Sermon from 26th Jun 2022 (Pentecost 3)

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (EHV)

1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not allow anyone to put the yoke of slavery on you again. 

13 After all, brothers, you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as a starting point for your sinful flesh. Rather, serve one another through love. 14 In fact, the whole law is summed up in this one statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Lev 19:18 15 But if you keep on biting and devouring one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

16 What I am saying is this: Walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out what the sinful flesh desires. 17 For the sinful flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit, and the spirit what is contrary to the sinful flesh. In fact, these two continually oppose one another, so that you do not continue to do these things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the control of the law.

19 Now the works of the sinful flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, complete lack of restraint, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, discord, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things similar to these. I warn you, just as I also warned you before, that those who continue to do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the spirit, let us also walk in step with it.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not use our Christian freedom to become slaves to our sinful desires once more, but, as those who belong to Christ Jesus, help us bear the fruits of the Spirit for the benefit of those around us. Amen.

Do you ever remember doing one of those experiments where you placed a flower in a jar of ink or food colouring?

Do you remember it changing colour?

You could repeat the same experiment with different colours, and no matter which colour you used, that colour would infuse itself throughout the petals of the flower, sometimes providing quite stunning results!

Do you realise the same thing happens with us and our faith? You see, whatever we immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, or set our heart on, then that’s what will infuse itself through all our thoughts, words, and actions!

For example, let’s say we’re focusing on receiving some form of pleasure. This could be in the form of desiring the pleasure of the latest and greatest car, TV, phone, electronic tablet, computer, fishing accessories, or kitchen appliance. It could be the pleasure of a planned holiday, outing, or event. It could be the pleasure of having a good relationship with your spouse, children, parents, siblings, or friends. It could be the pleasure of good food, good entertainment, good looking people, or good experiences. It could be the pleasure of a good reputation, a good job, a good family, or a good congregation.

By itself, there’s nothing wrong with wanting some form of pleasure. We also figure God wants us to be happy, fulfilled, and live in his good pleasure, so we figure as long as no-one gets hurt, we’re allowed to satisfy our need for pleasure.

But, as we immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, or set our heart on receiving this pleasure, how does this affect our thoughts, words, and actions?

What if someone or something gets in our way of us receiving this pleasure which we’re focusing on and desiring? How do we normally react? You see, if we’re led by, and taking pleasure in, the Spirit of God in our Christian freedom, we’d react with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But that’s not what we do, is it?

Instead, we’re likely to exhibit a different form of fruit. This could include, but not be limited to: sexual immorality, impurity, complete lack of restraint, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things similar to these.

When we react in any of these ways, it exposes we’re not taking pleasure in God and what he provides, but we’re idolising someone or something else.

Our thoughts, words, and actions illustrate to those around us that God no longer fully satisfies us! We’re looking to someone or something else to satisfy our selfish and sinful desires. We’re not trusting God’s ways and God’s timing, but we’re trusting in ourselves as we seek to punish those around us for getting in the way of our items and people of pleasure.

So, when we start bearing those bitter fruit of the sinful flesh through our angry outbursts, our hateful words, or our selfish desires which breed discord and division, we discover our hearts are not only dissatisfied with those around us, but ultimately, our hearts are dissatisfied with God.

This should lead us to repentance as we look to our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive us for all our sins. We need to repent of our selfish desires for pleasure in created things and look once more to God as our Creator to satisfy us in his own good pleasure with his gifts of grace, mercy, and peace.

Of course, we don’t always just focus on pleasure. Sometimes we immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, or set our heart on our pain.

In this case, we may be dwelling on the physical, emotional, or spiritual hurt we experienced. We might be thinking about what we’ve missed out on, such as love, compassion or understanding. We might be mulling over what happened to us and what it means for us. We might be wallowing in our misery and pain. We might be worrying about the fact we consider ourselves as the victim. We might be desiring some form of justice.

Usually, we don’t express our Christian freedom in response to our pain with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Instead, our responses include, but aren’t limited to: impurity, complete lack of restraint, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, outbursts of anger, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, and things similar to these.

When we react in any of these ways, it exposes we’re not trusting God will provide us with comfort, healing, or peace. We take matters into our own hands as we whinge and complain about others as a way of damaging their reputation, or we hit back at those who hurt us and withhold any forgiveness.

