Sunday, 22 January 2012

Not a fishing contest!

Title slide
First Jesus does it then Jesus calls those he does it with to go and do likewise.

What’s he doing?

First he’s announcing what era we’re in…the era of good news the Messianic Age…the age of justice and peace and wellbeing for all people…also known as the Kingdom of God as opposed to the kingdom of Caesar or Herod or

What else is he doing…he’s telling us we need to wake up our ideas…to turn around and face God and God’s way…the Messianic way if you like…Jesus way…the way of salvation for all people…

Repent slide
Most of our bibles translate the word Mark uses in this story as repent…but we’ve really twisted the meaning out of shape haven’t we…Jesus isn’t saying be sorry for all the bad stuff you’ve done Jesus isn’t talking about the past at all…he’s talking about the present…right now…

The kingdom of God is present…get in on it…

Metanoia slide
Repent in Greek…metanoia… metanoia…
meta...meta – turn or change
noia...noia to think, from nous mind

To think differently

What is indicated by this word is a transformation of the heart; a change of heart…a conversion to a different way of thinking feeling and being

Blank slide
The kingdom of God is present…get in on it…
And go fishing…invite others to change their minds…to think differently…help others to recognise that the good news is the Kingdom of God is right now…the Messianic Age is right now…

And one by one Jesus calls people to follow him and they in turn share what they’ve discovered about God’s love and God’s way and one at a time if every single person who ever lived woke up their ideas…well…

Whole families and communities maybe even nations would undergo metanoia…a transformation into the kind of creation God intended where there is peace and wellbeing for all God’s creatures.

Now don’t get paranoid at how immediately Simon and Andrew and James and John followed Jesus … James and John were already disciples of John the Baptist and John had sent them off in Jesus direction. Remember … when he said …look there goes the lamb of God…

the one anointed and appointed by God…to announce the good news…of the kingdom.

So I guess when Jesus turned up on the beach where they were working…these guys would have been rapt to be invited.

So off they all set to spread the word together…
Jesus disciples learning from him…like every rabbi’s disciples did…absorbing from watching him how to live in the present kingdom of God…how to announce and proclaim the good news of God’s love for all people…freedom for the captives…light for those who live in darkness…

And all the while Jesus is preparing them for the day they didn’t even remotely anticipate…when they’d be sent out on their own… …to announce the good news… to do what Jesus did… to invite people to see the present through God’s eyes…without walls and boundaries…between Jews and everyone else…

Getting them ready for the day they’ll be without the physical presence of Jesus…but with the promised and delivered help of the Holy Spirit. [pause]

Is there any hint of a score card in what Jesus promises to teach them? Any suggestion of a competition? Any mention of earning points…collecting fly buys for the afterlife? Do we ever read about notches on the disciples’ belts or trophies on their walls of all the ‘fish’ they caught?

So what’s their motivation?

Do James and John and Simon and Andrew ask…what are we going to get out of this…what’s the payoff?

Not at all. Why is that do you think?


Jesus’ first disciples aren’t thinking about winning a contest to bag the most converts…

Because when your bringing the good news of the Messianic Age…it isn’t about you…it isn’t about feeding your ego…building up your self-esteem…or earning your place in God’s good books…it’s about us…

It’s about the sharing the amazing discovery that you and everyone else on the planet are loved by God…about an incredible breakthrough in spiritual understanding which transforms our thinking forever about who matters to God and therefore who matters to us.

A change in our thinking…which makes us wake up our idears… and our relationships with everybody…as we follow Jesus in embodying God’s love and God’s justice and peace…we become hospitality personified…
wherever we go and with whoever we meet.

Why wouldn’t you want to share that?

And does Jesus promise Andrew and James and Simon and John they’ll see immediate results? Does Jesus assure them they will be able to measure their effectiveness and achievements? [Ask]

Maybe it’s enough to just spread the good news …maybe acting out the Gospel in everyday life…is enough…maybe doing what Jesus was doing is enough.

Maybe we’re not meant to know every outcome …maybe that’s for God to know…

to help us digest these question…let’s reflect on the implications of this short film called Strangers.[i]

Play video

My prayer is that you will be encouraged by this sermon and this film to shine the light of God’s love into the darkness of everyone you meet – even if you
never find out the impact of your actions.

And should you still doubt God’s love for you and so have no motivation to share it…  I pray you’ll find someone who knows that love and can help you on your spiritual path.

And should you be convinced of God’s love for you yet question God’s love for all people… then I pray that by the power of the Holy  Spirit you will revisit the Gospel and that you will be transformed by the good news revealed in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

How well are we listening?

Epiphany 2 year B Sermon 

Title slide
Three thousand years ago... a twelve year old boy ... hears the voice of God...hears God… call his name...
and ask him to pass on… a special message

and amazingly our story assures us...

