Sunday, 23 August 2009

Full armour of God

Pentecost 13 year B Sermon

Jesus… bleeding to death on the cross… looks at his persecutors and prays… ‘Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.’

Forty years ago… during the Vietnam War…a monk calls his followers to do the same.[i]

‘If a cruel and violent person disembowels you, you can smile and look at him with love. It is his upbringing, his situation, and his ignorance that cause him to act so mindlessly. Look at him—the one who is bent on your destruction and heaps injustice upon you—with eyes of love and compassion.’

Look at him—with eyes of love and compassion.

Fifteen years ago… during the genocide in Rwanda… an exhausted Catholic priest… Father Vjeko Ćurić stands firm with the same love and courage…in the face of overwhelming hatred and violence.

In April 1994, after the Hutu President’s plane is shot down…Hutu militias slaughter the population of Tutsis… with whom they share the country.

When the killing begins in the town of Kivumu, people turned to Father Vjeko for help.

When most other expatriates are evacuated,
Fr. Vjeko stays behind with the people of Kivumu… through the worst experiences of their lives…he gives practical and medical assistance to the displaced and helps people escape the militias.

In the face of persecution and death threats…

the priest is outspoken in his condemnation of the violence… and continues to preach the values of peace and unity throughout the genocide.

In the aftermath Fr. Vjeko helps both Hutus and Tutsis …to rebuild their communities. He was killed in mysterious circumstances in 1998.

These pictures are from a film based on his life called Shooting Dogs. Survivors of the massacres in Rwanda… were actors and production crew on the film.

And writing from prison…in our reading today… Paul wants to prepare the struggling church in Ephesus …for the coming persecution they are to face. His words of encouragement… are for those wondering… how on earth they’ll ever endure the suffering…when the evil day actually comes?

Paul’s letter ends with a powerful plea for them to remain strong in the master and teacher Jesus… and in the strength of his power.

And how are they to be strong?

Well… they’re not to respond with force or violence…

they must use only the things God has taught them through Jesus…truth, justice, the gospel of peace, and unwavering faith in its power for the salvation of the world. Their only weapon …is to be the Spirit of God’s breathed Word. [pause]

And why is it so important for them to hold fast to these particular things… Paul calls ‘the full armour of God’?

Well…if they resort to the ways of the world to protect themselves… if they succumb to the temptation… to meet violence with violence… they’ll be falling…into a diabolical trap.

For our struggle… Paul says isn’t really against our fellow human beings who bleed just like we do…no you’ve got to see the bigger picture…what we have to resist are the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil… who exploit their weaknesses.

That’s why we don’t use our enemies own weapons against them…that’s why we must take up and use the armour of God to withstand on that evil day…and having done everything, to stand firm. [pause]

In the face of lies… stand and fasten the belt of truth around your waist.

In the face of oppression and injustice… stand and put on… the breastplate of righteousness justice and equity.

In the face of violence and abuse… stand and put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.

Against malicious and hateful attacks…stand and take the shield of faith… with which you’ll be able…to quench all the flaming arrows of the wicked ones.

Against manipulation and exploitation…stand and protect your mind… with the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

And you’re long range missile defence system…is prayer

Pray in the Spirit at all times [pause]

Now forgive me if I’m wrong, but… most Christians I meet who talk about putting on the ‘full armour of God’ seem to concentrate on Paul’s armour metaphor …as a way to protect themselves from diabolical attack …from temptation and harm

I rarely hear people enthusing about the actions… the behaviour Paul encourages… in the face of opposition… persecution and violence…

And I don’t think Paul’s saying… the full armour of God… will keep you from injury… when you’re surrounded… by night stick wielding thugs

I don’t think Paul’s saying… this way of standing against evil…will keep you from bleeding when you’re stabbed or bruised when you’re smashed in the face
or heart broken when you’re ridiculed and

I think Paul is saying… this is how we shall stand strong… in the face of bullying… hatred… mockery and abuse…I think Paul is saying… be strong in the way of life Jesus taught… because it has the power of salvation in the long run…because only Jesus’ way of Shalom… will save the world …[pause]

For much of human history… people have found Paul’s logic to be counterintuitive and counter cultural…but there are notable exceptions: Te Whiti… Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior… to name a few.