Not only this, but we despair of our trust in God. We take matters into our own hands because we’re not happy with waiting for God to provide us with healing, justice, or vindication.

Because we want justice in our way and in our timing, we supplant God’s role as Judge when we seek to punish those around us. We become the judge, jury, and executioner as we attempt to make them pay. We want them to suffer and so we won’t forgive them, hoping this hurts them more than it hurts ourselves with the poison of unforgiveness.

So, as we focus on and stew on our pain, we bear the bitter fruit of the sinful flesh through our angry outbursts, our hateful words, or our desires for biased justice which breed discord and division. We discover our hearts aren’t only dissatisfied with those around us, but ultimately, our hearts are dissatisfied with God.

This should lead us to repentance as we look to our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive us for all our sins and for an increase of faith so we can forgive those around us. We should repent of our selfish desires for justice and revenge, and trust in the forgiven and cleansed identity we have as precious and dearly loved children of God.

It’s also possible we can sin in our piety.

You may wonder how desiring to live a good holy life could possibly cause us to sin, but let’s consider this for a while.

Let’s say we want to be a good person who obeys God. We want to please God and be a good example of morality and ethics to everyone around us, and so we might use God’s word and commands as a code to live by. This in itself seems to be a good thing. We may also think the world would be a better place if only more people would live with such solid biblical foundations!

But it becomes an issue when any of us fail to live up to our own, or God’s, expectations, and fail we will! There’s only One who can live up to God’s perfect standards, and it’s not you or me. If we’re going to live by the letter of the Law, then we’re setting up ourselves, and those around us, to fail!

Then once we, or they, fail, we’re tempted to look down on, criticise and judge ourselves and those around us.

Unfortunately, we don’t always look to God for forgiveness and mercy for our failure to live according to his ways, but we burden ourselves and those around us with our own self-imposed punishments. In this way we attempt to supplant God when we’re the person to whom we need to give an account and we become hard on ourselves and burden our conscience. We become our own judge whom we can never completely satisfy.

You see, there’s no grace or freedom in the Law. When we attempt to immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, or set our heart on living according to the Law, or when we expect everyone else to live by the Law, then we become a slave to the Law, with its resulting fear, shame, and guilt for not living according to the Law.

As we despair of ourselves and our ability to keep the Law, or as we despair of those around us for failing to keep the Law, this will also produce impurity, complete lack of restraint, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, and things similar to these.

The good news is you and I have been freed from slavery to the Law through faith in Jesus Christ. We no longer have to live up to God’s perfect standards because Christ has kept the Law perfectly for us and he gives us his perfection and holiness as a free and undeserving gift through faith.

Not only this, but he paid the full punishment for our failure to keep the Law and its demands, so we don’t need to live in regret or shame. Why would we need to burden ourselves and our own consciences when Christ has already suffered enough for all of us?

Not only this, but since whatever we immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, or set our heart on will infuse itself through all our thoughts, words, and actions, what or whom are we to focus on?

St Paul reminds us to set our hearts on our Lord Jesus Christ. As we place our trust in, and rejoice in, what Jesus does for us, this will naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. These fruit always serve the body, or community, of Christ as we live out our selfless love for our neighbour.

This means we’re to immerse ourselves in the means of the Holy Spirit, such as God’s holy Word. As we read and meditate on his Word, the Spirit will help us see ourselves and our sinfulness on those pages, but it will also reveal the love and grace of God through his Son, Jesus Christ.

The words Christ speaks on those pages are spoken for all of us when he says: ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they do’ and this forgiveness frees us from slavery to the Law or slavery to our pleasures or pain.

We immerse ourselves in the promises given through our baptism into Christ. Our sins are washed away every day through repentance and faith, and so we believe we’re forgiven, made holy, and adopted as God’s own dearly loved children. We believe we’ve been given the gift of eternal life, and we trust Jesus is with us always to the very end of the age.

We immerse ourselves in the body and blood of Jesus Christ as we eat and drink in faith, believing this holy meal is given for us to assure us all our sins are forgiven, including those sins we did to satisfy our pleasures, or appease our pain, or express our piety. As forgiven people of God, we pray he’ll help us forgive others as we’ve been forgiven by him.

