Sermon from 26th Dec 2021 (Christmas 1)

Colossians 3:12-17 (EHV)

12 Therefore, as God’s elect, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint against anyone else. Forgive, just as Christ forgave you. 14 And, in addition to all these things, put on love, which ties things together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ control your hearts, to which you were also called, in one body. And be thankful.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And everything you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may live holy lives as you have made us holy through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

It seems we’re being asked to ‘put on’ or ‘clothe’ ourselves with many things these days.

For example, we’re being told to ‘slip, slop, slap, seek, and slide’ on such things as sun cream, sun shirts, broad brimmed hats, sunglasses and so on during these summer months to protect ourselves from skin cancer.

More recently, we’re being told to wear masks indoors to keep ourselves, and those around us, safe from the most talked about virus in the world.

In response to growing frustrations and outbursts of anger, we’re also being told to put on some patience and understanding when we’re dealing with health care professionals, police, and people behind the counter, after all, they’re not always the source of all our problems. They shouldn’t have to be the ones who ‘wear’ the results of our anxious and frustrated emotions.

But even though we’re told to put on these items and behaviours, most of these can also be taken off again and don’t have to be worn all the time.

For instance, you wouldn’t normally wear sun cream, hats, and sunglasses indoors. They’re for outdoor use. You know you can take them off when you’re inside and put them on when you’re outside.

Similarly, you don’t have to wear masks all the time. When you’re at home, outside or by yourself, you may choose to take off your mask.

Although, in regard to well-mannered, compassionate, and thoughtful words and actions, these should be worn all the time, whether you’re indoors or outdoors, and this is part of the point St Paul is getting at today when he tells us as Christians to put on certain attributes and qualities.

You see, the problem is, we may choose to wear such attributes as compassion, kindness, humility and patience for a while on Sunday morning, or when things are going well for us, but there may be other places or other situations where we might wear something different.

We’re likely to put on such things as impatience, cynicism, criticism, and nastiness when the shopping lines are getting long, or when children (or parents) are testing our patience, or when someone cuts us off at a roundabout, or when our spouse upsets us, or when someone lets us down, or when we don’t agree with the measures introduced to keep us safe, and so on.

But for us as Christians, St Paul describes the ‘clothing’ all people of God are to wear every day and in everything we do.

For Christians there’s no question about what to wear, or how long we’re to wear such things. It’s the same clothing for every person for every day and every occasion, whether we’re indoors or outdoors. Christians are to continually put on the set of qualities which we’ve received from Christ himself.

But we also need to understand we can never put on the good, wholesome, and spiritually mature attributes by ourselves. It’s simply not in our power or abilities to make ourselves good. We also can’t just cover up and make out Christ has given us a holy façade to wear on special occasions. St Paul knows our problem isn’t just what we’re wearing or with our words and actions alone. Because sin has affected us so deeply, St Paul reminds us how God treats our sinful nature in a wholistic way.

For starters, St Paul reminds us that we’re God’s chosen people.

Just like we don’t always know how to make the right choices in our words and actions, we also can’t, or won’t choose to submit ourselves under God’s rule and authority. We didn’t choose God. He chose us.

God chose you before the world was made. He chose you even though you can’t make yourselves good. He chose to love cantankerous, recalcitrant, and obstinate people like you and me. He chose to send his own Son into this world as a human in order to save humanity. He chose to punish his own dearly loved Son instead of you and me. He chose you to be his dearly loved children who would receive the innocence and purity of Christ. He chose to offer you eternal life with him. He also chose you to faithfully receive and put on Christ.

God has chosen you to put on Christ because Jesus is the only One who has a pure heart of compassion. Only Jesus is always kind. Only Jesus is purely humble. Only Jesus is constantly gentle and patient. Only Jesus puts up with stubborn and recalcitrant people and forgives you for all the sins you do and say and think.

In this way, you’re not to be compassionate, gentle, patient, humble, or forgiving by your own strength or power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, who is Christ’s enduring presence with you.

Now, you may be wondering how you can possibly do this. How can you put to death the old sinful qualities? How can you keep putting on these holy attributes and qualities if they only come from Christ?

Well, St Paul goes on to give us a couple of hints.

He tells us to let Christ rule in our hearts and to dwell on the word of Christ.

In a sense, he’s telling us we become what we worship.

For instance, if you keep thinking about, dwelling on, and focusing your attention on yourselves and satisfying your own fears or desires, you’ll naturally become selfish and self-seeking and will be willing to sacrifice anyone and everything around you in order to get what you want. That’s when people will see that you’re not wearing Christ because it’s all about you.

You see, while you serve your own fears and desires, you’re enslaved by them and their defensive behaviours. You’ll find yourselves doing things which hurt others, and you’ll feel like you have no control over your emotions and responses.

While people may still try to love you, be kind to you, and forgive you, they may not respect or look up to you because the words and actions you wear aren’t always worthy of respect and thanks.

