Sunday, 27 June 2010

Freedom to love and to serve

Pentecost 6 year C Sermon Galatians III
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters;

if you’re led by the Spirit, you’re not subject to the law.
Don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Can you hear echoes of Jesus’ words… my yoke is easy and my burden is light? Can you here them…in Paul’s letter to the Galatians…

The yoke of slavery Paul and Jesus are talking about… is the heavy yoke of the law. And in the first century… the collective body of Jewish religious law
weighed a

Not just what we know as the Ten
Commandments but

the 613 mitzvot in the biblical law…
along with hundreds of Jewish customs and traditions.
Because the Jews were an ethnic…cultural and religious entity…their law doesn’t make a distinction between religious and non-religious life…there is no difference.
And so the
Jewish law is a guidenot only to right beliefs and rituals…but a guide to the detail of every life.

And while the Hebrew word
Halakha is often translated as ‘Jewish Law’…a more literal translation is
way of walking’ or ‘the path’.
In the 613 mitzvot… found in the Old Testament
commandments for what you’re supposed to do and an slightly longer list of commandments…
about what you are
not supposed to do. There are laws that apply to men and not to women… some that pertain only to those with a certain status… and some that matter only within the Land of Israel.

Judaism places a high value on life
when a life is in
danger…its acceptable to disregard all but three of the six hundred and thirteen mitsvot. And this understanding is founded on the divine declaration in the Torah:
I am God, you shall keep my decrees and my laws and live by them.

But there are three areas of Law that must never be violated…never be broken…even if a life is in danger …and these are murderidolatry…and certain forbidden sexual acts. These three
yehareg ve'al ya'avor …which means
"you should let
yourself be killed rather than break one".

self sacrifice and suffering…in obedience to any law … was highly praised and you would be considered extremely virtuous…were you to take great risks or endure hardship… to keep any law

And so what’s a little
circumcision for an adult male gentile…yeah right. And this was a key issue threatening to split the young Galatians church.
And precisely why
Paul reminds them that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female
…slave nor free…

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, Paul writes…and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

It has to be this way if non-Jews are going to be included in our new community… gentiles and pagans who don’t already follow all our rules and rituals and traditions.

But because Paul is advocating freedom from the Law… not only are Jewish Christians casting doubt on his credentials…they’re accusing him
encouraging sin and social chaos.

They’re screaming… without the law Paul…we’re all going to hell in a hand basket…things are gonna be out of controlpeople will be out of control
there will be no
guidelines …no holiness… without the Law. [Pause]

That’s absolutely untrue… Paul writes…
If we live by the Spirit, then we’ll be guided by the Spirit.

In Christ it’s a
spiritual thing not a legal thing.
It’s a
relationship thing through the Spirit
a relationship with God and other people…
it’s about grace and truth and faith…
not works and the
anyway Paul says…
whole law can be summed up in one sentence…

‘love your neighbour as yourself.’

That’s about relationships…about the Spirit guiding your relationship with God and other people… [pause]

Whether you
abuse your freedom…
depends which way your
facing and what’s guiding you.
If you’re just looking at yourself in the mirror… asking what do I want… what do I need…what’s in it for me… … you’ll be using your freedom for self indulgence…. not right relationships.

if you’re looking in the mirror all the time… you’re just in it for yourself. In your freedom…you’ll be guided by your own selfish desires… and not by the Spirit.
eat and be eaten…you’ll consume and exploit other people …and you’ll be consumed and exploited by them… so

live by the Spirit…let the Spirit point you in the right direction…you can’t face two directions at the same time…self-indulgence and loving your neighbour are polar opposites. Paul writes in his angry letter

When you’re guided only by your own desires…
use other people… you’ll use them for sex and personal advancement…
you’ll even use other
gods to get you what you want… you’ll indulge in sorcery and witchcraft…
when you can’t get
enough of what you want…

when you’re just in it for
yourself… and not for the love of God or your neighbour…well that’s when…
hell breaks loose… and your relationships will be governed by hostility and strife, anger and quarrelling…dissensions and factions.

Paul is angry…and

I’m warning you, he says…as I warned you before:
those who
do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. That kind of selfish… self-indulgent behaviour isn’t what the kingdom of God is about.

By contrast…Paul writes…the Kingdom of God…
is about living to
serve others. We know we’re in it when we see it acted out… in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness…

In the kingdom of God… we aren’t using God and other people to get what we want anymore. When we belong to Jesus… we crucify our selfish passions and desires
in the service of
others…just as he did. In this way we’re a new creation and the old has passed away.
Sure the law was necessary in its time... but now Paul reminds us

God has sent the Spirit of his Son… into our hearts.