Text slide
the boy ‘Samuel… had no knowledge of Yahweh...
nor had the word of Yahweh...yet been revealed to him’

Blank slide
Two thousand years ago... when Nathaniel meets Jesus for the first time... before they can be introduced...
Jesus tells Nathaniel he already knows him. [pause]

It seems strange to me now...
that when I first started preparing this message... I just couldn’t see... how these two stories were linked...and why they’re set down for today… side by side with Psalm 139.

But now I can see how beautifully these readings follow from last week’s reflection…
on God speaking light into the darkness at creation
and bringing light into the darkness of our lives.

Boy slide
From deep within the history of the Jewish people
the story of Samuel calls us... a story of a young boy
who served in the Tent of the Tabernacle of Moses...
at the Shrine of Shiloh
a boy serving under an old priest…
whose eyes and judgment were failing...
three thousand years ago…during the period of the Judges...
before there were any kings in Israel...

I was intrigued at how young Samuel was...
when he heard God calling his name...
as he slept alone on the floor in the Tent of the Tabernacle...
in the glow of the Lamp of God...

And just as they’d crafted the creation poem in the first chapter of Genesis…this account of Hebrew history…
was composed by the priestly exiles in Babylon…to bring light and hope… to the chaotic world of captivity
to remind the exiles… how God continues to bring light
in the darkness.

And it’s easy to see the story is written much later …because looking back from the time of exile
it’s clear these priestly historians… already knew
as Samuel lay sleeping...that
the Lamp of God was about to be extinguished… leaving the people in darkness. [pause]

And they already knew why
God called this young boy
to shine like a light for those… in his day
who cry out for an end to abuse and exploitation.

They already knew Israel’s enemies from the Gaza
would soon ravage and destroy the Tabernacle
and that in their plundering …an unthinkable…
unimaginable horror would occur. [pause]

The priestly writers in Babylon knew the most sacred of Israel’s religious treasures… would
be carried off… as the spoils of war…the Lamp of God and the Ark of the Covenant…would be stolen by the Philistines… [pause]
Priest slide
And in a huge tent without windows…like the Tabernacle of Moses…you literally could see nothing at all
without the light of the Lamp of God

that’s why the priests had the sacred task
of making sure the Lamp of God… never went out…

The Lamp of God…in the Tabernacle of Moses….
was known as the 'menorah' in Hebrew
It was made from one piece  of solid beaten gold…
and weighed more than 45 kilograms
The menorah remains today…one of the most popular symbols of Judaism.

and on this golden Lamp was inscribed these words

text slide
The Light of YHWH is the spirit of humankind

And handed down in the scroll of Leviticus
was the command that this Lamp must shine continually before the Lord…from evening until morning;
it shall be a statute forever in your generations.[i]

When Samuel was a boy…it was unthinkable
the Lamp of God be extinguished.

blank slide
But there was another kind of darkness at this time in Israel’s history…our story tells us the voice of God was rarely heard in those days…and visions were uncommon.
It seems that God had stopped communicating
even with the High Priest…  but Why?  

With all the ritual...the burnt offerings...the washing ...the incense...the tending of the golden Lamp...
in obedience to the Law…
why couldn’t the priests hear the voice of God? [pause]

Burnt offering slide
Because…the story tells us…the high priest Eli...
and his sons...also priests... had turned the shrine at Shiloh …had turned the house of God... into a disgrace.

In Eli’s son’s hands…the people’s offerings… to God
were abused and desecrated… the Book of Samuel says:

Text slide
The sons of Eli were scoundrels; they cared nothing for Yahweh...nor what was actually due the priests from the offerings of the people. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, the priest's servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand... while the meat was still being cooked;
to claim for his own whatever the fork brought up.

Blank slide
If the people tried to stop this sacrilege…well…
their meat would just be taken by force.

And because Eli’s sons… abused their power with
everyone who came to the Tabernacle...the story tells us

Text slide
The young men's sin was very great in Yahweh's eyes, because they treated the offerings made to Yahweh
with contempt. [pause]

Blank slide
They were happy to wear beautiful robes…
and claim their rank and status
but they ignored the priestly code. There was corruption and pollution in the Tabernacle of Moses.
And the voice of God did not speak into that darkness [pause]

When the Philistine invaders finally arrived to steal the Ark and carry off the Lamp...
all that was left was a weak and corrupt priesthood...

And as the priesthood fails and people cry out in protest and the light is about to disappear

Boy slide
our God  who shines light into darkness…
a twelve year old boy…whose job it is
to keep the Lamp of God shining through the night…

God speaks… into the life of a young lad… with…

word slide
no knowledge of Yahweh and to whom the word of God had yet to be revealed.

before this boy had any understanding of God whatsoever
God spoke to himand guided him and called him by name …and a revolution in Israel’s thinking about God occurs…

blank slide
someone with no formal training…no life experience …
no status…can be called by God…
to shine the light of God’s love for the people who cried out against the injustice and desecration of the priests

In a time of darkness Samuel would be set

Text slide
‘as a light among his people’
to proclaim the will and the way of God,

a priest was not needed to mediate between God
and God’s people…

God …would speak to them directly
maybe even call them to be prophets…before they know anything about God or God’s word… [pause]
because God already knows them!

