that multiple people have fallen over in that same place, and campaigning to make changes so that others won’t fall at the same place. Social action is meeting a person’s immediate needs, and social advocacy is ensuring that people won’t need our social action again. Both are important, and both are necessary.

The Salvation Army has had a long history and is well recognised for meeting someone’s immediate needs. But we also have a long history of campaigning for changes in society.

In 1885, The Salvation Army, by way of the Founder’s son, Bramwell Booth, was involved in what would become known as The Maiden Tribute crisis, where W.T. Stead, an English publicist and editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, devised a scheme to purchase a 13-year old girl under the assumption that she would get sold into prostitution, but was instead whisked away to a Salvation Army home in France. The corresponding story written by Stead caused so much hysteria in England that the UK Parliament was forced to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16, as they understood that opposition to the bill meant denying that child prostitution existed, but it was also condoning it.

In the 1890s, William Booth saw that many poor people were developing the fatal disease, “Phossy Jaw”, due to their working in factories producing matches with Yellow Phosphorus. Booth sought to show that matches could be produced safely and at a profit using Red Phosphorus, a process that had been invented back in 1855 by Swedish Chemists. Through providing the workers decent living wages, and campaigning to get grocers and shopkeepers to stock only safety matches, they were able to close their factory in 1901, having forced other factories to improve their working conditions and wages, and use red phosphorus exclusively.

Even today, The Salvation Army is fighting hard for justice in our world, taking a lead with Stop the Traffik, an international campaign to end human trafficking, and also playing a large part in the Fair Trade movement, with many corps moving exclusively to Fair Trade tea and coffee, and the Salvos in PNG producing a coffee that follows fair trade principles of a fair price for the farmers who produce the coffee beans.

We must fight for justice.

In the same way, we as a church, as well as ourselves individually, must fight for justice. Through our Doorways program, we are fighting to stop generational poverty. No longer is giving food enough, but instead we must be looking for ways to help get families out of the poverty cycle. Through our Doorways2Parenting, we are giving skills to parents that will help them to be better parents, which in turn models those parenting skills to their children.

There are many issues of injustice that we can fight for today. Slavery still exists in this world – not just in poor, third world countries, but here in Australia as well. Sexual Slavery is one of the highest forms of slavery in our modern world, and women from all over the world are trafficked and forced to take part in prostitution, pornorgraphy, and other degrading activities. The Stop The Traffik campaign aims to highlight the issue of slavery and human trafficking, with the aim of one day stopping this vile practice.

A lot of our food and clothing is produced in third world countries, where many workers are exploited, and not paid a decent living wage. There are a variety of different certification systems around, such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, or UTZ certification, that enable us to be sure that the products we are buying have been ethically produced, and the source producers have received a decent wage for their product. Certified Tea, Coffee, and chocolate is becoming more and more widespread – for example, the coffee at McDonald’s is Rainforest Alliance certified, and Nestlé have announced that they are on track to have 100% of their chocolate products being Fair Trade certified by the end of 2015.

Domestic Violence is a major issue in our society, and one that we must stand up to wherever we see it. While most people think of it in terms of Physical Violence, it can occur in many different forms, be it physical, financial, emotional, psychological, or spiritual abuse. Whenever we see something happening, we have to stand up and say, “No, that’s not how we do it here.” We can support initiatives such as White Ribbon Day, which aims to stop violence against women – which is the predominant form of domestic violence – by encouraging men to swear to never commit violence against women, or to stay silent when they witness violence.

Homelessness is still a major issue in our society, with governments seeming to not want to act on the issue. There are many differing programs around, but one of the best things that we can do is to write to our politicians, at a National, State and Local level, and ask them to take this issue seriously. Governments in the US are beginning to realise that by providing houses for the homeless, they can actually reduce the cost of healthcare and other service costs more than what it costs to house them. The sooner our government realises this, and begins to provide affordable accommodation for the homeless, the sooner we will be able to see a noticeable change in our society.

