Friday, 30 January 2015

Authority from God

Yesterday those of you who are old enough to vote had the opportunity to exercise your democratic right to
elect your state government representatives.

In exercising this right we the people have been given the power to decide who will have authority over us.

Regardless of whether your chosen representative got in or not being involved in this process is an expression of our enlightened culture.  It is a culture in which we get to be involved in the choices about who will have authority to make decisions for us.

The scene at the polling booths yesterday though is very different to the scene which we read about in the scriptures when Jesus entered the synagogue and started to teach.

Jesus authority does not come through some democratic process but originates from his relationship with God.  At the very beginning of Mark’s gospel Mark lets all of his readers into a wonderful secret with his opening words: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus authority is derived from his relationship with the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit are inextricably tied together.  When Jesus speaks God’s Eternal Word is speaking in our midst.

Last week I suggested that our theme for the year will be “Followers and Fishers” so this week we are considering a little more deeply what it means for you and I to be a follower of Jesus.

It means recognising Jesus’ authority.  It is an authority we do not give Jesus by voting for him but comes from the Maker of all things.

Last week we heard how Simon and Andrew, as well as James and John, on hearing Jesus call to follow him immediately left their jobs and followed Jesus.  They must have recognised some authority in his bearing as he spoke to them.

This week we encounter Jesus first preaching engagement described by Mark and as he teaches we are told that the people “were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority.”

Whilst Jesus is not with us physically, as his followers it is our task to constantly to seek to recognise his authority in the decisions that we make both as individuals and as a community.

Jesus said to his disciples that when two or three were gathered in his name that he would be present with them.  In the Basis of Union, which is the foundational document for the Uniting Church, it says that Christ is present when he his proclaimed.

This means that one of the most important ways for us to follow Jesus is to listen carefully together for Jesus speaking to us as we worship together.

We listen not just with our ears but with our hearts and with our minds and we weigh up carefully what Jesus might be saying to us about how we should go about following Jesus each and every day.

Not only should you listen and contemplate what God might be saying to you, but you should also test out what you think you are hearing and encourage others in your sharing.

In the reading that we heard this morning as Jesus is teaching the people they begin to speak to one another wondering about Jesus teaching and his authority.

As you know I often encourage you to have conversations during worship to do exactly the same – to grow spiritually, to recognise Jesus authority, to listen to one another.  All of this is about allowing your life outside of worship to be influenced by what you encounter here.

Of course in the story we heard about the man with the evil spirit who challenges Jesus and defies Jesus teaching.  He does so precisely because he recognises Jesus authority which comes from God.  There may be times that Jesus teaching makes us uncomfortable or we even want to reject what Jesus is saying to us about how we should live.

But Jesus presence in the world is the good news of God’s love.

Jesus casts out the opposition and he does away with the evil spirit. When we as followers experience a moment of correction or healing or transformation as we listen this is about us recognising Jesus authority in our lives.

The conversation about Jesus and his authority does not end in the synagogue.  

Even though the people who were there remain a bit perplexed about his authority, they are a amazed and Mark tells us that Jesus’ fame began to spread throughout Galilee.

Jesus fame spreads because people keep telling the stories, they come to the synagogue and then they go out and share what they have encountered.

Jesus – a man who teaches and preaches with authority and whose authority is seen in the miracles he does.

As followers we listen, we discuss, we grow, sometimes we’re perplexed and sometimes we’re amazed and then we go out and share our encounter.  Sometimes it is simply in the way we live and others it is more direct.

Sharing your encounter in the week to come involves the other side of our theme for the year which is to be fishers – to invite others to come and share in your encounter of God and your trust in Jesus authority which comes from God.

Next week is our open day and I have am asking again that you come along, that you pray it will be meaningful event, that you invite people to attend and  that you welcome any visitors among us with the love of God.

To finish where I began with talk of our state election, last week I heard the result of a survey about how much people trusted Campbell Newman and Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Despite the fact we choose our leaders through democratic processes it seems we do not trust them very much at all.  Annastacia Palaszczuk scored 4.4 out of 10 whilst Campbell Newman scored a meagre 3.2

Ironically as leaders they derive their authority from we who vote for them.  I must admit it made me wonder about whether using the general population as the source of authority may not be the best thing.

On the other hand, Jesus authority is derived from a completely different a place, a place from beyond this world and can transform and heal even the most defiant spirits.

As followers of Jesus I encourage you to recognise Jesus authority and its source and as you do so to place your trust in Jesus.  It would be hope that on your scale Jesus might do a bit better than 4.4 out 10 and that we could follow him a bit more confidently than we do our own chosen leaders.