Immersing ourselves in the means of the Spirit, we may produce the fruit of the Spirit as it infuses all our thoughts, words, and actions with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These fruit are always for the benefit of others, always builds up the people of God, and are always the means by which we love our neighbour as ourselves.

Yes, just like a flower may be infused with the colours of the ink or food colouring that it dwells in, those who belong to Christ and who immerse themselves in the means of the Spirit will always bear the fruit of the Spirit.

By God’s grace, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, may we all immerse ourselves in, dwell on, think about, mull over, wallow in, worry about, desire, and set our heart on…

…the forgiveness and peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, so that it may guard our hearts and minds and words and actions as people who trust in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 19th Jun 2022 (Pentecost 2)

Galatians 3:23-29 (ESV)

23 But before this faith came, we were held in custody under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. 24 So the law was our chaperone until Christ, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a chaperone.

26 In fact, you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 Indeed, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. 28 There is not Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one and the same in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants and heirs according to the promise.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we might truly live as people clothed with Jesus Christ. Amen.

Some people like to dress up.

Whether it’s a child who dresses up as a cowboy, or princess, or pirate, or their favourite Disney character, or whether it’s a young adult who attends Cosplay events as a Marvel or DC Comics superhero, or their favourite Star Wars or Harry Potter character, or whether we’re celebrating a special birthday and we decide to attend in our Abba inspired flairs, Downton Abbey clothes, or as a character from the musical ‘Grease’.

It can be fun dressing up as a way of pretending we’re someone different!

Today St Paul also tells us to ‘dress up’.

He tells us we’ve been baptised into Christ, and that we’ve put on, or have been clothed with, Christ!

But what does it mean to put on, or to be clothed with, Christ?

Is Jesus like a dress up as if we’re to emulate him or pretend we’re someone we’re not?

No, of course not! Jesus isn’t meant to be a dress up, but then why do so many people seem to treat him as a dress up as if we can put him on and take him off whenever we want? Why do so many seem to ‘pretend’ they’re a Christian?

For example, have you ever been tempted to ‘put on Christ’ while you attend worship by putting on your best behaviour, your most gracious smiles, and showing off your pious attitudes, but then seem to take all this off when you’re caught in long shopping lines and act with impatience, or when you’re angry with members of your family because they interrupted or changed your plans, or when you act unkindly toward those in need, or when you lie or curse or mouth off at those who annoy you?

In this way, do your lips taste the holy body and blood of Jesus in worship, but then those same lips swear and abuse others during the week? Do you smile and treat congregation members and your pastor well on Sunday, but then whinge and complain about them when you get home? Do you receive the undeserving gifts of forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, and peace from God on Sunday, but then behave uncharitably, grumpily, selfishly, and greedily between Sundays?

Despite the fact we may be tempted to ‘dress up’ with Christ for an hour or two on Sundays, but then act differently the rest of the week, Jesus isn’t supposed to be a ‘dress up’ as if we can put him on and off whenever we like!

So then, what does it mean to put on, or to be clothed with, Christ?

Well, it means you shouldn’t want to take him off!

You’ve been baptised into Christ and received all the benefits of his saving work through faith, and this baptism is still present and effective!

This means Christ remains with you always as he promised. Therefore, you can’t say you’re baptised while worshipping God at church, but not baptised while you’re shopping. You can’t say Jesus is with you when you’re praying, but not with you when you’re complaining about those he’s placed in authority over you.

Since you’re baptised and clothed with Christ through faith, this means Jesus is here with you at worship, but he’s also with you at home, down in the shed, when you swear, when you grumble about others, as you watch TV, when you surf the Internet, when you argue, as you desire to get something or someone, and when you lie and deceive.

If any of you ever have this alien idea that you can take off Christ and put him on again whenever you like, you end up not putting Christ on at all!

What you end up doing is putting on a certain set of behaviours. You end up attempting to live according to a certain set of rules or expectations. But by following a certain set of rules, behaviours, or expectations, you end up putting on the Law. It’s by this same Law that you measure, criticise, and judge each other. This same Law burdens and condemns you as you fail to live according to its exacting demands. This isn’t what St Paul is telling us to put on.

