Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Day of Pentecost

Today is the day of the Pentecost.  It is the day when we celebrate the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit on the infant church, but not only the infant church that had gathered in Jerusalem but the whole church in all times and places.  Today we celebrate that the Spirit of God is poured out on us.  Or do we? 

Do you have a sense of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life?  Do you have sense of being a charismatic person?  By which I mean do you recognise the gifts of the Spirit in your life that you have been given for the building up of the whole body?  Are we as a congregation listening for the wind of the Spirit blowing through our congregation?  Or are we possibly too staid, too set in our ways, too tied to being proper to be moved by the work of the Spirit, with its rushing wind and tongues of fire?

This morning as we explore together God’s pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the meaning of that day of Pentecost so long ago we will also explore what it means to be filled with the Spirit now.  In exploring these things together I will be focussing us on three aspects of the passages and then bringing them together under the question of the mission of the church.

The first aspect of the passage that is important to reflect on is the meaning of the feast of Pentecost for the Israelites.  The feast of Pentecost, also commonly know as the feast of weeks or of the harvest, took place fifty days after the Passover and was one of the 3 pilgrimage feasts – Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.  There can be little doubt that the presence of Jesus followers in Jerusalem was for this feast.  They had come together to worship God.

The feast focussed the Israelites first and foremost on God’s activity in creation.  It was a springtime feast when people brought offerings of their crops before God.  In Leviticus 23:17 we are told that two loaves were elevated and waved before the people to remind them of God’s goodness in giving them all things.  God gave abundantly and the response of the people was to give to God and celebrate together.  In a crude sense they came together to worship God and to party.

But whilst worship and thanksgiving to God were at the centre, the celebration also contained a heart for all people.  In Leviticus 23:22 we hear that when the harvest was to be gathered in people were instructed not to reap the edges of the field.  The edges were to be left for the poor and alien.  How could God’s people celebrate God’s abundant giving when other’s suffered from deprivation?  To do so would have been a denial of God’s abundance, a denial of the covenant!  In the feast we see enacted the two fold commandment love of God and love of neighbour.

It is in this context that God pours out his Spirit on the early church.  In the context of a festival that focussed on God’s abundant giving in this life.  In the context of a festival that focussed people on worship of God and provision for and care of others.

This brings me to the second aspect of the readings for our consideration, the way in which the Spirit is poured out.  The Spirit manifests itself in a wind and in divided tongues of fire which come upon the disciples who were gathered together.  It is a miraculous sight and sound display of God’s power and presence.  We do not know how many followers of Jesus were there but we get a sense that it was quite a crowd for it drew the attention of others.

The Spirit that is poured out is the Spirit promised by Christ in John 14.  It is the Spirit of truth that cannot be received by the world because it opposes God.  It is the Spirit sent to bring comfort and to bring peace.  It is the Spirit of Christ sent to be an Advocate to teach and remind the disciples of Jesus and the good news for all humankind.

The miracle that takes place after the Spirit is received is often referred to as speaking in tongues, although one might better describe it as hearing in tongues.  The disciples spoke among themselves but the crowd that had been drawn together heard the disciples speaking in their own languages.  The gift of tongues in this instance is focussed on those who our outside.  It is gift that allows the listeners to hear what was being said in their own language.  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia and so and so forth!

The gift is given not so that the disciples can understand one another.  It is not given so that Jesus followers might simply get a spiritual rush or high.  It is not given so that those who were gathered could be confirmed in their faith as the saved ones as opposed to those outside.  The gift is given so that others might hear the proclamation.  What were the followers sharing?  The disciples were speaking about God’s great deeds of power and God gives the crowd who had gathered the opportunity to hear this in their own language.  I wonder when it was that someone who was not a Christian last overheard you discussing the great deeds of God.

The pouring out of the Spirit fulfilled Jesus promise to send a helper, a comforter and a guide to Jesus followers.  But more than that in the manifestation of the Spirit others were drawn to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and through the power of God they were empowered to hear the message.

This brings me to the third aspect that I would like us to consider this morning which is what Peter had to say.  Peter draws from the prophecy of Joel which spoke of God pouring out his Spirit on all flesh.  ‘Your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit.’

