Tag Archives: Billy Graham

Living in the tension

Reading
Luke 12.49–56

 

I have often repented of judging too severely, but very seldom of being too merciful. — John Wesley, Letters to John C Brackenbury, #656

———————-

The sermon I’m about to preach had a few false starts. I started it at least four times with different ideas. That happens from time to time. Sometimes, in working out how to approach a difficult sermon, I take a personal approach. Which is what I’m doing today. 

Why was it so hard to write? I didn’t want to avoid difficult verses like this, but I didn’t know quite what to say: 

I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!… Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three…

Division isn’t easy. 

I’ve been divided from people because of my faith. Let me tell you about one or two times. 

I had a sudden conversion experience; I’ll tell you more about it another time. It was at a Billy Graham rally, and a couple of days afterwards I plucked up the courage to tell my dad. 

Dad was not best pleased. He told me not to post back the study material I’d been given, because all I’d get would be ‘begging letters’. He told me he’d believe what Billy Graham had to say if he rode into town on a donkey rather than flying in on a jet plane. 

That was my first taste of division, and of how complex divisions really can be. Hear again what my dad said: he’d believe what Billy Graham had to say if he rode into town on a donkey rather than flying in on a jet plane. 

Dad was saying that he was prepared to give a hearing to someone who truly followed Jesus. But he wasn’t prepared to listen to a man he believed (wrongly, in my opinion) was only in it for the money. 

This is a story of necessary division. When Jesus is there, we ultimately need to make a choice. Will we follow, or turn away? 

(By the way, my dad eventually listened to the voice of Jesus. But that’s a story for another day.)

The second division came a few years later. I was going to my best friend at school’s church. I mean, why not go to your best friend’s church, right? 

It was an Open Brethren outfit, a fundamentalist group who insisted that there were no errors or contradictions in the Bible; that the earth was 6000 years old; and only men could offer leadership in the church. What’s more, expressing any doubt or having other opinions was questionable or even sinful, and thoroughly discouraged. 

Before long the Vietnam War was getting close to home, and I was studying medicine at uni. The things I was being taught at church seemed very simplistic when I put them next to what I was learning at uni, and next to the problems we were facing as a country. The church’s teachings seemed like kindergarten stuff compared to what I was hearing and discovering elsewhere. 

To relieve the tension I felt, I read widely about the Christian faith. I realised that if I was learning Medicine at a university level I would have to educate myself as much as I could about the faith I believed. 

Problem: the more I read and learned, the more I realised that a fundamentalist way of thinking made very little sense. 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under RCL, sermon

Strange wisdom, strange strength (Lent 3, 4 March 2018)

Readings
Exodus 20.1–17
1 Corinthians 1.18–25

Paul sees the judging and saving activity of God as underway in the present moment; he describes the church not as those who have been saved, but as those who are being saved. The distinction is important, because he will continue to insist throughout the letter on the not-yet-completed character of salvation in Christ. — Hays, Richard B, First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 28). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

_______________

While I was down in Tasmania last winter, I was delighted by the little towns and villages that dot the landscape. One of the best is Ross, which is just a short drive north of Hobart. The wool store in Ross is home to this tapestry by John Coburn called Canticle. It depicts The Tree of Life. Isn’t it striking?

http://aumuseums.com/tas/northern/tasmanian-wool-centre

I went there a couple of times last year. I mean, I visit Ross just to stand once more in front of this tapestry for a while.

But there’s a lot more to Ross. Since this is a sermon rather than a travelogue, I’ll tell you about one other thing.

The Uniting Church in Ross is one of those lovely old structures that I at least always associate with ‘church’. It really is a beautiful building. Sadly, it’s no longer used for regular services. I would love to be at a worship service there.  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Lent, RCL, sermon

Can these bones live?

Readings
Ezekiel 37.1–14
John 11.17–45

It’s 6 April in a few days’ time, on Thursday. I remember 6 April 1968 (forty nine years ago for the arithmetically challenged). It was a Saturday; 6 April was the first day I awoke after accepting Jesus into my life. I’ve already told you about that time, but today want to say a bit more.

The night before, 5 April, I had gone to the local Methodist youth group for the first time. I hadn’t known about this, but they were off to the Billy Graham rally in the Exhibition grounds that night.

I decided that I was glad to be going there. I had been wondering about God. I thought Jesus was a good man, the best who’d ever lived. I was shocked and distressed that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated just the day before, 4 April 1968. I felt confused about life.

I listened to Billy Graham preach. I didn’t understand much, but I did note he spoke well of Martin Luther King’s legacy. And that was important to me. But the rhetorical flourishes of a preacher from the South of the good ol’ US of A were really quite foreign to me. And he did go on a bit (over 40 minutes as I recall!).

Billy Graham finished (finally!), and there was an altar call. I felt an irresistible magnetic pull on me. I can recall the feeling still. I had to leave my seat—me, quite possibly the most introverted kid in the whole place that night. I knew I had to leave the people who had brought me, not yet knowing the leaders’ names, not even knowing how to find them later.

But I just couldn’t stay in my seat.

