Saturday, 31 December 2011

Epiphany: "Look to a Star Rising"

by Peter Lockhart

To celebrate the birth of Jesus in the way that we do contradicts at some innate level the core of what the story is about and how it is told in the scriptures.

Jesus is born into a violent world, the son of an unmarried Jewish couple, who became refugees fleeing a brutal persecution. He grew up as part of an occupied nation and oppressed community proclaiming peace, declaring God’s reign and bringing healing to the lives of many. And, as we know, he died betrayed by his own people to foreign rulers.

All of these factors point directly at the confrontation that occurs between God’s will and way for humanity and the way we actually live. The world Jesus was born into was a pretty messed up place and if we can look beyond the limited yet fragile security of our own little ecosystems we know that it is still pretty messed up.

As we herald in a new year we know Europe has descended into economic chaos and stands on the brink of total catastrophe; environmental issues largely caused by over consumption are destroying ecosystems everywhere and some argue threaten our very planet; natural disasters continue to unfold; shifts in political power and influence in various countries are raising all kinds of other security concerns. It is far easier to simply look to our own lives and concerns and hope we win the cricket than consider such matters.

As Christians we can only celebrate Jesus birth in the way that we do in Australia if we keep Jesus a cute child in the manger and fail to take him seriously from that point on. The moment we move beyond the pasteurized and homogenized nativities that have kept Jesus “mostly harmless” we find ourselves confronted by a deeper and more disturbing story of God present with us in the world.

The story which Matthew tells of a group of magi, or wise men, travelling from the East to see Jesus, is a story which should lead us away from the security blanket of our own blinkered and naive self-assuredness, into the reality of the problems within the creation and ultimately into the arms of the gracious God who has come to us in Jesus.

Matthew tells his tale of the magi against the backdrop of, for us, a difficult to swallow astrological event and the neurosis of a King installed by the Romans, Herod the Great.

As modern minded people the notion of a star rising at the birth of anyone important appears to be completely ludicrous. However, for the people for whom Matthew was writing his story the idea of a star was an essential sign of divine activity and prophesied greatness.

I wonder whether our reticence to accept the whole star thing is the idea that we are sold in the Western World, that we can be anything we want to be. In ancient times people had a much stronger sense that people were born with a place and destiny in the world, a notion that many of us would want to reject. Our education system encourages the belief that we can be anything we want to be – so our destiny is in our own hands. This mythology of our modern age refutes notions of natal stars heralding greatness because we have bought the lie any of us can be great – we just have to work hard enough to get there.

So here is our first and foremost confrontation as modern readers of this story. Do we believe that there are limitations on individuals to make their own destiny? Or is each of us in control of who we are and where we are going in our lives? If we believe the latter we then have no place for the baby that the wise men are going to see and the God we believe he is.

It is this very confrontation with who is in control which is also at issue for Herod the Great. Herod came to power around the year 47 B.C. He was an inspiring leader during his mid twenties suppressing rebellion, collecting taxes for Rome and proving himself an able commander to the point at which Caesar Augustus recognised his rule on behalf of Rome.

Herod’s kingship was particularly prosperous in the years between 25 and 12 B.C. after which time he was beset by a range of domestic problems particularly caused by issues concerning who his successor would be. Herod the Great had 10 wives and those with whom he had children vied for the right of their child to be his successor.

Without going into too much detail there was particular competition between the son of his first wife Doris, Antipater, and Herod’s favoured sons through his fourth with Malthace, who was incidentally a Samaritan, Alexander and Aristobulus. These favoured sons were hated by Herod’s sister Salome because she wanted her son to follow Herod. Thrown into this mix was the son of his third wife Mariamne the second, Philip. So mixed up was this situation, that over the years leading up to his death Herod wrote 6 wills to designate his successor.

This convoluted contest for power, which could provide more seditious behaviour and plotline for Days of our Lives, was all coming to a head when Herod encountered the magi bearing news of a child who they said was born as the king of the Jews.

Herod by now was quite ill and believed that he had his succession plans in place, or at least almost in place and then, all of a sudden, magi from the East travelling to see the birth a new king! By this stage Herod is not defending his own reign but his successors into which he had put so much planning.

Matthew tells us that Herod was frightened and all Jerusalem alongside him. Herod’s own rise to power and been pock marked with violence and intrigue and his own son Antipater, eager for the throne, had tried to poison him. Herod had good reason to have fears as did the people of Jerusalem. Instability in leadership led to wars.

Even without Jesus appearance on the scene things were in a state of flux. Power relationships with Rome based in the personal relationship between Emperor Augustus and Herod the Great were at stake. Herod’s sons and their mothers jockeying for position and power was unsettling. The known world was a troubled place despite the control Herod had sought to stamp on his little patch.

It is at this moment in history that God becomes human and magi come seeking a king. It is the confrontation between the powers of this world, and those who seek to make their own destiny, and the God who made all things.

The question of who is in control is being asked and asked in a most palpable way. Herod’s plan to control the situation is brutal and devastating – he kills all the male children less than 2 years of age in the area that the new king was supposed to be born. Joseph and Mary become refugees as they flee to Egypt and carry with them the vulnerability of God with us, Jesus.

Now the machinations of the Herodian dynasty may seem far removed from our 21st century world but the question of who is in control is not.

Looking into 2012 a new power emerges in North Korean replacing the almost mythical figure of Kim Jong Il. The European economic crisis continues to loom large and the distinct possibility of the collapses of nations in over their heads threatens political stability. In China new leadership will be established in the strongest economy in the world. Refugees continue to bleed out of oppression into other countries. Afghanistan remains unsettled. The Middle East continues to exude instability. World leaders shy away from questions of climate change. Children still starve to death.

The flight of Joseph and Mary carries with them the hope of the world, not just Herod’s world but ours. It is a hope which believes that God reaches out to supersede our fears and suspicions and to draw us home into relationship with each other and with God. It is a hope that says that the jockeying for power and the dispossession of the helpless is not the last word. It is a hope that looks into the face of death and says no.

Keeping Jesus a cute baby in the manger does not give honour to the turbulent world into which he was born or the children killed by Herod. Sentimentalising the story of Jesus birth discredits the cross.

As we begin 2012 the question which lies before each of us who is in control? And, where will I place my energy? As for myself I look to a star rising, heralding hope and new life; a star which flies in the face of contemporary logic and control; a star whose news is not reported in the Courier Mail or the Australian. A star which heralds the birth long ago of God with us and is told again and again in the lives of people who follow Jesus faithfully looking for the coming of a new kingdom, worshipping God, and eating and drinking bread and wine as food for their journey through exile home to God.

Photo: Creative Commons Robin_24

Friday, 23 December 2011

Critiquing Christmas!

Peter Lockhart

I can clearly remember my very first sermon on the theme of Christmas beginning with the words “Bah humbug!” In many ways the season really has become the “silly” season. Greed and gluttony have been easy targets over the years as I have sought to lead people into a deeper contemplation of the meaning of Jesus birth – the incarnation.

This year as I reflected on this well worn path of critiquing Christmas, a path shared by many a nominal Christian and agnostic as well, I was struck by the danger of suggesting another approach to celebrating Christmas as if it too would be free from misunderstandings and idolatrous behaviour.

There are various movements around like the Advent conspiracy and Reclaim Christmas for which I have much sympathy. Movements which ask us to stop and reflect about how we are celebrating Christmas and whether there might be another way, a better way. I have no doubt there is but let’s not get confused about what we are doing when we shift the focus.

The mystery and promise of the incarnation is that God’s presence in the world has cosmic implications. God gives new life; God makes way for a new creation. It is this that we celebrate – God acting in human history to alter the possibilities of who we are in relationship with God and each other.

Altering our celebrations will not necessarily wind up making us any holier or changing the world into all that it has been made by God to be. Yet maybe altering what we do can express more clearly our faith and belief in God who come among us in Jesus and gives hope to the entire world.

May God bless you in your celebrations of the birth of Jesus and may you have a sense of Christ’s presence which gives us hope and can guide us day by day to live more closely to the one who made us and all things.

Peace be with you

Rev Peter

Friday, 16 December 2011

Led By Hope

Terry Stanyer

‘Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.’ - Archimedes
There is little doubt that Advent is about looking forward to the Birth of Jesus and the fulfilment of a long-held hope that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David. It is also about being prepared for Christ’s coming again the Second Advent.
The thrust of today’s scriptures is about surprise and then joy for both Elizabeth and Mary. They are also about a reality that we cannot do everything. It is God’s will which is done. The plan of Salvation has had many steps to this point. Samuel tells that there will be a Temple, but it is not David’s task to build it. That will be something which Solomon will undertake. By extension, then, each of us will have a task which is ours and ours alone.
While we are thinking about Advent and Christmas we also have an eye on the Second Advent. While the preparations may take us to Christmas, the greater preparation is to welcome Christ on his return.
This thought is a challenge to the Church to sustain its mission. The birth of Jesus and his exemplary life and his death and resurrection is world-changing. To take forward Archimedes thought - Those of us who stand with Christ have been given a lever to move the world. It is the Gospel of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. It is a Gospel which surprises too. We have a vision for the future as bright as the Star which is drawing the wise men to Bethlehem and as alive as the Angel Chorus.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Annunciation: How can this be?

by Peter Lockhart

Over 60 years after Jesus birth a doctor and follower of Jesus known as Luke wrote down a story which portrayed an intimate scene between Mary and an angel called Gabriel. No one else was present and no one else wrote the story down in the same way. In fact the only other version we have of the birth narrative of Jesus is found in Matthew’s gospel and it is quite a bit different.