But Paul is actually saying… that hatred and revenge… are logical fallacies. They don’t save anything Logically…the conditions that bring peace – justice and equity… mercy and compassion… are what will save the world…if that’s what you’re interested in… as a follower of Jesus. [pause]

Our storyteller John… calls the bringing about of these conditions…‘eternal life’ … what the other gospel writers call… ‘the kingdom of God.’

We pray for this… every time we say ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ [pause]

And we’re not always the victims either. Sometimes we can be the perpetrators of persecution…sometimes we are the bullies…

Have you confessed and turned from your lies or your own injustices… when you were the violent one with your tongue or your fists…when you were the malicious one… promoting suspicion or hatred of others. Have you failed to protect your mind… with the teachings of the Word made flesh…have you failed to honour your relationship with God in prayer.

Or to put it more positivelywhere in your life or in the world…are you actively confronting lies with the truth?

Where are you confronting injustice with acts of righteousness and equality?

What acts of violence and abuse are you speaking out against… because they’re in opposition to Jesus’ gospel of peace?

What malicious gossip or prejudices…are you meeting head on…with faith… in God’s grace and forgiveness?

Are you familiar enough with the word of God revealed in the teachings of Jesus… to protect your head…from the bombardment of commercial political religious or emotional manipulation?

And do you pray in the same Spirit… which unites us to God and to all creation?

In short… do you put on the full armour of God… whose grace and forgiveness is sufficient to sustain us?

My prayer is that you will reflect on this… in the week ahead.

[i] Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Running on Empty

Pentecost 11 year B Sermon Bread of Life

Running on empty…

It’s an old Jackson Brown song from the 70’s

…if you’re a baby boomer you’ll probably know it

It’s song about driving your car or your motorbike…

on an endless highway of performance…and activity

About driving ourselves on and on blindly toward depletion…the young man sings

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by

like so many summer fields
I don’t know where I’m running now,

I’m just running on

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive
I dont know when that road turned onto the road I’m on
Everyone I know, everywhere I go running on empty

People need some reason to believe
I don’t know about anyone but me
I dont know how to tell you all

just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends I used to turn to
to pull me through

Looking into their eyes I see them running too

And the chorus

Running on - running on empty
Running on - running blind

running into the sun But I’m running behind

Blank slide

In the belly of the young man who sings and in many of us today…there’s a great bit gaping hole…a sense of emptiness…you know where it is…it sits right under your rib cage…

a lot of the time you don’t even know its there…
but every once in a while…when you’re under stress or in emotional pain…you can feel it begin to tear open
…your aware of the…of the what…

You’re aware of the emptiness aware of your hunger…pangs of hunger…mixed with loneliness and maybe a little fear…

You’re uncomfortable you want to run away from it
…you want do something to make it stop

So you go to the fridge…or the cupboard…or the liquor cabinet…or the computer…or the bread bin …ah…bread…

And Jesus said…

Slide words

I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never go hungry, and those who believe in me will never be thirsty.

Blank slide

This week it dawned on me for the first time…that when we eat food…we incorporate…we put other life into our bodies …...

to nourish our own body. Freshly baked bread will sustain our physical life.


But after a while our blood sugar level…will signal our brain that our tummy’s empty again. And so we look for more food to satisfy that hungry feeling.

When we ask someone we just met…what they do for a living… we’re basically asking how they get their bread in the world.

‘What do you do for a crust?’ is a classic kiwi question…

Some people are kind of stuck…driven to making a living … so they can eat…so they can live…

so they can eat more … so they can live to eat another day…and round and round it goes. Theologian Soren Kierkegaard once cynically remarked… such people go through life asleep…until one day they wake up and realise they died.

Instead of asking what someone does for a living…
it might be a lot more interesting to ask them
why they do it. Why they chose a particular way to ‘get their daily bread’. What’s the point of their life? What do they feed on to sustain the will to live?

The God question is…Who do you feed on to sustain the will to live?