On the other hand, you’ve been baptised into Christ and have been given faith in Christ so that you can live without being imprisoned by the Law. You’ve been baptised into Christ – not so that you need to live up to a new set of rules, but so that you might receive the nature and person of Christ. Through faith you’ve swapped your imprisonment under the Law and have been dressed with the grace and beauty and holiness of Christ.

But what’s interesting is that Paul didn’t say you’ve been clothed with Jesus, but you’ve been clothed with Christ.

This title ‘Christ’ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Messiah’. Jesus is the promised Messiah, which means he is the Promised One, the Anointed One. The only ones anointed in the Old Testament were priests, prophets, and kings.

Therefore, when we talk about Jesus as the Christ, we’re saying he’s the promised King in the line of David who has come as King to restore the Kingdom.

He’s the Prophet who speaks God’s word to us and is the Word of God in human flesh.

He’s also the Priest of God who acts on our behalf and presents himself as the last sacrifice; dying for us to wash our sins away.

Therefore, as we’ve been clothed with Christ at our baptism, we’ve also been clothed with his kingship, his prophet task, and his priesthood.

But our kingship isn’t given to us so that we’re to rule over others. Instead, as members of his anointed royalty, we’re to proclaim the kingdom of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as kings have authority to announce mercy and pardon, this means every time we announce God’s mercy or forgiveness to those around us, the Kingdom of God is at work.

Similarly, our prophet task isn’t so that we might speak of future happenings, but so that we might proclaim the Word of God to others as revealed to us through Scripture and to share the hope we have in Jesus.

Our role as priests isn’t so that we offer sacrifices for ourselves or so that we might only bring our own needs to God, but we instead serve as priests to offer ourselves as servants to others and bring their needs before God the Father through Jesus. We pray on their behalf for God to have mercy on them.

Not only this, but being clothed with Christ also means we’ve been clothed with everything he’s done for us.

You and I have been clothed with Jesus’ obedience, suffering, and death. Since we’re clothed with Christ who suffers for his people, he may call some of us to suffer with him.

Therefore, instead of fearing any suffering for bearing the name of Christ, we may consider it an honour to experience some of the hostility and persecution he experienced as the world continues to imprison itself under the Law.

Similarly, since we’re clothed with Christ’s suffering and death, doesn’t it follow we’re also clothed with his resurrection?

Since Christ now lives eternally and we’re clothed with Christ, doesn’t it follow we already have eternal life?

Therefore, our own death isn’t the end, but death is like going through a doorway to life forever in God’s kingdom of light and life.

To put on Christ means when God the Father looks at you, he sees his only begotten Son. It means you’re all God’s dearly loved children and you’ll inherit what’s due to his only Son, Jesus. You will receive the glory due to Christ, not because any of you deserve it, but simply because you’re clothed in Christ, and Christ does deserve it!

Since each of you are clothed with Christ, then who do you see in the person next to you?

That person isn’t just your spouse, your child, your parent, or even someone you don’t get along with, but that person is a representative and image-bearer of Christ to you!

This is why Paul says there’s no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for there is only us and Christ (and we’re all equally clothed with Christ)!

This is who we’re to see in each other. This is who we’re to be for each other. Since you’re all clothed with Christ, and I’m clothed with Christ, we’re all people clothed with Christ!

Therefore, even if some of us might have difficulties with members of our own family, or with members of our church family, and we may struggle to love and serve them; by seeing each other clothed with Christ may help us greatly.

You see, in this way, you’re not just serving grumpy old Mrs Griffenpuffle, but you’re serving Christ. In the same way, when you’re being served by others, even by Mr Crabby Fidgetsticks, you’re being served by Christ himself.

While your words and actions may indicate you’re not clothed with Christ for a while, you’re to keep putting on Christ. You’re to take off your sinful and selfish words and actions through repentance and put on Christ again through faith.

This is the Christian life – taking off the old Adam with all the Law’s demands, selfishness, pride, and greed, and putting on the grace, mercy, peace, and holiness of Christ.

The Christian life of putting on Christ means…

… that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds as you’re clothed with Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 12th Jun 2022 (Holy Trinity)

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 (EHV) 

1 Do you hear Wisdom calling out?
Do you hear Understanding raising her voice?
On the hills above the roads,
she takes her stand at the crossroads.
Beside the gates leading into the city,
at the entrance to the doorways, she cries out:
I call to you men,
and I raise my voice to the people.