To quote from Luke himself concerning this particular situation it would be easy to be “much perplexed by his words”. Or maybe we might want to ask with Mary “How can this be?”

The kind of conundrum which is presented to us in this classic Biblical story known as the annunciation is a conundrum which leads me into speaking about something which is foundational in my faith – how I read the Bible.

It is quite fanciful to think that Luke’s fly on the wall account of this miraculous event has any real sense of absolute historical truth about it. Even if there was a tradition handed on, a story about what had occurred, the idea that it would have remained accurate and intact for 60 years in naive at best.

So what do we do with this story? How do we understand it? Does it have any real authority for us?

My answer is, “Of course.”

The notion that we only read the Biblical text as some kind of accurate and literal account of events has only really been around for about 100 years or so. Narrow literalist readings of the scripture seem to be reaction by many in the church to the liberal theology of the nineteenth century. A theology which, for example, had no real trouble accepting Charles Darwin’s theories expressed in his ground breaking book “The Origins of Species”.

But, just as there are problems with literalist readings of the scriptures which seek to enshrine the words of the text in a way which I believe is idolatrous, so too I have great difficulty with those who would disregard the text because it does not make scientific and historic sense to them.

Many of the so called liberal theologians would say that there is no evidence for what the scripture is saying or that it is inconsistent, and more than that the church has indoctrinated us to have naive beliefs about the scriptures.

To both literalist and liberal I would want to say Luke was not writing history and nor was he writing science – Luke was writing theology.

The purpose of Luke’s story is not to make a claim about the encounter between the angel and Mary which may or may not have actually happened in the way that he described. Nor is it to provide a scientific explanation concerning the notion of a virginal conception.

Luke’s task is theology: to explain who God is and how this God relates to human beings and how human beings relate to God. This is where the authority of the scriptures lie and it is how they should be read.

To do theology, to think about who God is and who we are before this God, is to stand on the precipice of a vast mystery. It is as if we are looking into the far reaches of the ever expanding universe seeing the glimmer of billions of stars yet not comprehending what is really out there.

As Luke fashions his story of the encounter between Gabriel and Mary what he is seeking to do is to convey some basic theological truths as had been revealed to him, truths which may have some historical grounding in an encounter which Mary may have described to others.

Not surprisingly one of the key truths that Luke explores, not just in this story but throughout his gospel, is the incomprehension and incredulity of people when they encounter the divine. To push the miracle of this story a little further I would argue that what is occurring here is a theophany, which literally means an appearance of God.

When Mary encounters the divine she is perplexed, she ponders his words, she even doubts by asking “How can this be?” My sense of Mary’s response “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” is not of humble faithfulness that we can extol in any way but a simple acceptance of what she has come to realise is fait accompli.

This is part of Mary’s story and it is part of our story too. In the years I have spent at Clayfield and Hamilton many of you have shared with me your encounters with the divine: visions, feelings, angelic appearances, dreams, words of wisdom and insights. These are intimate stories of witness, which we seem so often reticent to share in our scientific and ordered world, and they have been a gift to me. I would continue to encourage you to take the confidence to share these intimate moments of your faith, your divine and miraculous encounters, with each other far more freely and so I believe to be surprised at just how common they are.

I find it fascinating that Mary moves from a place of questioning, into obedient response and then when she visits Elizabeth into praise and thanksgiving to God.

It was in the sharing of her story that Luke depicts Mary as praising God openly. A praise possibly born out of the joy of knowing that her story had been heard and her witness had meaning for Elizabeth, but not only for Elizabeth but the millions of Christians who have treasured Luke’s narrative since that time.

Luke is telling us that even Mary who bore Jesus in her womb found it difficult to comprehend and accept what God might be doing and that the reality is that any encounter with God can lead us into confusion and questioning, “How can this be?”

This leads me into making a comment on another of Luke’s key theological points in this passage – the incarnation.

I remember a few years back making the comment in a sermon on this same passage that Luke’s point is not to get us to believe that Mary was a virgin but that Jesus was God’s Son. When I made this statement I was leaving room for those who might struggle with the science of a virginal conception and other historical anomalies which lie around this story. The question I asked at the time was it more believable that May was a virgin or Jesus was God’s Son. At worst Luke is telling a stock standard story for his era to get his point across – if Jesus is to accepted as divine including the story of a virginal birth was really nothing new.

I would say however after years of contemplation on the issue I have come to the conclusion that the idea that Mary was a virgin is not such a difficult leap after all and in fact has theological significance in itself.

What Luke conveys to us is that God chose in God’s own mysterious way to reach into Mary and create within her a new life. Psalm 139 describes the mystery of our embryonic life with these wonderful words: “you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”.

When God knit Jesus’ life together in Mary’s womb he did so in a new way. In the womb of this woman Mary, who was a child of Adam and Eve, God did something new in the creation. This is the miracle of the incarnation, the eternal Word of God being made flesh.

For so many Christians the cross is the focal point of our faith and rightly so. Great theologians such as Martin Luther and Karl Barth and Jurgen Moltmann have pointed us to the cross to understand God. Yet the cross is given its meaning so profoundly because of who it is we believe is hanging there in Jesus – God incarnate.

This is why Luke’s story is so important because he describes for us a theological truth which has us standing with mouths agape just as Mary did, “How can this be? How can God become a human being?”

You see the incarnation stands us something which is completely unique about our faith. The story of a God who as John puts it pitches his tent among us.

It is his presence in the world that alters the reality of all existence. This means that for me Christianity is never about telling you how to live or what you need to do to get into heaven or what kind of morals you should have. These may be side effects of the good news but the heart of our faith, its essence, is about what God is up to in Jesus.

It would be far simpler for me over the years to have taken the well worn route of preaching moral truths telling you how to behave or what to do but this to me would lack the truth of our faith and of eternal life, which is described be Jesus in John “as knowing him and the Father who sent him”.

As I approach the end of 8 years of ministry in this place it is my prayer, and my hope, that you have not found anything of value in knowing me beyond that you have come to know God more deeply, for this is the task for which I believe I was sent. To point away from myself and at God incarnate who is Jesus, and him crucified and risen for the life of the world.

To return to where I began, Luke’s purpose was theology. The story of the annunciation is our story – the story of our confusion and disbelief when God appears. Yet it is also the story of God’s faithfulness and immeasurable love revealed in the Good news, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

Is it any wonder that when Mary began to really comprehend this she extolled God before Elizabeth saying,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Amen.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Who really counts?

A sermon on Luke 2:1-7 (Prepared for 96.5 Family FM)
By Peter Lockhart

In my experience one of the things that seems to be common amongst the people I meet is that they want their lives to mean something, to have a purpose. More than that many want to be remembered, they want to carve their niche on this world. People want to know that their life matters that it counts for something.

It’s interesting this idea that we want to make our lives count especially given that earlier this year we had a census in Australia in which we were all counted. For me this census was made far more impersonal than previous ones and made me think I counted even less because like many things these days I did it online.

I wonder how you felt being counted by the Australian government, did it make you feel like your life really mattered any more or less. Did you feel like your life counted for something?

Realistically the bureaucrats and powers that be of our day really can’t make our lives count anymore simply by counting us and nor could they in times past.

The opening words of the second chapter of Luke’s gospel tell us that a seemingly insignificant couple from Nazareth were about to be swept up in the bureaucracy of their age.

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

The registration spoken of in this passage was of course a census, a census being conducted by the ruling power of Rome under its first Emperor, Augustus.

Now mentioning Emperor Augustus may not mean much to us but to Luke’s community this would have been really big. Luke wrote his gospel just over 30 years after Jesus’ death, which means it would have been nearly 50 years since Augustus’ death.

During his life Emperor Augustus had been understood to be the son of a god, in as much as his adopted father Julius Caesar was hailed as a god after his death. Whilst after his own death Emperor Augustus was also declared to be divine by the Roman Senate.

So, it was this god-like figure of Emperor Augustus who called the census. In doing so he had set Joseph and Mary travelling the road to Bethlehem and to a not insignificant event: the birth of their first son.

Now as I was thinking about Mary and Joseph and the census the question kept coming back to me, “what really makes a person count?” Mary and Joseph had gone off to be counted by the Romans. In terms of their lives did it make them count anymore as people to be counted by the Romans?

If their experience of a census was anything like ours simply an inconvenience then I would expect the answer would have been no. The contrast between the story of this seemingly insignificant couple and the story of the Roman Empire under possibly its most significant Emperor Augustus is immense. But what is interesting is that it is the story of Mary and Joseph that really should cause us to pause to consider what it is that makes a person count.