That’s what Jesus alludes to when he tells Nathaniel…
'Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.' That what our Psalm is saying too

Text slide
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame wasn’t hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth
your eyes saw my unformed body. [pause]

Blank slide
Whenever a group of religious leaders arise…
claiming to mediate between the people and God
corruption and the abuse of power… seem bound to follow.

When it does…in Israel’s history… and in our own
God hears the cry of the people
steps those in power…and speaks directly
into the hearts of the powerless and the vulnerable. Calling from among their number… a light to shine in the darkness.
As it turns out…God calls the young Samuel…
to warn and admonish the corrupt and shady priests
and to do this the boy has to overcome…
his very real and understandable fear of authority.

Much later…when the Ark and the Lamp are carried off and the light extinguished in the Tabernacle…
those without discernment are so invested…
in the symbols of God’s power…they actually believe… ‘God’s Glory had departed from Israel.’

Blinded by their own darkness…they lose sight of the presence of God… tuned into their own clatter…
they become deaf to God’s voice.

It’s a pattern which repeats over and over again
to this present day…in the throne rooms of corporate kings
in the halls of government and within the walls of churches.

What unlikely peoplewho may not even know God …might be called today by God …to warn those in power with a prophetic word… to rebuke and implore them…
to stop what they’re doing… to wake up their ideas…
and return to God’s way of peace and wellbeing for all people

Would you be blind and deaf to their words because of their age or their status or their race or their gender…
or would you recognise the word of God on their lips?

Or maybe you are that unlikely person…
maybe you think you’re too young or too old or not theologically trained
or maybe you think you’re
for God to call by name...
unfit to shine a light in the darkness.

I pray you’ll let God decide that.

And when you that doubt God might speak to you…
I hope you’ll remember Samuel was only twelve and had no knowledge of God or God’s word. Yet the biblical witness assures us... though Samuel was powerless and vulnerable…

text slide
Yahweh was with him and allowed not a single word God told him to fall to the ground.

Blank slide
Every day abused exploited people in our world…
our community even in the church cry out to God…
for hope and for light.
Prophets are called to speak light into this darkness.

Were God to speak your name and give you a message
of rebuke for abusers and hope for the broken…
my prayer is that you will be listening...and that you will risk what you can …to go where God sends you and speak what God calls you to speak.

My prayer is that you will answer as Samuel did…

speak Lord for your servant is listening

[i] Lev 24:3

Sunday, 8 January 2012

In the beginning God

Epiphany 1 Year B Sermon Genesis 1
‘In the beginning… God’…in the beginning…
there wasn’t even space……………..Just God.  [pause]

Let that sink in for a moment…close your eyes if you need to
and get your head around it…expand your perception of reality …beyond creation…outside creation… [pause………..]

‘In the beginning…. God’

How long?…irrelevant…Since time didn’t exist yet.
Where?…irrelevant…since space didn’t exist yet…

Just God………. present…being…and then?

And then what? Creating.

Word slide
‘In the beginning God… created’

God created something…what?

Word slide
In the beginning God… created the heavens

God creates space…when all there was… was God
God… creates space for something … makes room
for something other than God

Space isn’t God…even space… is creation

space in which stars could exist…
and planets and galaxies and nebula…but not yet
because…that comes later…
more is needed…more is needed

Word slide
In the beginning God created the heavens…and the earth

But first… where the earth will be there’s…a black hole
a vacuum… in space.

Word slide
Now the earth was formless and empty

Where the earth would be…there’s a black watery depth …and nothing else

Word slide
‘and darkness was over… the surface of the deep’
…dark upon dark

and then… God moves or at least…a part of God
moves into the space God has created

a part of God… moves into creation!

Word slide
‘and the Spirit of God… was hovering over the waters.’

The Spirit of God enters… into creation… and drifts…
over the black watery depths…where the earth will be
And suddenly God speaks

and the only thing listening… is the darkness.

‘And God says…
Word slide
"Let there be light,"…and there was… light’ [pause]

before the stars and the sun and the moon
before the earth… before life

there is light…and light is energy
once created never destroyed…science has taught us…in the first law of thermodynamics energy can be transformed (changed from one form to another), but cannot be created or destroyed by human kind.