On the other hand, the more you keep thinking about, dwelling on, and focusing your attention on the Word of God and trusting he satisfies your deepest longings of love, acceptance, and security, you’ll learn to be more like him in word and deed and so you’ll naturally bear the same spiritual fruit of compassion, mercy, kindness, humility, and patience that Christ himself bears.

As you keep dwelling on who Jesus is and what he does for you, the more willingly you’ll pass on what he does and says so that you love as you’ve been loved, forgive as you’ve been forgiven, and serve as you’ve been served by Christ.

And Jesus Christ does love you. Jesus Christ does forgive you. Jesus Christ does hear your prayers. Jesus Christ is with you always, no matter what you’re going through. Jesus Christ has prepared a place for you and me to dwell with him in his kingdom of grace and truth and light and love.

You see, as you submit to, and trust in, God’s Word, the word of Christ will rule in your hearts; you may be surprised by the compassion you feel, the patience you experience, the grace by which you respond to difficult people, and the willingness to forgive even the most hurtful of actions. You may be surprised people will respect you, not because you’re a good person, but because people see Christ at work in you.

Whether they realise it or not, they may come to see your patient ears as the ears of Christ, your caring actions full of the compassion of Christ, your long-suffering for others as the patience and gentleness of Christ, and your gracious words as the loving words of forgiveness from Christ himself.

In other words, if you become what you worship, then when you truly worship your Lord Jesus Christ and trust his words and work, then you’ll naturally become more like him and bear some of his attributes and qualities.

It’s in this way, as you constantly look to your Lord Jesus Christ and receive his gifts of grace upon grace, that the peace of Christ will rule in your hearts, rather than what you fear or desire. As you keep on receiving forgiveness and mercy and compassion from him, your hearts will be filled with thanks and praise.

The best way to look constantly to your Lord Jesus Christ is by dwelling less on what you want, or fear, and instead let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. This is done through constantly reading and meditating on the Word of God, responding to the Word of God through prayer, and by singing the Word of God through hymns and songs.

Because there’s a natural resistance to the Word of God, he places us in a community called the Church to encourage and support us in this endeavour. This is why gathering regularly with God’s holy people, even with masks on, isn’t an option for the Christian. It’s absolutely vital to our spiritual health and maturity!

By regularly, and repeatedly, letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly we’ll soon find that everything we do (whether in word or deed), and no matter what day it is in the week (and whatever clothes we’re wearing at the time), we’ll be wearing the compassion and humility and patience of Christ and will give constant thanks to God the Father through him.

This is because, the more central the word of Christ is in our life, the more we take on the clothing and nature of Christ.

For this reason, I wonder what clothing you’ll display to each other as you gather for your chats with others after worship?

Will you continue to talk about the weather or sport or the virus or whatever you normally talk about in your conversations after worship, or will you instead consider what word of encouragement, compassion, gentleness, patience, or forgiveness from Christ you might wish to share with your fellow believers?

How might you as a community become more intentional in your dwelling on the Word of God and use it to encourage, instruct, and teach each other in all wisdom?

Who knows? Maybe, as you all learn how to encourage fellow believers with a Word of God, you may also learn how to have courage to do the same with those who don’t yet believe in Christ during the week as well.

After all, with God’s help, as the Word of God dwells in us richly, this congregation of God’s holy people may be a place where people see the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts; and not just here in this place, but also in our daily lives at home and at work.

Therefore, as we all put on Christ…

may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 25th Dec 2021 (Christmas Day)

Luke 2:1-20 (ESV)

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,

    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that as we ponder on the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we may receive great joy. Amen.

As we listen again to the familiar message of Jesus’ birth, we hear that Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

But, before we ponder what Mary was treasuring, I wonder, what are you treasuring? What are you pondering in your heart?

Maybe you’re treasuring a gift you’ve already received for Christmas. You may be pondering how long the sermon is going to go for so you can go home quickly and enjoy your gift once more.

Maybe you haven’t opened some gifts yet and so you don’t know what treasures still await you. You may be pondering the size, shape, and weight of your gifts and are still trying to guess what’s inside.

Maybe you’re treasuring the presence of family for Christmas and pondering what preparations you still need to arrange so you can all enjoy a scrumptious Christmas lunch in all its splendour.

Maybe you’re treasuring a few days away from work over Christmas and pondering how you may enjoy the freedom from your daily routines and work pressures.

Maybe you’re treasuring a few moments of silence in a house filled with noise and movement and are pondering how you may escape from family and friends without them noticing.

It’s also possible you aren’t so much treasuring what you currently have, but are treasuring what you used to have.

You may treasure the memories of Christmases past that you now miss as families grow up and move away. You may treasure the health and vitality you no longer have. You may be pondering on the loss of some of the things or some people you once treasured. You may ponder what your family are up to as they celebrate Christmas without you. You may also treasure the freedoms we used to have and are pondering how long we have to wear these masks which hide our smiles and smother our praise of God!