Does being counted by a government, Roman or Australian, really make you count any more in the big scheme of things? The answer is obviously no but as I suggested at the beginning we all like to be ‘counted’.

We would rather be counted in than counted out. But what does this mean? And how do we work out who is counted in and who is counted out? We all have our ways of thinking about this that we apply all the time. We count some people in and we count some people out. Every time we do this we draw a line around the community we are part of and in doing so try to make sure that we are counted in. In building our human communities we usually build them by excluding others as much as by including others.

But if we go back to Mary and Joseph and the story of the birth of Jesus the whole Christmas story revolves around not that the Romans, under Augustus reign, counted Mary and Joseph but that in God’s eyes Mary and Joseph, and might I say all people of all times and place, count because God loves us.

We know we count precisely because Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Why? Because Jesus not Augustus is God among us and the historical backdrop that the Bible gives to us helps us to know and understand that Jesus was a real person at a real time in history.

The story of Jesus birth let all humanity and the whole creation into the good news that we count so much to God that Jesus, who is God’s Son, comes to be one of us so that we might have peace with God and live our lives knowing that we count.

In this one small child God shows to us that we all count.
In this one small child God counts us in rather than counts us out.
In this one small child a new future for all of us, and the whole creation, is born.

This is what really counts at Christmas time, remembering that no matter whom we are, regardless of whether the bureaucrats have counted us, regardless of what others might say, regardless even of whether we’ve been naughty or nice; God wants to count us in. God wants to include you and me in a life that matters and Jesus presence in the world points to a hope that we can all share in – we do count, we do matter to God, the one who made us.

This has implications for how we live: living with the knowledge that not only does my life count but so does everybody else’ life. This leads us to include others rather than exclude them, knowing despite any differences or faults or foibles we might with each other have we all matter to God.

I must admit that I find it somewhat ironic that our Christmas celebrations are filled with counting things other than this good news of how much we count to God.

For example, if you were to reflect on the past week I wonder how much counting you have done:

Counting the days left until Christmas;
Counting the hours in a day;
Counting the dollars in your wallet or purse;
Or more likely counting the dollars on the rising credit card bill;
Counting the Christmas cards that you have received;
And, counting people in as you send them a card in return or maybe counting people out because they did not send you a card this year.

And the counting won’t stop:

Counting the number of presents that you receive;
Counting the number of prawns or serves of turkey that you have eaten;
Counting how many drinks you have had;
Counting the calories that you have consumed;

And, so the counting goes on.

But this morning, in this moment, gathered together as we are, listening again to the story of Jesus’ birth we remember that what really counts at Christmas time is that this story of Jesus’ birth lets us know how much we count to God – that in this one small child Mary, Joseph, and all of us – and maybe even Augustus and Quirnius - count far more than any of us can fully comprehend.

The God who can count the very hairs on our heads took the time to visit with us on earth, to live among us and share in our life. And more than that by sharing in our life and our death as human beings Jesus carries us through from death into new life where we can know and celebrate forever just how much we really count to God.

So as we hear that good news again this Christmas let us celebrate that you and I really matter, that we count to God because once long ago for a woman named Mary:

the time came for her to deliver her child.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son
and wrapped him in bands of cloth,
and laid him in a manger,
because there was no place for them in the inn.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Where is the joy?

May the Words of my mouth
And the meditations of our hearts
Be acceptable in your sight, O Lord
Our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

Today on the third Sunday of Advent the readings encourage us to contemplate the theme of joy.

In Isaiah 61:

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God”

In Psalm 126:

“Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy”

In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing”

This theme of joy is etched into our Christian existence; it is a response to God’s grace and goodness, it is part of the Christian DNA. So strong is this theme of joy that the word for joy is found over 300 times in the New Testament.

Christians are meant to be people filled with joy.

But what does joy sound like, what does joy look like, what does it feel like?

Is joy found in the pursuit of happiness?

Is joy found in the ownership of goods?

Is joy found in status and wealth?

Or even in a bar of chocolate?


If one were to examine the Western culture in which we live one might think that the answer to these things is yes. In fact much of our advertising encourages us to think that if we consume a particular product we will be happier.

A recent campaign by Cadbury chocolate called ‘share the joy’ included the slogan “A glass and half full of joy”, whilst more recently the current Coca-Cola advertising carries the catch phrase “Open Happiness”.

Ultimately, a great deal of our advertising does the same – it suggests that by owning or consuming a particular product we will be more fulfilled and that we will be imbued with joy or happiness or contentment.

Of course most of us see through the advertising and know that products do not necessarily produce the joy in life that we seek. In fact it seems that our very opulent lifestyle is failing to fulfil us let alone bring us joy.

Despite the indications of how high a standard of living we as Australians enjoy, how wealthy we are on a world scale, we continue to speak of ourselves as Aussie battlers and wear that badge with a sense of pride. And there are clear indicators as Australians that we are not a very happy people.

Statistics indicate that at any given time one in six Australian men is suffering from depression and that women are twice as likely as men to suffer depression after puberty.

Now whilst mental illness is a complex issue this is a disturbing statistic in such a wealthy culture. This statistic is made more concerning but the figures of suicide rates in Australia. More than one in five deaths which occur in 15-24 year old men occurs through suicide.

Timothy Radcliffe, the former head of the world Dominican order, noted in his devotional book “Seven last Words” that in his travels around the world it was in the wealthiest countries that he found that people seemed to be the most worried. It appears that we are afflicted by our anxiety despite our wealth or maybe even because of it!

We have not found joy! This seems somewhat paradoxical given our Western culture has its roots in Christendom. If joy is meant to be etched into our Christian existence where have we gone wrong? Where is the joy?

As I examined the passages set down for today apart from the theme of joy another theme came through, a theme which anchors that joy of which I am speaking and for which I think we long.

Listen for the theme in Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me

And,

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

He goes on,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Do you hear it? Do you get it? Isaiah’s confidence, his task, his joy was there because he believed and trusted that God had acted, was acting and that God would act again in human history.

So too in the Psalm

“the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion”

The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

And again in Paul’s letter the strength of hope expressed in a trust in God’s faithfulness:

“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”

People of faith through history have found their joy in knowing and believing in a God who acts.

The God who we are told sent John into the world to prepare the way for Jesus coming into the world.

I wonder whether as a culture we have become so reliant on our own abilities, so disconnected from the struggle to survive, so individualistic in our pursuit of happiness that we have lost focus on the heart of our faith – the faithfulness of God. The faithfulness of God expressed to the whole creation in his willingness to share our human existence in Jesus and to point a way forward into the hope, peace and joy of life with God.

To recover our joy as Christians means that maybe we should stop pursuing happiness as it is being sold to us and rather pursue God: to pursue God, knowing that the joy that we find in relationship with him has led Christians through the millennia to face hardship and peril with a sense of joy and peace. The joy of the Christian life is a joy which can and does transcend personal hardships.

When the Psalmist fills mouths with laughter it is done so in the face of adversity.

So the first step may be to stop trying to pursue joy and happiness and rather focus again on God.

But more than this, the reading from Isaiah should also bring to mind that Jesus chose these words from Isaiah to preach the good news to his home town of Galilee.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

Jesus declared that the year of the Lord’s favour had come in him and truly if we understand this it should be a source of joy for us.

The year of the Lord’s favour, the year of Jubilee, was meant to occur every 50 years. When the year of Jubilee came it “was a time of social renewal when all debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, and every dispossessed family returned to their ancestral lands that may have been sold or lost over the decades. (Leviticus 25) People may lose their land, their freedom, their stake in civil society for many reasons—whether by natural calamity, parental mismanagement, oppressive government, or moral failure—it does not matter. A new generation gets a stake in life. All is graciously restored in the year of Jubilee.” (http://shalomconnections.org/SC/SC07Sp2H.pdf)

If we place our confidence, our faith, our trust in God and if we listen for Jesus words our joy comes from a shared hope in renewed community, in renewed relationship with God and with each other. It is about shared joy not simply individual happiness. Our joy runs deep as we live with hope that all will share in the joy of life lived in God’s creation.

I think sometimes the difficulty for we who have so much is to find joy in God and not our possessions and luxury. To be grateful for what we have and not constantly seek after more, but this is such a counter cultural idea. Yet not only this but to take seriously the concept of the year of the Lord’s favour in which we hear a vision to bring good news to the oppressed and to forgive debts and to bind up the broken hearted and to comfort those who mourn. It is meant to be an eternal year of Jubilee.

Personally I find that the struggle that I have with joy at times is that it is difficult to be joyful about how good my life is when so many are suffering in the world. Yet part of this conundrum is that not to be thankful for the things that I have and the opportunities would somehow seem ungrateful.

I believe Jesus presence in the world releases me and all of us from this conundrum and invites us to live celebrating joyfully the salvation we have found in him whilst at the same time caring so that others may know and experience salvation: life and life in all its fullness. To put it another way to be joyful in our thanksgiving but also to care until all people can share in the joy.