22 The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his way,
before his works of long ago.
23 From eternity I was appointed,
from the beginning, from before the origin of the earth.
24 When there were no deep waters, I was brought forth,
when there were no springs filled with water.
25 Before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 when he had not yet made land or fields
or the first dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there.
When he drew the horizon around the surface of the deep,
28 when he placed the clouds in the sky above,
when the fountains of the deep gushed out,
29 when he established his decree for the sea,
so that the waters could not go beyond the limit set by his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 I was beside him as a master craftsman.
I was his joy day after day.
I rejoiced in his presence at all times.
31 I rejoiced in his inhabited world.
I was delighted with the children of Adam.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we might look to your wisdom, who came to us in the form of your Son Jesus. Amen.

I wonder if many people are very interested in gaining wisdom these days.

It wasn’t long ago when people used to respect and seek out the elderly and listen to their wisdom, in order to gain from their experiences. History was studied so that we could learn from the lessons of the past. People knew the difference between a man and a woman and valued the differences. People used to respect those in positions of authority, even if they didn’t like them or agree with them. People learned about their family heritage, church members knew and valued the important differences between denominations, and if you weren’t a Christian, you were considered foolish.

But these days the elderly are largely considered useless and of no real benefit to the wider community. The young give them little or no respect, but rather try to take advantage of their frailty. Many people of today have the audacity to think they know better than anyone else in history, to the point they assume to know better than those people who were around when the event actually happened. The lines between men and women have now become blurred to the point some have forgotten what it means to be a man, or what it is to be a woman, or even what marriage is all about. Today many people think they know better than their parents, bosses, pastors, police, or parliamentarians, and so don’t give them much respect. Many people tend to ignore or pay no attention to their family heritage and quickly criticise and pass judgment on any denominational differences or loyalties. And Christians are considered to be the foolish ones.

Now this isn’t an attempt to glorify the past. No matter how much we romanticise ‘old times’, there were problems in the past as well. We can’t turn back the clock and go back to the ‘good old days’. But these changes in society seem to indicate not many people seek wisdom these days. Wisdom somehow seems undesirable. Instead, many people chase after riches, fame, knowledge, and beauty.

Of course, some may argue that unless you’re rich, well-educated, beautiful, and famous that you’re not successful. Today’s advertisements will try to tell you what you need in order to be well-liked, or happy, or successful. But is that where wisdom is really found? Is wisdom found in wealth, knowledge, beauty, or fame?

So, what is ‘wisdom’?

Well, some would say wisdom is accumulated knowledge, but that’s not totally correct. We might gain much knowledge, but unless we’ve learned from it and learnt how to apply our knowledge, we’re still not wise. We can be a ‘know-it-all’ and yet not be wise! So then, perhaps wisdom is accumulated learning and the insightful application of that learning.

But the application of your knowledge and learning might also need to tempered with good judgement between a right and wrong choices. And this is how people learnt wisdom in Old Testament times. For example, the book of Proverbs was, among other things, a collection of accumulated learning from the wise so that the young could learn the difference between making a right and wise choice, and a foolish and wrong choice. It was like a practical wisdom book for living. It’s a pity we largely ignore it, even though it has such pearls of wisdom as:

    A wise son makes a glad father,

        but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother. Prov 10:1

    Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout

        is a beautiful woman without discretion. Prov 11:22

    An excellent wife is the crown of her husband,

        but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones. Prov 12:4

Some fathers may have liked this one:

    Whoever spares the rod hates his son,

        but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. Prov 13:24

The elderly may appreciate:

    Gray hair is a crown of glory;

        it is gained in a righteous life. Prov 16:31

And for those who can’t help themselves:

    A fool’s lips walk into a fight,

        and his mouth invites a beating. Prov 18:6

But then Proverbs does something very interesting and unexpected. Wisdom and its opposite; folly, take on personalities. They’re no longer just instructions or choices between wise and foolish actions, but a choice to follow one of the two women calling us.

On the one hand, lady wisdom calls people to life and righteousness. On the other hand, the foolish whore calls people to live in morally deficient ways.