Young and old, male and female, slave and free.  All shall receive God’s Spirit.  The people of God gathered together to be God’s people with one another and God working in their midst by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit is given to help people remember God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  It is given to comfort and guide them.  This is the promise of God.  If we were to read on we would hear that Peter goes on to speak of Jesus and what he has done.  He speaks of the mystery of the faith Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again.  He speaks of the grace and mercy of God established through Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.  Peter calls people to repent and to be baptised.

The Spirit is poured out to inaugurate and establish the body of Christ as a representative beginning of the new creation.  It is poured out to establish a community of faith, in relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  It is poured out for the sake of the gospel message.  Peter proclaims the Spirit’s coming on all flesh and the coming together of people under the gracious sovereignty of Christ.

Today these three aspects Pentecost, the gift of the Spirit, and the establishment of the church are tied together to give to us a sense of who we are and what we are called to be as the Spirit is poured out on us.

Firstly we are called to be a worshipping people.  The Spirit is not poured out on individuals so that they can be a Christian wandering aimlessly out there disconnected from God and the people of God.  When we come together we embody what we are, we become the body of Christ.  Being a Christian is not simply a moral lifestyle choice, being a Christian involves worshipping God, celebrating with God’s people and giving thanks and praise to God for his abundant grace.  This is not done so that we can be saved but so that we might remember and so that the world might know of God’s love.

Second, we are called to be a generous people.  We bring our free will offering to God and we leave the edges of our harvest for the poor.  As Christians ours is not to judge the poor and alienated for their predicament, ours is to declare God’s generosity to us through our generosity to others.  It is so easy to bury our heads in the sand of our own lives and forget that there are those in great need around us.  Since I have been here in I have learned of the need for affordable housing in the area, I have learned of the need of those who live in community housing around us.  We do not have to run next door to the next suburb to find the needy, but we should be challenged to see the great need that is out there.  Not just next door, but in the wider community of this world in which we live.  If we celebrate together without consideration for those who do not have enough to even survive, let alone celebrate, have we really understood the call to be the people of God?  God has bee so generous to us let us celebrate God’s generosity through our own.

Third, we are called to be a Spirit filled people.  I have said before today that I do not believe I have so called miraculous gifts of the Spirit like tongues or healing.  But this does not mean that you or I are any less Spirit filled.  We are charismatic because God has given to us gifts of the Spirit so that we might be reminded about Jesus Christ and his love for us and so that we might share the good news with others.

Fourth, we are called to be the people of God together.  Young and old, slave and free, male and female and might I suggest of all races and languages.  We live in difficult times in this area.  The church has already been rent asunder by denominational loyalties.  The church is becoming more segregated into age groups and idiosyncratic worship styles.  Far too often I hear of another Church where there is a traditional service at 8 a.m. for the oldies, a family service at 10 and a youth service in the evening at 7.  The body is broken - the dreams and the visions aren’t shared but held closely and jealously almost against one another.  As people of the Spirit we need to open our hearts and minds to the unity of the body given to us in Christ Jesus.  At Synod during the Norman and Mary Miller lecture it was stated that Christians often mistake cliques for community.  We need to ask difficult questions about our own traditions and expectations as a congregation, myself included.  We need to continually be challenged to make space for others to belong in our midst and nurture them in the faith.

Fifth, we are called to be evangelists proclaiming the good news.  On that day of Pentecost so long ago of the crowd that had gathered some three thousand were baptised.  When did you last share the faith with someone who does not believe?  When did you last speak with one another of the great deeds of power done by our God?  When did you last bring another person into the family of God?  When did you examine what God is calling you to be as you respond in thanks and praise?  It is well and truly past the time when we should have realised that this country in which we live is not a Christian nation.  We have never had a state religion.  Less than 1 in ten attend a Christian church regularly.  The scope for evangelism is huge.  We have good news to share.  It is not the minister’s job.   It is all of our jobs as people to whom the Spirit has spoken. 

Today is the day of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit was poured out so that we might be reminded of the good news of Jesus Christ.  The Spirit continues to guide and inspire the people God.  Are we ready to respond?  Are we willing to listen to the dreams and visions?  Are we willing to speak to one another and to the world of God’s grace?  Are we ready for the unexpected and the exciting things which God might do in our midst?