To rejoice in the Lord always means being set from our anxieties about the future and trusting in the God who acts and so to share his concerns for others. I don’t think we can respond to a command to be joyful rather having encountered God and heard that we can place our trust in him we can be liberated from our anxieties and so rejoice.

For me this is about getting things in the right order. Seek after God and we will find joy.

The Christian story has a theme of rejoicing a tone of celebration. This joy comes from the hope we have in Christ and the peace that we have been given in our relationship with God. It is a joy that causes us to take stock of our lives in this community of creation and as we do so to share in Christ’s ministry as his disciples in the world.

The facade of joy that surrounds us is a sales pitch that has no depth. As we edge closer to celebrating the birth of Jesus let us be surprised by the joy of our relationship with God and share that joy with others, especially those in the world who need it most as we say with Isaiah:

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness”

Friday, 25 November 2011

Advent Hope

Peter Lockhart

As we begin the period of Advent I am again confronted by the commercialisation of the Christmas Celebration in the Western world. The gluttony and waste that we engage in should embarrass us all. Sadly, this situation has arisen in part out of the misunderstanding and misdirection of the goodwill and generosity of Christian people.

In past decades generosity at Christmas had real meaning even in our culture where life was certainly not as easy as it is now. Well meaning Christians acted to show God’s love to family members and friends by the giving of gifts and preparation of special dinners. Even the presence of St Nicholas visiting had a deeper meaning.

Over the years as our wealth grew the gifts became bigger and more extravagant, the special dinners become lusher and even excessive. What had begun with good intentions as a signs of God’s love became unintentional misconstrued as obligation and canny marketers took advantage of the Christmas binge.

The story of how we came to celebrate so lavishly is one of those stark reminders how even when we seek to do the ‘right’ thing it can end up so wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a seminar called the Advent Conspiracy. It was a timely reminder of what Christmas is really about and encouraged me to think again and whom I will offer my generosity to this year – family & friends who have all they need and more, or those in the world who are in dire need of the basic necessities for life?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Advent 1: Dirty Undies

by Peter Lockhart

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

Today we begin what is known as Advent. It is a time of reorienting ourselves towards the promise of the coming of Jesus into the world – not simply his historical coming but his promised coming in the future.

As we begin this journey of 4 weeks leading into remembering the birth of Jesus, the very first reading, recorded in the lectionary from Isaiah, confronts us with a Psalm of lamentation of the Jewish people about their feeling of separation from God, including this confession of sin.

Isaiah’s prophecy occurred in tumultuous times for the people of God threatened as they were by internal divisions and external pressures especially from the ancient Assyrian power.

It is this confession that draws us into our own contemplation of who we are, and of whose we are.

For Isaiah the confession found in verse 6 begins with an admission that the people had become unclean. The language here is beyond most of our everyday understanding because for the Jewish people to be unclean was to be unable to come into God’s presence and God’s holiness. Someone who was unclean could not approach God and the source of such uncleanness was sin.

The description in the verse of sin is twofold: firstly, so-called righteous deeds gone wrong; and secondly, iniquities, or wrong doing, carrying the people away.

I want to dwell on the first of these issues for a moment, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” The criticism and confession contained within these words are confronting. Even the deeds that the people had done thinking that they were doing the right thing are no better than filthy clothes.

As I was reading about this image a couple of the commentaries pointed out that this phrase actually means dirty undergarments. To rephrase Isaiah it is like saying that those things that you think you are doing that are good are really like that pile of dirty undies on your floor.

But it is not just that they were missing the mark when it came to doing good deeds it was also that they had been caught up in their iniquities as if being blown by a strong wind. A seemingly small error catapulted into the path of a rushing wind and so caught up in the wind unable to resist its power and force.

The consequences of their iniquities were having effects beyond their vision and understanding. Like an avalanche of idolatry their behaviours drove them away from God and had escalating consequences. These are strong words but any time people are moving away from God they are moving into idolatry – replacing God and God’s ways with something else.

Now Isaiah sites one of the reasons for this as God’s silence and supposed inaction, saying, “because you hid yourself we transgressed.”

Of course, blaming God’s silence for transgression doesn’t really cut the mustard but Isaiah’s lament reminds the people and prophesies appealing to God and reminding the people: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”

At the heart of Isaiah’s lament is this conviction that even if God’s people have become immersed and enmeshed in their transgression they are still God’s people and God is their God, silent or not!

In this the lament beginning in Isaiah 63 and carrying into chapter 64 is focussed on memory. It is about God remembering the covenant relationship with the Israelites and the people remembering that they are indeed God’s people.

As an aside the liturgical act of remembrance within the life of the church is called anamnesis. It is a word that I appreciate because it sounds so close to that word for forgetting in our won language amnesia. In the church and for Israel anamnesis is the antidote to amnesia – remembering the story of God even if we did not know we had forgotten it!

This serves as a bridge from Isaiah’s time to our own. The Israelites were really struggling to be faithful in their relationship with God and it was the lonely voice of the prophet that confronted them with their errant ways. The people had been seduced into idolatry without even being aware.

This is the same issue present in every age of Israel and the church: the forgetting of God and God’s ways and the seduction of alternate views of life and the world. As the book of Ecclesiastes might say, “there is nothing new under the sun”.

In our era we might speak of the Babylonian Captivity of the church in terms of the consequences of things like the enlightenment and humanism. The enlightenment which was so full of promise for humanity and has no doubt brought many blessings with it but like Isaiah’s lament may be seen as being like dirty undies on the floor.

It has brought us great thinking and high standards of living and even notions of the possibilities of humanity but it has also bought with it the rise of rampant individualism, where my rights are more important than the notion of community. It has brought with it the rejection of God and the rise atheism, in favour of an anthropocentric view of the Universe.

We might also speak of the problems of imperialism and nationalism which have lead nations to war and to the subjugation and exploitation of other nations.

We might speak of free market capitalism and liberal democracy which seem to have within them some right ideas but so often seem to get perverted.

And then there is consumerism and the incessant desire for growth, a logical impossibility in a finite world: consumerism which has clearly subverted our holy celebrations in the West. I want to share a brief video about this from Gruen World last week.

What struck me about these video exposés about Christmas is that mention nothing about Christianity. So far removed from the Christian narrative by the avalanche of idolatry around Christmas are these videos that Jesus gets no mention at all. For me this is a slap in the face a wake-up call to all of us in our faith and how we might express our hope in Christ’s coming.

As with Isaiah we find our hope in remembering, in anamnesis. Hearing the reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we hear of the promise of God’s graciously at work in each one of us already: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.”

Our hope remains in God, even when we find ourselves hurtling down the mountain trapped in the avalanche of idolatry moving away from God, God reaches out to give us hope and to reorient our lives in the life of Jesus, the promised coming one.

As Paul goes on to say, “the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

It is in this fellowship with the son that we remember and look at the weeks ahead with hope. As we wait with patience anticipating that we are not preparing to have a nice Christmas day but that in the fullness of God’s time Jesus will come and correct those things which are not of life but of death in this world.

In this our preparation shifts in focus away from the commercialism and obligation we may feel to give gifts to those who have no need of them into reconsidering what it means that in Christ we know that all people are loved by God. The hope of Christmas is about the kingdom coming near in all people’s lives in our present age as we wait for the coming of the new creation which is begun in Christ and the church already and is promised for all things.

Friday, 18 November 2011

God in our Lives

Terry Stanyer

The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of right relationships, when we are in the right relationship to our Father in heaven, and in the right relationship to our neighbours.
In Biblical times kings were not known for their gentleness and concern; but they were to be obeyed. Christ points to a different understanding of kingship, yet with the same obedience. The Christian insight is that if we want to get the most out of life then obedience to God is the way. ‘Follow the Maker’s instructions’ as the Christian Aid poster had it, with the picture of a gift-wrapped world.
Our Lord’s new commandment is that we love one another, as he has loved us, that the world may know we are his disciples.
What would it mean if Christ were to reign on earth, as one day he will? What does it mean to be King of the Church? What would it mean if Christ were to reign in my life, now?
In what way do I allow God to rule, over-rule my decisions, ambitions, priorities, values, beliefs, my attitude to money and people?
The Servant King. Servant – Leadership, these are the twin roles of a minister, and indeed of all Christians. We lead in such a way that we serve, and we serve in such a way that we lead. Christ the King came among us as one who serves, he has set us an example. John 13, see Ezekiel reading, David the shepherd – king, caring for the weakest as in the Gospel reading.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

What kind of King?

A sermon for Christ the King Sunday by Rev Peter Lockhart

May the words of my mouth
And the meditations of our hearts
Be acceptable in your sight O Lord
Our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

On the day that we celebrate the Reign of Christ the King the gospel of Matthew gives to us a clear indication of who Jesus is as king and how we are to serve and follow him.

