Saturday, 21 December 2013

Christmas Day: “You shall be led forth with peace”

“You shall be led forth with peace”

How might we understand being led forth with peace on this day as we come to celebrate Jesus birth?  What peace can we find within the story of Jesus coming among us?

So often when we think of the narrative of Jesus’ birth we think of it in childish ways but John’s account of
the Word being made flesh with its ancient and alien images confronts us with the idea that something bigger is going on here.

What sort of world does the Word come into?  What sort of world is Jesus born into?

John tells us from the outset of his gospel what sort of world it is: it is a world that does not know its maker and a world in which we find conflict.
Photo Kudaker flickr Creative commons

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”

In these words we hear that live in a world where peace seems to be a pipe dream; to be something beyond us.

We are not at peace with the one who made us and we are not at peace with one another.

Last week I listened to an aid worker who been working with the hundreds of thousands of displaced people on the borders of Syria.

The outworking of our lack of peace is palpable.  The inability of people to love one another results in such tragic scenes as hear coming out of the Syrian refugee camps.

As we cover our trees in tinsel and our houses with lights, we also block the asylum seekers at our borders, billions of people long for the basic necessities of life.  Our festivities may bring us joy but peace for all who God love, no.

It is easy to distance ourselves from global affairs and the difficulties of many closer to home at Christmas until we remember those fateful words “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” 

Civil war, broken relationships, tensions, mourning, and illness all hang as spectres lurking beneath the surface of our celebrations.

How can we be led forth with peace?  Not just a personal sense of peace but a peace which encompasses all people everywhere, a peace which speaks of  bigger more wholesome hope.

The clue is in the narrative “he came”, “the Word became flesh”!  Instead of remaining aloof from the problems of the world and its opposition to God and our opposition to one another “he came”, “the Word became flesh”.

God enters into the midst of our lack peace and God shares in the experience of life.

The world did not know him but he came anyway.  Jesus came to what was his own, even though they did not know him.  Jesus was a refugee, an outcast, a political and religious troublemaker, he associated with the prostitutes and tax collectors, he searched and served among the least and the lost.

And he knew what it meant to enter into the space where peace seems a forlorn hope: he endured suffering and degradation and the cross.

If there is any sense of peace that we can find this today it is not in a Santa Clause God who simple gives us random gifts but a God who shares the fullness of life and when it is done says that the lack peace, the absence of hope is not all there is for Jesus rose again from the grave.

If we are to be led forth with peace on this day, if we have anything to say to the world, it is that God does not shun the disputes of our lives but shares in the suffering and recreates them in and through Jesus, the Word made flesh, a vulnerable and innocent and tiny child.

Whether you have a sense of peace in your own life and relationships on this day the hope of “the Word made flesh” is a hope which transcends our current lives and says there is more.

May God bless and enrich not only we who are privileged enough to be here this day but peoples everywhere this Christmas!

Christmas Eve: You shall go out with joy!

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

They went out with joy.  And this evening it would be my prayer that you too will go out with joy!

The same kind of joy experienced by the shepherds, the joy of encountering God!

This is not something I can actually give you, it is God’s business, but is my prayer that as you hear the story again you might have such an encounter.

Now the story of the shepherds has always been for me one of the quintessential Christmas stories.  For me this is a family tradition.  My dad, who was also a minister, often told the story of the shepherds in his Christmas Eve sermon because the shepherds were ordinary blokes working in the fields.  It is an image we can relate to in Australia; God coming to the average bloke at his job.  The ordinary and extraordinary collide.

Yet as we think about our theme this evening “You shall go out with joy” I want to dig a little deeper into the story of these shepherds and speculate about our own encounter with God.

In the ancient world shepherds were working boys and men and the job was filled with its dangers and hardships.  Out on that hillside so long ago the shepherds had a responsibility to protect the sheep from whatever might come along: wolves, lions, thieves, storms and so on.  They had to stay awake and keep their woolen charges safe.

It was their job and they did it day in day out, night after night, year after year.

The interruption of the angels into their existence and their journey to see a child in a manger only gives us a glimpse of their lives.  We only hear about these mere few hours, we do not even know their names.  They remain anonymous to us.

Yet they are given the privilege of an encounter with the divine after which they go out with joy “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as had been told them.”

The shepherds returned to their flocks on this spiritual high.  Did they really fully understand who this baby was?  Could they fully comprehend their encounter with the angels?  What was to happen next for them?

Well the reality is they still had sheep to care for the next day, and the day after that and the day after that and so on.  I have little doubt that their encounter with angels and the baby Jesus change them but life goes on.  And, in all likelihood by the time Jesus grew to be a man and taught and shared the good news and died and was raised from the dead these shepherds would have already died.

They never followed Jesus.  At best they had an inkling that they had seen the Messiah. Yet afterwards they lived out their days working the field as Jewish shepherds in an occupied country.

The mystery of the way in which the shepherds encounter God and go out with joy I believe can give us a context by which we live after our encounter or encounters with God.

For like the shepherds we go about the world in our daily tasks: we face the dangers and drudgeries of this earthly existence, we wonder what life is about as we see the difficulties of the world around us.  But, we too like the shepherds can be blessed as we encounter God.

This is God’s gift to us, moments of divine connectedness, moments when simply hearing an ancient story about an unusual birth in a manger we glimpse God’s presence coming into our lives and into our world.

I suspect in all of the ways that we seek to fabricate joy at Christmas we are revealing a deeper yearning for an encounter with that divine joy.

We hang lights on our houses, we sing carols, we erect trees and give presents, and we share in meals and times of family gathering together.  We long for joy but as we know as happy as these things might make us they do not plug us in to any kind of divine experience and often, sadly, as we go on in our celebrating countless millions suffer.

The encounter of the shepherds with God may have been momentary, but all these hundreds and thousands of years later here we are listening to their story entwined in God’s story.

It is my prayer that this night you will go out with joy rejoicing because you have encountered God and that if tonight is not the night that you glimpse the divine that if it has not already happened there will come a time for you that God’s reality invades the drudgery and dangers of your existence and you will go out with joy praising God.

May you indeed have a holy and a joyous Christmas and may God bless you all!

After Christmas: We live!

A sermon on Matthew 2:13-18

So Christmas is over what happens next?

