What does Christian Freedom Look Like?

Sunday the 26th of June

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

If I were to ask you the question: what is freedom? I wonder how you would answer. In our culture freedom is very important to us. We want and we long to be free. Maybe it’s free from financial restraints; free from the demands of work; free from the hassles of family life, particularly where there is conflict. But it can also go further than this: people want to be free to do what they want, without anyone else telling them what to do; the gay marriage movement often talks about his kind of freedom, and they want to be free to marry without having others tell them that what they are doing is wrong.

And if you take this one step further, we get to the heart of sin don’t we, we want to be free from God and his law to do what we want to do with our lives. We want to be free to do as we please, what makes us feel good; what suits our goals in life. We want to be free from others telling us what to do; we want to be free from any accountability. This type of freedom is something that is very important to our culture.

Our God tells us that we are free because of Jesus. Today’s epistle reading from Galatians chapter 5 says this: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Because Jesus has forgiven our sins we are free. But it is not a freedom as the world around us understands freedom. It goes on to say: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (v13). You and I have been freed by the gracious and loving action of Jesus from the burden of pleasing God with our works and trying to earn salvation, we are called to use our energy and our lives not in an exercise of self-gratification but rather in service and love to each other. This is truly what freedom in the gospel and service to our brothers and sister Christ is all about.

Freedom from the requirements of the law does not constitute an “anything goes” freedom; our freedom still has constraints. The constraints are the responsibility and commitment to the welfare of others in the community. In other words we free for a purpose, this purpose is to love and serve others, not focus on our own self indulgence of our sinful natures.

As you well know we are coming up to an election, and I don’t know about you but election campaigns grate me, they annoy me. You would have herd and you will definitely hear in the next week all sorts of the sins that are mentioned in today’s reading. Here are some examples: hatred, discord; jealousy; fits of rage; selfish ambition; dissensions; factions and envy. These are just some of the ways that sin shows itself, and in elections campaigns we see many of these on public display.

But while we might point the finger at our politicians and political parties, the truth is that each of us suffers from the same sinful hearts and minds: our sinful nature’s battle the Spirit, The Spirit is inhibited by our sinful nature. And this affects our own hearts, but also can play out in our own Church community. We so easily fall into the trap of behaving the same way with each other.

We have freedom in Jesus. But what do you do with this freedom? What do I do with mine? This is key question. Jesus has freed us from the burden of our sin, from our earning God’s love, from our pulling ourselves up by our own strength to approach God. With all that energy, no longer needed to earn a new and healthy relationship with God, what do I do with it? What do you do with it?

 

The reality is that we have this freedom, but we also have choices about what we do with it.  You and I could make the choice to go after our own desires, indulge in our sinful natures (17–21).Go for it! We are free! We have the freedom to do this. We can say: Don’t anyone tell me what to do. I am the one who is control here; I am in charge of my own destiny. We live in the land of freedom, so don’t tread on me. I have rights.  I can do what I like. If you don’t do it the way that I want I’ll leave, because I have that freedom. And this is true we have this freedom.

You and I could make the choice to use our freedom go after the fruit of the Spirit (22–25.) Go for it! We are free! Just do it! Love God, serve your neighbour. Give at least some of your money to the poor. Listen closely to those with whom we disagree, so closely that we can really understand why their position is so important to them. Take some time to find out about the person who you don’t know very well. Begin, or continue, praying for others. Invite your neighbors over for food and talk, show hospitality. Engage those with whom you work in the name of Christ who set all of us free. We have the freedom to do this also.

We all have choices to make about how we use our freedom in Jesus. Let’s be honest here it is not easy. But here in this reading God is urging us to reflect on this reality. To ask the hard questions, like: How much difference do our Christian faith and the work of the Holy Spirit make to our life together in this Christian community? How do they affect our lives “out in the world” so to speak? Do you and I make use of of God’s gift in Christ of the fruit of the Spirit. Do we steadfastly resist the works of our sinful natures both within and without?

How well do we love ourselves and exercise the fruit of the Spirit in our internal relationship with and to ourselves? Do we substitute self-love for self-indulgence? How well do we actively go against our culture, which puts the entire focus on self-interest? And do we love and serve each other in a way which builds up the Christian community and enables us to “bear one another’s burdens”? (Galatians 6:2).