In the vision of the coming of the Son of Man having separate the sheep from the goats, Jesus acknowledges the righteous ones saying, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Jesus kingship is defined by his presence in and among the poor, Jesus kingship is defined by his place alongside the oppressed, Jesus kingship by his companionship with the stranger and the sick and the prisoner.

In this Jesus kingship alters our world view. It redefines notions of power and authority and sets a marker for those who are number among his followers, the righteous one.

What I find most surprising in the passage is that those who are numbered among the righteous and among those who are accursed is that neither group is aware of their state of being blessed or cursed.

This mystery of salvation indicates to me that it is God’s grace that invigorates and transforms people as his servants rather than their choice to go and serve the poor or the needy or the oppressed that means that they are counted among God’s chosen ones.

This may seem a little arbitrary but what I believe is being indicated in this passage is that our relationship with God and the coming kingdom is not determined by what we do but rather our works are signs or markers of the gift of grace we have received, even unknowingly.

I want to share the story of two of my friends who I believe reflect such markers in the conduct of their lives and their service and following of Jesus.

One is my friend Jason who I first met as Youth Worker student in college. Over the last couple of years Jason has devoted himself to a self funded project called “Street Dreams”. Jason has spent time in the Philippines making a documentary to raise awareness of the plight of girls and women who work in the sex industry in that country and beyond. At great personal expense and at some risk to himself Jason has worked with his team to bring this project to its final stages.

Surely, Jason has met Jesus, the coming king, in those oppressed and abused women. Christ the King alive in the poor and oppressed.

A second is my friend Greg whom I have known for over twenty years. Greg and his wife have spent most their time since graduating from university working among poor and outcaste in India. Both are highly trained professionals but have forgone the possibilities of highly lucrative careers in Australia in preference for serving the poor in India. Once again, I have little doubt that the have seen Christ the King in the impoverished people among whom they have worked.

It is my view that it is not their choice to do these good works that brings them into a relationship with God but it because God has come in into both of their lives in a real and personal way that they have been inspired to share in Christ ministry and so possibility without knowing meet Christ in those whom they have served.

These views of Christ as King and defining Christ as King in this way, as being present among the broken and oppressed, certainly challenges any false regal notions that we might have as people about Jesus.

Now whilst I do not believe we can go and serve the poor to save ourselves maybe in the realisation of how God’s grace is poured out we will be personally challenged by what it means for us to celebrate the love that has been shown to us, not by simply building a respectable and bland experience of faith, but following Jesus even into places where we would rather not necessarily go, but places where Christ indeed calls us to follow and to meet him.

A few months back a congregation member approached me with information about Abolitionist Sunday, which coincides today with Christ the King. It seems appropriate then to weave into this sermon a comment about Jesus who we will meet in the prisoner.

For most of us the notion that there are slaves in the world or that the illegal trafficking of people occurs or that children are exploited on a daily basis in a variety of industries seems somehow a fanciful dream. Yet even the Australian Government has recognised that the trafficking of people into Australia is occurring and is a real issue.

For many of us, me included, these issues seem to big and too unreal for us to handle yet as people who follow Jesus there should be an awareness that not only does God care and love these people but in fact it is in helping and serving these people that we may in fact meet Christ amongst us.

I want to share a video made for abolition Sunday to raise awareness of the issues associated with slavery and to promote a more just way of living as Christian people...

The grace of God and mystery of our salvation at one level remains hidden from our view. The sheep and the goats were not aware of which group they were in until they had been divided. Yet the story reminds us that not only is Christ the King a king in a way which remains somewhat perplexing as he is identified in the poor and the oppressed of this world but that as people if we are seek out and meet the one who has shown us grace and mercy he is to be found among those whom we might consider to be the least likely candidates.

37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Friday, 11 November 2011

Using our gifts

Sandra Jebb

Our Gospel story today tells us about a man entrusting a portion of his wealth to three of his employees when he goes on a journey. Two of the three employees invested their wealth well and received commendable returns. The third employee was so afraid that he hid his portion in the ground. When the man returned to settle his accounts with them, all were commended and rewarded except the employee who had hidden his one talent in the ground. He was labelled “wicked and lazy” and totally condemned.
This parable reminds us that true disciples are called to consider what has been given to us and to use all our resources and spiritual gifts to serve Christ between his two comings. This will necessarily involve taking some calculated risks out of our comfort zone to venture beyond the horizon for the Kingdom of God. Fear is the obstacle that caused the third employee to hide his portion of what had been given to him. How easily we can do that! As the community of Kairos we need to courageously put to good use what God has already given us. Please enjoy reflecting on this wonderful prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake the Elizabethan naval Commander.

A Prayer by Francis Drake 1577
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves.
When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst for the Waters of Life;
Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth, We have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery:
Where losing sight of land we shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes;
And to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

What kind of God? The parable of the Talents.

by Peter Lockhart

I recently read Robert Banks handy little book “And Man created God”. A book that addresses issues concerning the rise of atheism, whilst at the same time challenging the notion that we as human being have a constant predilection to make God into who we want God to be.

I wonder whether this is because we find it so difficult to cope with the God Jesus introduces us to.

This morning the gospel reading from the lectionary comes to us from Matthew 25:14-30 and I have not read it quite deliberately because it is almost too well known to us. But in synopsis here it is:

Jesus tells a story of an absentee landlord who gives money to three of his servants to look after. Two of the servants increase the master’s wealth and so are rewarded whilst the third buries the money, keeping it hidden and safe until his master returns. The two who have increased the wealth are rewarded whilst the third is admonished and thrown out of the community.

Now there are a variety of understandings floating around about what this parable means.

The first focuses on the notion that the money actually represents gifts or skills that we have and that the purpose of our lives is to use them to achieve greater and better things. It is an appealing and comfortable reading of the story for many people but one which I would want to question. It runs the danger of leading us into a prosperity theology in which our wealth is understood as a reward for our faithfulness. It could also imply a negation of unconditional grace in favour of an understanding of having to be good enough for God.

A second interpretation of the story is to understand that the money is our relationship with God or our faith; so that we increase the gift of faith we have been given. I think many people are comfortable and happy with this reading of the story as well because it puts us in the driver seat, and we like to be control. But once again I would want to challenge it as it too can lead us towards an understanding of our relationship with God as being reliant on what we do.

To return to my point about Robert Banks book it is more than likely that most of us will opt for what makes us comfortable in our interpretation of the scriptures and therefore our understanding of our relationship with God.

This brings me to a third understanding of the story. It is an understanding which is built on the placement of the story in Matthew’s gospel and the context in which it was written. The story is placed in a series about the coming of the Son of Man and unlike the parable of the ten bridesmaids does not begin with the words “the kingdom of heaven will be like this”. This may indicate that the parable of the talents is not a vision of the coming kingdom, but rather a critique of a current reality.

The best way to demonstrate this understanding is to retell the parable.

Scene 1 – The Absentee Landlord

Once upon a time there was a wealthy man, not just an ordinarily wealthy man; this man was Bill Gates wealthy, Donald Trump wealthy, Rupert Murdoch wealthy. This man had so much money you may as well try and count the stars as count his wealth, but like all billionaire’s this rich man wanted more.

Scene 2 – Meet the slaves

This wealthy man had a group of lackeys, well slaves really, and decided to give them some money so he could have some more for himself. One of the lackeys he gave $30 million, another lackey he gave $15 million and to a third he gave $3 million. If you have ever watched the Apprentice with Donald Trump you get the idea. Then the wealthy man went away.

The first lackey being quite entrepreneurial used the money to trade goods buying them and then selling them on for a higher price. Doing this he managed to exploit the $30 million and turn it into $60 million. In the same way the second lackey doubled his $15 million making it $30 million.

But the third lackey struggled with what was going on. Having been brought up prudently he followed the custom of the people around him and sought to protect the money which he had been given. He buried it in the ground to keep it safe, to keep it hidden.

Scene 3 – The Return of the Wealthy Man

On the return of the wealthy man the first two lackeys fronted up with the extra money they had gained for the wealthy man. Just in case he had needed any extra cash, now he was really loaded and he appreciated the skill of these two go getters. He told them how great they were and that he would give them even more money so that they could make even more money for him. Then he told them how lucky they were and that they could share in his happiness now that he was even wealthier.

But the third lackey came to the wealthy man still bearing the meagre $3 million he had started with. This third lackey exposed the wealthy man saying, ‘Your reputation is well known, you make others work for you and reap the rewards of their labours. I fear you so I kept safe what is yours but I did not try to increase its worth for your benefit.’

Scene 4 – The rich man does his block!

Now, the wealthy man was furious! How dare this lackey not make more money for him! He really did his block! He blew a piston! He even said it would have been OK if the lackey had gone to a bank and engaged in usury, which is a sin. If he had done this at least he could have got some else to make more money for the rich man.

Having had his little rant he then chucked the lackey out to live in poverty on the street. The wealthy man cut him off from his community and world because he hadn’t made money for an already incredibly wealthy man.

Of course these are not the words of the scriptures I have embellished them a fact for which I do not apologise on this occasion. This reading of the parable is far more uncomfortable for us and no doubt to those listening to Jesus.