After a few moments of silence I am going to give you the opportunity to share the work of the Spirit and of God’s great deeds with the person beside.  Share what you think God may be calling you or us as a church to do?  If you are not sure where God is leading you tell the other person and ask that whoever it is that you are speaking to, to pray for you this week as you seek to understand God’s will for your life.  Let us to take a few moments to think about what you might say to one another and then we will share.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Of Eunuch's and hope.

I love the question that Philip asks the Ethiopian Eunuch,

“Do you understand what you are reading?”

It’s a great question.  It is a confronting question. 

“Do you get it? Can you make a connection between what you are reading and your own life?”

I think it is the kind of question that is constantly before us; not simply when we read the Bible but when we engage with any reading or have experience from which we can learn.  For so often we read or experience something and we don’t learn, we don’t listen, we just keep on doing things the same old way.

So the question for us today is “Do we get it?”

I mean do we understand why this story is in the Bible at all. 

And even if we do, how does that relate to who we are and where we are going?

If we travelled back into those first early years of the Church there must have been hundreds, even thousands, of stories about people coming to faith.  What’s so important about this one?  Why is it included and why at this point of Luke’s recounting of the Acts of the Apostles? What was Luke trying to tell the early Christians? And of course even more importantly “What’s in it for me and for you?”

Hopefully by the time you leave today you will have at least some insight as to how this particular story fits with the good news of Jesus Christ and also with your own life’s story.

So let’s set the scene.  Jesus has ascended into heaven.  The Holy Spirit has been poured out on the disciples. The apostles had begun their ministry in Jerusalem; sharing the story of Jesus with anyone who would listen and performing many miracles.  

Despite their enthusiasm the reception they received was mixed to say the least.  In the previous Chapter of Acts we hear of the stoning of Stephen by the Jewish leaders, whilst the beginning of Chapter 8 speaks of the persecution of the first Christians in Jerusalem.

They scattered and Philip went proclaiming the good news in the city of Samaria, with great success.  From here an angel of the Lord directs Philip to head out on the road, the road that ran between Gaza and Jerusalem and it is here our story takes place.

As Philip travels along the road along comes a carriage containing an Ethiopian Eunuch returning from worshipping at the Temple.  Now in terms of why this story is included at this point I suspect some of it has to do with the witness to God’s faithfulness. 

The path had been a rocky one for the apostles in Jerusalem but God had promised to build the Church to the ends of the earth and whilst Philip had some success in Samaria the character of the Eunuch adds another dimension.  God reaches out through Philip and, as we shall see, the Eunuch responds and is baptised.

Now eunuchs did have a place within the people of God, despite being mutilated and having restricted access to the Temple

As well as being a Eunuch this guy was a Diaspora Jew, which basically means a Jew who had been living outside of Israel.  The Jews had been dispersed in the 6th century BC after the Babylonians had conquered the Israelites.  As a Jew this Eunuch must have been quite faithful as well, not only visiting the Temple but reading the scroll of Isaiah on his journey home.

He was also a man of power and of wealth. He was a court official of the Queen of Ethiopia, in charge of her entire treasury.  The fact that he could read and that he had a scroll are clear indicators of his position.

So Philip gets a prompt to approach the carriage and the scene becomes somewhat comical as he runs along beside the carriage and strikes up the conversation.

What is interesting here is that the Ethiopian recognises Philip has something to offer in terms of bring some light to the scriptures and invites him into the carriage alongside him.

After some discussion around the Isaiah passage and Philip’s explanation of whom Jesus was the Eunuch sees some water and exclaims, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?”

I have little doubt that Luke records this question especially because this is a loaded question.   What is to prevent anyone from being baptised?  Can wealth, race, sexual status, piety, understanding and so on and so forth?  The good news is for all and all are invited to share in the fullness of life with God and each other!

This is part of the essence of the good news in Jesus God breaks down barriers to include all people in God’s family.  The response of the eunuch to the message is automatic – baptise me!  God is at work!