Among all the trappings of Christmas, among all the busy thoughts of what still needs to be done, among all your treasured gifts, and among your many ponderings and worries and changes to your way of life, I invite you to sit with Mary for a while and consider what she may have been treasuring and pondering in her heart as she reflects on the birth of her first child.

She was away from home, after all, she was in her husband’s hometown – not her own. The town’s inn was booked out, so she needed to borrow a place to give birth. We might imagine a stable or cave, but it was likely she borrowed the downstairs section of a house where animals were normally kept. But this wasn’t the only thing that was borrowed – even her womb was borrowed for the special use by none other than God himself. That was worth much pondering in itself!

After giving birth she borrowed a feeding trough, most likely made of stone or rock, to place her new-born son in. She probably did her best to keep the straw from sticking into his flesh by wrapping him firmly in cloth. What she didn’t know at the time is that she wouldn’t be able to protect him many years later when thorns and whips and spear would pierce that same fragile flesh. But that’s a pondering for another time.

Unlike us, she had no mobile phone for selfies with her new-born son, no newspapers to post a birth notice in, no reliable postal service, and no news bulletins to advertise this remarkable birth, but despite lacking these things, people would know and remember and ponder the birth of her first-born son for the rest of time. In this case, heavenly angels did the announcing for her. Angels never announced any of our births, but they advertised the birth of Jesus!

But it’s also worth pondering about whom they announced this birth.

Did they announce the birth of the King of Kings to the royalty? No.

Did they announce the birth of God’s chosen High Priest to the Priesthood? No.

Did they announce the birth of the one and only faithful and obedient Son of God to the faithful people of Israel? No.

Shepherds were the ones chosen to hear this glorious message. Nothing against those who look after sheep today, but they were way down the social standing scale of the day. They didn’t have a good reputation and weren’t trustworthy.

Why God would choose to send the angels to announce the most famous and world-changing birth to them is alone worth pondering over. Since they weren’t usually reliable and trustworthy, who on earth was going to believe their good news message of God’s birth on earth?

And so, out of all the people hanging around Bethlehem at this busy time of census-registering, shepherds were the first unexpected visitors who came to gawk and gabble over this baby boy.

They excitedly prattled on to Mary and Joseph about what the angels announced about this baby. They became gossipers of the good news of Jesus’ birth and what it meant, and for whom it was good news for. It wasn’t just good news for Mary and Joseph. It wasn’t just good news for the outcast shepherds. It wasn’t just good news for the faithful waiting people of Israel. This was good news of a global scale!

All people, including you and me these thousands of years later, would receive the same news of the birth of Jesus, which started spreading through the excited chatter of these shepherds, as something good to treasure and ponder in our hearts.

Not only this, but this new-born child is the promised Christ, the promised Messiah. All the prophecies of the holy Scriptures about the anointed holy One of God who would come to rescue and restore his people, whose precious promises have been passed on for many generations of faithful people like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, and Daniel, who never got to see these promises fulfilled in their lifetime, are to be fulfilled in this human child.

But there’s more to treasure and ponder over because this is no ordinary human child. The infinite Creator of the heavens and the earth with all their immeasurable complexity and wonder and majesty, chose to come to earth as a frail and helpless human baby who would be reliant on his own selfish and clumsy created beings to look after him and care for him.

He could have appeared in any form he liked. He could have walked around as a dinosaur, or a giant dragon, or a great talking lion, or a mighty heavenly angel. But he came to us as a frail and helpless human who would suffer and die at the hands of his own people.

Why?

Because we humans are the ones who needed saving. And he saved us because he came in human form.

Jesus saved us by being perfectly obedient to his Father’s will because we can’t and won’t be obedient. We’re too selfish and self-serving to do God’s will, at least, not to God’s exacting standards of holiness and purity.

Jesus saved us by empowering baptism as the means by which he swaps our sinfulness with his own perfection and holiness.

Jesus saved us by bearing our sins which he took from us into himself so he would become the guilty one punished for our sins with the death we deserve.

We, on the other hand, we go free to receive forgiveness and purity through faith, and receive the gift of eternal life in God’s own eternal kingdom. What an unexpected and undeserving treasure we can ponder over as we receive this heavenly gift through faith!

You see, there’s no greater treasure on earth than to have faith in this child who was born in a borrowed womb and would later lie dead in a borrowed tomb. There are few greater mysteries to ponder over than the incarnation of our God who truly became our Immanuel – our God who is with us in human flesh, who would suffer and die and rise again for you and me.

Soon you’ll be invited to come and receive the body and blood of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; the same One who was born at Bethlehem, as he hosts your best Christ-mass meal at the Lord’s Supper.