The Australian Government is continuing to push it’s harsh line of border protection, but at the same time trampling on long standing agreements contained within the United Nations Refugee Convetion, as well as Human Rights conventions, and our duty of care for children. There are lots of organisations that are trying to work with the government to present a fairer solution, such as Amnesty International – which you’ve got some of their materials in your sermon notes today – the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, and many more, and we can support their campaigns, as well as writing to politicians, and other actions to encourage our politicians to show the love of the stranger that our faith encourages, and the fair go culture that we believe Australian culture has always had.

At the beginning of my sermon, you heard the words of the founder, in his famous “I’ll Fight” speech, and some modern day responses. As Salvationists, we are called to fight for this world, and whether you identify as a Salvationists or just as a Christian – or even just as a human being – I think we are all called to fight for change in our world. Mahatma Gandhi once said “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.” Or, as it is often simplified to, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We have the opportunity – not only as a church, but as individuals as well, to fight for change, to fight for the Transformation of our society. So what will you fight for?

While women weep, as they do now, will you fight?
While little children go hungry, as they do now, will you fight?
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, will you fight?
WHile there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, will you fight?
While there are people seeking asylum, who are forced to live in harsh conditions, will you fight?
While there are farmers producing food for major corporations with massive profits, but don’t have money to feed their own family, will you fight?
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, will you fight?

Will you fight? Will you fight to the very end?

Making Disciples (Vision and Mission Part 4)

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

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

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

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

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

Calling

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

Doing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Caring for People (Vision and Mission Part 3)

This is part three in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 10:25-37.

For some strange reason, people seem to be on an unending quest to live forever. Some scientists believe that the first person to live to 150 years of age has already been born –they obviously never read about Methuselah. Some also believe that within the next two decades the first person to reach 1000 years of age will be born. From miracle pills to

The Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

miracle cups, people are on a never ending quest to be able to live forever.

So when we read this question from the lawyer, we can kind of understand. We want to find this everlasting life, this eternal life. And I can relate to him. He asks Jesus, “what must I do”. He wants to have something that he can go, right, that’s done, I’m good. Do this, and you’ll get this. Nice and simple. Complete this task, once it’s done, you’ll get eternal life.

But Jesus is never simple like that. And he does what Jesus does best – answers a question with a question. He turns the question around and says to the lawyer – what do you see in the scriptures. When you read God’s word, what does that tell you that you need to do.

And then the Lawyer says something incredibly interesting. He quotes the same two passages that we hear Jesus quote in the books of Matthew and Mark as the two great commandments. Here, Luke has turned it around, and has this Lawyer saying that this is what he’s got out of the torah – these are the two things that can be read. To Love God with everything you’ve got, and to love your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus responds positively, answering the initial question: do this, and you will live.

Who is my neighbour?

But the man thinks, this can’t be it. It’s not a task with a finite finish date. I can’t go and know when I’ve finished it. So he asks another question. “Who is my neighbour?” And Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The problem is that we’ve lost a lot of what Jesus was trying to get through with this parable. So, if you’ll permit me, let me put a modern spin on this story.

A Roman road from Jericho to Jerusalem
A Roman road from Jericho to Jerusalem

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of gang members, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now, by chance, a member of the IDF was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side, thinking that it may be an ambush. So likewise a Rabbi, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

A Palestinian man
A Palestinian man

But a Palestinian while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having cleansed them. Then he put him in his car, and took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day, he took out a day’s pay and gave it to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”

See, the Samaritans were the most hated group of people by the Israelites. They did not interact with each other, and they certainly didn’t touch each other – even moreso when one of them was hurt and bleeding. Travelling Jews would even take longer routes to avoid going into Samaritan land. So when Jesus described the actions of the Samaritan as the one to be held up as ideal, he really shocked a number of people.

