Monthly Archives: January 2014

When Jesus calls, you follow (Epiphany 3A/Australia Day, 26 January 2014)

Reading
Matthew 4.12–23

Let me tell you about something that happened to me. 

I was fourteen, and painfully shy. Mum and dad arranged for me to go to the local Methodist youth group so I could make more friends, and so I went along one Friday night.

And that’s how I found myself unexpectedly going to the 1968 Billy Graham Crusade at the Brisbane Exhibition grounds. When I got into the bus to go, I had no idea what would happen that evening.

After Billy Graham had finished preaching, there was an ‘altar call’, where people who wanted to give their lives to Jesus were invited to come forward. I’d never before heard of altar calls. In the end, I just had to go out to the front. The thing I still remember was just marvelling how anyone could stay in their seat. I could not resist the pull to come out. I tried hard to remain in my seat, but I just couldn’t.

I’m not sure grace is always ‘irresistible’, but I certainly couldn’t resist it that night. Continue reading

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Being who we truly are in Christ (Epiphany 2, Year A — 19 January 2014)

Reading
John 1.29–42

I have a friend, a retired minister of the Church of Scotland, who lives in Edinburgh. So while our son was in Edinburgh recently for Hogmanay, my friend welcomed him and helped him to settle in. I keep in touch irregularly with this friend; some years ago, on 30 November, I called him by phone. For those who don’t recall, 30 November is St Andrew’s Day, and Andrew is very much the patron saint of Scotland.

I rang on St Andrew’s Day partly just to hear my friend’s voice, and partly because I’d realised one of the Church of Scotland’s official prayer resources had prayers for other saints’ days but no prayer for St Andrew’s Day. I asked him why the Church of Scotland (of all churches!) had no prayer for St Andrew’s Day? And why on earth did it have a prayer for Peter but not Andrew? He replied in his delightful Edinburgh brogue, “Och, he’s just the little brother.”

Poor Andrew, he’s only Simon Peter’s little brother—living in Peter’s shade and second in line.

And that’s basically the way the New Testament tells it.  Continue reading

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Baptised as God’s beloved children (The Baptism of Christ, Year A, 12 January 2014)

Readings
Isaiah 42.1–7
Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 3.13–17

 

When we baptised H last week, we made a brief statement about what baptism ‘is’. It started like this:

Baptism is Christ’s gift.
It is the sign by which the Spirit of God
joins people to Jesus Christ
and incorporates them into his body, the Church.

Baptism is a gift. It’s not just being ‘done’, just going through the motions. And it’s not a useless gift either; baptism does something. Through the sign of baptism God’s Spirit joins us to Christ and makes us part of his Body, which is the Church.

The statement continues:

In his own baptism in the Jordan by John,
Jesus identified himself with humanity
in its brokenness and sin;
that baptism was completed
in his death and resurrection.

The best gifts are those that the giver values very much. Jesus valued baptism enough to go through it himself. He didn’t have to do it; John’s baptism was a sign of repentance. Jesus didn’t need to change his ways, but he identified with us in our “brokenness and sin”.

And baptism didn’t stop there for Jesus! Jesus identified with sinful humanity so fully that he died on the cross of Calvary. There—in death—his identification with us was absolutely complete. And in his resurrection from death, Jesus promises that we will share in his eternal life. Our baptism also is completed in our death and risen life with the Lord.

And then the statement says:

By God’s grace,
baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ,
so that whatever is his may be called ours.
By water and the Spirit we are claimed
as God’s own
and set free from the power of sin and death.

“Baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ.” What is “the faith of Jesus Christ”? It is more than believing in Jesus. The faith ‘of’ Christ is his commitment to the kingdom of God, to God’s will being “done on earth as in heaven”. The faith ‘of’ Christ is also his faithfulness to his mission. Faith in God and obedience to God go together. As baptised people, we are called to be faithfully committed to God and God’s ways. It doesn’t matter if, like me, you were a baby when you were baptised. Baptism brings to us the promises of God and calls us to seek the kingdom of God.

“Baptism plunges us into the faith of Jesus Christ, so that whatever is his may be called ours.” Here’s a great promise: “Whatever is his may be called ours”. We can see what is Christ’s as we look at his baptism by John. Firstly, he is God’s beloved Son; in and through him, we are adopted as God’s beloved daughters and sons. In and through him, we are part of the family of God.

Secondly, the Spirit comes upon Jesus; we also share in God’s Spirit in and through Jesus. The Spirit opens our spirits to the life of God, enlightening our minds, converting our hearts and gifting us for the sake of God’s kingdom.