In the beginning…
just God… creating space
moving into this space…and calling forth light
in all that darkness …and

Word slide
‘God saw… that the light was good’  [pause]

Word slide

Then God separates the light from the darkness…
This energy…this light… is separated out…
from the formless black watery void…
and each is named by God …day and night

and time is created…[pause]

Space… energy… time
That's’ enough work for one day…don’t you think.

Babylon slide
Many biblical scholars… believe these verses
were written during Israel's exile in Babylon…
a time of darkness…a time of hopelessness and despair…

Their country has been trashed by a powerful aggressor
who destroys Solomon’s Temple…kills thousands
and carries off all their leaders…into exile.

And this powerful poetry we read…in the first chapter of Genesis …is sorely needed …to contrast the dark vision of the divine painted by the Babylonians and the horrors
in their captor’s creation story.  

Their creation story…the Babylonian Enuma elish…
was an official ritual text…recited every April …
on the fourth day of the Festival of the New Year

Their ceremonial poem…celebrates the god Marduk
who is raised to the status of chief god…
when Babylon conquers Mesopotamia.

Marduk becomes the official god… and must be exalted by everyone…even foreigners.

Marduk's name means "'son-child'… or 'son-of-the-sun'"… or perhaps "bull calf of the sun." Marduk is more powerful than his father…and his physical appearance is impressive: he’s very large, with four huge eyes and four big ears
the better to see and hear everything.

Fire blazes from his mouth when he speaks.

Marduk’s proud and doting grandfather Anu… creates the four winds for Marduk to play with…and soon a group of unnamed gods goes to "their mother" Tiamat to complain about the noise and disorder Marduk is causing.

In the minds of the Babylonians…many gods are competing for sovereignty…and in the dimension of their gods … there is nothing but dis- order.

Marduk makes bits of creation…
from the bodily parts of enemy gods
and human beings are created specifically…
to serve the Babylonian gods

But the point I want to make here…is that in the Babylonian creation story there’s chaos and disorder.
And the Jewish exiles are grieving for the order and stability they’ve lost

their world is chaoticand their culture
is under threat from a conqueror
more powerful than they ever dreamed.

What the Hebrew people need most at this time of disorder is reassurance comfort and consolation…
they need reminding…
that their God… brings order out of chaos…
and creates light out of darkness… [pause]

Today as we watch with horror the unfolding of yet more darkness and chaos in the worldtoday its every bit as good for us to hear these words…
as it was for the exiles. For just last Thursday ninety kilometres from the rivers of Babylon…a suicide bomb killed seventy people…

When we hear the words "Formless void" we can almost see our own world in peril.[i]

But when others are tempted to despair
you and I can proclaim in full throated joy …against the powers and principalities who claim
that everything is hopeless and in chaos.

We can say…"In the beginning, when there was nothing but a formless void… God said,

Slide words
‘Let there be light!' And there was."’[pause]

God’s first word isn’t violent or threatening or vengeful Our God’s first word is…‘Let there be light!' [pause]

You know when darkness threatens to overwhelm us…
it’s very hard to say these words for ourselves.
These are words which must be overheard by us…
as we listen
to God's conversation with the formless void.

No human utterance can help us…
when the mountains tremble… and the earth shakes…
no word can help…when we see the chaos and disorder
in our world except a word spoken from outside creation.

And just when the night is at its darkest…we hear that word
and it is… a sovereign command…it is a promise…
and it is a creative act…"Let there be light in this darkness!"

Blank slide
Just like the quivering exiles in Babylon…when darkness threatens us…we fear the void…we fear the emptiness…
and when fear gives way to panic and despair
just like the exiles…
we forget all about… our creative…order bringing God
who brings light out of darkness…

we forget that the perfect love of our God...can cast out …our fear…

We forget that our God…‘The creative lover…
[who] has the first word… shall also have the last.
We forget that all evidence to the contrary, God's love is stronger…’ than what we fear.[ii]  Even death…

One of the world’s greatest preachers
William Willemon… reminds us that ‘In life and death, in life beyond death, there is only one word. At the end, it's the same word… as at the beginning…God’s Word:

‘A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’

Hands slide
Over the Advent season…
we immersed ourselves in the event of the Word made flesh…the light of the world …in the coming of the Christ. And in this season of epiphany we remember not only
do we have a creating and loving God…who brings light out of darkness…but we have the very fullness of our God
in time and space… in the person of Jesus Christ.

And we recall another time of great darkness
seventy years after the birth of Jesus
when once again the Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed … this time by the Romans...

and how Matthew’s gospel
calls all the people out of despair
to faith in Jesus…

with these words:

word slide
‘the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’

My prayer is that whenever  you are tempted to lose heart …when your own darkness or the darkness caused by others threatens to overwhelm you…

you will remember God’s sovereign command…

let there be light…may it shine for you…

and may you carry that light… for others.

[i] Let There Be Light. by William H. Willimon. Sojourners Magazine, November-December 2001 
[ii] Ibid.