I think to understand what happens next for us it is helpful to continue to look at the story of Jesus’ birth as it is told to us by Matthew and see what happened next for Jesus, Joseph and Mary.

Now there are stories in the Bible that I think many of us would prefer not to be there and you can tell this is the case by the way we tell them.

A good example is the story of the wise men that came travelling from the East.  Most of us know that these men turned up with their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. And many may even know that they came to see Jesus via King Herod.

This morning I want to share with you what happens next in the story of the wise men as we think about the idea that Christmas is over and what happens next for us, for you and for I. 

So to set the scene the wise men have already been and visited Jesus with their gifts and then in the gospel of Matthew he tells us this:

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
   wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
   she refused to be consoled,
because they are no more.’

Now I don’t know about you but I find this story a particularly difficult one.  The nice manger scene disappears.  The shepherds and angels, and the wise men and their gifts disappear into the horror of this account. Joseph and Mary become refugees fleeing in terror to another land where they will seek asylum.

And as they flee a most barbaric act is reported as Herod orders the slaying of innocent children in a mad expression of vengeance and power and protectionism.

Not surprisingly none of these gritty and uncomfortable scenes make it on to the front of our Christmas cards.

We think of Christmas as a happy time: as the celebration of Jesus birth; of God becoming one of us; of pretty nativities with angels and shepherds.  The contrast with this story could not be more pronounced.  It could leave us perplexed and dumbfounded.  What is going here?

Yet this story gives me great hope because what it does is remind me that: it is precisely because of the dislocation that occurs within peoples’ lives; it is precisely because of the insane abuses of power by those who wield it; it is precisely because innocents suffer and people are left heartbroken and mourning; it is precisely because we are so often left grasping at straws to find meaning; that God enters the world in Jesus.

Our sentimentalism about the manger scene must at some point give way to the seriousness of our human predicament and Matthew makes clear as he recounts the story of the slaughter of innocents just how serious things are.

Whilst Jesus is never recorded as saying anything directly about the slaughter of these children I can only imagine the deep sorrow he felt when he grew old enough to hear about this story and understand it. 

It makes me think of the times that we are told that Jesus looked upon the crowd and had compassion – from the depths of his being, from deep within his gut, emotions well-up as Jesus saw the pain and suffering that people endure.  It is not too fanciful to think that on some of those occasions there were numbered in the crowd people who had a child killed by Herod.  

God does not remain separate from the world in which these things happen but comes into in Jesus and shares in it and feels for us.

After Christmas life goes on.  Some of us may have a great life; some on the other hand find ourselves constantly wondering what it all means.  We stand on the cusp of a new year and maybe we are secretly longing for this year to be better than last.

It might be a personal cry from within our own hearts or it might be a cry that echoes our concerns for others whom we know nearby or who remain anonymous and are far away.

Maybe you are facing personal difficulties:  you are looking for a job; you are not well; you are mourning; you are down or you are depressed.

Or maybe you look upon this world disheartened and disillusioned: a world where over 6 million people in Syria need aid every day; a world in which our government incarcerates asylum seekers coming from other countries; a world in which bushfires, typhoons, droughts and floods are deeply impacting people’s lives now.

The grittiness and horror of the story of Joseph and Mary’s flight into Egypt with their newborn Son alongside the reprehensible killing of the children reminds us that God did not remain apart from the reality of the suffering in our created existence.

Such is God’s identification with us is that Jesus himself endures unimaginable suffering and a torturous death taking all of this suffering in our lives into himself as well.  God literally shares our pain.

But the good news is that Jesus suffering and death are not the last word because God raises Jesus from the dead and pours out the Holy Spirit on the creation.  In this we who live in the ambiguity of this life are given hope that the suffering and wailing and fleeing and horror that we and others experience are not ignored by God but shared by Jesus who continues to look upon us with compassion.

What do we do now that Christmas is over?  We go on living. We go on hoping in the God who lived as one of us.  We go on yearning to experience God more closely in the midst of all the joy and the suffering we might experience.  We go on celebrating God cared enough to be one of us.  We go on living.

Whatever the days and year ahead may hold for you may you to take heart in the serious business of God’s love which reaches beyond the barrier of the divine divide and promises us peace.

This is what we do now that Christmas is over, we accept the gift that God has given us: we live!

May God bless you all in the year ahead!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Advent 4: You shall name him Emmanuel!

Sermon Isaiah 7:10-16
Peter Lockhart

Hope is an elusive thing:  it is that grasping at a future and looking for a transformation that has not been realised.  All of us hope for things: we desire for something to happen, for something to come. 

On this last Sunday of Advent we are challenged with thinking about what it is we hope for.  Too easily we could hope for the trivial, the banal and maybe even the selfish: nice weather for Christmas day; that the turkey or ham cooks well enough and tastes great; no arguments at the Christmas table; the gifts that I listed out so everyone knew what I needed; and the list goes on. 

But on this day as we set out on our pathway of hope we hear ancient words of hope which have a much deeper meaning and resonance in our lives.  They have echoed down over 2500 years to be heard again by our ears:

“Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

When Ahaz refuses God’s offer of a sign of hope the prophet Isaiah intervenes and declares the sign that God is giving anyway:

“The young woman is with child and shall name him Immanuel!”

The situation for Ahaz appeared dire as the Assyrian Empire asserted its strength and threatened Israel’s future and stability.  Isaiah’s prophecies were filled with images of darkness and destruction but they were also matched with hope.

“Before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”

The future still held trepidation, turmoil was still at hand but hope was given.  Beyond the limitations of Ahaz’s vision and faith God’s promise was made tangible in a child who was to be born.

As Christians we can easily confuse this prophecy of Isaiah to be speaking of Jesus because Matthew borrows the prophet’s words in his recount of the annunciation of Jesus birth to Joseph. Yet following the ancient text it is more likely that Isaiah was referring to Hezekiah: Ahaz’s successor.

Regardless, of whether the child being referred to was Hezekiah or not, and regardless of the fact Matthew uses the prophet’s words in reference to Jesus what is at stake is found in the name.

She shall name him Immanuel, which means God us with us.

Here is the message of hope, “God is with us!”  God is not against us!  God has not deserted us! God is not our enemy! God has not turned away!

God is! And God is with us!