Maybe your Samaritan is something different. Maybe it’s the Good Centrelink Employee. Maybe it’s the Good Boat Person. Maybe it’s the Good Politician. Maybe it’s the Good Christian. Whoever that person is, the actions that flow from that is what counts.

Go and do likewise

In Jesus’ day, it was thought that the priests and the Levites were the people that were good. They knew the law and they followed it. They knew that to touch someone who was bleeding would make themselves unclean. But for Jesus, these two commandments override everything else. So sure, remain clean, but not at the expense of loving your neighbour. Jesus poses a question to the lawyer and asks who was a neighbour? The lawyer can’t even bring himself to say Samaritan, so he says “The one who showed him mercy”, but he is the one that Jesus says to emulate in their behaviour.

So what are we to do? We must make sure that through our programs we are caring for every person that comes through our door. The way that care looks might look a bit different for each person , but we need to meet them where they are, meet their immediate needs, and minister to them in that way.

William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, once said, “What is the use of preaching the Gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad, desperate struggle to keep themselves alive?” I guess that’s the whole idea behind the traditional Salvo saying of “Soup, Soap and Salvation” – you won’t save a man if he’s hungry and not clean. Indeed, there’s a theory in the Social Services called

Maslow's Heirarcy of Needs
Maslow’s Heirarcy of Needs

Mazlow’s Heirarchy of needs, which defines different levels of needs for a person to function in society. The basic theory goes that if one of the lower level needs aren’t met, a person can’t begin to process any of the higher level needs. So if someone’s worried about where their next meal is going to come from, there’s no point trying to convert them to Christianity. Instead, meet their immediate needs – get them some food.

Like the Samaritan in our parable, he didn’t try to convert him, or to seek out revenge against the bandits. His first action was to get the man to a safe place, then look after his wounds, and when he could stay no longer, he made provisions for his continued healing.

Similarly, while we are called as a church to go and do likewise, you in your life are called to go and do likewise as well. Jesus said that the love of neighbour was one of the two great commandments, and to be neighbourly, we need to show love and mercy to all that we meet, caring for their lives – both physically and emotionally, and living out the Gospel of Christ in our lives.

So go. Be like the Samaritan, and show mercy and compassion to all that you meet. Go and live life with your neighbours, whoever they may be. Get in along side them.

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.

Get out of the Birdcage

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Get out of the Birdcage, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 13 July, 2014. The Reading was John 3:14-21

How good are you at making a choice? Let’s play a little game. I’ll have two pictures on the screen, if you would choose the one on the right, put your hand up. If you choose the one on the left, leave your hand down.

  • Coke or Pepsi
  • Chocolate or Chips
  • James Bond or Indiana Jones
  • Star Wars or The Notebook
  • 7 course degustation  or Steak and 3 Veg
  • “Chucking a sickie” or full day of work
  • Blowing your own trumpet or giving a compliment to someone else

Continue reading “Get out of the Birdcage”

Called to be Holy

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Called to be Holy, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 15 June, 2014. The Reading was Matthew 28:16-20

Have you ever felt that you were too small to really make a difference? Thinking, “this town is too big for me to make a difference” or “how can I make a difference in this world that is so large” or “why would anyone listen to me?”

One of my best friends is absolutely incredible. She’s lived an incredible life – which is another talk in itself – and has been through all sorts of things in that time as well. In 2009, Daena committed to completing one random act of kindness each day, until her 25th birthday. She opened it up so that others could submit their acts of kindness as well, in the hope of getting 1000 acts of kindness by her birthday. Since then, she’s committed to completing a random act of kindness every day, and has done so – apart from a recent 3 month hiatus due to significant family issues – up until this date. On her blog, she says that she is “just an ordinary person looking to make a difference to the world, one small act of kindness at a time.”

I’m reminded of a story from the bible, where 5000 men, with women and children on top of that, were gathered, listening to Jesus teaching. With the crowd being hungry, Jesus poses the question to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip answered saying that “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Then Andrew pipes up, “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves, and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Continue reading “Called to be Holy”

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”

Read your Bible!