It strikes me that I can identify with Lazarus. When Jesus says, ‘Lazarus, come out!’, he just came. It wasn’t a suggestion—it was a command, a summons. Just so, I felt summoned that day. I had to come.

Jesus summons each one of us. Sometimes, we might even have given up on life when he summons us. We may as well have been dead.

As I reflect on identifying with Lazarus, I think How was I dead? In the story, Lazarus was just dead. As a doornail. How was I dead?

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, Lent, Martin Luther King, RCL, sermon

Can these bones live? (Lent 5A, 6 April 2014)

Readings
Ezekiel 37.1–14
Romans 8.6–11
John 11.1–45

 

It’s 6 April. I remember 6 April 1968 (forty six years ago for the arithmetically challenged among our number). It was a Saturday; 6 April was the first day I awoke after accepting Jesus into my life. Today, I want to talk a bit about that time.

The night before, I had gone to the local Methodist youth group for the first time. I hadn’t known about this, but they were off to the Billy Graham rally in the Exhibition grounds that night.

I decided that I was glad to be going there. I had been wondering about God. I thought Jesus was a good man. I was distressed that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. I felt confused about life.

I listened to Billy Graham preach. I didn’t understand much, but I did note he spoke well of Martin Luther King’s legacy. But the rhetorical flourishes of a preacher from the South of the good ol’ US of A were quite foreign to me. And he did go on a bit.

Billy Graham finished (finally!), and there was an altar call. I felt an irresistible magnetic pull on me. I can recall the feeling still. I had to leave my seat—me, quite possibly the most introverted kid in the whole place that night. I knew I had to leave the people who had brought me, not yet knowing the leaders’ names, not knowing how to find them later.

I just couldn’t stay in my seat.

It struck me reflecting on the story of Lazarus this week that I can identify with him. When Jesus says, ‘Lazarus, come out!’, he just came. It wasn’t a suggestion, it was a summons. Just so, I felt summoned that day. I had to come.

Jesus summons each one of us. Sometimes, we might even have given up on life when he summons us. We may as well be dead.

As I reflect on identifying with Lazarus, I think How was I dead? After all, in the story Lazarus was dead. As a doornail. How was I dead?

I could simply say I was dead in my trespasses and sins, unable to know God. And while that may sound harsh, it’s an image that works. I was constructing a life that kept God at bay, while at the same time wanting to know God better. We could use other language too; I was AWOL, and I was afraid to return to barracks. The scriptures also use other language, and we’ve come across it the past few weeks. So with the man blind from birth, I too was blind from birth. I couldn’t see Jesus, the true image of God.

And like the Samaritan woman, I needed to drink of the living water. I was spiritually dehydrated. I was being poisoned at the wells of false hopes and plastic dreams.

I was in need of a new birth. Just as Nicodemus had to be born of the Spirit, I needed the Spirit-wind to breeze through my life and turn me right around.

I think if I were telling a story like this for today, I’d use yet another image. I’d remind people of the frustration of trying to get your computer to work, asking around your friends for suggestions, finally gritting your teeth and calling the help desk only to be asked: ‘Is it plugged in? Is it switched on?’

Once you plug it in, everything is different. Just that one little change makes all the difference!

It seems a little grandiose to say that I was born again, drank of living water, made to see and brought to life that night. (Oh, and that I was plugged in to the transcendent Source of power.) Yet if you judge that night by the effect it has had on me, then these words are as good as any and better than most.

Those early days of April 1968 brought other discoveries to me.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under church year, Personal, RCL, sermon

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, church year, RCL, sermon

Conversion #1

It was 5 April 1968. Forty years ago today. I had gone for the first time to the Methodist youth group in Inala. My parents thought I needed to get out more, and had got a lad to invite me. He was apologetic when he realised that the group was going to the Billy Graham rally in the Brisbane Exhibition grounds, and said he would have told me to come the next week if he’d known. Since we were there, though, we might as well go…

I was secretly glad. The Anglican priest at school RE had suggested to the class that we should read the Gospel of Luke. I started reading Luke in my Gideons KJV, but I was hopelessly bogged down in the archaic language. But I wanted to know more about God.

I did have one test for Billy Graham: Martin Luther King had just been shot dead, and I had been shaken. I wanted to hear something positive about him. I wasn’t disappointed.

As far as I know, it was the first time I’d ever heard the Gospel. I’d never heard of altar calls before, but I couldn’t stay in my seat. I didn’t understand how anyone could! I went out—I was drawn out—and gave my life to Jesus. The youth group leaders were cheesed off that I’d held everybody up by going forward.

When I got home, I told dad what I’d done. He told me not to write to send the studies in, they would just send ‘begging letters’. Weeks later, I did write, and dad accepted it without comment.

I didn’t stay in the Methodist group for long; the leaders never spoke to me about what I’d done, and I just didn’t feel it meant anything to them. Months later, I started going to my best mate’s church, which was Open Brethren.

And the KJV? I found that it suddenly made sense to me, funny language and all. It was totally different reading it after giving my life to Christ! I don’t use it these days, but making sense of it was a wonderful gift and a clear sign to me of the rightness and realness of what had happened to me.

Leave a comment

Filed under reflection