This was the message of Isaiah to Ahaz.  This is the message from Matthew to his community. And this is the message of hope that we hear today “God is with us”.

Of course for those of us who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the eternal Word made flesh, there is a true and new sense of God being with us in and through the incarnation.  But even for Isaiah and Ahaz the name Immanuel carries an eternal, if not incarnated, truth.  “God is with us!”

This is the hope to which Ahaz was to cling.  This was the hope that Matthew gave to his community as he retold the story of the incarnation.  And this is the message that I would continue to declare to you “God is with us!”

This hope, this faith, is a hope we can cling to regardless of our situation in life.

Ahaz was facing the possibility of war and destruction and we know the Israelites went through a time of desolation and despair.

The word of hope and promise comes in the naming of a child “God is with us”!

Matthew’s community was facing persecution coming from the conflict within the early Christian community as it broke away from being a Jewish sect.  Probably largely believers of Jewish origins Matthew’s community sat between traditional Jews and gentile Christians.  There would have been a sense of confusion as they sought their identity as followers of Christ

In addition to these internal ructions Matthew’s community was also confronted by the might of Rome with its so called divine Emperors.

The word of hope and promise comes in the naming of a child “God is with us”!

This is the message that breaks into our reality as well.  A message that goes back long before Isaiah prophesied to Ahaz and a message that rolls beyond the incarnation and into the future not yet come: God is with us!

This is the eternity of God’s life breaking in and making it known. 

It is this hope in God’s continued and constant presence which serves those hopes which lie deeper in our
existence: hope in a future for our children; hope for good health and well-being; hope for those who suffer in the world; hope for the meeting of basic needs; hope for understanding and meaning and purpose in life.

These larger and more universal hopes are met with the declaration of the constancy and care of God’s love “God is with us!”

Even when things seem dire, even when things seem bad:

God is with us!

God is not against us!  God has not deserted us! God is not our enemy! God has not turned away!

This is the hope to which we can cling and this is the hope we declare to the world this advent and each and every day. 

When Isaiah declared the child’s name would be Immanuel Isaiah was providing a tangible sign of what always remains true.  When Matthew used Isaiah’s words to rightly describe the incarnation of God in Jesus, he too was pointing at an ongoing eternal reality. 

To say “God is with us” is not simply to affirm the incarnation and momentary entry into the world by God, as monumental as this event was, but is to say something which maybe sounds even more confronting in reverse, if you will excuse the double negative:

“God is never not with us!”

This is our hope whether we experience it in the full or walk through life not feeling God’s closeness as others seem to “God is with us!”

All of our hopes and fears are met in this and we cling to this good news as we approach the celebration of Jesus birth.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Advent 3: Questions upon questions

Jesus asked the crowd, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” 

And not just look at, but what did you go to hear, to feel, to experience?  That is Jesus question.  It is a question of the gap that lies between expectation and experience.

And so I ask you, “What did you come to church to look at this morning?”

What were you hoping to see, to feel, to hear? Why did you come?
Now when Jesus confronted the crowd with this question about what the people went to look at he also threw a couple of rhetorical questions at them as well, which also challenge and help us think about the issue of why we are here.

He asked “Did you go to see a reed shaken by the wind?”

This strange image of a reed blowing in the wind mirrors Paul’s writing when he warns about being blown about by the winds of doctrine.  So Jesus is asking the people whether they expected to go and hear someone speaking about the so-called ‘relevant’ issues.  The image of the shaken reed is the image of a preacher who goes with flow, who goes with what people want to hear.  And those who go to hear such a prophet are not really going to listen for a new message but to have their particular slant on things confirmed.

This is a confronting image for me as a minister and you as a congregation.  Do I simply preach to what I think you want to hear?  Do I go with the flow?  And how can I tell the difference?  And for you do you come to listen for God’s message? Or do you have a message already prepared, even though you may not realise it, and hope that your ideas will be confirmed by what I say?

What did the people go to look at if not a shaken reed?  Jesus implies John’s message, his prophecy, is not blown about by the winds of doctrine and change but is a message that stands firm because John speaks God’s message.  Regardless of how well I think I do it, it is my prayer that the power of the Holy Spirit is at work in our midst, even in spite of me, opening our eyes and ears, opening our hearts and minds to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus goes on to ask whether the people went out to see someone in soft robes.  The soft robes here are a sign of power and authority displayed in wealth and the symbols of status like the palaces.  Jesus is disconnecting the images of power and authority from wealth.  The kings and their palaces and all their displays of wealth pale in comparison with what is at work through John.

So the question is raised for us what did we come to look at?  Did we come to have Jesus lordship confirmed by the beauty of a building, or the woodwork, or the worldly signs and symbols of power and authority, so often displayed through wealth?  This is a confronting question for all Christians as we see the immense resources that have gone into building the great churches of the world.  How do these churches and the displays of wealth that the churches have reflect the rags that John the Baptist wore for it was he through whom God spoke?  What questions might this raise for us in the use of our resources? 

This brings me to Jesus third question; did you go out to see a prophet?  Yes, but Jesus declares that John is more than a prophet.  Why is John more than a prophet?  John is the hinge on which the dawn of the new age swings as he announces Jesus the Christ’s presence in the world.  John stands as the last prophet before the Messiah and announces the coming of the Messiah into the world.  John prepares the way for Jesus in whom the kingdom of heaven comes near.

John as the last prophet points away from himself and at the coming one who will bring the salvation of God with him.  Looking at John, hearing his message, is to look away from John and to look at Jesus Christ.

This is the good news and when John heard of what Jesus was doing he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one.  That was the opening of our reading this morning and Jesus response is to echo the words of Isaiah.  “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

These words confirm Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and so when people hear John’s message they look to Jesus.  That is what the people went into the wilderness to look at, to look at the message of the coming Christ and find hope in that, and the Messiah was coming. 

So what do we look at?  We too look beyond ourselves and beyond me and my words and we look at Jesus: Jesus the Christ who has come and will come again.  This is what our worship revolves around looking beyond the limits our experiences and encounters to the promise and the hope of the coming kingdom and celebrating our hope in this coming kingdom with joy.