The story was recorded because it was meant to inspire hope that the message of Jesus was going forth into the world as promised, even in the face of persecution and difficulties.

And we can find hope from this as well for our story connects with the same God who spoke in the desert to Philip and through him to the Ethiopian Eunuch.

It is hope that we experience in our story as a community of faith in the face of our own adversities.  Let me give you a concrete example of this hope. It would be easy for us as a congregation to look around Sunday by Sunday and be despondent – too many empty pews, too many elderly faces, not enough energy.  Yet to focus on these things is to forget God’s faithfulness to us as God’s people – new members who have joined and come to commitment in recent years; new opportunities in ministry opening up; new relationships emerging through our university relationships.  God’s faithfulness is ever present to us.

It is a hope we can see that unfolds in the compassion of the world around us.  Last week we heard the news of the terrible earthquake in Nepal.  And once again this week we have seen the capacity of people to respond: communities countries and individuals donating money, sending people and supplies.  Not wearied by the constancy of need after storms in NSW, cyclones in the Pacific, Ebola in Africa and refugees on the borders of Syria - once again people respond when the need is great.

It is hope that we can see in our own lives and our own encounters with God in others. Take a few moments to reflect on the last few days and consider where have you seen acts of kindness, where have you come to understanding or seen others being enlightened, where have you see reconciliation achieved.  How do you make sense of these things in light of your faith?  How have you been able to help others to see those connections?

“Do you understand what you are reading?” It’s a great question for all of us because sometimes we fail to make the connections that we should be.  We need Philip to come trotting alongside our chariots to help us to understand. 


Yet I believe more importantly for many of us who already follow Jesus we are called to be the Philips of this world, opening up people’s eyes to God’s faithfulness and work among us.  Joining the dots of what people read and experience and their own lives – in other words sharing our faith - being fishers of people!  

Take a few moments to consider when have been the times a person like Philip has helped open your eyes and also to consider whether or not you are taking the opportunity to be like Philip and help others know God by sharing your faith.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Anzac Day: A Postlude. “He restores my soul”.

For many millions of Australians and no doubt for many of you, yesterday morning your alarm clocks went off early and you arose and dressed and prepared yourself to go out to commemorate Anzac Day.  It is day which is often described as reflecting something of the essence of what it means to be an Australian: it is embedded deep within our psyche – you could say that it is part of our soul as a nation.

This morning you who are gathered here heard your alarm clocks go off again and rather than stay late in bed on a Sunday morning chose to come and to gather here on a day that is known in some sectors of the church as Good Shepherd Sunday.  It is a day in which we come and we hear hope proclaimed and we contemplate what it means to be God’s people, to be the sheep of God’s pasture.

As I contemplated the readings for today and the experiences of this week I was drawn to the phrase in the 23rd Psalm “He restores my soul”.

These words of longing and hope stood out to me as I struggled with the imagery of war and remembrance and as I thought deeply on the troubles of God’s creation and its people.  Anzac day for all its poignancy and sorrow is a difficult day to make sense of in the context of our faith and there is within me a longing that God restores our soul to face the week ahead.

I want this morning to share three reflections about having our souls restored by God that came to me as I engaged in reflecting on the meaning of Anzac Day.  In this sense I am giving you a good old three point sermon. And, the messages are simple: remember God, grow up and we are one.

So for the first time: He restores my soul

Lest we forget.

On Friday I was privileged to be asked to share a prayer at the Anzac Day Commemoration at Ironside State School and it lead me to research the origins of the words “lest we forget”.

The words “Lest we forget” came from a poem by Rudyard Kipling called The Recessional and were a reference taken from the Bible in Deuteronomy, where it says, “lest we forget the God of our forefathers.”

They were written by Kipling at a time when the British Empire was at its height.  Exercising dominion over so many other nations, including Australia, it could literally be said that the sun never sets on the British Empire.

Kipling wrote The Recessional as a challenge to the Imperialism of pride of his day.  Even to the point of the suggestion that the British Empire was in some way establishing the coming kingdom of God.  He was reminding them to be humble and to remember God and that before God’s own sacrifice all else was secondary.