And so even though he’s angry…Paul ends his letter with a vision of hope…
for the future of the
church in Galatia.

Just because things are tough… don’t give up…
don’t get
tired of doing good…
for when the time is right Paul
will reap a harvest.
whenever you have the opportunity… do good to all people… especially those who belong to the family of believers.
And carry each
other's burdens.

and in this way… you will fulfil the law of Christ. 
Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule…
Paul concludes…even to the
Israel of God. [pause]

And for us today? Well…the Greek word Paul uses most often for

sin is hamartia ...which means missing the mark
being off
targetaimed… in the wrong direction

The questions for us today… are these:
way are we aiming…
our emotional and physical energies...
Are we guided by self interest… or by the Spirit?…

Are we
preoccupied with getting what we want
or serving
God and our brothers and sisters in creation

The powers and principalities of this world are well aware that if they can just get us to focus all our attention on ourselves and our needs…

will be…uncontrolled consumption

and when our behaviour isn’t guided by God’s Spirit of love… as Paul
we will
devour one another…the earth and all its resources…and of course in turn…as Paul predicted …we’ll be devoured…

But when we love our neighbour… when we seek to serve them… here… or on the other side of the planet … there is hope of a future for the human race…
and for the earth…

when we love our neighbour… which includes sharing what we have with them…then there is hope…
salvation and for the Shalom of God

…and in
this is the good news of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

First to care

Pentecost 5 year C Sermon on the occasion of
St John 125th anniversary
Forgive us… when we are the last to care.

St John mission statement is … First to Care…
and I for one am very glad it is.

Ever had to call an ambulance for yourself? It’s a lonely exercise…look for hands…
·         Alone in Paeroa Ministry Student
·         Woke up Pain
·         thought throwing up would help?
·         Passed out in the hallway and hit my head.
·         no one in the house could hear me
·         Called St John
·         Couldn’t answer the front door so they thought it was the wrong house
·         But They kept looking
·         Heard them out the back and staggered out waving
·         Took the pain away

You might say I was a pilgrim all alone in a far away land on that day when the St John Paramedics took good care of me.

Taking care of sick and weary pilgrims…
has always been the aim of the
Order of St John.

From the beginning of the Christian movement in the first century…pilgrims have been coming to Jerusalem…
to visit the places Jesus walked and taught …
by the third century they were all wanting to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built by Constantine to commemorate Jesus death and resurrection.

Six hundred years later the head of the Roman Church… commissioned a hospital to be built in

to treat and care for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land… some who were coming as far away as the British Isles and India.

But at the turn of the first millennium…the ruler of Jerusalem was the Egyptian Caliph al-Hakim.  During his reign, Al-Hakim grew hostile to other religious groups.
He ordered the destruction of synagogues and churches and even the mosques of rival Muslim sects… the hospital for Pilgrims and the 
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
were destroyed by his raging troops.

When the hospital was rebuilt twenty years later…
they chose the site where the monastery of Saint 
John the Baptist had been – because it too had been a place of refuge and care… for pilgrims to the holy land.

Initially the hospital simply cared for sick and weary pilgrims but as the
dangers they faced increased…the hospitallers…
as they were called… began to provide armed escorts
for the great throngs of pilgrims
…and during the crusades these forces grew and became known as the Knights Hospitaller. 

These Knights included the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem… and their special task was to care for the sick.
These Knights of St John wore the same cross our St John wears today.  
In the order…they were driven by a desire to serve the poor… especially pilgrims of whatever race or faith… caring for them when they were sick…
and burying them when they died…
and they believed by doing this…they were serving Jesus…

They remembered a story Jesus told about being a good neighbour …Remember… the one Jesus tells because a scholar of Law is trying to trick him… into making a religious mistake …

the question the scholar asks to trick Jesus is this…

Rabbi…he calls Jesus Rabbi which means
what do I need to do to inherit eternal life?

Well…Jesus knew it was a trick question…
so he asks a question right back…
"What's written in God's Law?  How do you interpret it?"

So the man has to give Jesus the answer he already knows is right and replies ‘it is written…
that you love the Lord your God… with all your passion and your prayer and your muscle and your intelligence—
and that you love your neighbour…
as well as you love yourself."

"Good answer!" says Jesus. "Do that and you will live."