In today’s text, we go a step further. Wisdom is no longer like a woman calling people to life and righteousness, but an actual person who was there even before the creation of the universe. Wisdom is not just a choice, a way of living, or even likened to a lady, but an actual person involved in the creation of the universe.

We’re told that before the deepest depths of the sea were filled with water, wisdom was there. Before the mountains were settled in the mud, wisdom was there. Before the heavens were even sketched out, wisdom was there. Before the boundary lines were scratched into the earth where the water shall not pass, wisdom was there.

So, if we want to truly learn from the past, and if we truly want to learn wisdom, the best way to learn isn’t from books, but learning from a person. In this way, wisdom isn’t just learning about making right choices, but getting to know a person. Wisdom is gained through a trusting relationship. To gain wisdom, you need to get to know wisdom in person.

But then the New Testament makes a startling claim about who wisdom is.

Paul writes to the Corinthians about God, saying:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Cor 1:21-25

And later:

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.  1 Cor 1:30

Therefore Jesus, that is, God the Son, is Wisdom as a human being. He was there with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit before the world began. He came to us as Wisdom in human flesh. Therefore, if we want to know true Wisdom, we need to know Jesus.

But how do we get to know Jesus? How do we know Wisdom?

Well, he sends us his Word, and he taught wisdom to people around him through parables and such teachings as the beatitudes.

Now the Word doesn’t come alone, but the Spirit comes with it. Since the Spirit, who came on Jesus’ followers at Pentecost, is Jesus’ ongoing presence with us, the Spirit communicates the wisdom of the Son and the Father to us. God the Father speaks to us through God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit. In this way, as we hear the Word of God, Wisdom himself talks to us through the Holy Spirit and guides us into his truth, peace, and comfort.

Wisdom himself also comes to us at baptism. Now of course to the world’s eyes it seems like a quaint little ceremony to get people ‘done’. But it’s much more than this! God, in his wisdom, washes us clean in holy baptism, washing away all our sins. In baptism, God grafts us into the body of Christ, which means he’s grafted us into Wisdom himself. This has great significance whereby we also become part of the Triune relationship through Jesus. We’re also granted the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us through life, who whispers God’s wisdom to us and helps us understand what God is saying to us through his Word.

Wisdom also comes to us in the Lord’s Supper. It’s strange that one of the ways we gain wisdom isn’t through our eyes or ears, but through our mouth! We eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus who is God’s Wisdom in human flesh. We gain wisdom by eating and drinking through faith! In this meal we’re also forgiven our sins and strengthened for faith and wise service to others. As a holy child of God, learning from Wisdom himself, we slowly become God’s wisdom to others.

Now of course, as Paul reminds us, the world will still think this is foolishness and that going to worship is a waste of time. They say there’s no God and Jesus was just a man. They say baptism is only a quaint tradition to ‘get the child done’. They say that the Lord’s Supper is only bread and wine. They say nothing happens when you die – it’s just the end.

But for us this isn’t so. We’re counted among the wise because we fear the Lord. We believe God is real, that he created the world, and that he’s somehow three persons in One. We believe God graciously forgives us, not because any of us deserve it, but because God is a loving, forgiving, and merciful God, and for the sake of Jesus who suffered, died, and rose again for us. We believe he welcomes us into fellowship with him through baptism. We believe Jesus is truly present in his precious meal. We believe he sends us the Holy Spirit to guide us and be his presence with us. We believe he hears our prayers and strengthens us in our time of need. We believe we’ll receive eternal life through faith in him.

Of course, we may not understand how this can be true, because these things seem like foolishness to the world, but understanding isn’t the same as faith. Faith trusts even if it doesn’t understand.

We have faith in Jesus, the Wisdom of God, who came to give us life and peace and hope. We don’t have faith in knowledge itself, but we have an intimate relationship with Wisdom himself and long to learn from him. We don’t have to be old to be wise, but we become wise through our relationship with Jesus. His wisdom impacts our life and the lives of those about us. In this way, as we learn from trusting Jesus, may we all become wise and discerning children of God.