Our prayers reflect this hope, our reading of the scriptures, our fellowship with one another and our sharing at the table all point beyond themselves to Jesus who points us to our promised home with the Father.  Jesus entry into human life, his death for our sake, his resurrection and his ascension are the completion of our salvation and through the Holy Spirit we are made one with him and each other and our eyes are lifted glistening with hope in the promise that he will come again.

So we have spoken of what we came to look at? We have discussed what we might have actually seen?  And now having looked again at the promise of God in Jesus Christ, seeing the straight path as it were, the question is how will you and I live in the light of this message?

You see our hope doesn’t end at 9:15 or thereabouts when the service concludes.  As we go from this place we enter God’s world having encountered and experienced the presence of the coming kingdom in Jesus Christ.  We have been remind of our hope in the Lord.  How does that change how you will live this week with other people?  How will it change the daily grind?  Will it alter the words you speak and the thoughts that you have?  How will God be at work in you through the power of the Holy Spirit?

As we continue our advent journey as we wait with hope, peace and joy consider the week ahead and what it might mean for you that you have seen the coming of the Lord.
What did you actually see; what did you experience; what did you feel?

What are you going to do in response to what you have seen?

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Advent 2: The ax lies ready!

“Even now the axe is lying at the root of the tree; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire.”

As I read the readings for this day I wondered whether of all the phrases this one was the one that echoed most strongly for you. 

The axe lying at the base of the tree sounds a warning of impending doom and it is!  It is for the Sadducees and the Pharisees and it is for us.

We need to look realistically at ourselves a small group of people who gather most Sundays in this place: many of you have a strong sense of your own mortality.  On a personal level and as community it would easy to hear John’s words to our little community “the ax is lying at the root of the tree.”

In fact given the size and age of our congregation you could almost feel that the ax has already been wielded and that all that is left here in this place is a remnant: a stump.  But is this really the way we are to think?  I would like to say not.

The metaphor that John used in reference to the Pharisees and Sadducees is a metaphor that traces its way back into the prophecy from Isaiah: the prophecy that we heard this morning.

God decimates the people of Israel; he wields the axe so to speak.  Listen to the words of the last two verses of Isaiah 10.

33      Look, the Sovereign, the LORD of hosts,
          will lop the boughs with terrifying power;
          the tallest trees will be cut down,
          and the lofty will be brought low.
34      He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an axe,
          and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall.

Israel’s fall was prophesied by Isaiah.  Israel would be reduced from a mighty nation, from a mighty forest, but in the midst of this destruction – hope!

Isaiah 11 begins with those words of hope:

1        A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
          and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

Even though God destroys the glory of Israel God does not abandon it totally.  In fact God declares a time of peace and restoration that will be brought about in the coming of this righteous branch: Jesus.

These pictures from Isaiah that John draws upon give hope to us who feel as if the axe is ready to be wielded or even already had been.  Even though God might tear down what is, new life will come forth from the old, a shoot from the stump of Jesse.

John’s word to the Sadducees and Pharisees was a word of hope as much as it was a dire warning for them to repent.  It is a warning that we hear as the invitation to baptism and life in Christ, to follow him.

As individuals and as a community we are constantly being called to account, to face up to who we are. We are people who are limited in our response to what God wills for us and through our inadequacy we limit each other from the response that God desires of them.  Baptism is an act that admits our failure in this and binds us to the new future of peace and righteousness promised by Jesus.

The Scriptures clearly indicate that baptism does not turn us into perfect people who no longer get it wrong.  What baptism does is celebrate and join us to the new direction that Jesus takes for our sake.  It is a pathway that leads to God not away from him.

The guidance for how we might live as people of God’s promise is drawn from the Scriptures as we reflect on the dynamics of what it means to be in this new relationship with God.  Faith is a growing thing, a journey and the landscape in which we live our faith is constantly changing.  

Holding on to old ways of doing and believing, as the Sadducees and Pharisees, puts as in line to meet with the axe but the Spirit draws us on into the new.  The new hope that we are given as we live in Christ and are constantly transformed by him to understand that each of us is tied to the other and to God.

This is why Paul wrote to the Romans exhorting them with the words:

5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And earlier in the chapter:

1We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour. 3For Christ did not please himself.

If there are any words that I would say lie central to how we live our faith these last ones seem to be the most important but the least lived.  “Christ did not please himself”. 

Being a Christian is not meant to be about the benefits we receive, even though there may be benefits.  Our faith leads us into a deeper sense of others and of God: living in harmony with one another, in accordance with Jesus Christ.

Again and again we hear this theme of life in harmony with other people, with God and with the creation in the world around us.  It is the theme of discussion about politics, the environment and religion. 

Yet how do we live in the harmony that God calls us to in this place.  How do we focus on pleasing our neighbour and building them up?

I want to invite you to take a moment and look at each other.  In what ways do you build up the people you sit beside week by week?  What have you done for him or her?  What are you being called to do?  Who irritates you here?  And why?  How can you see beyond your differences into the harmony we are called to?

Living with others means being accepting and understanding and loving and when you feel disappointed or hurt remembering Paul’s words that there times we need to put up with the failings of the weak and I would add to Paul the recognition that we are all weak sometimes.

Doing this takes great spiritual maturity and the honesty to deal with our problems with one another appropriately, not speaking behind each other’s backs, or whinging whilst not addressing the issue but seeking to listen and learn and love one another as we make room for each other and live in harmony.

If you have issues with something I say to speak to me about it; if there is an issue with rosters to talk to those who look after the rosters; if you would like more involvement or less involvement in the activities of the congregation to tell someone; if you are feeling lost or lonely or discriminated against to speak to someone so that healing can occur.

If we put each other first then we would not guard jealously the positions or roles that we have been given nor resent others for doing things that we would like to do.  We would speak openly and lovingly about our desires and our concern for others and as we grow in love and maturity in faith the shoot from Jesse’s stump, Jesus himself, would become better witnessed to in our midst. 

This is what it means to repent – not simply thinking that I have turned back to God, but knowing that in turning to God we also urn towards one another.

Paul’s exhortations are so that ‘together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’.  Our faith does not remove our individuality but honours it as we are drawn into a community of knowing and being known so that with one voice we can glorify God. 