As God says through Peter in his letter:” Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. (1 Peter 2:16). We are to use the freedom that we have to serve God and to love others. As it says in today’s reading 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful; nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Jesus went through his journey to that cross, to free us from the burden of our sins. Jesus paid the price for you and me to make us free, so that we are no longer enemies of God. But we are to use that freedom to love one another, to serve our others, not to indulge in our sinful nature. And what does this love look like, well it is the fruit of the Spirit as it says: “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

As Christians, who live together in this Christian community are encouraged by God, through his Word, to walk with him. To recognise that we: “…who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” and that “…we live by the Spirit” therefore “…let us keep in step with the Spirit” and we know that we are doing this when the fruit of the Spirit is evident among us.

The freedom that you and I have is not to be used as the freedom that the world around us understands, it is not about being independent, doing what we want. Rather because we have received this freedom of our sins because of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, we are to use our freedom to love him and serve others. We are to use our freedom in an attitude of humility and thankfulness to God for what he has done for us and share it with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Kings 19:1-15

Sunday the 19th of June

1 Kings 19:1-15

During the week I was at the home of the Walker family, and we happened to be watching the news. We heard about two murders; the shooting of the people at the gay bar in the USA; a 17 year old Australian boy who was arrested on suspicion of a terrorist attack; an ambulance driver who was on drugs and driving the ambulance that smashed into another car killing a mother and her teenage child.; and two police officers who were found guilty of murdering a suspect. We commented to each other about how depressing the world is today, and wondered what the world was coming to. We then flicked the channel to listen to a panel talking about the gay shootings, where they had a prominent Christian man being attacked for his faith. Somehow in the USA media have gone wild and blamed these attack on Christians, because we do not agree with homosexuality. The question was then asked how hard is it for us to be Christians today?

One of the ways that life with God is described to us in the Bible is by using the image of a journey: walking with God through the ups and downs of this life. Of course not all parts of our journey with God are easy are they, sometimes walking with God can be difficult, and often it can be real challenge, particularly, when the culture around us is so anti Christian.

In the Old Testament reading for today, where hear about Elijah the great prophet, the great man of God, in the midst of a challenging time on his journey with God. A couple of weeks ago we heard the reading about how Elijah the prophet, participated in and witnessed one of the great miracles in the bible, where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, called down fire from Heaven, and God answered him in a very spectacular way. Elijah seemed “in charge.” Everything seemed to be going his way, he was confronting kings and followers of Baal, seei9ng God perform miracles, including the rising of the widows son from the dead. Imagine us being able to witness these things! But now, in today’s reading, we find a different Elijah. We find a prophet who is, overcome by the evil that is surrounding him; intimidated by his opponents and filled with self-doubt, complaining to God that things are not going his way; he is perhaps even suicidal.

Immediately after the dramatic miracle that God performed through Elijah, today’s reading says this: “Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them. Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” Elijah ran away and tried to get as far away from Israel as possible. He did not want to be a part of this anymore.

The question that is often asked is: ‘where is this man’s faith?’ How could Elijah see what God had done and then in next breath not trust God. But are you and I not also like this? We are surely tempted like him, to respond negatively when things don’t go as we had planned? While things are going great and God seems to be on our side, great, but the minute something goes wrong, where our expectations are not met, we also face the temptation to give up.

For Elijah I believe that he was in a place of despair. After the miracle I wonder if he believed that things would now be different: I wonder if he was full of hope that the Israelites would suddenly turn around and worship God again, after what they had just seen; I wonder if for Elijah he believed that things would finally be better after so many years of suffering. But no Jezebel is after him wanting to kill him like she had all God’s prophets before him. The problem for Elijah was that as far as he could see, nothing had changed. He despaired that God would do anything.

So Elijah complains and grumbles to God that he has had enough of ministry, and expresses a wish to die. Elijah is angry because he feels he is being left alone, with no other prophets around, and is even persecuted. And so he runs away. For Elijah God should have been taking care of him better than this! Elijah repeatedly claims that he has been “zealous” for the Lord and so God should have been seeing to his welfare more carefully! Elijah found himself in a place of deep discouragement at the negative things that were happening around him, where he felt surrounded. To Elijah it may have seemed like he was a failure, so he retreats into self-pity and seeks to escape from responsibilities. He does not want to listen to God anymore because he does not believe it will do any good.