Read this way Jesus parable is a critique of the systems of this world, a critique of those who benefit of the labour of others. It is a critique of people like King Herod's son Archalaus who had traveled to Rome to have his authority confirmed by the Emperor and had his opponents killed on his return..

Moreover, it could be read as a critique of the behaviour entrepreneurs in our age and their desire for increased wealth and prosperity, often reliant on the work of others on their behalf. It reverses the prosperity theology that has often been associated with this passage and rings more truthfully of Jesus words to the rich young ruler “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Added to all of this the following passage in Matthew with the words, when translated directly from the Greek, ‘But when the Son of Man comes’. This suggests to me that what has just been told is in some sense the opposite of what Jesus envisages when the Son of Man comes.

In this passage Jesus declares, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

These are the ones, the ones cast out by the Pharisees and the Archalaus's of this world that God has an express concern for. It is a concern expressed in Jesus own willingness not only to be associated with them in his life but ultimately to be cast out with them – to hang on a cross, a place understood by the Jews to be place for those cursed by God and humanity.

It is in this act that God identifies not with our ability to turn $30 million into $60 million but with us as people who have been cast out, who are broken people, even lost people who are in need of mercy and help.

As people who hear and understand this message of grace I believe our place is not to be using our so called talents for our own gain, so that we might be given more and share in a wealthy master’s reward. No! Our place is to identify with those outcasts who Jesus identified with; our place is to challenge the systems of this world which enable a few to grow wealthy off the labour of others; our place is to welcome in to the presence of Jesus and his coming reign those who feel ostracised, abused and desolate in this world in which we live.

To return to where I began, Robert Banks caution is to weigh carefully upon our decisions about who God is. Jesus representation of God to us is one which upends the comfortable and domesticated images of God and plants new seeds of faith and understanding.

The question I am left with after reading this parable, and I will leave with you, is do we believe in a God who rewards those who already have much? Or a God who rewards those who seek personal gain through using others to advance his cause? Do we in a God who judges us on what we do and castes us aside if we don’t measure up?

Or do we believe in a God who asks serious questions of systems and institutions and individuals who exploit others for personal gain? Do we believe in a God who identifies with the outcastes of this world and shares in their lot? Do we believe in a God who seeks a way of revelation through which we meet God in serving those who suffer in the world? In other words do we believe in a God of unconditional grace and unending love?

Amen.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Parable of the Ten Young Women

Gabriel Manueli

Matthew 25:1-13.

Like many of Jesus’ parables, this one has an immediate and local meaning, and also wider universal meaning. In its immediate point, it was directed against the Jews . They were the chosen people; their whole history should have been a preparation for the coming of the Son of God; they ought to have been prepared for him when he came. Instead they were quite unprepared and therefore were shut out. Here in dramatic form is the tragedy of the unpreparedness of the Jews.
But the parable has at least two universal warnings.
( i ) It warns us that there are certain things which cannot be obtained at the last minute. It is far too late for a student to be preparing when the day of the examination has come. It is too late for a man to acquire a skill, or a character, if he does not already possess it. It is easy to leave things so late that we can no longer prepare ourselves to meet with God.
( ii ) It warns us that there are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The foolish virgins found it impossible to borrow oil when they discovered they needed it. A man cannot borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it for himself. A man cannot borrow a character; he must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed There are certain things we must win or acquire for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others.

All "saints" in the world

by Peter Lockhart

an interactive sermon


Today I have merged two themes within the liturgy.

The first is “life in the world” and second is a celebration of “all saints day”, two themes which are intrinsically linked together.

Over the past 3 weeks we have followed themes of the Christian life – prayer, scriptures, and community. Now we turn to contemplating our life in the world as Christian people.

When I spoke to the children before I emphasised the idea that our holiness comes to us from God as a gift, it is not something we can make for ourselves.

Yet as people who have been made holy we are called to holy living, living as if the kingdom of heaven has already come near.

When Jesus teaches the crowds on the mountainside, in those well loved words, often called the beatitudes, what he describes is not simply a future hope but a present blessedness in the lives of the disciples, and an invitation to share in the life of Christ.

The great German theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer, in his seminal work “The Cost of Discipleship, explores the meaning of the beatitudes and how living the beatitudes might shape our lives. He says:

“All are called to be what in the reality of God they are already. The disciples are called blessed because they have obeyed the call of Jesus, and the people as a whole because they are heirs of the promise.”

Yet as Bonheoffer points out a question remains unanswered. “Will they [the people] claim their heritage by believing in Jesus Christ and his word?” This is the question which lies before each one of us this day as well.

“Are we committed follows of Jesus Christ?” Or to borrow a phrase from the Basis of Union and put it into the context of the community of the church, “are we a fellowship of reconciliation bearing witness to Jesus Christ?”

Now whilst the Protestant tradition to which we belong does not make people “saints” like some other church traditions remembering great examples of the faith can help and inspire us to be what in the reality of God we are already.

I want us to take some time sharing the stories of the examples of faith for our own lives this morning. To do this I would like to encourage you to get into groups of no more than 4. Think about people whose faith inspires you and share what it is their faith that has helped you in your faith.

Sharing Time 1

This morning I opened the worship with the words of Psalm 34

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

One of the things that I appreciate and I find challenging about the saints is that this is what they do – they speak of God continuously, in all kinds of places, always ready to articulate their faith in Jesus Christ. For me when the faith is articulated or witnessed in action the kingdom of God comes near.

There is a wonderful Butteflyfish song which captures the hope of the gospel in the words:

I ain't goin' up to heaven in the sky
I ain't flyin' with the angels when I die
I ain't gonna rise up in the clear
Cause I do believe my dear
Heaven's comin' down here

In your groups I want you to have a look at the following pictures and answer the questions

Where can you sense God’s presence might be in this picture?
And secondly, how might that presence be shared?

As people drawn by grace into the life of God in and through Jesus we have been made holy. The question as Bonheoffer so rightly points out is whether or not we will respond or turn our backs on this good news.

The saints, not just the chosen ones, but those faithful people throughout our lives who have taught us faith and drawn us closer to God have been God’s gift to us. We know from their lives following Jesus does not necessarily bring safety and comfort and an easy life, in fact it might be quite the contrary. But in living the beatitudes we live knowing that we truly are blessed people.


Photos Creative Commons

Friday, 28 October 2011

Living Life in God's Time!

Peter Lockhart

Last weekend I attend a conference entitled “Questioning God: Faith & the New Atheism in Australia”. It was a timely reminder for me as to the hope expressed in our Kairos vision of “Living life in God’s time!”

To live life in God’s time is to become disciples of Jesus Christ and both witnesses to and participants in God’s mission and ministry in the world. The journey into an intelligible discipleship takes some time and commitment, especially in the context of this complex world in which we live.

One of the highlights of our conference was the speech delivered by Kristina Keneally “God is back – but does it matter” (see ABC Religion & Ethic website). In response to her paper a person commented on the ABC website, “I don’t know who said it - it was prophesied in the 70's that a time will come when faith will be 100 miles wide and 1/2 inch thick - It was also said that we would have the ear of the world and nothing to say - I think we're nearly there.”

As Christians in Kairos being called to live in God’s time I believe involves us in a journey of deepening our faith so that we do not achieve the irrelevance expressed by the commenter.

As we seek to expresses our hope living life in God’s time (kairos) I encourage you to continue to grow, as my old school motto suggested in fide scientiam (to our faith add knowledge).

Apart from recommending the ABC website, here are some books for those seeking a deeper exploration: “The Twilight of Atheism” & “The Dawkins Delusion” Alistair McGrath; “Atheist Delusions” David Bentley Hart; “Patience with God” Tomas Halik; “And Man Created God” Robert Banks; “Faith & its Critics” David Fergusson; and “A Sceptics Guide to Atheism” Peter S Williams.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Way of Life

Gabriel Manueli

In his book Doctor in Papua (1974) Berkeley Vaughn writes of his contact with the Kunikas, a tribe of mountaineers in the Owen Stanley range. No girl of this tribe would ever lower herself to marry her suitor until he had committed a murder. If he killed a man then he established his manhood. There the men of those villages would stalk and kill a complete stranger on sight. How then to completely change this, destructive taking of lives in these mountains? Clearly it was not to rush in with ideas, doctrines or ethical teaching, or to lay down sets of rules. It could be done only by linking these men to the Great Spirit, as they themselves called their idea of God. Vaughan expressed the challenge. There were no words for love or honesty or unselfishness in their language. But the missionaries could speak of friendship and unity, words these people did know, and demonstrate what they meant by living them out on their own lives. The days passed, and there came about a whole new way of life in those villages, For the men and women both gave up beating their children, and started to offer food to their enemies and even to ask for forgiveness for their former resentment, heated and violent acts.“A whole new way of life”, Vaughan’s phrase, translates the word mishpat (RSV justice ), and asking forgiveness and offering food to one’s enemies illustrates the word tsedaqah (RSV righteousness). The psalmist declares here that such are the acts of the holy God. In the Fijian language the Bible is called Ai Vola Tabu, the “taboo” book! “Don’t touch" too sacred for that. How difficult it is, we can see, to interpret the Christian faith to people who have no contact with the new way of life. The human language cannot fully express the gospel. First and foremost the other man must see the meaning of the fullness of life in the life style of the evangelist. Psalm 99.