I began with suggesting that we can think of ourselves as people living as if the axe lies ready, or has already been wielded.  For me what makes the difference is not the size and age of our congregation but what will be in our hearts.  If we bicker and hurt and gossip and compete then maybe the axe will lie ready but if we build each other up, if we live in harmony, if we love and do no put our own needs first then maybe we are living as people joined to the new shoot of Jesse’s stump: Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. 

Take a moment to consider what God’s word to you this day might be.

1        A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
          and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2        The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
          the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
          the spirit of counsel and might,
          the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

3        His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Pathway to Peace

Advent 1

For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.

The song of the Psalm is punctuated with a deep yearning for peace, a yearning for peace within the walls of Jerusalem for relatives and friends and I believe ultimately for the entire world.  Seeking peace is centred on seeking the good for others.

In this sense the journey of Advent is not so much a new journey for us as God’s people but a recapitulation of an ancient message, an ancient longing: peace between God and people; peace among all peoples.

This longing sung of by the Psalmists is also a prophecy proclaimed by Isaiah:

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.

As we hear these words of longing thousands of years later it could be easy to hear an edge of judgement within them because regardless of what our personal experience might be in this moment peace seems so elusive within the creation.

Looking to Jerusalem, the holy city sung of by the Psalmist, decades of tensions on the West Bank cause our hearts to cry out.  Thinking beyond the peace of Jerusalem we see the images of the refugee camps surrounding Syria.  China and Japan have been jockeying for power this week. Afghanistan is still coming back from the brink of turmoil.  And the list goes on.

If international affairs are not your cup of tea then think of peace within our own nation and within our own lives because peace is not simply an absence of war.  In our community we often see division and hatred expressed.  Within our families there are often tensions.  And even within our own sense of purpose and being we can find ourselves ill at ease.

This morning we have set our footprints on the pathway to peace but the reality is as much as we might desire it we know thousands years of seeking peace have not landed us squarely in a place of unity with God or each other.  As well we know even the church is at war within itself divided by doctrine and denomination.

So what does it mean to reaffirm this message of peace and our commitment to it in Advent? 

Advent is about our longing for the renewal of all things in and through Jesus.  This vision of renewal is grounded in Jesus resurrection when he came and stood among his disciples and said, “Peace, be with you.”

So by placing our longing for peace in this context, by taking the words of Psalmist and the yearning of Isaiah into conversation with the resurrection, we are reminded that although we might be on this pathway towards peace it appears that only through the intervention of God will peace ever come in all its fullness.

It is true to say that we may catch a glimpse of that coming peace or experience moments of that peace personally but the vision presented in the scriptures is one which declares that God desires peace for all things renewed in and through Jesus Christ the true peacemaker.

As we remember these difficult truths about peace and the destination of peace remaining in God’s promised future we are also reminded that as God’s people we are drawn into Jesus life through the power of the Holy Spirit and that we can share in witnessing to the promise of this future now.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers” and as God’s people we are constantly called to be peacemakers; reconcilers; bridge builders; healers; mediators.  Not in the sense that we can achieve what we long for but in the sense we can point to God’s promise any time we become conduits for peace entering into peoples’ lives.

In both the letter from Paul to the Romans and also in Jesus words in Matthew’s gospel the imperative to stay awake and to be attentive for the coming of God’s kingdom is not simply a call to be attentive to that moment of Jesus return.  Nor is it attentiveness grounded in our ability to save ourselves.  Rather I believe it is a call to serve that coming kingdom now by keeping our eyes open to the times that coming peace breaks into our current reality and declaring that as good news.  And, moreover, being participants in establishing peace in our own lives and communities as well as we are able as we seek the good for others.

Ultimately, as God’s people when say 'blessed are the peacemakers' we acknowledge that Jesus himself is the one true peacemaker; the one who both establishes and declares God’s peace which always appears somewhat beyond our human grasp.  Let us receive the gift of peace established in and through Christ and let us continue to long for this peace with eyes wide open to the mercy and love of our maker.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Pathway to Peace

Advent 1: by Peter Lockhart

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

I was glad… I wonder how many of us are really glad or joyful about our coming to church to worship God and, if so, where this gladness might come from?

Looking back into the Jewish traditions Psalm 122 is one of the Psalms of ascent.  This means that it was one of the songs sung by the people as they travelled to the Temple in Jerusalem for the holy festivals.  The song was part of their pilgrimage and their preparation as they anticipated their arrival.  The songs of ascent reminded the people of the context of their journey to be with God at the Temple.

This week we begin our own pilgrimage. We begin the pilgrimage of Advent.  Advent is a time of waiting. It is a time of preparation.  But what songs and what words give us the context for our journey.  This morning we lit our first advent candle, the candle for hope.  This then is the first marker which gives our advent journey its context – we are waiting with hope.

So what are we waiting for and what is our hope in?  It would be easy to fall into the trap to think that Advent is simply a time of waiting and preparation for the celebrations surrounding Jesus birth.  Now if you are like me you enjoy a good party and the Christmas season usually offers some of the best.  There are feasts and presents, with all the joy on children’s faces, and family gatherings, and work parties, and trees with decorations, and houses decked out in the joy of the season with flashing lights. 

In midst of our humdrum and pedestrian existence facing the daily grind times like this lift our eyes to wonder if there is something more.  But in and of themselves the celebrations, the carols, the lights on our houses, the parties we go to offer nothing more than a moment of excitement in the difficulties and boredom which confront us throughout life.

As Christians our hope is not measured by the number of lights on our houses, or parties we get to go to, or presents that we give or receive, or even carols we sing.  Our hope is actually in something far deeper and far greater: Jesus promise of the coming kingdom of God.  As the true light of the world Jesus far outshines the lights on our houses for his light directs us towards our home with God, the coming kingdom, which is ultimately about the return of Christ.

So what does this kingdom look like?  Well in reality we cannot see it clearly; we only have fleeting images and obscure ideas to hang our hope on because, after all, faith is hope in things not seen.  Nonetheless, the prophet Isaiah opens our eyes to some of the possibilities of this coming kingdom. 

Firstly, he points to the universal aspect to this coming kingdom.

In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’S house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.

All of the nations will stream to it.  Isaiah prophesizes, that God’s future for the nations is that they will be bound together as one.  In this vision Isaiah opens up the promise of God for all peoples and ultimately the whole universe.  This is not a vision of the destruction of the world but its remaking through God’s promise.  It is a future grounded in peace.