But the determined lawyer still wanted to trick Jesus into making a mistake and so he asks…
"And just how would you define the term …'neighbor'?"

So Jesus tells him a story.

"There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.
On the way he was attacked by robbers…who took his clothes, beat him up, and went off…
leaving him for dead in a ditch on the side of the road.

priest comes along the same road and when he sees the helpless beaten man in the ditch…
instead of stopping to help… he crosses over to the other side of the road and just keeps walking.

A while later… a very
religious man…of the tribe of Levi… shows up… and he avoids the injured man too.

Finally a Samaritan traveling the road rides by on his donkey…

When he sees the man's condition, his heart goes out to him.
He gives him first aid…disinfects and bandages his wounds ...then lifts him onto his donkey as an ambulance…
and takes the man to the closest bed and breakfast to make him comfortable.

In the morning the Samaritan takes out two silver coins and gives them to the
owner: 'Take good care of him…you hear. If it costs any more, just put it on my bill—
I'll repay you on my way back.'

Finishing his story… Jesus turns to the scholar of the Law and asks him…so what do you think? 
Which one of those three travelers who came past…
was a neighbour…to the helpless injured man?

The scholar has no choice but to reply…
"The one who treated him kindly"

That settles it then… Jesus says,
"now you go and do the same."

And Jesus had a few tricks up his sleeve too…in the story
he knew the priest and the Levite would have avoided the man
because their religious purity laws…
forbid them to touch blood. They thought serving God was about being pure…
they didn’t want to risk touching anything unclean,
they didn’t want to risk dirty hands, inconvenience, financial implications, or their reputation…it was someone else’s job to do the dirty work…

The other trick Jesus had up his sleeve is that the Jews considered foreigners to be unclean too…and Samaritans were foreigners…so if the man in the ditch had been a Samaritan…the priest and the Levite wouldn’t have touched him with a barge pole.

But Jesus tells the story so the good neighbour is a Samaritan. The good neighbour isn’t the one whose trying to be pure by obeying all the religious rituals …
the good neighbour is the one who shows mercy… no matter what. The good neighbour is the person…
who’s prepared to help anyone…

Jesus was talking about a certain kind of freedom…what Paul letter to the Galatians calls Christian freedom …
means our caring can be available to everyone…the Law doesn’t call the tune… because God’s love is available to everyone …

and… I’m glad to
it’s a founding principle of St John too…
that its services and membership are ‘available to all’.

“Love others as I love you.”  Jesus told his friends and
“If you want to see me… look no further than the man lying on the side of the road…injured and left for dead…

Jesus says…it’s
me.  Be a neighbour to me!”

When I was hungry and naked and sick and in prison…
it was me…

Be a good neighbour to

If you want to inherit eternal life… serve your neighbour and you will see me in them….you will see God…
and then you will truly live…please stand as we pray together

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Because Jesus loves me

Pentecost 4 year C Sermon  Galatians Series part one

Someone in this church is a sinner
yet this person has a deep and abiding faith in Jesus.

This person would
like to keep the Ten Commandments perfectly… they don’t want to keep doing the things they do…they’re truly repentant when they offend…
but they..
just don’t seem to be able to change.

Should we allow them to continue to identify themselves with this church…with us? Or should we distance ourselves from them …refuse to speak to them after the serviceforbid them to come to coffee morning or prayer group… should we ask them to step down from leadership…
Maybe it would be a good idea… not to be seen with them or have them over for teawe could be judged guilty by association. Or worse…our own efforts to live a good life… could be weakened by contact with them. [pause]

Someone in this church is a sinner…yet this person has a deep and abiding faith in Jesus.

Why do they keep
coming Sunday after Sunday? What should we do about this…Maybe we could encourage them to start their own church or go somewhere else to worship God.
Have you guessed who I’m talking about?

Of course I’m talking about myself…and I do keep coming back don’t I…

…because Jesus loves me…

and gave himself for me. 
To believe anything else… says the apostle Paul
is to set aside the grace of God.

So if I
can’t be perfect… and I still want a relationship with God and this wonderful faith community of ours…
all I can do is do what
Paul did… if I can’t be perfect

I live by faith in Jesus
and what does this mean exactly? Paul explains…
it’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

And you could well ask …if Christ… lives in you shouldn’t that mean you won’t sin… at all? Or maybe it means Jesus is ok with it… when you do?

not what it means… Paul says.
What it
means is…When I fall or fail or offend against God’s will for me …and I doevery day in some way…
it doesn’t mean Jesus
approves… it means

I [simply] demonstrate… that I’m a lawbreaker….I’m a transgressor…a sinner

Paul reminds us…our relationship with God can’t be based on perfect obedience to the Law. Our justification
right relationship with God…can’t be based on perfection. We’re all likely to offend God from time to time.
but the good news
Jesus brought is that we are still loved.