In Luke and in Matthew… Jesus quotes a verse from the ancient Hebrew scriptures from Deuteronomy

Slide words

‘Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’

And did you notice in today’s reading from the Gospel of John…fresh from feeding the five thousand

Blank slide

Jesus makes it plain…he’s sent to be God’s life giving teaching in the flesh. He has come to embody the Word of God…

but his claim is outrageous and dangerous and subversive worse… its blasphemy… because in the mind of the Jews he’s talking to…there is only one ‘bread of life’ and that is the Torah…the Law…the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures…

To underscore his claim … Jesus echoes Israel’s exodus from slavery…just like manna… given by God in the desert for their survival… Jesus tells them

Slide words

I’ve come down from heaven… to do the will of the one who sent me…

Blank slide

The crowd and his enemies have followed him… begging for more miracles and basically Jesus tells them to get a life
…stop looking for signs and wonders. It’s not my mission to dazzle you…

But learn from me and you will have eternal life… pay attention to my teaching…my words and my actions… not my miracles … they won’t satisfy you in the long run

They won’t ensure life on earth for generations to come…

Relate to me follow me believe what I’m teaching

‘humanity won’t survive on bread alone…but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

And Jesus tells them radical or not understand it or not…

I am that word… in the flesh.

Eternal life…the salvation of the world…depends on your understanding what I’m trying to teach you…

There’s a sense in which one of the purposes of the Gospel of John is to establish the term ‘eternal life’ as the equivalent of ‘kingdom of God’. Life everlasting in the presence of God… eternity starts now by believing and following Jesus

Later Jesus prays…

Slide words

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Blank slide

But in the first century under Roman rule Jesus radical assertion that the Kingdom of God had entered the world was a threat to both Imperial and religious authority implying God’s people could neither be domesticated or controlled.

Today God’s people present a challenge to the powers and principalities of consumption and greed. To those who would convince us we’ll finally be filled up…

finally be satisfied …with just one more bite…one more glass…one more purchase…

But when your primary source of nurture and guidance is Jesus When you belong to the kingdom of God even the most powerful weapon of control – the threat of execution

…loses its power… because even death can’t separate you from the source of your life.

For the Jews the real bread of life the ultimate source of the knowledge and wisdom of God was the written Torah…this didn’t work too well…this wasn’t satisfying…the Law couldn’t fill them up when they were running on empty.

It is my experience that the only thing that will truly satisfy …is to allow God in Christ by the Holy Spirit…

to fill us up…

we are created by and for this relationship…and it is the source and nutrient of life.

There’s a sense in which the whole godless world is running on empty…people have consumed and consumed and still they are depleted…They come to the end of the road having exhausted their own resources and wisdom…

The real bread that satisfies…the ultimate thing that will fill us up… is not a thing at all but a who…God the giver of life… its source and its end… through Jesus…God speaks words of hope forgiveness and grace… to those who hunger and thirst … To drink from this well to eat from this table is to have everlasting life.

Have you eaten today?

Whether you feed yourself by reading Jesus words or by listening for his guidance in contemplation…to stay alive… to stay full you must eat or sooner or later you will be running on empty.

As Jesus says…

Who ever comes to me I’ll never drive away

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Grow up!

Pentecost 10 year B Sermon

Grow up! Paul says…

We must grow up… in every way into him…who is the head…into Christ.

Grow up? What does Paul mean encouraging us to grow up? Well for one thing…it has to mean we haven’t finished growing yet …we’re not fully mature…and Paul isn’t talking to you and I as individuals… he’s talking to all of us…as the gathered followers of Jesus…as the church

It’s time for all of us to grow up…time to reflect our calling as Jesus disciples… in everything we do……..time to lead a life worthy of the calling… a life of ‘all humility and gentleness, with patience…bearing with one another in love

and why is it so important for us… as the gathered people of God …to live this way… well Paul warns… humility gentleness and patience are the only way we’ll be able tomaintain the unity of the Spirit… in the bond of peace.

But we’re so different…aren’t we…how can we hold this thing together…the church has asked this question for two thousand years…how can we hold this thing together in our diversity…oldies and youngies…charismatics evangelicals and traditionalist sea of faith…men and women…languages nationalities

Please don’t worry Paul writes…you’ve got to trust that as far as the Body of Christ is concerned…God will provide all the skills you need…God will…equip the saints for the work of ministry…for building up the Body of Christ

Saints?...Yep that’s us… not dead beatified holy ones…

Just us… you and me… ordinary followers of Jesus…called to the ministry of building up the Body of Christ… so Jesus’ work can continue...