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

God’s future for the creation is a future grounded in peace between all peoples.  At a time in which our country has been involved in war and in a time when there is so much political tension in our world, from Iraq to Indonesia, from Pakistan to Zimbabwe, in the Ukraine and in Tibet! Hope in the promise of a time of peace is unfathomable for us as human beings but it remains one our deepest desires. The prayer of Psalm seeks its answer to peace in the promise of a coming kingdom:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.

Peace among all the nations may seem to be impossibility for our human minds but this is a promise and hope which far outshines any of our Christmas celebrations.  Those of you have been alive for the declaration of peace during the great wars of the last century may begin to have an inkling of what joy that the realisation of this promise might bring.

So as Christians through Advent we wait with hope for this coming kingdom. Paul writing to the Romans as well as Jesus speaking to the disciples both encourages us to be alert and awake to what this kingdom is about.  Jesus warns against complacency saying no one knows the time whilst Paul tells us to wake from our sleep.

Sometimes we do no even realise that we are asleep.  The constancy of life and the habits that we get into, and the days that drag by, numb our hearts and minds to this promise of God.  So it is, that we do find more excitement in our Christmas parties and family gatherings than in the bigger picture of our faith which is harder to hold on to and even harder to live out.

Yet this is what Paul expected the Christians in Rome and us to do, to live with the aroma of that coming dawn in our nostrils.  We are to live putting on Jesus Christ.  We are to live a life which is directed towards our deeper hope and not, as Paul says, on the desires of the flesh.  Living in the light of the coming kingdom, representing that peace and reconciliation to the world, is not easy stuff to do.  But it is life transforming as we are conformed, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to be a part of the coming kingdom now and to know God more closely.

This means that as we journey through Advent we are really reminding ourselves not simply that Jesus is about to be born, and it is worth celebrating his birthday, but that Jesus birth finds its meaning in his whole life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension and the promise that he will come again. 

Without the whole story the birth is hollow indeed but in the context of the promise of the coming kingdom the hope which we develop through advent is beyond any of the other hopes we might have about our Christmas celebrations for 2004.

To return to where I began if we start to understand these things and experience them then maybe our coming to the house of the Lord may in be something that we are glad about.

I know myself that much of the time church can simply be boring it becomes a chore, a discipline, a habit.  I think this is, in part, because we begin to slumber, we tire of trying to remember the hope, and our hearts struggle against the call of God within us.  But in moments of lucid revelation God comes into our lives to remind us of this great gift of hope that we have.  God opens our eyes again to remind us of the future we are waiting for.  I personally believe the more we come together to worship God and the more we engage in our spiritual journey the more our hearts and minds are attuned to the bigger picture which encompasses God’s purpose not just for ourselves but for all things. The song that we sung earlier reminded us this fundamental conviction.

Sing to God, with joy and gladness
Hymns and psalms of gratitude.
With the voice of praise discover
That to worship God is good.

With the voice of praise discover that to worship God is good.  It is in our participation in Christ’s worship of the Father that we discover that worshipping God is good.  This does not mean necessarily mean ‘fun’ - good here means the right thing to do.  Through the discipline of coming to the house of the Lord we grow as the Lord fills us with new life and the knowledge of salvation.

This Advent I encourage you to prepare for Christ’s coming, to awaken as you glimpse the coming dawn, as you savour a foretaste of the coming kingdom.  I encourage you to discipline yourself to look beyond the flashing lights and the gifts we give one another to the light of the world, Jesus Christ, who is God’s gift to us and the whole world.  I encourage you to focus on the promise of peace that has been given to us and to live your life in the light of the good news of this coming kingdom.

Take a few moments now to listen for how God might be speaking to you this day.     

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Rule of Knowledge by Scott Baker

Scott Baker’s novel Rule of Knowledge felt like something of cross between The Da Vinci Code, a Matthew Reilly Novel and The Time Travellers Wife.  The narrative and the action were fast paced as separate plots were woven together into a great tale.

The book opens with Shaun Strickland, a teacher, receiving a mysterious invitation to present a lecture at Cambridge.  Leaving home in a hurry with his wife the couple have an accident on a lonely road in North Carolina when they hit a homeless tramp.  Taking him on board they soon discover he is carrying a secret – a book which appears to a diary written in English dating back to the time of Christ. 

The novel then proceeds to jump between the diary and other plot fillers as the action intensifies.

Having a sense of history, science and faith helped as I read the book although I did not feel that you needed much depth in these areas.  In terms of style the diary entries jarred a little in the way the were written but once I got over this the novel flowed well and bought something of a complicated story together.  Any story which involves time travel has its issues.

Like a Matthew Reilly novel the action is fast, more than somewhat fanciful and at times quite gruesomely violent.  For some readers this will keep them in but if you are a bit reticent about too much violence then maybe it is not the book for you.

The feature of the novel is its movement towards an encounter with Jesus – an interview as it were by the diary writer.  Was Jesus who he said he was?  What will the agnostic science teacher Shaun Strickland find out?  Will faith be undone or reignited?

The twists and revelations at the end made it worth the read.  So if you are a fan of an action story put it on your Christmas wish list.   

Friday, 22 November 2013

Of Christ, Kings and Slaves!

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

Today is the last day of the liturgical calendar and as is tradition in the church we are celebrating the festival of Christ the King.

On this day we are reminded in the words of Paul’s letter to the Colossians of the preeminent place which Jesus takes in the order of creation and in the life of the church.  He is the source of dominions and powers and authorities.  He holds all things together and is over all things.

As Australians we may struggle with the notion of authority and power and the idea that God is over us.  We prefer the idea that Jesus is our friend, he is our buddy our mate.  Yet despite this view we still place authority and dominion and power somewhere in something or someone and this has consequences.

Today is also Abolition Sunday, a day on which we reflect on the current state of slavery in our world.  In this we are challenge to look beyond the horizon of our immediate and might I suggest more than comfortable existence to the sources of our prosperity and to the plight of others.

For me I have a deep appreciation that the two themes have been brought together because our resistance to God’s reign is not new and our misunderstanding of God’s authority does not lead us into greater freedom but ultimately into less as we become less and less who we have made to be as God’s creatures.