It’s another mystery we ponder over as we cradle the Lord’s body in our hands as to how the bread is still bread, yet through the power of Jesus’ words, it also hosts the body of our Lord. We also ponder how the wine we sip is still wine, yet through the power of Jesus’ words, it’s also the innocent and cleansing blood of Jesus. But then again, it matches the mystery of how a human baby born of a human mother is also the full manifestation of God’s divinity and holiness through the power of God’s word through an angel.

As you treasure this holy meal and digest the holiness and purity of Jesus’ forgiveness into your own body, you might ponder over the sins Jesus has washed clean from your body and heart and mind.

You might also ponder how you may become a little bit like one of the shepherds who is so excited about this good news of forgiveness and cleansing, and how you too might gossip about Jesus’ birth to those around you as you share what you treasure and ponder over about your Lord Jesus Christ.

What Mary treasured and pondered in her heart at the time of Jesus’ birth is still a mystery to us, and what she started to treasure and ponder in her heart only began that day. Like her, there’s still much about the birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection for us to treasure and ponder over.

I don’t know what you will treasure and ponder over today, but may you treasure…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, and ponder how it guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 19th Dec 2021 (Advent 4)

Micah 5:2-5a (EHV)

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
    from you, will go out the one who will be the ruler for me in Israel.
    His goings forth are from the beginning, from the days of eternity.

Therefore the Lord will give them up,
    until the time when the woman who is in labor bears a child.
    Then the remaining survivors from his brothers will return to the people of Israel.

He will stand and shepherd with the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
    They will dwell securely, for at that time he will be great to the ends of the earth.

5a This one will be their peace.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may receive your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as our peace. Amen.

I’d like you to imagine what peace would look like for you …

As you imagine what peace would look like for you, what image comes to mind?

Some of you might imagine a beautiful beach where the waves gently lap at the shore, the breeze lightly blows to keep you cool, and the palm trees lazily nod away.

Some of you might imagine sitting in a comfortable chair with your favourite drink in one hand and a good book in the other.

Some of you might imagine you’re in a sun-dappled field beside a babbling brook as you watch the soft grass swaying softly to the breeze.

Whatever your picture of ‘peace’ is like, hands up if your perfect picture of peace includes other people?

Hands up if your perfect picture of peace included spending time with those you’re not getting along with, or those you’re grumpy with, or those you won’t normally associate with, or those you label as your ‘enemies’?

Knowing we humans are naturally self-centred people who want to get our own way all the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if your own pictures of ‘peace’ are when you finally get to have things your own way. For this reason, your pictures of peace probably exclude anyone who could threaten or interrupt getting in the way of your peace. In other words, I wouldn’t be surprised if your pictures of peace are all about you and what you want!

Now, it’s possible you don’t know much about the prophet Micah, but he was talking to his own people who wanted to get their own way. In fact, they’d been getting their own way and God wasn’t very happy with the result!

The rich were getting richer as they took advantage of the poor and so justice wasn’t being practiced. The local prophets and priests were telling people what they wanted to hear, telling them they’re good people even though they weren’t faithful to God’s instructions on how to live as his holy people by practicing compassion and mercy.

In response, God sent Micah to warn them of God’s impending judgment, but he also gave them words of hope. These words of hope we hear today included the promise of a Shepherd-King who would come from the tiny town of Bethlehem who would restore God’s kingdom of peace and mercy and justice. In fact, this promised Messiah, this promised Saviour, would himself be their peace.

Now, since we’re told the coming Christ himself will be our peace, it makes sense that the best way to understand what this peace looks like isn’t by starting with our own ideas of peace, but we should instead start with God’s concept of peace and how he gives his peace to us.

In this case, the Hebrew word which is translated into English as ‘peace’ is ‘Shalom’, but this Hebrew word is much richer and more meaningful than just ‘peace’.

For example, ‘Shalom’ can describe a state of well-being or bodily health. In this way, when you experience good health and wholeness in your body, you’re experiencing a form of ‘shalom’.

Similarly, you can also describe mental or emotional wellness and wholeness, where you experience no cares or anxiety and are content and satisfied, as another form of ‘shalom’.

Therefore ‘shalom’ is where you feel content and relaxed: physically, emotionally, and mentally; where you feel healthy and are able to rest without any worries.

However, that’s not all. This ‘shalom’ isn’t just about when you’re feeling satisfied, content, relaxed, or healthy, but it’s also about having healthy and wholesome relationships with others.

An example of ‘shalom’ was first experienced in the Garden of Eden when God and the first humans walked and talked together in that perfect garden. There was harmony in their existence as they existed side-by-side without any division or disagreement, but the ‘shalom’ was broken when the first humans wanted to become like God.

Similarly, whenever we want to get our own way, our ‘shalom’ between ourselves and God is always broken. Instead of humbly submitting to God’s will for our life and living according to his teachings about mercy and compassion, we want to decide for ourselves. We reckon we know better than God and seek to redefine good and evil for ourselves.