What happens in our lives, when we look around us and see only negatives. What happens to us when we look at this world and the way that it is persecuting those who have faith in Jesus. When it seems like Christians don’t have the right to an opinion these days without being hounded down and made a mockery off. What happens when things occur in our lives that seem unfair, where we seem to be targeted because of our faith? What happens when things in life get very difficult and we can’t see a way out of the situations that we find ourselves? What happens when we pray to God to step in, and it appears that he doesn’t? What happens when it appears to us that God is failing to act? We can so easily find ourselves in the same place as Elijah was; A place where we are despondent and discouraged.

God responded to Elijah in a way that Elijah would not have expected. He responded by showing his faithfulness: first rather than taking Elijah’s life he sends an angel to feed Elijah with food that will sustain him for 40 day, the very opposite of killing him. God also goes further that this and he appears again to Elijah and answers his complaints, and later on he returns Elijah back to Israel when he would speak the final words of judgment upon the King and his wife Jezebel. You see God responded to Elijah with his grace.

Despite Elijah’s complaining and his lack of trust, God showed Elijah that he was still faithful to his people, and to Elijah, even though Elijah was unable to see it. God provided for him and he helped him, even though Elijah did not deserve it.

This same faithfulness that our God showed to Elijah is the same faithfulness he shows to all his people. Of course his faithfulness lead to the ministry of Jesus. In his Son Jesus, the God of Israel did decisively initiate his reign among his people, though, again, not in a way people expected. For each of us here today our Heavenly Father is still faithful to us. Even though we still continue to face hostility in a world that rejects the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When things do get tough, our Heavenly Father is still faithful to us and comes to us, and will continue to come to us, as he sustains us in faith, just has he sent and angel to feed and sustain Elijah. Our Heavenly Father will continue to do this through his son Jesus Christ, until the day we are called home. This is his promise. We are to cling to this promise, even when it looks to us that all is hopeless.

One of the ways that our God sustains us in a very visible and concrete way is through his table. In the midst of our often hetic, chaotic, and often hostile world, we come to the Lord’s table to receive from him, through his body and blood the faith and the strength we need to journey with him. If you are really struggling, make sure you come to his table.

Life with God is a journey; it has its ups and its downs. No matter what happens in this life the one thing that we can count on is that God is faithful to his promises. He is committed to walking with his children and sustaining them, even though often we can’t see him at work. I encourage each of you to remember this, and hold on to his promise of faithfulness to you, as you journey with him.

 

Genuine Christian Love

Sunday 12 June 2016

Luke 7: 36-8:3

Who are we and what are we here for? These questions were asked at board meeting that I attended at Uniting Care in Horsham, where I used to work. Of course we had to flesh this out a bit and then we came a mission statement to help direct us in our vocations. This is common practice in most business and not for profit organizations to ask these questions, and as a church we do the same thing. In fact the LCA has one. It is ‘the LCA, Where Love Comes to Life’. I wonder if you have ever thought about this before. What does ‘Where love comes to life’ mean? I would like you think keep this in the back of your mind as I preach today’s sermon.

Today I am preaching on the Gospel reading from Luke chapter 7. The well known account of the woman who pours perfume on Jesus feet, and wipes them with her tears. But account begins with Simon the Pharisee. The Pharisees were a group of people who were devout, they were serious about keeping God’s laws in Hebrew Bible. They were concerned about how the cultural influence of the Greeks and Romans who had conquered their land was leading people away from God. They were passionate about making sure that people were not led astray. They cared greatly about doing the right thing before God. However over time, they added their own laws to God’s word. They focused so much on what they were doing that they defined who they were in terms of their keeping the laws, both God’s law and the laws they made. What started off as a genuine concern lead to them becoming further away from God as they were no longer worshiping God, but the laws themselves. So in Simon’s Eyes he was right with God, because he was doing the right thing.

After opening his home and inviting Jesus to a banquet with others, a sign that Simon was at least open to hear from Jesus, at this point he had not closed his mind off yet, he received a big shock. It says a sinful woman found out the Jesus was at this house and came to Jesus. By sinful it most probably means that she was a prostitute who had a bad reputation. Certainly from the point of view of Simon, God did not love this woman, because of her behavior. And here was Jesus letting this sinful woman touch him and pour oil on his feet. And he says to himself: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

The biggest mistake that Simon made is this: He did not believe that he was a great sinner, rather he was righteous before God, or so he thought.