On ANZAC day when we say “Lest we forget” they words can mean all sorts of things to us, especially that we should remember the fallen, but this was the original intent – to remember God: to remember God over and above our pride and our nationalism and to be humble.

The reality is though that Australia is far from remembering God, we are not now nor ever have been a Christian nation – we have never had a state religion.  Ian Breward describes us in a challenging way in the title of his book “Australia: the most Godless place under heaven”

The Psalmist cry must also be our cry: He restores my soul, restore also the soul of our nation – help us to remember God: Lest we forget!

Now for the second time: He restores my soul

It is often said of the landing at Anzac Cove that it was our baptism of fire possibly even inferring that it was our coming of age. The historical inaccuracy of such claims that Anzac was the birth of our nation or even the first blood shed confronts us. Further, it is often said about Anzac that it was about defending our freedom and our values and our way of life: our mateship.

But this week I read stories and quotes from men who actually landed on that terrible beach.  I could share many of the quotes with you but two comments from the survivors stood out:

The first from:

Ted Matthews, of the 1st Division Signals, [who] was the last survivor of those who landed on April 25... [he] said " Some people called us "five-bob-a-day murderers" but the politicians were the murderers. Politicians make up the wars. They don't go to them."

In another article I read words that back up Ted’s view. It said:

"War has its certainties. One is that politicians will always send young men to fight it. Another, that politicians will always lead the commemoration for those killed (“sacrificed”) in it."

The second quote is from:

Roy Kyle, of the 24th Battalion, who enlisted at 17, said: “I don't take any pride in the medals at all. I was a silly boy and should have had my bottom smacked for joining up at that age."

Much of our rhetoric about Anzac Day and nationhood ignores some of the deep and difficult realities that the men experienced.  Many were not there to fight for our values or freedom, many simply did not know why they were there – it was a terrible place of death and suffering and little sense can be of it.

For me Roy Kyle’s comment is telling: he was a silly boy – he needed to grow up.  The war was not the way to do this. 

Last week a group of teenagers was arrested in Melbourne for plotting to engage in a terrorist attack on Anzac Day.  Young impressionable Australians responding to a call to war from another nation – it feels eerily similar, except that it was a call to go to war on their own nation.

As we travel through life it is easy to think we have found the answer and we know better the bold passion of youth can often deceive us. But we, we need to grow up, to have our souls restored.

The Psalmist cry must also be our cry: He restores my soul, restore also the soul of our nation; help us to grow up.  To grow beyond naive mythologies, to accept that part of life is that we do not knowing everything; and, to receive the comfort of shepherd who guides us

And now for the third and final time: He restores my soul

We are all God’s sheep.

For me one of the most powerful expressions of the truth of our common humanity and the reconciliation that we should be seeking comes to us from the great Turkish commander Ataturk.

Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

It has long been my view that the Spirit of God blows where it wills and for me I hear the words of hope for humanity in this extraordinary man’s words.

I believe that what he acknowledged was that on the fields of battle men who fought now embrace one another side by side in death.  The cross and crescent, symbols of two faiths mingled in the ground.  Boys, sons, fathers, friends, enemies sharing side by side in the ground in death as no doubt God longed that they might share in life.

Restore our souls: let the peace and reconciliation Ataturk declared for dead be ours in life!  We live in a world beset by division and sectarianism, divided ideologies and aspirations.  Jesus our good shepherd reminds us:

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

It is not our place to judge who is in and who is out when it comes to God’s love – Jesus came into the world not to condemn but in order that it might be saved through him.  We are all God’s creatures in life and in death – let us not wait until death on a battlefield to learn to embrace those who are different to us.

The Psalmist cry must also be our cry: He restores my soul, restore also the soul of our nation; help us to know God’s love is for all nations and God’s desire is for peace and reconciliation as was proclaimed at the birth of Jesus.

Restore our souls, O God.

Tomorrow, your alarm will go off again.  You will rise and you will face the day. 

The shepherd his rod and his staff will guide you and he will restore your souls as you enter into life in the community around you: at work, at home, with family and with friends.


Remember God, grow to maturity in Christ, and remember all people are God’s people.

