Monthly Archives: August 2009

Discerning with the whole armour of God

Sermon for 23 August 2009

As we listen for the Word of God,
let us pray:
Lord Jesus,
we have tasted, and you are good;
we have seen and touched you,
and your word feeds us for eternal life.
Keep us close to you,
trusting your promises,
for you are the Holy One of God,
and we can go to no other.

Ephesians 6.10-20
John 6. 56-69

Although I wasn’t here last week, I wrote in Crosstalk that we are in a time of discernment. It’s a time of discernment about whether we want to change the way we gather for worship to reflect two things:
  • firstly, the Lord is in our midst
  • secondly, we are a community with the Lord in its midst

I want to ask today how we go about discerning that. When we try to discern something as a body of Christ, we are trying prayerfully, together, to seek whether God is leading us a certain way.

I’ve said that I believe the Spirit is leading us to meet with the table in the midst, and the seating around it. I’ve talked about removing the platform as part of that vision.

Some people have heard me as saying that no matter what, I’ll get my way. Friends, that’s not what I’m saying. When someone has a vision, it needs to be tested and discerned by the body. Prayer needs to go into it. We need to appreciate the theological reasons why God may be calling us this way. But in the end, the body of Christ discerns the way forward.

There have been a few knee-jerk reactions. They are inevitable, but they are not discerning. Knee-jerk reactions need to be set aside so that we can prayerfully discern what God is indeed saying.

Discernment requires us to ask one sincere question: Could it be that this is God’s will for us now? If it is, then and only then we ask questions of cost. It means that we say with an open mind, What does God want?—and only then ask, How will we do this?

I’ve said I am not happy with a compromise. I wrestled with what to say about that, if anything. Let me say it more fully: compromise is never the first step in a time of discernment. We could compromise, but only because we discern that God’s will for us leads us in that way.

Let me put it this way. This is about three things:

1.  discernment as a body of Christ
2.  discernment as a body of Christ
3.  discernment as a body of Christ

Just like buying a house!

With that in mind, let’s talk about discernment in general. Let’s look at how our Ephesians reading might help us to have the right spirit to discern together.

Paul is using the picture of a soldier on active service here. Of course, when Paul has the picture of a soldier in his mind, it’s not about a member of the Australian armed forces. It’s a Roman soldier of the first century, complete with breastplate, shield, helmet and sword.

If you’re in the army, you don’t wear your own clothes whilst on duty. You wear the clothes you’ve been given, not your own stuff.

It’s the same with us. When we are on active service for the Lord Jesus Christ, we wear what he has given us to wear. Then and only then, we’re equipped to serve.

So let’s look at wearing the armour of God to help us know how to discern a way forward.

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Liturgical outing

I’m off to Sydney (again!!) soon, for some great liturgical conferences — Societas Liturgica, the English Language Liturgical Consultation and seminar week at United Theological College.

Back on 21st — will try to write while I’m away.

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The Living Bread in our midst—Worship in the Round

Sermon for 9 August 2009

As we listen for the Word of God,
let us pray:
Jesus, living Bread,
all-sufficient Saviour,
nourish us with your word;
feed us, quench our thirst,
that we may live in love
and be filled with your praise
now and for ever.

Ephesians 4.25—5.2
John 6. 35, 41-51

Jesus says, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’ (John 6.51)

Down from heaven. When we were beginning our service today, we sang,

…not in some heaven light years away,
but here in this space, the new light is shining,
now is the kingdom, now is the day.

Down from heaven means right here, right now. It means with us, in our midst.

At the beginning of John’s Gospel, we read these words (1.14):

the Word became flesh and lived among us…

The eternal Word of God, who is God, becomes a human being. In Jesus. This eternal Word makes a home with us. In our midst.

The human instinct is to draw away when God comes too close. We feel the ‘otherness’ of God too much. It reminds us of our guilt and shame. When God lived in the midst of us, he was rejected. He was horribly tortured and done away with on the cross.

So no surprise in today’s Gospel Reading that when Jesus declares he is the living Bread come down from heaven, come down to be with us, he is rejected by those who hear.

Part of learning to be a member of the Christian family is to learn to allow God to be close to us. We have to learn to open our hearts to God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit teaches us the truth about Jesus, and about ourselves. The Spirit shows us the deep, eternal love of Jesus for us, and the Spirit shows us where we need to grow—and change—and repent, so that we can allow God to be nearer to us, rather than push God away.

Jesus is the living bread, come down from heaven, come into our midst. In receiving Jesus, we become a community of people who welcome Jesus rather than reject him.

If we are a community that welcomes Jesus, then we also welcome the brothers and sisters Jesus has given us. St Paul had it right in Ephesians 4.32:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

And St Paul says it even more clearly in Romans 15.7:

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you. That’s the verse on the poster on our church door. It has Welcome in many languages, not just English.

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Thoughts for Hiroshima Day

From Eureka St, 24 June 2008:

In 1965, the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church declared: ‘Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.’ There is no other church moral teaching which has been so solemnly declared.

Many democratic leaders, if placed in Truman’s shoes, would, in good conscience and with a heavy heart, invoke an exception and do exactly the same again, no matter what any church leader said.

The American philosopher Michael Walzer has been a long time critic of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Just and Unjust Wars he states ‘Our purpose, then, was not to avert a ‘butchery’ that someone else was threatening, but one that we were threatening, and had already begun to carry out.’

He rightly distinguishes Japan from Germany and argues that there was no need to demand unconditional surrender. ‘[A]ll that was morally required was that they be defeated, not that they be conquered and totally overthrown.’ Walzer claims, ‘In the summer of 1945, the victorious Americans owed the Japanese people an experiment in negotiation.’

In the essay ‘Terrorism and Just War’, from his recent book of essays Thinking Politically, he says ‘the American use of nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945 … was surely an act of terrorism; innocent men and women were killed in order to spread fear across a nation and force the surrender of its government.

‘And this action went along with a demand for unconditional surrender, which is one of the forms that tyranny takes in wartime … There can’t be any doubt that the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki implied … a radical devaluation of Japanese lives and a generalised threat to the Japanese people.’

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