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

Sermon from 5th Jun 2022 (Pentecost)

Genesis 11:1-9 (ESV)

1 The whole earth had one language and a single vocabulary. As people traveled in the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used mud brick instead of stone for building material, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let’s build a city for ourselves and a tower whose top reaches to the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves, so that we will not be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people were building. The Lord said, “If this is the first thing they are doing as one people, who all have one language, then nothing that they intend to do will be too difficult for them. Come, let’s go down there and confuse their language, so that they cannot understand one another’s speech.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. It was named Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may be united in praising the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We may not like to admit it, but we all want to make a name for ourselves.

For some, this will mean getting their ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ on reality TV shows like ‘Survivor’, ‘Masterchef’, ‘The Voice’, ‘Married at First Sight’, or ‘Big Brother’. They want to be famous, respected, and well-liked.

But this may not be the way you and I attempt to make our own name great.

For example, if we use social media, we might post about ourselves on Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat. We might take pictures or videos of our food, pets, holidays, family, surroundings, or even of ourselves in a ‘selfie’ (with or without those pouting lips).

This isn’t to criticise any of us for doing so, but it’s the new and easy way to make a name for ourselves, which we simply measure by how many hits or likes we get. Of course, the danger is if we don’t get many hits or likes, we might take this personally and wonder how much others like or love us. We may wonder what we need to do so that people will take notice of us and remember our name.

But even if we don’t use social media, we might talk about ourselves in conversations and point out all the things we do for other people, or how busy we are, or what we’ve done, or what’s been done to us, or where we’ve been, or who we know.

We might unknowingly puff ourselves up by showing off our great shows of strength, fitness, beauty, intelligence, artistry, skills with machinery or craft, how funny we are, and so on. We do this because we want to be noticed, respected, valued, or loved. We want people to know and respect our name and who we are.

Because we want to make our own name great (or at least protect the name or reputation we think we have), if our name is ever threatened because we’ve been accused of doing or saying something, we’ll want to defend our name.

But by defending our name, we may talk about others in an unkind way behind their back. Through our careless talk, unchecked rumours, and malicious gossip, we may point out someone else’s failures, inadequacies, and all the evil things they’ve done, which means we want to damage another person’s name and reputation. And even though we do this, we’ll probably attempt to justify our sinful behaviour as good and reasonable, or at least better than the other person’s!

Of course, no matter whether we’re attempting to make our own name great through our boasting, or whether we’re attempting to damage someone else’s name through careless talk and harmful gossip, we’re gaining a name for ourselves that we probably don’t want.

You see, if we’re attempting to make our own name great, people will soon learn whenever they’re around us, well…it’s all about us!

Similarly, if we’re often criticising or questioning other people’s motives and words and actions, we’ll soon earn the reputation of being a negative, distrustful, and critical person.

So, whether we’re making our own name great or damaging someone else’s name, we make people around us feel less important, less valued, and less loved.

But this attempt to make our own names great isn’t new. In fact, it all began in the Garden of Eden.

Satan tempted the first humans to ‘be like God’ by taking and eating the forbidden fruit. The first woman and man saw it was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to become wise by knowing good and evil, and so they ate.

Perhaps they never even thought they were trying to make a name for themselves, but by trying to be like God, that’s what they were doing.

They wanted to be more wise, more important, more valuable, and more knowledgeable. They wanted to know and define good and evil for themselves. They weren’t happy with their place in God’s order and wanted something more. They wanted to be number one. But once one person tries to be number one, there’s always going to be a conflict – and this usually means conflict with God!

And, if we can’t be our own god who controls the people and environment around us as individuals, we might attempt to do this collectively. You see, some may argue that, if only we could all come together to agree on something important, there’s almost nothing we humans can’t do.

So, for example, if only we can all agree on climate change and how to tackle it, then perhaps we can affect our world’s weather patterns for future generations.

Similarly, if only we can put in place the right technologies, the right medicines, the most appropriate laws, and the best resource management, then there’ll be no more accidents or crime or poverty or hunger or sickness. If only we can all put down our weapons (or restrict the weapons we have access to), there’ll be no more war or terrorism or mass shootings. If only we funded all the right research, then there’ll be no more sickness or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or cancer.

Wouldn’t these types of things be something noble or grand to aspire to? Even if we can’t make our own names great, wouldn’t this be something our generation would like to hand on to future generations? In this way, even if can’t each become gods of our own destinations individually, then why can’t we unite and corporately become as influential as God himself!

