Thursday, 25 December 2008

‘Peace on earth!’

Christmas Day Message 

‘Peace on earth!’ the heavenly host declare… as they announce the birth of the Saviour.

Really? Peace? On earth?

So, "what's it worth, this peace on earth?" And how long do we have to wait? These questions are asked by our Presbyterian Moderator the right reverend Dr. Graham Redding this year in his Christmas Message to the church… the question comes from the lyrics of a U2 song he likes…

You know the church is changing when the Moderator’s quoting U2.  But bear in mind…this popular rock band… are also… phenomenal Christian theologians…reminding us in their song Peace on Earth that… if we’re not careful we’ll simply take these words for granted every Christmas…  and there will be no peace on earth.

And the Moderator reminds us that, ‘The problem isn’t just… humanity’s failure… to bring about peace on earth. It’s Christianity's complicity… in this failure.’

‘Throughout history, he notes, the Christian church rightly stands accused… of giving divine sanction…

to horrific acts of genocide, violence and oppression.’

‘… directed not merely toward people of other faiths, but towards fellow Christians’ as well...and even sometimes members of our own families.

 So Dr Redding asks: “if the church… can't even get its own house in order… what mandate do we have to talk about peace…’ to the world?

Of course we could rise to the churches defence… and point out that for all its failings…the church’s has been involved in peace making and projects of reconciliation… over the past two thousand years.’


And Ok… so a lot of Christians have been ready to pick up a gun in the name of God and country…on the other hand… many Christians have paid with their lives…
making peace and for protesting against war and violence.  Hey we could say proudly…the books are balanced. [pause]

But the universe isn’t run by an accountant…and our Moderator insists… we should beware of trying to offset …the sins and failures of the church… with a list of Christian virtues and achievements.

The problem with a… ledger-based approach like this is … when we comfort ourselves 

with the churches merits… we risk dodging responsibility for the harm we’ve done together in Christ’s name. And to have any credibility at all …we must confess our corporate sins.

Graham Redding says, ‘if a ledger-based approach had been applied to the original disciples… then… 

the church would never have been born.

Their track record was as patchy as ours. And despite moments of insight and commitment to follow Jesus, their walk with him was equally marked by misunderstanding, misplaced ambition, violent impulses, betrayal, denial and abandonment.’If God were keeping a ledger the early church wouldn’t have stood a chance.

So we need to understand what was really happening ‘when the heavenly host declare peace on earth.  They aren’t suggesting war’s suddenly going to stop… and miraculously… we’re all going to learn to live in peace with one another. Not at all… did you notice their words…actually take the form of a blessing:

"Glory to God in the highest …and on earth peace…to humankind… on whom God’s favour rests."

Favour so great…grace so complete… that the baby born that day… ‘brought our humanity into…a reconciling union… with God.Sin has been forgiven. The endless cycle…of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…has been broken.’So let us never forgetthat the occasion for this blessing is the birth… of the Saviour of the World.

We have a right to speak of peace because ever since the heavenly host were heard on high…the church has insisted… that in Jesus Christ…God’s kingdom has broken in to time and space…our broken and sinful humanityhas been taken up by God.

There is reason to hope in God’s future. And in Jesus life death and resurrection we see that ‘Even death's relentless grip on our world has been prised open and the life-giving energies of God's Kingdom ushered in.’


In Jesus the saviour and through him, we proclaim
all humankind… are truly and greatly blessed.


Yes it’s true that ‘on one level… nothing much appears to have changed. Human affairs are still characterised by conflict…yet on another level…
everything has changed.’


My friends…this is the Good News… for which we… the church.. exist to proclaim … ‘not from a position of moral superiority, but from a position of abundant joy and humble gratitude…’

as the angelic chorus again and again captures our hearts, loosens our tongues… inspires us to song… and shapes our lives:

 Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace

 Today and always… may this ancient blessing… sustain you and give you hope.  Today and always may you give your life to the one whose birth we celebrate today.

This sermon adapted its text from ‘A Christmas message from the Moderator’ by the Right Rev Dr Graham Redding first published on the PCANZ website in December 2008. To read the full text hit



Sunday, 21 December 2008


Advent 4 year B Sermon 08 

"May it be to me as you have said."

On this fourth Sunday of Advent… we continue to celebrate the time of God’s promise… coming into time and space…in the form of a vulnerable human baby.

Over the past weeks… we’ve shared expectation and longing for a Messiah…we’ve shared it with the disappointed Hebrew elite… returning from exile five hundred years before the first Christmas…

And we’ve tried to comprehend the coming of the Messiah… with survivors of Jerusalem’s destruction… as they look back on Jesus birth seventy years later.

So we’ve looked at Jesus’ story…from the past and the future… but today…we zoom in… to the life of one young Jewish womanthe very same year… Jesus was born.  