To help understand this I want to take us back into the Old Testament for a moment to the book of first Samuel, to Samuel 8, a time at which Samuel had become very old.  Here is what it says:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5and said to him, ‘You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.’ 6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to govern us.’ Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.’

The rejection of God’s reign over us and the preference for human sources of dominion can be traced back nearly 3000 years.  And at the time that the people asked for a King, for human sources of authority, God clearly and strongly warned the people of the consequences.

The trend of this preference for human sources of dominion and authority I believe finds its ultimate expression in the rise of humanism through the enlightenment when rather than kings we all became masters and mistresses of our own existence.  The phrase “it’s my life” which no doubt many of us have uttered is an expression of our denial of God’s reign and a preference for our personal dominion over our existence.

Yet through 3000 years of history we can see that there are consequences to the choices we have made in our excise of power and dominion over the creation and over each other.

There are many avenues to explore in terms of consequences but on this day as we remember Abolition Sunday I would want us to consider how we have turned people into commodities.  In business term we speak of human resources reducing the creative gift of life found in a person to what the can do or offer.  The most extreme form of the commodification of people is the exploitative practice of slavery.

We have already heard a little bit about the extent of the problem of slavery in the world in the video I showed earlier in the service.  And, it could be easy to distance ourselves from these issues but as people who often ignorantly benefit from the exploitation of others today we contemplate the consequences of our preference to rule our own lives.

During the week as I researched for today I found an online survey to help people understand how they might be benefitting from slavery.  The result which came back for me was not surprising but is certainly shocking.  According to the survey I have 67 slaves working to sustain my lifestyle.

You may think this is unrealistic or a somewhat silly survey but this morning I have given you an image on a card.  There are a range of different cards with images of coffee and chocolate, of rice and fish, of cotton and clothes, of jewellery and accessories, of smart phones and gadgets.  These products are representative of a bigger list of products which you or I may purchase, often cheaply, without realising that they may have been produced by someone who is defined as a slave or even a child.

We are embedded in systems of exploitation which are difficult for us to see unless we really look up from the immediacy of the problems and issues we face and look behind how a product reaches the shelves at the price it does.

Thinking of just this one issue we begin to understand the complexity of our rejection of God’s reign and the consequences of our misguided exercise of dominion.

Returning to the Colossians passage I quoted at the beginning we were reminded that as the church Jesus is our head.  Or to be more frank God is in charge.  3000 years and more of humans choosing kings and dominion in our own lives coalesces into the events of Jesus life as he comes among us.

One of the traditional appellation s for Jesus is that he is our king.  But Jesus kingship is not about exercising an authority or dominion which subjugates or exploits others.  In fact, shockingly Jesus kingship is exercised in such a way that rather than exercise his divine power over other he accepts the way of the cross and the rejection of God’s rule in human lives into his own life.

The scene from Luke's gospel we read is a part of that longer story known as the passion narrative.  Jesus accepts the human rejection of God into himself and so also accepts the misguided use of power which we as human beings exercise over each other.  His suffering is an identification with those who suffer.

The good news of course is that Jesus resurrection is God’s declaration that our rejection of his power and dominion is not the last word and will not be our undoing.  Jesus resurrection provides a new hope and a new future for all humanity.

Here we can truly declare as we read in the Psalm, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  God is a refuge for we who cause the suffering of others and choose to exercise our dominion poorly.  God is a refuge for we who are at times exploited by others and for those who on this day find themselves to be slaves.

As people set free by God’s love we are constantly called to challenge the systems of this world in which participate which exploit others.  The issue of slavery and the way it is woven into the fabric of our existence is no easy issue but as God’s people who bear the reconciliation of all things within us it behooves us to witness to God’s love and the reign of Christ in our lives by speaking out for others and declaring God’s love.

The good news on which we lean is that Christ is ultimately the King, the ruler of all things and the giver of a new life to the whole creation and all humanity despite our rejection of our God’s rule with all its consequences.  Let us cling to this hope as we are constantly being transformed to be God’s people in this world. 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Destruction as good news?

Peter Lockhart
Reflections on Luke 21:5-19

As Christians we believe that we have received a message of good news in and through Jesus Christ.  Yet this morning we have read difficult words that have come to us from Jesus.  They are words which contain an edge of prophecy, a prediction of calamity and suffering.

‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.’

These words of prophecy have been used over the two millennia since Jesus spoke them to offer hope in the midst of distress, hope that Christ is coming; hope that the suffering that we see and experience has meaning; even if the meaning is only the sign of God’s coming.

I am always wary of reading words of scripture too deeply into the world around us but these words feel that they carry some weight this week.

Just a few weeks ago we followed the news of unseasonal bushfires in New South Wales and this week we have seen the heartbreaking images flowing out of the Philippines in the wake of Typhon Haiyan, reportedly the biggest Typhoon to ever reach landfall.  The devastation is immense.

At the UN convention on climate change the representative from the Philippines, Yeb Sano, has gone on a hunger strike in solidarity with his brother who has been working for three days without food in the wake of the storm.  He has been carrying the dead to places to be buried.

For any of you, for any of us, who have personally lived through times of trauma and heartache, through wars, through flood, through drought we know that Jesus words of prophecy apply to the moments of our ordinary lives in which we enter into extraordinary situations of pain and of suffering and it is only in knowing the rest of the story of Jesus that we can find hope.

Jesus begins his prophecy with the words of the destruction of the temple.  In John’s gospel when Jesus speaks of the destruction of the temple he alludes to his own death and then goes on to say that in three days I will raise it up again – he alludes to his resurrection.

Without the words of hope which come from the resurrection the idea of the suffering which Jesus prophesies leave us in darkness and despair.  Our suffering personal or global comes without hope.

The resurrection says that even though death might swallow us up new life awaits.  New life awaits those who have lived through hell on earth and God’s promise is for the renewal of all things in Jesus.

The message of Jesus is not that God wills our suffering but that God is with us in our suffering.  The message of God in Jesus is not that God wishes to destroy some but not others or to unmake what God has made.  No, the message of God in Jesus is that suffering which we experience, which I believe always remains cloaked in mystery, is not something which God stands apart from.  God is with us in Jesus.