Take a few moments of silence to consider God’s word to you this day.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Followers and Fishers

A few years ago we took Tim and Lucy to a Barramundi farm in Townsville.

For around $15 for half an hour we were each give a rod and a bucket of bait and sent to a damn which was about a big as the church.

You put your bait on a hook, you cast out your line, you reeled it in and on just about every cast you caught a fish – a barramundi.

In a world of instant gratification catching fish at the fish farm was as easy as surfing the net.

But real fishing isn’t as easy.

When Jesus saw Simon and Andrew and called them saying ““Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”   I am pretty sure that their experience of fishing was very different.

Fishing was their trade and fishing involved preparation, perseverance, patience and persistence.

It was hard work.  So Jesus wasn’t inviting them to the barramundi farm he was inviting them to follow him and to get their hands dirty.

Now there are two distinct parts of this statement: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”   

The first is an invitation to be a follower – to follow a leader, to learn from them, to be a student and a disciple and a part of the group of followers.

The second is the encouragement that who they are following and what they are learning is worth sharing with others – to fish for people.

Jesus wanted Simon and Andrew to be “followers and fishers”.

During the week I made the suggestion to the Church Council that this should be our theme for 2015.  That we should celebrate being “Followers and Fishers”.

You see by your very presence here this morning you are indicating that for whatever reason you came today you have responded to the call of Jesus to follow him.

Maybe you don’t think about it in those terms but in all likelihood at some point in your life someone asked, ”Do you want to go to church with me?” or “What do you think about that God stuff?” or “What do you know about Jesus?”

Even if you are still a bit uncommitted about your faith and belief the invitation has been given and you are here this morning.

So we respond to the invitation to be followers and as we respond we also begin to learn; to learn about God from Jesus.  But Jesus is not physically here so our leaning takes place within the community of faith.

We look at other Christians, other followers, and we learn about God by how they live and what they say and do.  We learn from people who we read about through history and we learn about it from each other. 

So I want you to take a moment to think about your own encounters with the idea of following Jesus and in particular who it is that may have helped you to know what that means. 

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We are followers and we are also fishers.

We learn as followers, which is preparation for fishing but then we do go fishing: we share what we learn and experience in our relationship with God with others.

The other night at Church Council I began with a question.  It was a fairly simple question but a really important one, “Why do you keep coming to St Lucia Uniting Church?”

For some on the church council an immediate response came to mind whilst for others it was harder.  In everything we did at Church Council the other night this was the most important working out why we are here.  Why we bother!

One of the first answers shared was friendship.  Jesus came among us to encourage us to love one another – friendship, and friendship in the context of a church community, is vitally important to our lives and here we can meet new people and we can learn to be friends.

Some else shared loyalty.  Our first loyalty is to Jesus not simply this congregation but to Jesus.  Yet loyalty once again is a value that we can aspire to – loyalty to Jesus and one another in a world where advertises and brands are constantly competing for out loyalty.

Another person said word and sacrament.  Each week you come here to listen for God speaking to you, you seek to understand how to better follow Jesus.  Sometimes in the discipline of coming and sometimes in the personal experience of God’s silence it is easy to lose sight of this reality – God is speaking to us as we meet week by week.

Yet each week people come here hoping to encounter the divine and some weeks it happens.

The reason this little activity was the most important thing we did at Church Council is because if do not understand why this community of faith that we call St Lucia Uniting Church is important and why we come here then why would anyone else bother.

Being able to say we come here and why it is important is part of our preparation for the work of fishing.  It is rigging line and baiting the hook.

I have been asked on more than one occasion how I am going to grow the congregation, how am I going to get new people in.

Today what I am doing is this.  I am telling you that all of us, every one of you, is a “Follower and a Fisher” and that it is not my job alone to grow the congregation.

Today I am giving out the fishing rods and helping you bait your hooks.

A colleague of mine in a workshop about church growth was asked how do increase the size of your congregation.  He said that’s easy you can do it in one week.  You get everyone in the congregation to invite someone to come along – if they do it the congregation have doubled in size by the next week.  It is as easy and as complex as that. And just like fishing sometimes you have to through the line in more than once – you have to be persistent, patient and persevere. 

To help us do this to invite someone along in 2 weeks time we are having our Church Open day for 2015. 

There are three tasks for you to do as followers to be fishers of people.  The first is to think about why you come here and learn to say to people why this place is important to be a part of.  Second, and this may be a bit harder for some of you invite someone to the open day, and if that person no, invite someone else, and if that person no, invite someone else and so on – go fishing!

Third, pray!  It is said that unless the Lord builds the house those who labour, labour in vain.  Commit yourself to pray about new people coming along, pray for insight as to why it is important for you to be here, pray for God to build this house.

You are called to be followers and fishers.