References

Friday, 24 April 2015

An Anzac Day Prayer

The words “Lest we forget” came from a poem by Rudyard Kipling called The Recessional and were a reference taken from the Bible, where it says, “lest we forget the God of our forefathers.” They were written by Kipling at a time when the British Empire was very powerful and Kipling was reminding them to be humble and remember God. I think on ANZAC day when we say them they can mean all sorts of things to us but this was the original intent – to remember God.

Loving God

On this Anzac Day, 100 years on, we remember that your gift of life in this world is to be treasured by all people. We remember that you long for all people to live in peace; loving one another.  We also remember that so often because of our pride, our lack of understanding, our desire for power, or our fears we do not live loving and honouring one another as human beings. And for this we sorry and we pray: 

Lord God of hosts be with us yet, 
Lest we forget, lest we forget.

Lest we forget
That today commemorates a particular event in the life of not one nation but an event that many nations were involved in. It is a moment to mourn the dead and reflect deeply on how we are called beyond patriotism and hatred to love our fellow human beings.

Lest we forget
That too great a pride in one's nation and its place in the world can lead us to think less of other nations and so see them and their people as people to be opposed,exploited or ignored rather than treated as fellow human beings.

Lest we forget
That war is no game. That death should not be glorified. That wars and enmity are the opposite of your design for us as humans to live together in peace and friendship with one another.

Lest we forget
That when deep and dark decisions lead us into war with one another men and women and children die; and, many are left with physical and mental wounds that last their whole lifetime.

Lest we forget
That there are many innocent people who are drawn into war even though they do not fight: the conflict robs them of children, husbands, fathers, colleagues and friends.

Lest we forget
That we as human beings remain fickle and suffer from our forgetting of all we have learnt about war and its futility.  We know as we meet in safety wars continue to rage and Australians stand alongside people from many other nations and opposing people from many other nations.  We long for an end to war and the safe return of those who are on the front lines.

Lest we forget
That you are indeed a God of love who promises to be with us in all things and stay by our side, no matter what! That your deepest desire for us and all peoples of all nations is life and life in all its fullness.

On this Anzac Day, God of all nations, we remember all these things and we pray that through remembering you and your purpose for all humanity to live loving one another we will be transformed to be agents of peace; as we continue to mourn those who died and those who suffer because of wars: past, present and future.

God of peace, be with us yet,  
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

In Jesus name we pray

Amen

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Proclaiming Repentance and the Forgiveness of Sins 2015.

This is the third Sunday of the Easter season.  It is the time that we celebrate that Jesus rose from the tomb. And we reflect and what that means for us.  What does it mean for you and I that Jesus came and lived and died and rose again? Over the last couple of weeks we have been exploring this question as we examined the first responses of the disciples to the news.

On Easter day we came and stood before the empty tomb and we gathered with the disciples filled with belief and misunderstanding.  We came with our questions about life and death and our meaning and purpose and we listened to the mystery of our faith – he is not here, he is risen! And we listened with Mary as Jesus called our names.

Last week we stood alongside Thomas and with all of the disciples in their doubts and scepticism.  We remembered that it is “acceptable to be sceptical” as we explore the news of Jesus resurrection and what that might mean for us.  And we heard amidst the questioning a moment of revelation from Thomas, who declared, “My Lord and My God!” A declaration that we hope we can share at some point in our lives.

And now for this third time we come and hear again of Jesus appearing to the disciples and their response is fear and terror.  Once again the disciples mirror the confusion and apprehension we have as we encounter the risen Christ.  Yet, once again we hear Jesus word of hope standing against the wall of emotions emanating from the gathered group: peace be with you!  Even after the this declaration we are told the disciples “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering”.

Confronted with the mystery, doubt, fear, disbelief and joy of the disciples we can find reassurance that they, like we, were human.  It is into this volatile bunch of emotional men and women that today we remember Jesus speak words of commissioning to his followers: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

This year we have continued to pursue the theme followers and fishers and today as we continue to contemplate the conundrum the disciples faced in their encounter with the risen Jesus we too are listening to Jesus commission to us that we are to proclaim “repentance and the forgiveness of sins”.

I want especially to focus on the proclamation of repentance. 