Friday, 30 September 2011

The Words of my Mouth

Peter Lockhart

The final words of Psalm 19, if nothing else, should cause us to fall into silence more often than we do. How does one speak in a way acceptable to God?

For about 5 years I have regularly used the words of the Psalm as the opening prayer for my sermon.

A plea to God that the words I say, the words I have crafted, the word I have considered and prayed over may be acceptable to the One who made me.

Yet despite praying these words each week I usually describe my preaching, a little cheekily, as a different heresy each week.

The words of my sermons are limited by my human frailty yet become unlimited in possibilities because of what the Holy Spirit can and might do as I seek to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Whilst this is the way I use the words of this Psalm most often these words are not simply meant to be applied to a sermon delivered by a minister. These words are a plea to God that in all our speaking we might find ourselves using words and language acceptable to God.

Imagine for a moment that during the times of anger or frustration before blurting out those grating and hurtful words you asked yourself, ‘are these words I am about to say acceptable to God?’

Imagine for a moment that during those times filled with pride in a personal achievement before shouting out and boasting of your success you asked yourself, ‘are these words I am about to say acceptable to God?’

Imagine for a moment that during those times of darkness and depression before moaning about life or degrading yourself you asked yourself, ‘are these words I am about to say acceptable to God?’

Words – spoken quietly or loudly.

Words – full of colour, rich with meaning.

Words – trite or serious.

Words – building up.

And words which destroy.

Words are such powerful things.

Of course the reality is that the words which we speak day by day moment by moment are most likely to be not acceptable to God.

Whether the words are spoken in ignorance or the words are spoken wilfully it is not hard for us to know so many of them, in fact probably most of them, do not give honour to the one who gave us our voices.

So where is our hope?

Paul in writing to the Philippians reminds them of the relationship between the law and faith

“If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”

What is being suggested here by Paul is that even if we were able to form each word and thought perfectly these would be meaningless in terms of our relationship with God because of Jesus Christ.

Yes, Jesus who walked among us and gave voice to God’s own thoughts in human words.

Jesus: who in his life, death and resurrection made us right with God!

Jesus: who promised the sending of God’s Holy Spirit, to make us one with God and each other.
Whilst our words may not be acceptable to God Jesus words were. To quote Peter in John 6, in the midst of our imperfect and incoherent babblings, we go to Jesus because he has “the words of eternal life.”

It is in listening to Jesus that we can listen to one whose words are acceptable to God and we can learn how to speak again. To borrow a phrase from Stanley Hauerwas we can learn to speak Christian: to speak of the good news knowing that whilst the words we might say will be inadequate expressions of God’s grace to trust that the Spirit will help us in our weakness as we both articulate and listen to the words of hope.

We trust that the Spirit will transform our fumbling attempts to speak Christians and to proclaim God’s love for us in Jesus day by day into a meaningful and purposeful witness. We pray that through the Spirit our words will transform others and so become acceptable to God.

To learn to speak Christian takes time and energy, the same time and energy we would put in to learning another language and another culture.

To learn the language of prayer as we read the Psalms. To discover how to tell stories as we read the parables. To discipline ourselves to prayer and meditation aware that before a word is formed on our lips God knows it.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians Paul compares himself to an athlete pursuing a goal – the prize being the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.

When I think of the finely tuned machines of modern day athletes with their training programs and rigorous discipline, with their vitamin supplements and diet regimes I think we begin to get a picture that what Paul was talking about was throwing ourselves head long into learning the way of grace.

Disciplining ourselves to prayer and worship, committing ourselves to reading the scriptures and serving others, not to earn our salvation but to pursue with thanksgiving in our hearts the one who has saved us and maybe as we do these things to learn to speak Christian, just as Paul did, who said:

“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”

Let us meditate on what God is saying to us on this day. Amen.

Coveting & Consumerism

Peter Lockhart

Not so long ago I watched a movie called “Keeping up wit the Joneses”. The premise is based on the idea of planting a fake family in a community and then providing them with all the latest gadgets and fashions and foods. It is marketing genius and plays right into one of our weaknesses - coveting.

Despite the commandment not to covet, coveting has become integral to our culture and our lives.

Our desire to own more things and the constant bombardment of advertising seduce us into lifestyles in which our lives are becoming more defined by what we posses than ever before. Consumerism drives us and it drives our economy with its insatiable need for growth.

The consequences of our over consumption are difficult for us to fathom but the scriptures suggest that whilst we know God to be a merciful God our sins do have consequences.

On the “Make Wealth History” Website http://makewealthhistory.org/ this week it marked the 27th of September as the day on which humanity had used 100% of the resources that it we produce within the year. In other words by the time we reach December 31 we will have used at least 130% of what was produced in 2011.

The website admits the date is a little arbitrary but it is making a salient point about the rate at which we as human beings are using the world’s resources. It is interesting to note that this week I also heard a report that Australians hospitals are holding less than one month’s supply of many important medicines – including penicillin, of which there is already an shortage.

The “Make Wealth History” Website also has a link to help calculate your personal footprint. It calculates how many planet earths would be required to sustain everyone on the planet with a similar lifestyle to your own. For me that is 3.4 planet earths.

Of course these figures need to be taken with a grain of salt but when I consider that commandment not to covet maybe all I can say is that Paul was correct when he suggested in Romans 5 that the law was given so that sin might be revealed. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ and the promise of new life and hope in him!

May we too like Paul seek to “keep up with Jesus” and not “the Joneses”, pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14)

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Grateful for Work & Reward

Peter Lockhart

(The following sermon is designed to be interactive with members of the congregation participating in a reenactment of Jesus.)

Each week as a congregation we prayer in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

I often wonder what it is we are praying for when we pray these words and whether or not we can actually say them with the sincerity with which we ought.

I imagine you have idyllic images of what heaven is floating around in your head – what image comes as strongest to you.

Angels with harps on fluffy clouds. Re-union with loved ones who have gone before. A place where there is no suffering or sickness.

Jesus tells many stories about what the kingdom of heaven is like and I want to retell one today with your help.

Jesus says the kingdom of heaven “is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.”

This is one of those situations where a little congregation involvement might help us understand.

If we could have a group of prospective workers to come and wait here – image you are waiting in the village square for a day’s work.

And here now comes a landowner, a vine grower, looking for workers.

Now if you were the vine grower selecting workers at the break of day who are you going to choose?

Discuss

They agree to the pay for the day’s work.

I wonder how those who are left over feel. What do you think happens if these people don’t get work?

A few hours later the landowner returns, it’s about 9 in the morning now. He chooses yet more workers to go and labour in the field.

Who will you choose this time? Why?

How do those who are left feel now?

Hours pass again and at midday the landowner returns.

Again more are chosen.

Then once more at three o’clock the landowner comes.

I wonder how it would feel it face the prospect of a day without any income, a day without money for the household.

How do you who are left feel?

Then just before the end of the day the landowner returns one more time.

It is 5 o’clock with barely any hours left to work.

What sort of people do you think might have been left over? Who would it be that were refused work by the local landholders? What type of people might be left?

Yet the landowner makes a decision to give them work too.

Now before I push on into the story how are we feeling about this landowner at the moment.

Let’s ask those who have been given work.

Discuss

The thing that strikes me is that even at the end of the day the landowner is willing to take workers on, workers whom when ask tell the landowner no one else had given them work.

There is a generosity and persistence in the landowner who comes again and again to seek workers.

So what is the kingdom of heaven like?

It is a place in which God persists in generosity seeking people to be included and to get involved in the work of the kingdom.

So far, so good?

But now it is time to line up and receive your pay for the day’s work.

Can we have you in order from those who began last to those who started early in the morning.

Now the agreed days wage was this amount. (money?)

How do those who have worked just a little while feel about this?

What might those who have worked longer expect?

So let’s pay everybody else.

Now how do those feel who have worked the whole day and been given the same.

(Upset, as if they have been done an injustice.)

Jesus tells us that the landowner said

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

So we pray for the coming of the kingdom of heaven a place where all share in the generosity of God regardless of the effort they have put in.

Whilst we might sit fairly comfortably with the idea that the kingdom of heaven is like the landowner who keep returning to seek workers and give them a go, I suspect most of us would struggle with the idea of the equality of reward at the end.

How many of us consider those words “Well done good and faithful servant.” As an indicator of long service and commitment to God – this is service which deserves recognition.

But the parable tells us it is not about how much we have done but about God’s choosing.

How many of us think that “A fair days work for a fair days pay is how the world should be.” But do we really live that. Consider for a moment where so much of what we buy in Australia comes from. Consider who makes and how poorly they are paid. We all know about the issues of child labour, even slavery, in some industries. We know about how much of our manufacturing industry has been taken offshore.