We look closely at her encounter…with a messenger from God …a conversation that speaks to us…not only of Mary’s faith…but of God’s respect for her decision.  

And we ask…when Mary gave her consent… when Mary put her body unconditionally in God’s care…did she have any idea what was coming?  Listen as Hailey Westenra sings ‘Mary did you know?’  [Blog readers should Google 'Mary did you know?' for lyrics and video.]

Yes Mary’s son would heal and teach…and liberate and save…Yes… her son would proclaim his way of peace from a mountaintop… and yes…her son… would one day enter into the gates of Jerusalem … and lay claim to David’s throne…[pause]

but when Mary said yes to God’s messenger…did she know… there would be pain and grief and suffering …in her future too? Did she know there’d be sacrifices that most Christmas songs and stories never mention?

When Mary says to the angel "I am the Lord’s servant… may it be to me as you have said." …She wasn’t just agreeing… to be the proud mother of a king. She was making a radical statement of faith

You might say Mary surrendered herself… body… mind and spirit… trusting in the purposes of God

As the story goes…Mary didn’t bargain or negotiate with the angel. She didn’t say ‘well Ok… but only if you can absolutely guarantee… I’ll never have to endure any suffering… for the rest of my life…

 She didn’t say… yes I’ll do it…but first you have to promise… my son will live to a hundred and make me thousands of grandbabies. 

And Mary didn’t say…well that’s all fine with me…but don’t expect me to make any more sacrifices.

No Luke tells us…Mary just surrendered…then and there Surrendered a hundred percent…not ninety eight percent …not ninety nine point nine percent ... but totally and completely. [pause]

Do you have any ideawhat it would mean to surrender your will and your life …and even your body to God…as Mary did?

To say OK… whatever you want God…I’ll do it … even if it’s not what I was hoping for… or planning for… because your purposes are greater than mine. 

You know I never fully appreciated… the magnitude of Mary’s surrender… until I heard the story… 

of a slender young woman who wandered into a church one day…right into the middle of a communion service…

Instead of taking a seat… she walked slowly and with great dignity…right up the aisle. Without stopping she climbed the few steps… up to the communion table.

At first people were appalled by this sudden intrusion into their worship time. Eyes and mouths were set hard …heads shook in disbelief at her cheek …and  everyone wondered… how the minister would deal with the disruption

As the young women turned to face the congregation they noticed she appeared to be carrying a baby wrapped in a blanket… tears were streaming down her face…she clung tightly to the bundle in her arms

the minister gently beckoned her forward…and smiling down at the bundle in the woman’s arms… the minister lifted a corner of the blanket to peek inside.

Solemnly he nodded to the woman…and with a great sweep of his hand…invited her to take his place behind the communion table.  

Moving where he pointed…the young women looked out with sad eyes at the wary congregation.

And with great tenderness she laid the bundle on the table and began to unwrap the blanket…

Suddenly there was a loud gasp from the congregation

as everyone realised what was inside.

And slowly…

the woman lifted the loaf of bread high into the air…as though she were offering it to God …

and then holding the bread
out toward the congregation…she broke it in two… and offered it to them.

Welcome to the Table of our Lord. Come if you have surrendered much and come if you have let go of nothing. These gifts are freely given for you.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

wilderness revival

Advent 2 Sermon : 

Did you notice…Mark opens his story about Jesus… with a shocking political expression…no off course you didn’t  notice…but everyone listening to Marks story in the first century…would have picked up

the political overtones…when Mark titles his work a "gospel".

‘The beginning of the gospel… about Jesus Christ…the Son of God.’

 Two thousand years ago when writers wanted you to respect their religious or political authority…they’d bring in the name of someone else you admired…right at the start…like the opening credits of a film.

Matthew does this for the Jews…when he opens withthe official genealogy of King David...and Luke…writing as a Greek historian…immediately acknowledges his patron…the most excellent Theophilus.

But Mark starts with this: ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ What was "gospel"?

Well, gospel literally means "glad tidings" or good news.

Today the word’s thoroughly soaked… with Christian religious significance…but to Mark's readers in the first century …‘Gospel’ was a fully secular term …and almost everyone associated it with Roman propaganda. You see…Roman kings…the Caesars…had this amazing public relations machine going.

Their imperial images were… all over the place…on statues and coins…even in far-flung provinces like Judaea… Stories about them would parallel ancient myths about the gods…and faithful citizens were encouraged…to speak of Caesar as… the "divine man" or as the son of the gods…and loyal Roman subjects…were meant to believe Caesar’s gospel. [pause]

So by calling his story about Jesus a gospel

Mark is challenging the authority of Rome by using their propaganda word…to write his "good news" about Jesus… the anointed one of God.