In the same way, whenever we’re selfish or self-seeking, we strain or break the ‘shalom’ between ourselves and those around us. We judge and punish others. We seek to exclude those who threaten us and what we want. We want to divide and differentiate between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and try to avoid loving and serving our enemies.

So, for us to experience ‘shalom’ again, God seeks to reconcile or ‘re-shalom’ our relationships with him and each other through his radical justice of forgiveness.

In this case, godly peace, or a divine experience of shalom, would include health in body, mind, and spirit. It would include harmony and unity between us and God. It would include reconciliation and concord between ourselves and all those around us, including our enemies.

‘Shalom’ would also mean no more wars or fighting, no more fear, no more division, no more sickness, no more anxiety, no more guilt, no more shame, no more hiding, no more depression, no more loneliness, and no more fear of judgment from God. All these things would be absent because we’re at peace; or rather because Jesus is our peace; because Jesus is our Shalom.

So why don’t we experience this now? Why do we still experience sickness, injury, anxiety, depression, conflicts between family and friends, segregation within churches, and struggle with our faith in God?

Well, the strange thing about God’s peace, is that it’s not just an experience or event that we can manufacture for ourselves, but peace, or shalom, is a person.

So, when the angels announced: ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among those whom he loves’, they weren’t announcing that everything will be perfect on this earth right now. They were announcing peace himself is on earth and among those whom he loves.

Since Jesus Christ is your peace and is your ‘shalom’, you receive peace whenever you receive him in Word and Sacrament.

You receive peace whenever you receive and trust his promises of life, forgiveness and salvation. You receive peace whenever you receive his forgiveness of all your sins so that you know your relationship with God is restored. You receive peace when he touches you with his peaceful presence in the waters of baptism or in the body and blood of his Holy Supper. You also get the privilege to pass on peace to others whenever you proclaim the Prince of Peace through his forgiveness, mercy, and compassion.

In this way, peace isn’t an idyllic island or a sun dappled field. Peace isn’t silence or the absence of enemies. Peace, or Shalom, is the person in whom the whole fullness of humanity and the whole fullness of God dwells in perfect harmony and unity, and so in this way, in him, the fullness of peace dwells. Jesus is your ‘Shalom’, your peace himself coming to establish peace in and among you.

Jesus came to give you his promise of peace so you can trust wholeness and completeness is yours even when your bodies are ageing or falling apart. He gives you his peace so that you know you can come to God in complete trust and without fear because you have faith that Christ has reconciled you with the Father through his vicarious suffering, the shedding of his blood, and the payment of his death.

He gives you his peace through the forgiveness of sins to restore your relationship with God the Father, and you get the divine privilege to pass on this same peace when you reconcile with your enemies. He gives you peace through reconciliation so that your enemies are restored to you as your friends. Because he is your peace, you can experience some of this heavenly peace even today.

You see, already today he has offered you his peace, his ‘shalom,’ and he will again.

For example, in worship when you confess your sins, you receive Christ’s forgiveness. After Jesus declares that you’re forgiven through the one who stands in his stead, he says one more thing. He says: ‘Peace be with you!’ ‘Shalom’ be with you. Christ, the incarnation of Shalom be with you. Wholeness, restoration, reconciliation, peace, and Christ himself is with you through faith.

When you receive the body and blood of your Prince of Peace incarnate, your bodies, minds, and hearts are washed clean and made whole. Here as you eat and drink you have nothing to fear, but you receive the Prince of Peace himself, the living Shalom, in faith. After receiving the Prince of Peace into your own bodies, he declares ‘peace be with you.’ Shalom is yours. And with God’s help, you get to offer peace to those around you through your Spirit-inspired words of forgiveness and actions of mercy and compassion.

Then, as you’re about to go back out into this troubled world where accidents and injury and illness and animosity keep breaking our shalom, the Triune God, including Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace himself, blesses you with peace. He sends you out in peace. He sends you out as his beloved ‘Shalom-sharer’. He sends you out with the assurance he is with you always – that the Prince of Peace himself travels with you.

Therefore, whether you’re in hospital, in a car, in pain, in trouble, or in an argument, Jesus, your Prince of Peace, is still with you, constantly offering you the shalom of his presence. Even at Christmas time, whether you’re in a room full of rowdy and disruptive people, or sitting alone in silence and sorrow, Jesus is still with you, offering you peace.

You also look forward to receiving the fullness of his shalom in heaven where everything will be back in its rightful order of shalom in body, mind, spirit, and community.

No matter how you celebrate Christmas this year (or who you’ll celebrate it with), celebrate the fact Peace himself, ‘Shalom’ himself, has come to earth and promises to be with you. After all, when you hear someone say, ‘Peace be with you’, you can now understand this to mean: The God of peace, the God of Shalom himself, is with you.

Jesus is your peace. All peace on earth and in heaven begins and ends in him. And it’s this shalom, this…

… peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard your hearts and minds and bodies and relationships in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 12th Dec 2021 (Advent 3)

Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may experience joy, contentment, and peace knowing you are near to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Rejoice!