But how will we know when the projects complete …when the work is done …what will it look like?

Well Paul wants us to understand…the building up of the body won’t be finisheduntil all of us come to the unity of the faith…and the knowledge of the Son of God…to maturity…to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Till we’re all able to live and worship and work and play…side by side…with humility gentleness, and patience…till we’re all

Able to bear with one another… in love.

Whew…given our differences we could be working on that for a while eh.

But maybe all those differences we perceive are just distractions…maybe conformity and homogeneity aren’t what Paul means by unity…everyone being the same in the way we worship …in our attitudes to tradition…in our convictions about doctrine …no I think the kind of unity Paul means… is unity in and under Christ…unity in our commitment…to live out his Way of Shalom.

And to achieve that kind of unity…we have to grow up…

Paul says…

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro…and blown about by every wind of doctrine… by religious magicians and charlatans.

Just like the violence a chain saw can to your arm…disunity among Jesus followers…can do violence to the Body of Christ…So for God’s purposes to be fulfilled…we have to be mature enough…to live with our differences in gentleness humility and patience. And when we disagree …and we will disagree from time to time…

Paul says… you’ve gotta

Speak the truth in love… not in anger or bitterness or arrogance or fear…

Thirty years after his encounter with the risen Christ… the Apostle Paul finds himself under house arrest in Rome. He arrives… not in glow of publicity befitting a world famous evangelist…but in chains.

Bringing the good news to the ends of the earth…
has had its downside.

On home detention and under guard…Paul’s ministry is limited to occasional visitors…some from the new churches he’s left behind in his apostolic mission…these visitors bring good news and bad…yes there is growth…but trouble is brewing. Squabbles over ideas contrary to Jesus’ teaching…are causing disharmony threatening the unity…and therefore the witness of the church…

Somehow Paul manages to smuggle letters out …when his visitors leave. Letters we now know as… Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians and Philemon.

The encouragement Paul writes to Christians at Ephesus …sends a challenge to our church today… full of assurance, it’s a call to life giving worship… and a forcefulexhortation …to remain united.

Paul compares the congregation to a human body unified by the head… from whom the whole body…joined and knit together…by every ligament with which it’s equipped each part working properly to promote the body's growth… in building itself up in love.

Antagonism and ill will among believers…is like a body attacking itself from the inside…weakening its own defences … keeping it from thriving…Without unity under Christ …we’re disabled and our witness…sounds like hot air the world…That’s why Paul exhorts us to

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…who is the one hope of our calling.

For in reality

There is only one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith,

one baptism, one God and Father of all,
who is above all and through all and in all.

And in the end if we’re open to the Spirit of God

Paul assures us…we will receive the strength and the unity which bring peace and faithfulness to Christ…

You see there’s a continual process going on in every generation …as God works out his purposes in the world. Paul says

God gives the saints…that’s us…certain gifts…skills…
and abilities…to equip us for the work we’re called to do…
the work of growing up into Christ…

To all of us is given a grace according to the measure of Christ's gift

that some would be apostles…some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.

What can these gifts possibly mean for us today…well

Apostles – are sent out to set up new connections with the community

Prophets – question the status quo and shake us out of self-righteous complacency

Evangelists – bring newcomers into the company of Jesus followers

Pastors – care for God’s children and creation

Teachers – explain and communicate our faith.

Maybe you identified your spiritual gifts ages ago…but are you using them?

Maybe you never even thought about it.

Well I think Paul’s trying to tell us to recognise these gifts in ourselves and in each other…that part of growing up in the faith… is a willingness to accept and use the gifts we’ve been given… so we can contribute… to the building up of the Body of Christ. As Paul says we’re not finished…we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

this is the only way we’ll be able to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

As part of our vows of Eldership…our leaders have to promise to maintain the peace and unity of the church… Soon we’re going to explore more deeply the gifts we’ve been given. Any team of Christian leaders needs a balance of gifts. And Session had this in mind when we prayerfully discerned Phil Smith would make a good Elder.

After this next song it will be our pleasure to ordain him to this office.