The kingdom of heaven is like this – all are rewarded, given the dignity of work, rewarded with life and hope, rewarded with a future, rewarded for a great effort or a little labour at the 11th hour. Who are we to be envious?

We pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Heaven, God’s rule, is a rule that promises generosity in life that for us living in a market driven world is almost unfathomable – yet this is the kingdom we pray for. A kingdom in which the priority is provision for the lives of all people with no distinction as to how much we think people have offered.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Embracing the Wilderness Experience

Sandra Jebb

The reading we have this week from Exodus tells part of the story of the children of Israel complaining as they are moved out of their comfort zone into the wilderness. What strikes you as they yearn for the “good old days in Egypt” is that Egypt had been a harsh place for them living under an oppressive regime and yet they called out to go back to Egypt rather than to go forward into the wilderness with God. Their comfort zone, Egypt, was not a good place to be and yet it was preferable to the risk and insecurity of the wilderness because it was familiar and known.

We at Kairos are facing challenging times as we seek to discern and move forward to where God is calling us to be. Perhaps you might feel we are in some sort of wilderness and you might well yearn to be back in the “good old days” when people came to church, it was just the thing to do, and there were lots of people to help in ministry. Yet our Christian faith has never been about security but always about risk, never about certainty but always about mystery. We too can complain and yearn for the past or risk moving forward into a future that is not clear and might feel uncomfortable.

To take up God’s challenge to us we need to embrace the wilderness experience and allow God to renew and remake us. Some of that renewing will mean letting go of some things and learning to trust God more. The children of Israel had been in Egypt for over 400 years and God had to move them into the wilderness in order to prepare and train them to be God’s people. God provided for them but that provision came with testing. The wilderness experience eventually led to the Promised Land.

We don’t know exactly what the future shape of Kairos will be like but we need to trust God and not be afraid to move forward. Even if we feel we are in the wilderness and things are not at all clear and becoming uncomfortable. We are called to seek God in this Kairos time we find ourselves living in knowing that God will provide but will also test us along the way. The children of Israel eventually did get to the Promised Land. The community of Kairos Uniting Church will also get there but hopefully it won’t take quite as long!!

Friday, 9 September 2011

An Ordination Sermon

Peter Lockhart
For Suzy Sitton!

What sort of person does the risen Christ entrust his church to?

As the curtain closes on John’s gospel, Jesus says to Peter, “feed my lambs” “tend my sheep” “feed my sheep”. Jesus entrusts the future of his church to Peter.

Of course the whole notion of the Petrine office and its link to the ordering church and so also ordination is much stronger in some of our sister churches.

Yet, on this night when we come to ordain Suzy reflecting on Jesus call to Peter may give some insight as to ordination and to the sheep that he is called to. To do this I want to do 2 things:

First: To consider who Peter was and what his cv looked like, and in so doing ascertain some of the qualities and challenges for those called into ordination?

And, second: to consider who the sheep that Peter was entrusted with were, so that we might know who it is we are called to care for as well.

To discover a bit about Peter’s background I began reading the gospel of John backwards to see what kind of person Jesus was willing to send out in his name.

I limited myself to discovering who Peter is in John’s gospel because this is where the story comes from. I have not included every reference to Peter in John’s gospel but certainly I am including the majority.

Jesus conversation with Peter is taking place on a beach. Why? At the beginning of John 21 just after the risen Jesus has appeared to the disciples for a second time in the locked room, Peter somewhat mysteriously decides to go fishing.

Peter’s decision to go fishing has always been perplexing. Maybe in the moment of confusion and misdirection after the resurrection of Jesus Peter is lured back to his old life. We know from John Chapter 1 Peter is a fisherman and maybe going fishing simply seems easier than dealing with the death and resurrection of his master.

In terms of ordination maybe this a reminder that each of us who is ordained has another background, another vocation, from which we have been called and which at times we may also feel lured back towards. This could be at times in which we find ourselves confused or confronted by our encounter with the risen and crucified Jesus. What are we meant to do with that? Going fishing may be easier!

Now I am going to skip back over Peter’s mini-Olympics, running to the tomb, and travel back prior to Jesus crucifixion.

In John 18 Peter’s triple denial of Jesus is set against the backdrop of Jesus being questioned by the High Priest Caiaphas.

Three times Peter is asked whether he was one of Jesus followers and three times Peter denied the association. Of course there is a clear connection to the threefold questioning of Jesus about Peter’s love in the story that we heard tonight. But it also grates against Peter’s assertion of John 13:37 when he said “I will lay down my life for you.”

As followers of Jesus, as his disciples, all of us will find that there are moments that we forget whose we are and we too will deny Jesus. Ordination is not reliant on an unwavering faith but is done in midst of the honest struggle that any of us have to hold true to Jesus. It is more than likely that like Peter it will take the cock crowing for us to realise with shame we have denied our Lord.

Now John 18 is not the best of Chapter’s for our prospective candidate, for in John 18:10 we also hear the story of Jesus’ arrest and how Peter drew forth his sword and struck the high priest slave, Malchus, ear off.

Now Jesus automatically intervenes, despite his commitment and the best intentions Peter has got it wrong.

The sword reminds me that there are times that as people who follow Jesus we may be tempted to support violence against other people in the name of Jesus or even commit violence against people. Not necessarily physical violence but the violence of judgement or exclusion or manipulation or hatred or simply apathy and inaction because we believe in doing so we are defending our Lord, but the question does Jesus need to be defended?

Retreating backwards through time and the confrontation in the garden we find Jesus in John 13 with a towel tied around his waist and Peter refusing to have his feet washed.

The towel could just as well be bound around Peter’s head. His blindness to Jesus teaching and misunderstanding seems to reach dizzying heights.

The setting apart of people at ordination is not because those ordained listen and understand Jesus any better than Peter did at this moment. To jump out of John and to quote Paul for a moment “we see through a dark glass”. The best any of can says is that we have glimpsed the Christ and gleaned some understanding of his way, as narrow and misguided as we might be in that.

Given all of these issues, thankfully, one of the aspects of Peter’s call is that he isn’t in it alone.

We know that Peter does not follow Jesus alone; he was fishing with 6 other disciples when the risen Lord came to them. As misguided as they may have been at times the disciples did support one another and encouraged one another as they followed Jesus. We know too that it was not simple this rag tag 12 that followed Jesus and got involved but many others as well.

It is far too tempting to see ordained ministry as a private and personal crusade as if we are lone rangers riding off into the sunset. This is not the case. And the presence of the minister’s from the Presbytery tonight and people from many congregations reminds us of this. We are all in this together.

Skipping back, right to the beginning of John now, in John 1 we hear about the call of Peter and of the other disciples.

And I want us to pause here for a moment because this really is what it is all about. Jesus calls Peter to be his disciple and in the encounter on the beach in John 21 Jesus determines to send Peter as his shepherd. In John 15 Jesus reminds all of the disciples, “You did not choose me, I chose you”

As much as anything this is what ordination is about not the quality of the person being called but of the faithfulness of he that calls us. We might go fishing, or deny Jesus, or commit violence in his name, we might misunderstand his teaching or simply think that we can do it alone yet it is in the grace of God which calls to us and it is his faithfulness that we celebrate tonight.

It might be even said that the fallibility of the ordained ministry of the church is a parable of the kingdom of God, because as ordained people our failure to be all that we can be is a reminder that God’s grace extends even to the ordained.

So this is the person who Jesus called, Peter, whom despite his failings Jesus believes in and trusts to feed his sheep.

Who are these sheep that peter is feed? I do not want us to simply make the assumption that the sheep are congregation members but looking again to the scriptures to think about whom it is that Jesus, himself fed.

I am going to do this in short, but again want to invite some people to help me build this picture.

In John 3 it is Nicodemus – a man who represents deep and long thinking about who God is, he is a Pharisee, a person of faith who assumed he had it all worked out, but was in fact far from the truth.

In John 4 we encounter the Samaritan woman at the well. Someone from a different religion, a person ostracised by her own community, a woman with questionable morals: a woman who thirsts for living water.

And again in John 4 the royal official whose son had died. He was a wealthy man with power and influence whom Jesus reached out to in love.

In John 5 a paralysed man and in John 9, a man blind since birth. People coping with disability found at the fringe of society, in need of healing and hope, in need of community.

To step briefly out of John’s gospel “tax collectors and sinners” and “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.

Beyond his own followers these are the sheep that Jesus fed. Yes we are responsible to the flock of our congregation but our congregations are ministers of the gospel as well and together we are called to all of these whom Jesus loved.

“Feed my sheep”. Indeed they are Jesus’ sheep, not ours, but we who called to follow Jesus, ordained and lay alike, are called to follow Jesus by serving those whom he loved. Our very own lives are not hypocritical failures but signs of the grace of a God who in Jesus would call even us to share in his ministry, not because we are worthy of the call but because Jesus reaches out in love and faithfulness declaring God’s peace us and constantly inviting us also to follow him.