“More than anything, this truly is the living word.”

How many of you believe everything that you see on TV? What about everything that you read in the newspaper? What about everything that you read online? Because if it’s on the internet, that makes it true doesn’t it? How many of you believe what is written in the Bible?

What do you spend more time on – reading the Bible, or reading Facebook? Continue reading “Read your Bible!”

Engaging with God

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Engaging with God, was given at The Salvation Army Carlton corps on Sunday 3 June, 2012. The Bible reading was John 3:1-21.

Engaging with God

Today, the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday, a day where we look at this concept of the Trinity. The trinity is a vibrant and living concept that is very important to us. In fact, the Salvation Army’s third doctrine is the doctrine on the trinity – which is a nice link, as the Trinity is all about the three persons in the Godhead – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, who are “undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory” to take from the doctrine. There are many different ways of trying to understand the Trinity. One that I like is that of the

English: Photograph of a Mars bar.
Photograph of a Mars bar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mars Bar – without the Caramel, it’s just a Milky Way; without the Nougat it’s just a caramello, and without the chocolate it’s a great big mess – but none quite get the understanding that the Trinity is both One in Three, and Three in one. One God in Three Persons, and Three Persons in One God.

The reading we heard today contains these three persons in some way, but the basic passage comes down to how Nicodemus – and how we – choose to engage with God – and in doing so, engaging with the Trinity.

Choosing

English: Jesus and Nicodemus
Jesus and Nicodemus at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Nicodemus approaches Jesus, when does he do it? Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Why do you think he might do that? There are a few possible reasons. We read that Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Pharisees were teachers, and we read through the Gospels that they were often against the teachings of Jesus. And Jesus was often critical of them – many parables were often directed at them, and in Matthew 23, Jesus declares seven woes on the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. So you could say there was a bit of bad blood between them. By coming at night, Nicodemus is avoiding being seen, so as to avoid the backlash from the rest of the Pharisees.

And he does so with good reason. He comes to Jesus, and says “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Nicodemus knows exactly who Jesus is. He has chosen to come to acknowledge this teacher from God.

Our spiritual lives are full of choices. A lot of the key moments in my life have come from my choosing to engage with God. I was baptised by my dad in the Church of Christ when I was 10 – my choice to engage with God, and to follow him. A few years later, having moved churches, I chose to stay there while my parents took up ministry at a different church – my choice to engage with God, and to grow with him there. Jumping forward 10 years or so, in checking out the Salvation Army where my then Girlfriend went, I heard God’s call to ministry in The Salvation Army, and I chose to accept that call – I chose to engage with God, and to spread his Word.

Coming back to Nicodemus, one of the major themes through John’s writings is the concept of Light and Dark. Basically, believers are said to be in the light, while non-believers are in the Dark. With Nicodemus coming at night, we see that he does not yet believe. I say yet, because Nicodemus appears twice more in John’s Gospel. In chapter 7, Nicodemus stands up to the Pharisees by asking whether there is a law to condemn a man without hearing from him first. Secondly, Nicodemus appears with Joseph of Arimathea to lay Jesus’ body in the tomb. Jesus engages with Nicodemus’ unbelief by saying that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he must be born again. Or born from above… depending on what translation you’re reading from. The word used, Anothen, can be translated quite validly as either option, and here, Jesus specifically used this word, Anothen, because it meant both things. Jesus was saying to Nicodemus that he needed to be Born again AND Born from above.

This of course conjures up all sorts of images for a contemporary audience. We think of the Born Again Christians, such a powerful political power in the United States. Yet, in Jesus’ definition, all who are believers are Born again through the Trinity. It is in fact the whole reason that Jesus came. Verse 17-18 states “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned.” We need to believe in God, in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit, so that we may be “born of water” – and this comes from choosing to engage with God and the Trinity.