The message that we carry is good news, it is not easy or unproblematic; it is not straightforward and painless; it is not trouble-free and effortless but it is good.  It is message of resurrection, of life in the face of death, of creation in face of oblivion, of hope in the face of despair.

On this day when we do and should find ourselves lamenting for those who are suffering whether it be in the Philippines, or in NSW; whether it be in Afghanistan or Syria, whether it be in our personal lives or the lives of those whom we love let us hold on to the hope we have in Christ Jesus and let us pray for the coming of God’s kingdom in all its fullness.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Jesus makes a joke!

by Rev Peter Lockhart
Luke 16:1-13

I find myself again and again saying that it’s all about the context and today is no different.  Reading the first 13 verses of Luke 16 in isolation I believe leads to confusion; so we need to look a bit more broadly to wrap our heads around what appears to be quite an obscure parable that is followed by a set of quite terse sayings about the place of money.

I am not going to drag us back too far in Luke’s gospel just a little way to the beginning of Luke 15 which determines the context in which the words of Luke 16 are spoken.

At the beginning of Luke 15 we hear that the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling and saying: ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus initial response to this grumbling is to tell 3 stories to the Pharisees and scribes: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the prodigal son.

Each of these stories infers the way in which God reaches out to those who are lost and draws them back into community, which is a cause for celebration.  The parables are about mercy and love and forgiveness and grace and the extent and effort to which God would go to restore people in their relationships.

These parables are meant to serve as a corrective to the negativity of the Pharisees and scribes which would exclude the tax collectors and sinners.

After telling these stories Jesus then turns to his disciples and tells them a parable.  Now we know the Pharisees scribes are still and listening so I have a sense that Jesus is in a way sharing a bit of an in joke with his disciples whilst allowing his detractors to eavesdrop on the conversation.

And Jesus tells this parable, and I’ll just briefly recount it.

There is a rich man who had a manager who he thought was not doing a good job so he decided to sack him.

The manager said oh no what will I do I am too weak to dig and I am certainly not going to beg.

So he went off and called together everyone who was indebted to his master.

He said to one who owed 100 jugs of olive oil, make it 50.

And to another who owed 100 containers of wheat, make it 80.

Now when the rich man found out he commended the manager for his cleverness.

I just want to explain a little about why the master might have commended the manager and it is tied up with the honour and shame aspects of the culture.

By forgiving the debt of the 2 tenants the manager would have brought honour to the master whilst at the same time providing an opportunity for the tenants to restore their honour within the community.

Now I suggested a moment a go that I think that what Jesus is doing by telling this story is having an in-joke with his disciples about the behaviour of the Pharisees.

So firstly what if we think for a moment that Jesus is placing the Pharisees and Scribes in the place of the master in the parable, which is quite logical as the Pharisees and scribes were at the top of the religious heap in the society.

If this is the case then Jesus is saying to the disciples hey these guys who think they are my master want to give me the flick because they think I am managing God’s affairs and message badly.

And this is where I think is using a real sense of humour.  Oh no what will we I do I can’t dig or beg says the manager, says Jesus...  no Jesus has a better plan and Jesus plan is God’s plan for dealing with the tax collectors and sinners that the Pharisees and scribes had been grumbling about.

“I am going to forgive; I am going to forgive the debts; I am going to forgive the sins; I am going to restore relationships which have eternal implications; and, he says to the disciples, I want you to do the same.”

“These Pharisees and scribes might want to give me the flick but they can’t because I am doing God’s business and you are part of that too.”

Now just as in the story the masters commends the manager I think Jesus is saying to the Pharisees and scribes who see themselves as his master, “what i am doing brings honour to all of us, to you as well and rather than grumbling you should be commending me who is doing God’s will.”

Paired with the 3 stories told to the Pharisees and scribes about what had been lost and found this parable is a continuation on the same theme of the way in which Jesus was behaving in relationship to the tax collectors and sinners.

But we haven't finished yet because hanging off the end of the parable is a group of sayings about faithfulness, dishonesty, true riches and money which all culminate in Jesus declaring, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Now if you look for a moment at this $50 bill you may or may realise that physical this piece of plastic is only a symbol.  It does not actually contain $50 worth of material.  In fact it is far less.

But we all know it does symbolise $50 but I would argue based on what Jesus is saying here it is symbolise far more than $50.  It symbolise choices I can make; it symbolises how much I value a person; it symbolise a level of power and authority that I have.  Let me share a few examples:

First, I recently saw a list of contributors to political parties – money has authority because I believe there is a reflection of the policies developed by the parties which is responsive to who gave them money.

Second, the amount of money that we are paid is in our market economy in direct proportion to how we as a community value the contribution being made and the person doing it. 

Money is a symbol of power and authority and as Jesus implies we can easily be enslaved by the power and authority inherent in currency.

Now whilst I have given this part of Jesus a contemporary spin the reality is that when Jesus said this he was having a pretty sharp final jab at the Pharisees.

Basically saying, you guys might want to have a go at me about who I hang around with but let’s have a look what you think is important and it isn’t God’s people it’s your own power and authority.

Why do we know that this is what Jesus was doing?  The context which we don’t hear read this morning but is the very next line of Luke’s gospel.

“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all of this, and they ridiculed him.”

Luke is reminding us that whilst Jesus had been speaking to his disciples that the Pharisees were still there and Jesus words were pointed just as much at them as they were at the disciples.

The drama that had unfolded through the Pharisees attack on Jesus was Jesus declaration that God’s purpose in him was seeking the lost, was identifying with the lost, was showing them mercy, bringing them home and celebrating God’s grace with them. 

And Jesus had gone on to say you guys think you are my master well you can’t get rid of me that easily because I am bringing God’s forgiveness into to the lives of many and this will bring you honour to even though I can see you are not serving God as you ought but rather are pursuing your own wealth as lovers of money.

Jesus is all about the love and mercy and forgiveness of God and this is indeed good news and the early community later described by Luke in the book of Acts tried to free themselves of the hold money over them by selling everything that they had and sharing it in common.

As we know this way of being Christians whilst tried many times and in many ways through the centuries has never really taken hold but regardless of our ability to free ourselves from the hold of money over our lives, Jesus continues to stand declaring I forgive your 50 jugs of oil and I forgive your 20 bushels of wheat, I forgive your sin and let us be friends eternally.