The Spirit applies to us the salvation Jesus won. Dying, he defeated death and rose again in new, eternal, life. Sharing in baptism assures us that we share in his risen life here and now, that we are “set free from the power of sin and death”—even in times of doubt or spiritual dryness.

The statement concludes like this:

Thus, claimed by God
we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit
that we may live as witnesses to Jesus Christ,
share his ministry in the world
and grow to maturity,
awaiting with hope the day of our Lord Jesus.

Baptism gives us a purpose and a share in God’s coming kingdom as Spirit-anointed witnesses and sharers in Christ’s ministry and mission in the world.

Baptism isn’t something that happens once, which we then leave behind. Baptism marks our whole life. The sign of the cross is never erased from us, it doesn’t wear off. Today, we shall reaffirm our baptism as people who are on the Way with Jesus, the strange way to life he has pioneered. We are people made alive with him, people sharing in his Spirit. We shall commit ourselves for a new year; we shall set our course for 2014.

We are forgiven.
We are God’s children.
The Spirit of Jesus is with us. Amen.

 

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The mystery of God is among us (Epiphany, Year A, on 5 January 2014)

Readings
Ephesians 3.1–12
Matthew 2.1–12

Tomorrow, 6 January, is the Day of the Epiphany, which is the day we remember that once upon a time, wise men came across huge distances to worship Jesus. Epiphany is a kind of mystery story. There’s a clue: the Star of Bethlehem. There’s a dodgy villain: Herod the Great (his name even sounds dodgy, like he’s a hypnotist in a cheap nightclub). There’s no chase—but there’s a long journey from the ‘mysterious East’. And there’s mystery. There’s mystery in bucket loads.

The star is mysterious. It doesn’t behave like normal stars; it rises like a normal star but then it eventually stops—just like that!—when it gets to the place Jesus is. How does a star behave like that?

Herod tries to be mysterious, but he’s pretty transparent really. He is ‘King Herod the Great’, and no one is going to take his place. When the wise men come to ask where the recently-born ‘King of the Jews’ is, he bristles. His homicidal impulses were never far from the surface—he killed his wife Mariamne and one of his sons—and they were fully charged now. It was kill or be killed, and Herod preferred to kill.

The wise men, now they are mysterious. They come from God-alone-knows. Matthew may have pictured three, but we don’t know. They may have been astrologers or sorcerers or even priests of the Zoroastrian religion, to which the late Freddie Mercury belonged. We just don’t know. What do we know about them?—we know they weren’t members of the chosen people, they were Gentiles like most of us, and in Matthew’s story of Jesus they were the first to drop everything to find this new king.

The new king is mysterious. The story tells us that the star wasn’t specific enough to tell the wise men where the new king was, not at first. So they did what most people would do; they reported to head office. They went to the capital, to Jerusalem, to the palace, to Herod himself.

They didn’t imagine that the king would be in li’l ol’ Bethlehem. They didn’t think his parents would be ordinary folk. They had costly gifts, gold, myrrh, frankincense; this newborn king may have been better off with extra blankets for the winter, or a K-Mart gift voucher.

There are mysteries wherever you look in the Epiphany story. Not mysteries that we can solve; these are mysteries we can only wonder at.

St Paul also wondered at the central mystery of the Epiphany over fifty years after Jesus was born, even though there is no sign that he even knew about the story of the wise men. He wrote (Ephesians 3.6) that the mystery was this:

the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

In Matthew’s story of Jesus, the magi are the first Gentiles to share in the good news of Jesus—but they are far from the last.

Paul’s mission was to Gentiles, to people who hadn’t grown up in the Faith of Israel, to those who thought differently and lived very differently.

The Church is meant to be a body of diversity. There are old, young, black, white, male, female, gay, straight—and all are one in Christ.

The greatest mystery of Epiphany is that when God comes ‘down to earth’, God doesn’t come only to special people, chosen people, good people. God comes to everyone without exception. God becomes our neighbour, everyone’s neighbour.

God calls us to be keepers and heralds of this mystery: God leaves no one out, God excludes no one. We can exclude other people by our own self-righteousness, or by our fear of them; but God has come to reconcile and include people who think and live differently from one another. God’s grace is beyond our reach or our understanding.

In 2014, this congregation is called to be a place of inclusion, where no one is left out because of who they are. God welcomes all who will come and calls us to do the same—that’s the Christian mystery, that’s the wonder of God; that is our mission. Amen.

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