The word repentance is laden with spiritual meaning for us and it literally meant turning back to God – it was about a change in heart and mind.  If you can imagine with me for a moment that our lives are a journey and that God is situated at true North Jesus challenging proclamation is to remind us that we are not travelling towards God but we have other destinations and courses plotted on the map of our personal existence.

It is not as if we are simply travelling North or South but as people we travel to all kinds of places different directions on the compass and I would like to suggest a few of those directions with the help of a few of you.

I have made up a number of characters, with significant names, to help us understand the other directions we might be travelling and what it might be that we need to repent of.

(arrow up down)
Let me first introduce you to Plato Jones who lives down in Central Avenue.  Now Plato has a conviction that when we die we are judge for the good and bad that we do.  How we are judged determines what happens in our afterlife.  The biggest question in Plato’s life is, ‘What is going to happen to me when I die?’  Life for him is a test and the direction he travels is not towards God but towards his desire for eternal life.

(brief case)
Now let us meet another friend of mine Max, Max Weber – no relationship to the barbeque.  Max thinks that his purpose in life is his work.  He works down at the University and a mentor of his John Calvin told him that life was all about vocation – your job.  Max’s obsession with work is reflected in the fact whenever he meets someone the first question that comes out his mouth is “What do you do?” and Max’s biggest fear is retiring because retiring will take away his meaning for existing.

(smiley happy face)
Here now is another friend of mine Alexander Pope, he works down the humanities end of the University and is a bit of a poet and he once wrote “Oh, happiness, our beings end and aim!”  If you meet Alex in the coffee shops, where he likes to hang out, if you tell him about your life he is always going to ask you, “But, are you happy?”  The pursuit of personal happiness for him is more important than anything else.  He is a great guy but I do admit he can be a little moody.

(cash box)
Now Alexander introduced me to another friend of his who works over in the school of economics. Mr Adam Smith, come on down!  Adam knows that life is all about supply and demand and that the most important thing in life is to a build a solid portfolio.  He had a friend called Gordon who once said that “Greed is good!” Adam probably doesn’t think this but a nice tidy port folio for retirement is essential for the modern man because money gives you freedom so if you ask him what you look for in a job he will always want “How much are they going to pay you?”

(signed picture)
Recently I met a new international student Fred Nietzsche who is concerned that there is really no purpose and meaning to anything.  Ask him and he’ll respond with the question, “What’s the point?” I ran in to him arguing with another friend of mine Andy recently who was telling him that we would all get our moment in the sun our 15 minutes of fame and so we would all be remembered.  It left me thinking about whether the purpose of my life and your life was “will we be remembered?”

(family photo)
And finally one more introduction to James Dobson a gut I met at theological college who told me that families matter.  And you know when I ask kids at school what the most important thing is in their life again and again and again they say the same thing “My family?”  Is this destination that we are travelling towards, the thing that we make the most important in our lives? Is family the most treasured part of our existence?

Now I have introduced these characters because these characters represent some of the key destinations we worry about and we travel towards: heaven or hell, vocation, happiness, wealth, recognition and family.  Objectives for our lives that can relate to our faith but when they become the primary direction of our lives, and they do, they take us on a journey away from God.

When Jesus says to proclaim repentance he is making all of these directions and the many others we might travel a secondary distraction from our journey towards God.

Jesus wants us to encourage others to turn and glimpse the divine, to look at our origin and our true destination: God!

And what we will see and experience if we turn.  Well if we listened to Jesus and his injunction to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins when we look at God, when glimpse God’s story then maybe what we see is a merciful and gracious Father running to meet his son returning from the far country.  And we like lost sheep are already being carried towards that celebration.

This is the good news – we have glimpsed God coming to us, running, full of lavish grace and forgiveness, wanting us to be part of the celebration.  And we have been invited, instructed, implored to share this vision with others.

Turn from these directions around which you base your life and witness to a hope that transcends anything we can imagine we are loved; we have a future; we have a calling; we have a joy; we have riches beyond compare; we are remembered; and we have a family in God which is all humanity.

We stand with the disciples filled with a myriad of emotions, our doubts and our fears, and Jesus says, “do not be afraid”, “peace be with you”; and he gives us purpose: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”


Hear and believe that this is good news.