But this was the issue in Genesis 11! The people wanted to corporately make a name for themselves and do something that’s never been done before. In fact, what they planned would reach the heavens (where the gods live), and so they’d become equal with God!

Now you’d think God would be pleased with their efforts toward unity. You’d think he’d want people to come to him. But their unity was based on trusting themselves, and their efforts toward reaching the heavens was to coronate themselves as the gods other people would aspire to.

So, while their efforts may have seemed noble or grand, the problem was that, while they were trusting themselves, they were rebelling against God and wouldn’t trust him, which was a first commandment issue.

All the time they were attempting to make their own name great, meant they wouldn’t call on the name of God, which was a second commandment issue. In other words, their faith in God was at stake, so God acted. God came down.

In this case, God didn’t come down to unite, but divide! He intervened in this monumental building project by confusing their language. Once they spoke different languages, they couldn’t understand each other.

Even in our own relationships, we often experience division, and many times this is because of our own failures to understand each other.

For example, husbands and wives don’t always listen to each other very well because they often think they alone are right and the other one is wrong, so why bother listening?

Children don’t want to listen to their parents because they’re no longer young enough to know everything. Even in church we don’t listen to each other in order to understand, but instead we usually listen in order to respond. When we do respond, we show we don’t understand because our answers are often presumptuous, hasty, ill-informed, and unwise.

Anyway, in response to people’s sin of wanting to make a name for themselves, God came down and personally intervened in human history. Sure, their name would be remembered, but the name of ‘Babel’ is only great because of what God did among them to confuse and divide them and their language.

But unexpectedly, we hear in the next chapter how God personally intervened again in human history by making a promise to Abram that his name would be great. Abram (and later Abraham’s) name would become great because of the promises God made and kept for him.

Because God kept his promises and continuously looked after Abraham’s lineage, God’s name became great among the scattered nations. God’s great name would later be called on at his holy temple in Jerusalem until God would personally intervene in human history in a new way.

You see, God himself came down and became a human being, living and walking and breathing among his good (but rebellious) creation who constantly thinks their own name is great. God, in the human form of Jesus, didn’t rebel and seek to make his own name great, but humbled himself and was obedient all the way to death.

The result of God’s coming down in the person of Jesus is that, in the name of Jesus, forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. In the name of Jesus people will be baptised with water and have the holy name of the Triune God placed on them.

Before Jesus died, and before he ascended into heaven, he promised his students a helper, an advocate, a comforter – the Holy Spirit. And soon after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus’ students, and here’s where God’s plan of unity reveals itself in an unexpected way!

Where once God confused the language of all people so they couldn’t understand each other, now all people can hear and understand the one message of forgiveness and salvation through the name of Jesus in their own language.

Where once, at Babel, the people sought to make a name for themselves; now the holy name of Jesus Christ would be proclaimed among all nations so that every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

To unite and bless the people of earth, God didn’t change the languages back into one language, but instead sent one message in many languages. And today the gospel message of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ is proclaimed in every language on earth.

In our worship, even though we may still seem divided into separate churches and denominations on earth, we’re truly one in faith and confession. This is what it means to confess the one holy catholic church. We confess there is one universal and complete church that crosses the boundaries of language and denomination. Today people of all nations, tribes, races, and language gather in the holy name of our Triune God.

We don’t need to make our own name great, but God has engraved our name on his hand. He’s also given us a name by which we can be saved – the name of Jesus Christ.

Our sins of attempting to make our own name great are forgiven in the name of Jesus. He placed his own name on you and me when we were baptised and so has claimed us as his own. Because we bear the name of Jesus, we’re dearly loved holy children of God who’ll inherit the kingdom of heaven. As an inhabitant of heaven, we receive as a gift what the people at Babel were once trying to achieve for themselves through much hard work. You see, through faith in Jesus who came down, we get to ascend into heaven.

Through the work of the Holy Spirit (who came down upon us), we believe we’ve received forgiveness, life, and salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. We believe and trust this because everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Even though the people of Babel were once dispersed among the nations, the event of Babel has now been undone as the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.

Only one name is great, and it’s not yours or mine. The name of Jesus Christ has been placed on each of us so that…

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