And hearing this…we’re immediately on the edge of our seats…and if we identify with people who first heard Marks gospel…then we’re surprised by its audacious beginning [pause]

This… second Sunday of Advent…instead of anticipating the coming of the Messiah… from 400 years before Jesus was born…like we did last Sunday…

Today we’re trying to understand the coming of the Messiah …through the eyes and ears…of people who survived the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple…forty years after Jesus died.

You see Mark wrote his gospel…at a time when many Jews believed…the voices of Israel’s prophets… had fallen silent forever …and to those living in that kind of darkness…Marks story would be very good news indeed.

So if we listen with these refugees… scattered across the Roman Empire…suddenly we hear a voice from off stage…reading from the Hebrew scriptures…the true and ancient authority… they memorised as children…

In the voice of the prophets…Mark’s signals that anyone who thinks the story of God’s people is finished…is wrong.

This gospel is a continuation… of their salvation history.

So if they think the Romans have had the last word because the Temple was destroyedyou’ve lost the plot.

No! booms a voice from off stage, "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way" [pause]

These words from the prophets Malachi would have been memorised by the age of eleven…by every Jew listening. And every one of them would be reminded…of the rescue of God’s people…from slavery in Egypt and from captivity in Babylon.


But wait a minute they’d say to each other…hasn’t this Mark fella left something out…didn’t Malachi actually say

‘"See, I’ll send my messenger, who’ll prepare the way before me…then suddenly the Lord you’re seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty.’

Why has mark Mark left out Malachi's claim…that the advent of the messenger will take place "in the temple."

And suddenly we’re panting with anticipation for more of the story… Something’s about to happen. But what? 

Or more importantly… where?

Now Mark brings in… an almost literal quotation from Isaiah 40 verse three

"a voice of one… calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'

In Marks gospel God’s messenger is going to appear in the wilderness… not the Temple? There’s a new twist to the story of God’s people… because while the desert was a place of uninhabited desolation… it also represents a strong symbol of refuge…for those fleeing oppression and slavery.

And now Mark keeps us in suspense no longer… he reveals the identity of the messenger…

‘And so John came…baptizing in the desert region… and preaching a baptism of repentance…for the forgiveness of sins.’ 

And do you know what the desert looks like…where the Jordon River flows? [pause]

For nine hundred years the voices of the prophets had been silent…the last prophet Elijah…had gone head to head with powerful rulers...and wore a hairy coat with a leather belt. And

John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey.’

And what was the last cry before the prophetic voices fell silent? Well everyone listening to Marks gospel knew…the very last cry was Malachi's promise:

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet…before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes"

And now the tension begins to build in Marks gospel because crowds of people are coming to hear John…not at the Temple…but

‘The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem… went out to him in the wilderness.’

You see to the Jews…Jerusalem was the centre of the universe…where all people would come… sooner or later…to worship God. But here in the gospel of Markthe direction of God’s salvation history is reversing. People are thronging out of Jerusalem…Why?


Because the prophetic word is suddenly sprouting againnot at Zion…but in the wilderness!

The tension grows and the plot thickens…because as everyone listening knows…the religious authorities who controlled everything… from the Temple … are going to be extremely perturbed… by this wilderness revival.

Instead of observing the strict rituals of purification at the Temple… people are thronging to confess their sins and be washed clean in the Jordan this new Elijah.

And Mark tells us this was his message: "After me… will come one more powerful than I am, I’m not even worth to stoop down and untie the thongs of his sandals. I merely baptize you with water, but he’s going to baptize you with the Holy Spirit." [pause]

And so we wait with baited breath… for the real hero of Mark’s gospel… to arrive

 And when he does…all this signs point to arrival of the day of the Lord…they’ve all been waiting for…As Jesus rises from the waters of the river Jordan…he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

Mark makes no bones about it…the really good news… is that in Jesus… the saviour of the world has come…A voice had called in the wilderness…and a new way was being constructed…for Jesus’ followers… the way of discipleship. [pause]

John’s voice and his wilderness revival… are silenced when Herod…throws him into prison…and it would take three more years to silence Jesus. In the mean time he would announce throughout Judaea that

"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

As a people baptized in Jesus name, we are now called to flesh out his good news in our own time. To work for his Shalom where the unclean are welcome to the table believers and pagans can overcome the enmity between them.

Around the world this year… churches will focus on Mark’s Gospel…and we will join them…and like Jesus first disciples… we’ll struggle…to understand the meaning of his teaching and actions… for our lives.

And the challenge for us… will be the same as for the first people listening to Mark’s gospel: will we allow this Jesus to challenge our world view? And most importantly…will we sign up… to follow him…as he bears the costs…and pays the price…for proclaiming the good news of God?

I am indebted to Ched Myers thoughtful article in Sojourners in 1987