So I for
one…am grateful that you still allow me to be your minister…still invite me to dinner…still pray with me…and I am deeply grateful that you still come to me and even confide your own imperfections… to me

glad the price of admission… to this community of faith… isn’t perfect obedience to the Law… or even perfect faith…because here in our church…it seems to me that wanting a loving relationship with God and with others is more important than perfection.

But it wasn’t
like that with in the Roman colony of Galatia…two thousand years ago…Jewish Christians were starting to regard their gentile
brothers and sisters in the
church as unclean…
if they weren’t adhering strictly to the Jewish Law.

So Paul shoots off an angry letter to them...that’s
not what being a Christian is about…those of you with Jewish heritage…had better clean up your act…

Yes we are Jews…but we’re Jews who know something
We know a person is justified… not by the works of the Law… but through faith in Jesus Christ.
Having encountered the risen Christ…Paul believes with all his heart… that faith in Jesus… is sufficient

But the
Jewish Christians in Galatia aren’t so sure
it seems they’ve been persuaded to..
separate themselves …to distance themselves…from so called unclean ‘gentile sinners’… who also happen to be Christians.

They don’t like Paul’s
teaching and because they don’t like it... they’re questioning his conversion… and his right to call himself an apostle…even his relationship with the church in Jerusalem.

At the time Paul writes his letter to the Galatians… the Christian movement has only been around for fifteen years or so…and Paul is really worried this controversy will weaken the church…even split it.

He’s convinced their
unity in Christ…
is their greatest
strength…in getting people to take Jesus’ story seriously…

Paul is constantly putting out fires… that threaten to destroy the infant church… and he doesn’t hesitate…
to pour cold
water on what the Jewish Christians are doing.

You foolish Galatians! He writes…
Who has
bewitched you? Just tell me one thing.
Did you receive the Spirit by observing the
law, or by believing what you heard about Jesus

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit,
are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 

Don’t you know it's a relationship thing…didn’t Jesus show us in the way he lived…and died…
forgiving even on the cross. Didn’t Jesus promise us the Spirit would be poured out on everyone?

Didn’t our sacred texts foresee that God would justify the Gentiles by faith… and wasn’t this good news announced in advance to Abraham…that all nations will be blessed through his Seed… 

Listen you crazy peoplePaul is saying
The law was introduced 430 years after God’s covenant with Abraham. So that covenant couldn’t have been based on the law that Covenant depended on God’s promise
A promise God gave in his grace to Abraham
And Paul tells them…Jesus is the Seed to which God’s promise refersJesus is the way
‘All nations will be

and Paul says…this
is the good news we are all children of God through faith in Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female…
for we are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to God’s promise.

Our relationship with God through faith in Jesus and our relationship with each other …is much more important than all of that other stuff.  So live and let live…
Paul is saying…if it’s not about Jesus and his teaching …then let it go…be friends… play nice…
keep the family

We are supposed to be a movement of people who have faith in…and follow the way of Jesus. [pause]

Almost every schism… every rupture in the
history…whether Jewish and gentile Christians in the first century…or Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians in the sixth…whether between Catholics and Protestants a thousand years later…or Presbyterians in the 20th century…taking sides over infant or believer baptism… and the ordination of women…and others who are different.

In every conflict which threatens to separate brothers and sisters in Christ from one another… Paul’s saying we take our eyes off the ball…we lose our way… and cause harm to the body of Christ

When we take our eyes off Jesus we lose the plot… we forget that faith in Jesus is sufficient…we forget that in Christ there is

neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
When we keep our eyes Jesus and our shared relationship in Christ…when we remember the grace and forgiveness he offered… even on the cross…at that very moment
surely we must stop
condemning ourselves and others and start loving…

And you know much
later in his ministry Paul summed it all up much for the Roman church in similar conflict to the Galatians…he said the kingdom of God isn’t a matter of following some religious code of practise,
but about

justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit
and Paul says…
anyone who serves Christ in this way… is pleasing to God and deserving of our approval.

To believe anything else Paul reminds us…
is to set aside the grace of God.