Surrendering

But the choice to engage is only the first step in the journey. In specifically choosing the word anothen, Jesus is telling Nicodemus that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, it is both/and that is required – both born again, and born from above. Both born of the water and born of the spirit. Both converted through the Trinity, and fully surrendered through the spirit.

In order to engage with God, we must be willing to surrender the parts of our lives that hold us back from engaging with God. Jesus warned Nicodemus about this: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” These “evil deeds” are what we know of as sin. William Booth, in his tract, A Ladder to Holiness lists the following as sins:

  • Pride
  • Vanity
  • Bad Temper
  • Malice, Hatred, and Bitterness
  • Revengefulness,
  • Ambition
  • Lust
  • Sloth

And more, and he goes on to describe these sins as “evils.” As part of engaging with God, we need to surrender these parts of our lives, and be born from above through the Holy Spirit.

Now you may think that it’s tough. Some may say that it’s impossible. I’m here to say that Nothing is impossible through God. Earlier this year, I was having thoughts that were thoughts I didn’t want to have. I won’t go into them here because it’s not the place, but suffice to say that these were evil thoughts that were preventing me from engaging with God. One night, I decided that I no longer wanted these thoughts. I surrendered myself to God, I prayed for help, to say that I no longer wanted to live like that. It’s still early days, but I can testify to you today that while the temptation of those thoughts still enters my mind, through the grace of God, I no longer entertain those thoughts, and the temptation disappears as quickly as it enters. It is possible to surrender these things to God, to be born from above, and in surrendering these things we engage more fully with God.

Living

Once coming into the light, having surrendered ourselves to God, to the Trinity, we need to then live in the light, for it is by living that we engage with God. Jesus said, “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” We need to surrender the parts of our lives that prevent us from engaging with God, but in doing so, we need to continue living in the light to engage with God, so that others can see that our deeds have been done in the light.

But, what are those deeds? Well, it all comes down to the overriding principle in the Gospel – Love. In today’s reading, we had the famous line, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God sent Jesus because he loved us. In Matthew, we read that the two greatest commandments are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Or to put it another way, Love God supremely, Love others sacrificially, love yourself sincerely. Love. If everything we do comes out of a heart of Love – for God, for others, and for ourselves – then those deeds are in the light.

We need to live in the world, to be engaging with God. If our deeds are not seen, then how can others see the light that we share? We need to be actively working to bring the love of God into the world. How? Find an issue that you are passionate about, and actively work towards bringing about change in this world. You may feel passionate about caring for God’s world – then get out there and live it! Start living in ways that bring the least harm to God’s earth. Or maybe you feel passionate about human rights and equality? Get out there, and fight for the rights of those who have no voice. Or maybe you want to care for the poor, the hungry, the homeless. Get out there and start doing something! For me, one of the things I’m passionate about is the rights of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. So I’ll be marching in the Welcome to Australia March Together on June 23, to show my support to those that I’m passionate about. So find something that you’re passionate about, and engage with God by living in the light.

English: General Eva Burrows, at The Australia...
English: General Eva Burrows, at The Australia Southern Territory Training College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

General Eva Burrows, talking about holiness – which is effectively what living a life surrendered of your sin – said “God sanctifies us in order to mark out character with the Spirit of Jesus, and then He wants us to take that same character out and mark the world with the Spirit of Jesus. True holiness engenders a compassion that will naturally reach out in ministry, mission and service.” We need to mark the world with the Spirit, With Jesus, with God – the Trinity. We do that through our ministry, our mission and our service. We engage with the Trinity – through choosing to engage, through surrendering our sins, and through living in the world.

Where are you at today? Do you need to choose to engage with God? Do you need to surrender some area of your life that’s preventing you from engaging with God? Or are you ready to engage with God by living in the light? As we sing “This is my desire”, I invite you to, as the song says, to “honour” god. The Mercy seat – a place of prayer with God – is open to all. If you want to engage, feel free to come forward as we sing, or if you’re more comfortable stay seated. But Honour god, and engage with him today.