The woman knew that she sinned greatly against God, she also knew that Jesus forgave her sins and showed her compassion and mercy, so she was pouring out the perfume, which was very expensive, because she was grateful to Jesus for what he had done for her. There is an honesty to this woman in that she is not coming to him because her behavior is good. She is not coming to God with pride in her own actions, rather she comes before him honestly recognizing her need for Jesus. It is from this that she pours out her actions of love towards him.

Intuitively when we read this account from Luke, I think we know that we are to be like to woman. Because, if you like, this is the right answer to have. This would be a very pious answer. But I wonder whether more often that we care to admit, that we can be more like Simon the Pharisee. Thinking that we are right with God, because we don’t sin as much as others, we live good lives, we try to do the right things, we are good Christians. The problem is that it does not work like this. You see God sees through our lack of honesty. We cannot justify our sin before him.

The Pharisees did lots of good works. They gave money to the poor; they attempted to protect the people from false teaching; they were genuinely concerned that people did not make God angry with them, and so pushed them to behave properly. The problem was that they were showing ‘love’ in a way that was all about them and their standing with God. They turned love into a law. So if you were not attempting to do the right thing, then they would not show love towards you. This where the contrast between this woman and Simon the Pharisee is at its greatest. The woman was not pouring her love and gifts on to Jesus to get him to love her, she did this because Jesus had come to her and forgiven her sins. She was not loving to get God to love her, but because he loved her she was giving her love and gifts.

The parable that Jesus tells about the people owing debt, where one owes much and the other little, both are cleared, is more that a nice story it points to reality. It points to the reality of how we are in our sinful natures, how we do try to justify ourselves, compare ourselves to others. How we see ourselves at times as having little that needs forgiving. When this happens the result is often that our love is lacking.

Genuine love, for God and our neighbours, comes from a place of honesty. It comes from a place of admitting and confessing your sin before God and receiving his forgiveness. This is what motivates genuine love. Jesus can say to this woman: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” This woman trusted Jesus to save her from her sins, Simon was trusting his good behaviour to save him from his sins. So his actions were not genuine. That was the problem not just for Simon, but for all the Pharisees, their actions were not genuine.

When Jesus left this place and was traveling around villages he was accompanied by his disciples and some women. Listen to what it says:  “and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” These women were demonstrating their act of love for Jesus and others, because they had been healed and forgiven by Jesus. When they encountered Jesus, they expressed their gratitude through loving devotion to him and other. It is not mistake that these women are recorded here, because they are an example again to you and me, of how when we know our sins, and know how much Jesus has done for us, then we are likely to genuinely love others.

The reality is that both the sinful woman and also the Simon and the other Pharisees needed forgiveness. They both needed Jesus, but only the woman received him and forgiveness he offered. Simon and the others rejected Jesus and relied on their own efforts. This led them down a very dangerous path.

My encouragement to each of you is to reflect on just how much the debt of your sin against God has been forgiven by Jesus, rather than focus on others sins, to be honest about your own. In doing this your love for God and others will be anchored in genuine gratefulness and love towards others.

 

 

 

The truth of God’s Word in your life

Sunday June 5th 2016

I Kings 17: 8-24

The truth of God’s Word in your life

When I was working in Victoria I had a very good supervisor who I got on well with. One day she asked me how often I read my bible. I said that I read it often. She went on to say that she believed that the stories in the bible were like fables, stories to help you live a good life, but they were not true, meaning they did not happen, and we can find meaning from other stories outside the bible to help us live life. This Lady had been through Sunday School and knew many of the traditional stories from the bible. However, she took exception to me when I bravely said that I believed that they are true. She could not accept this because to her they were just stories.

Today I am going to preach on the Old Testament reading from 1st kings. When it comes to readings from the Old Testament, I wonder how you think about them. Often it may seem to us, like my supervisor, that we have these lovely stories, that are taught to us in Sunday School about how God worked miracles through  Moses and the prophets, but when it comes to living our lives here and now, are these stories of the Old Testament relevant to us at all.

So does this account of the prophet Elijah healing a widow’s son really matter? in the context of our lives in the 21st Century.  When I say does it matter I mean in the way that other things in this life matter to us. For example, Does it matter to you what the doctor tells you after you get results of tests back; Does it matter to you what the woman you love will answer you? Is my son or daughter going to be okay? kind of matter… Does the truth of this account matter in this kind of way to you?