I’m going to say it again: Rejoice!

It sounds like St Paul is commanding us all to, you know: “Don’t worry, be happy!”

Well, that’s ok if you’ve got things to be happy about, but it could be there are many times you find it hard to be happy!

Maybe you’re not having a good day, a good week, or a good life. Things haven’t gone right. People are driving you up the wall. The constant Covid conversations and media reports are getting you down. Machinery, kitchen equipment, computers, phones, or other devices are breaking down or not working as they’re designed to. Old issues resurface that you thought you’d dealt with. You haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet. The mail is slow. You feel overwhelmed by expectations. You’re struggling with injuries, sickness, or the problems of old age. Your holiday plans have had to change…again! You’re trying to make the right decision, but you don’t know what the right decision is, and this is stressing you out.

With so many things to worry about and stress over, it often seems our list of reasons not to rejoice is always longer than our reasons to rejoice!

This means the last thing you want to hear, especially from God, is: ‘Don’t worry, be happy!”

The fact is, you and I don’t, and can’t, rejoice in our circumstances all the time.

So then, if you’re being told to rejoice, what will truly make you happy? What needs to happen so you’ll you’re able to rejoice all the time like St Paul tells you to?

In other words, how would you finish this statement:

‘I will only be truly happy if…’ What? Or who? Or when?

How would you finish that statement?

Or let’s try another one:

‘I wouldn’t be so worried or anxious if…’ what were to take place?

Again, how would you finish it?

In other words, what do you need to happen so that you’ll always experience true joy and will never be so worried or anxious?

Thinking about the solutions to your happiness, how many of your answers about how you would rejoice and be less anxious all the time include something about your faith in God and trusting him in all circumstances?

Now, without trying to read your minds, I suspect many of your answers didn’t include looking to God alone, and how you might be happy or content to allow his will to be done in your life, even in the worst of circumstances.

Most likely, your answers may have instead revolved around you, and how you wish the world, or even God, would bend to your own will so that you would be happy.

Because we’re naturally selfish and self-seeking people, it shouldn’t surprise us we expect the only way we’re going to be truly happy, or so that we would no longer have so many worries, is when we get our own way! Getting our own way is a form of idolatry because it shows we want to be our own god.

But, if you were to look more carefully at what St Paul says (and I remind you that he wrote these words from prison), you’d see some very important words which are often missed.

St Paul says:

  • Rejoice in the Lord
  • You’re to show your reasonableness and gentleness because…the Lord is at hand
  • Don’t be anxious, but make your requests known to God
  • The peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus

Another way to put it is, St Paul is reminding you that the only way you can truly rejoice at all times, be patient and gentle at all times, and have peace at all times, no matter your circumstances, is in the Lord!

But this is our problem. Even though we know this is what God says to us, it isn’t what we practice.

Instead of fearing, loving, and trusting God above all things (which would lead us to experience lasting joy and peace), we continue to put our faith in human solutions and earthly results which revolve around our selfish wills, even though none of these are guaranteed to last.

It seems then, the reason we don’t rejoice, the reason why we’re not reasonable with everyone, and the reason why we’re so anxious, is because we don’t always fear, love, and trust God will give us everything we need at the right time, even when facing troubles, heartache, and uncertainty.

Our unhappiness indicates we’re unhappy with God, and that we’ve chosen to place our trust in something or someone else apart from God, hoping these things, or these people, or these circumstances, will make us happy.

Yet, no matter our circumstances, we’re reminded our joy and peace and hope is to be based on the eternal promises of God because we can trust God’s love, his grace, his provision, and his faithfulness is still ours, and will remains ours, through faith.

This means our unfading joy is in him who doesn’t change, rather than on our feelings or possessions or health or anything else on this earth, which has a habit of changing, rusting, decaying, breaking down, or dying.

Now of course, you may reckon you won’t always have reasons to rejoice, after all, bad things happen. Some of them are your own fault, but some of them aren’t.

It’s hard to rejoice when you’re facing tough times. It’s hard to be happy when computers or machinery won’t work properly, or when the rains fall at inconvenient times, or when people betray or abandon you, or when you’re afraid or lonely, or when you’re injured or old, or when government responses to viruses threaten your health and freedom.

But St Paul isn’t telling you to rejoice in your circumstances. He’s telling you to rejoicein the Lordall the time.

He can say this because, no matter what you’re going through, your Lord and Saviour and Rescuer is near, after all, he’s promised to be with you always. Since the Lord is at your side, who can be against you? Since the Lord is your light and your salvation, whom should you fear?

He’s the one who strengthens you with his Spirit so you can endure testing times. He reassures you of his love by not abandoning you in your times of trouble. He washes you clean from abuse and defilement. He promises to take you to himself in heaven and make you whole again. He forgives you for all of your sins, so that nothing you’re experiencing is punishment. Instead, he uses all your times of trouble and heartache to teach you to trust him more fully so that you can rejoice in him and his holy gifts.

