Monthly Archives: August 2013

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers’ (Ordinary Sunday 22C, 1 Sept. ’13)

Hebrews 13.1–8, 15–16
Luke 14.1, 7–14

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke quite personally about my journey as a person of faith, from my early life as a fundamentalist Christian to the current day. I don’t often speak so personally, so it’s quite unusual for me to begin today in a personal vein as well.

The Book of Hebrews says:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

I want to speak about hospitality today. I want to begin by reminding you of the hospitality you, the members of this congregation, showed Karen and me when we first came here. And those of you who weren’t here then, you can hear the story for the first time. Continue reading

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Bold I approach the eternal throne… (Ordinary Sunday 21C, 26.08.07)

I’m not preaching tomorrow, so I’m posting this sermon from six years ago.

Hebrews 12.18-29
Luke 13.10-17

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’)

The passage we read from Hebrews contrasts two ways of coming to God. The first, the one we just heard again, is the experience of the ancient Israelites: darkness, a blazing fire, gloom, tempest, fear. When the people of Israel came to Sinai, they came to a God they didn’t really know. They had to learn how to live with this God; the first step was to enter this journey with God with dread, quaking in their boots.

We, on the other hand, have a different experience. Again, in the words of the Book of Hebrews, we

…have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…

The writer of the Book of Hebrews—whoever that was—is saying that we come into the presence of God surrounded by all the saints and angels of heaven. It doesn’t matter that we can’t see them. Therefore, we may come with an expectant joy.

Most of us will know Charles Wesley’s words far better. We sang them earlier:

No condemnation now I dread:
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ, my own.

Why is it different for us? Because we’re more theologically sophisticated? Because we’re more mature, more educated? More holy? No, none of the above. It’s different for us simply because we have been born this side of the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus has made all the difference. Unlike our ancestors, the believers of the Old Covenant, we may come to the eternal throne with boldness.

Through Jesus Christ, we come boldly to the throne, because through Jesus Christ, we know it to be the throne of absolute and total grace.

Let’s just remember the last verse of our Hebrews reading: ‘…our God is a consuming fire’. This bit always surprises me. A consuming fire doesn’t sound like a God of grace. It sounds more like a God to be frightened of. To us, God’s throne doesn’t necessarily look like a throne of grace. Because the God who sits on this throne is a consuming fire.

I’ve heard people over the years talk about the difference between the ‘God of the Old Testament’ and the ‘God of the New Testament’. Yet it just won’t do for us to speak this way. God reveals more of himself through Jesus Christ than he did through the prophets of old; but God is the same. The so-called ‘Old Testament God’ is the ‘New Testament God’.

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Faith looks forward

Ordinary Time 20C; Pentecost 13C; Proper 15C

Isaiah 5.1–7
Hebrews 11.29—12.2
Luke 12.49–56

Today and last Sunday, the lectionary has directed our thoughts to Hebrews 11, the great ‘Faith Chapter’. Key Old Testament figures of faith are remembered in this chapter: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Samuel, David, and others. Of course, if we were writing this list today we may have included Sarah with Abraham, and named more women than Rahab. Women like Hagar, Ruth, Deborah and Judith would really round the chapter out for many of us.

The stories of people of faith can be a great encouragement to us. The people of faith we ourselves know can also encourage us.

I want to tell you about a time when I wondered if I really was a person of faith after all. A time when I thought my faith may just evaporate.

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Taking Jesus seriously

Ordinary Time 19C; Pentecost 12C; Proper 14C

Isaiah 1.1, 10–20
Hebrews 11.1–3, 8–16
Luke 12.32–40

Right there in chapter one of his book, Isaiah tells Israel that God does not ‘like’ its worship services in the great Temple of Jerusalem. God says,

When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen…

So, how do you feel after a service of worship? Do you enjoy our services? Perhaps ‘enjoy’ isn’t the right word. Perhaps I should ask how you ‘respond to’, ‘experience’, ‘appreciate’ our services.

Maybe you don’t enjoy worship all that much. If not, why not? Often, when people say that they mean the music isn’t right for them. Or the sermons are too long. Or we should have Holy Communion more often, or less ‘liturgy’—whatever that is.

Maybe we feel that the Pentecostals have got it right, with their exuberance, their songs and their spontaneity. Or the Orthodox Churches, with their mystery, icons and incense. It may even be we’re ok with the way things are.

But let’s face the real question: If God didn’t like Temple worship back then, then the real question is not what we think about worship, but what God thinks about it here in Centenary Uniting. How does God respond to our worship?

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Two ways of living (4 August 2013, Ordinary Time 18C)

Hosea 11.1–11
Luke 12.13–21

We have two pictures of what it means to be human in our readings from Hosea and Luke today. Luke gives us the ‘self-made man’, who builds up a profitable business and is proud of the fruit of his labours. He’s the kind of man we tend to admire. We might even wish we were more like him.

On the other hand, the prophet Hosea gives us snapshots of a growing child. It’s like looking through a family album—a parent teaches a child to walk, the child rebels, the parent is angry because of the wounded love in her heart. The parent’s love for the child remains undiminished. The child is not ‘self-made’ at all; the child is primarily formed by the parent.

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