For most of you, probably not, but this is only because you aren’t holding a dead child in your arms like this widow from Zarapheth. I wonder if you were to put yourselves in the shoes of this widow. This widow had recently been provided for by God so that her and her son would not starve to death in a period of long drought, God through the prophet had intervened and saved them from certain death. You can imagine how she would have gone from being in total despair to being in a place of hope and joy. And now here she is holding a dead child in her arms, all hope lost. Imagine the turn of events in this widows life.

To be honest for us it is very hard for some of us to imagine this. It is easier to just focus on the good points of the account, to focus on the end part where there is a miracle, than to confront the truth of what this woman was facing. We live in a 21st century world that makes this difficult for us. We don’t like talking about death. In fact, it seems to me, that we spend so much time in life pushing it into the background so that by and large, death remains oblivious to us in our daily lives. We simply try and ignore it.

The widow could not ignore it. She no longer could live the illusion of immortality. The terrifying truth of the death had shattered this illusion. The reality of death hit her hard. No matter how much we try to avoid it, eventually our illusion too, will be shattered.

So what does Elijah do? Well he does not minister to this woman by fluffing over things, repressing or denying the truth, or by telling her that everything will be okay, “God is watching over you”. Rather he said: “Give me your son.” And he stretched himself three times over the body and asked God to raise him. and God listened! Then Elijah gave the boy back to his mother and said: “Look, your son’s alive.” Just like that!

I don’t know about you, but I am often shaped by the culture of our modern world. So when I hear that God preformed this miracle through Elijah, I ask “does God still do miracles like this today?” “Will God intervene in our lives the way the he did for the widow?” “Could it happen again?”

We often ask these questions when reality hits home. When things happen to our loved ones, those we know, or even when things happen to us, that shatter our illusions. When we are suddenly faced with the reality of death, this is when this account reality matters.

As Christians who are aware of the sin in this world and the consequences of sin, we all know deep down that the only solution for the ever-present fear of death is resurrection.

Therapy, goal setting, mindfulness, ignoring, forgetting, won’t really get you and me anywhere. The truth is that the only rescue from death is being raised from it. The only true comfort for this widow was not Elijah’s words, but what God did through him by giving gave her dead son back alive!

How God intervened for that widow, by raising her son from the dead, was a precursor, and pointed to a much more important resurrection: the death and resurrection of God’s own son Jesus. The resurrection of the widow, and of Jesus are much more that Sunday School stories, they are true, they really happened. And this makes all of difference. Instead of being in a place where you have to fear death, you come to the Lord’s Table and receive his life. You see what you believe about Jesus really matters. And it matters like nothing else!

At the end of the today’s reading, the widow says of something strange. She says to Elijah: “Now I know that you are a man of God and the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” The words: “the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” are at the very heart of this reading. The woman knew truth when she saw it! Her son was dead, but now he was alive, she knew truth. And her witness to God’s actions in her life continue to call to us throughout time: “The Word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” It is the same Word of the Lord, which spoke through Elijah, that you hear in your Baptism, when God speaks to you and says: you are buried and raised with Christ. You belong to me.  It is this same Word of Lord that is spoken at the communion table: “this is my body and blood given for you for the forgiveness of your sins!” It is the same Word of the Lord that you hear in when he says at the beginning of our worship: “your sins are forgiven.” And Yes these words from God to you are truth.

At first glance the account of Elijah and the widow, has nothing to do with us, but the reality is that it does, because the reality of the suffering, and death that this widow faced is the same suffering and death that you and I will have to face, if you have not faced it already. The same need for God to raise this boy to life, to overcome death, is the same need that you and I have. But we know that the same God who raised this boy from the dead, also ultimately raised his Son Jesus from the dead. The same word that was spoken to this widow, speaks to us telling us the truth. Because of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, because of our baptism, and because of our faith in him we do not have to fear, like the world around us, when confronted with the reality of death, because we know we too have been raised, and will be raised with Jesus because he has overcome death.

The Word of the Lord is not just accounts of those in scripture, but it is your account too! because the Lord has spoken to, and is speaking to, you as well. And his Word to you is the truth of  His and your resurrection. I encourage you to think about what it means that God still speaks this word of truth to you, and how this impacts your everyday life here and now.