Even when you feel like giving up, he encourages you with his eternal words and feeds you with his own body and blood. He keeps reminding you to call on him and tell him all your needs through prayer.

You can’t ‘think’ your worries away through make-believe or positive thinking, but when you faithfully bring all your concerns before God in prayer, trusting he’ll truly answer you in surprising and wonderful ways, he swaps your troubles with his peace.

And notice it’s his peace he gives you, which is far better than any calmness you could ever achieve by your own reasoning, or by avoiding the issues you face, or by getting your own way.

It’s a peace knowing, no matter whatever is happening to you, you’re assured of his merciful presence to guard and guide and protect you. It’s a peace knowing your name is engraved on his hands. It’s a peace knowing he’s prepared a place for you where you’ll get to remain forever with him. It’s a peace knowing you’ve been reconciled with God himself though your faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a peace knowing he loves you because you’re precious to him – warts and faults and all.

Then, as all your worries are put into this spiritual perspective, God grants you his peace through faith in him, and his joy can start growing in your life again.

As your focus shifts away from what you’re missing out on (which threatens your joy), you instead meditate on all that God gives you, which is right, good, pure, holy, and pleasant. The more you meditate on God’s goodness and grace and promises to you, even in the midst of trouble and turmoil, you learn to rejoice that the Lord is always near.

Your Lord Jesus Christ is near and never abandons you or attacks you. He supplies all your needs for body and soul. He lifts you up when you’ve fallen. He gives you the strength to endure your times of trial and suffering. He promises to listen to your cries, answer your prayers, and give you his peace.

Therefore, you can rejoice, because you live with the dependable knowledge that your Lord and Saviour is always with you as your Immanuel. With God’s help, you can be gentle with all people. With the peace of God guarding your hearts and minds, you don’t need to fret or get overly stressed with anxiety. You can do this because you carry all your needs to God in prayer and thankfulness.

As you confront all the trials and temptations of this life, you can be sure Jesus is near, which brings you joy. Through the peace and forgiveness from Christ, you can be gentle with all people, including your enemies. Through prayer, all your anxiousness is taken away and your joy is now accompanied with thankfulness.

This is because the secure foundation for your joy is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The reliable basis for dealing gently with all people, no matter how they treat you, is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The dependable foundation and antidote for all your worry, is prayer in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In fact, the steady foundation for your lasting peace is in the Lord Jesus Christ

And it’s this peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard our hearts and minds in the Lord Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 5th Dec 2021 (Advent 2)

Philippians 1:3-11 (EHV)

I thank my God every time I remember you. Every time I pray for all of you, I always pray with joy, because of your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now. I am convinced of this very thing: that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. I am equally convinced that it is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, for both in my chains and in my defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all share in this grace with me. Yes, God is my witness of how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And I pray that your love may still increase more and more in knowledge and every insight. 10 This will result in your approval of the things that really matter, so that you will be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that what you’ve already started in us, may continue to grow until the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If I were to ask if you were a ‘glass half full’ or a ‘glass half empty’ kind of person, how would you answer?

You know, are you one of those people who are always thankful for what you have, no matter how small or insignificant? Are you thankful for every small opportunity which comes your way, even those annoying and inconvenient moments? Do you always appreciate every person God has placed in your life, even when you don’t agree with them or if they keep on interrupting your own plans? Are you even thankful for the scars and heartaches you’ve experienced in your life because they brought you closer to God?

Or are you one of those who are tempted to complain because you’re missing out on what others possess? Are you tempted to whinge about those who disrupt your best laid plans or hold differing opinions? Do you keep looking through shops and catalogues because you’re not content with what you already have? Are you dissatisfied with God when he doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want him to and within the timeline that you’ve given him?

I’m not going to take a poll right now, but in my experience we all struggle to be thankful in all circumstances, especially when things go wrong with our health, our work, our schools, and our loved ones.

Even in our own Christian fellowships we can struggle to be thankful.

We’re not always thankful when our own names are listed more and more frequently on rosters. We’re not always thankful when we don’t always get to sing our favourite hymns or songs. We’re not always thankful when the sermon or the worship service goes longer than we want it to. We’re not always thankful when we don’t get our own way at meetings. We’re not always thankful when others make jokes at our expense or when someone has a go at us. We’re not always thankful when others force their opinions on us and won’t seem to listen to what we’ve got to say. We’re not always thankful when crabby old Mrs Gruffenpiffle makes a beeline for us after worship to whinge about all her troubles again. We’re not always thankful when we hear stories of abuse or conflict or divisions in our church.

If we’re honest with ourselves, the reason we’re not always thankful is because most of our reasons for thankfulness seem to be dependent on our own experience of happiness, success, comfort, or getting our own way. We’re more likely to be thankful when we get what we want.

Knowing how we struggle to be thankful in all circumstances, especially when we don’t get our own way, it comes as a surprise to hear St Paul being so thankful as he begins his letter to the congregation in Philippi.

And don’t get him wrong, he’s not denying the reality of the problems around him, after all, he’s currently writing from a prison. While we don’t know the exact place or conditions of his incarceration, I guess we could say he has much less freedom of movement than what we have today, and he didn’t have Netflix to keep him company in his isolation! Despite Paul’s confinement, he’s thankful for his imprisonment and for the opportunities God’s given him to defend and confirm the gospel.

Similarly, Paul isn’t blind and deaf to the issues facing the Philippian congregation. They’re not a perfect congregation and they have some important relationship issues to work through, yet he still begins with thankfulness. In fact, most of his letters start with thankfulness, but his thankfulness is also not what we’re expecting.

Instead of thanking them for the way they welcomed him, or for all those times he sat around their tables to have a cuppa, or for the way they faithfully served on committees, he thanks God for their partnership in the gospel – their partnership in the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the promise of life eternal through faith in him.

He thanks God for what God has begun in them, knowing they haven’t reached their maturity in the gospel yet. He thanks God for their partnership in God’s grace. He prays that God will continue to build on what he’s already started among them.

Perhaps knowing some of their love for each other is struggling, he also prays that their love might become abundant, especially the love which flows from the gospel of Jesus Christ as they learn to forgive each other and seek to be reconciled and unified in Christ.

But he also wants their love to come with attachments – the attachments of knowledge and discernment. In this way love isn’t just a sentimental feeling, but it’s a love which seeks to understand and carefully discern between what is right and good and holy and excellent in God’s eyes, and what isn’t, as they live out the gospel in their lives and community. As he continues to partner with them in the gospel, even though he remains separated from their community, he’s confident they’ll continue to be filled with the righteousness of Christ.

Applying these words of God through St Paul to our own situation today, and no matter whether you’re a glass half full, or glass half empty, type of person, how might you view yourself and those around you if your starting point was in the partnership we share in the gospel?

For example, if your starting point for looking at yourself and each other is through the lens of the Law, you’ll have certain levels of expectation. This means you’ll expect people to live a certain way. You’ll expect things will be done to certain standards. You’ll also expect you’ll live up to your own high standards.

It’s probable that, if you or anyone else, including God, doesn’t meet these expectations, you’ll whinge and complain and grumble about how unfair life is, how selfish and ignorant and stupid people are, how weak and undisciplined you can be, and perhaps even hold a grudge against God because he didn’t meet your own expectations. And it’s not just about lowering your expectations. Living with the Law as your foundation will always disappoint you and lead you to despair!

On the other hand, if your starting point for looking at yourself and each other is through the lens of the gospel, how might this free you from the condemnation of the Law and restore your joy and thankfulness?

For example, I have some good news for you!

Jesus suffered and died for all those times you were less than thankful for all the gifts and people God sent you. For the sake of Christ, you’re forgiven for complaining about your parents, your premier, your pastor, or any other person God placed in authority over you. You’re forgiven for being selfish and for not helping and supporting people in their times of need. You’re forgiven for those times you didn’t come to someone’s defence, for not speaking well of them, and for not explaining their actions in the kindest way. You’re forgiven for not being content with what God’s given you. As you believe in the good news of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, those sins are removed from you as far as the east is from the west!

Now, as God restores your peace and joy through the power of the gospel, both individually and corporately, how will that affect the way you partner with God’s people in this same gospel?

Will you be willing to view each other with more grace? Will you be more merciful with each other? As you forgive as you’ve been forgiven by Christ, how will you express your forgiveness to those who have hurt you or let you down? Knowing the good work of God has begun but hasn’t reached its fulfillment among you, how will you encourage each other in the gospel as you grow in your understanding and learn how to discern what is right and good and excellent in God’s eyes? How will you bring glory to God as the fruit of righteousness benefits those around you?

What God has started in you hasn’t yet come to its conclusion, which means God needs to keep encouraging you to grow and mature in your Christian faith together with your fellow Christians. You need to keep hearing the gospel and keep receiving the grace of God through his holy Sacraments. While Christ’s work of forgiveness and salvation has been finished and completed on the cross, you’re still a work in progress as you learn how to partner with Christ and each other in the gospel.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much water you have in your glass, but it matters who gives you the precious gift of faith so you may believe in the gospel. It matters how God continues to bless your faith as you live in the gospel in partnership with each other. It matters how God will complete what he’s started among you.

This means we can all thank God for what he’s begun, what he’s currently doing, and what he’ll continue to work in and among us as we partner in the divine blessings of the gospel.

May we all continue to grow and mature in the partnership of the gospel so that we may all know and discern the excellent work of God among us as we love as we’ve been loved by God, forgive as we’ve been forgiven by God, and serve as we’ve been served by God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may we all bear the fruit of righteousness and bring glory and praise to God!

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.