Saturday, 27 February 2016

We all thirst

A sermon on Isaiah 55:1 

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters”

Everyone who thirsts, everyone thirsts, we all thirst.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to chat with a friend who is due to have a baby in around 3 month.  She thirsts.  She thirsts for change in the world because she fears for her child’s future.  She thirsts especially for action on climate change because she believes it is the biggest challenge her children will face.

We all thirst.

Last Sunday a young international student was found unconscious near the pool at Southbank.  He died a few days later.  On Wednesday his parents arrived.  One can only think that they thirst.  The thirst to see their son.  They thirst for meaning and understanding of what happened.  They thirst for healing of their broken hearts.

We all thirst.

Over the past week I have met dozens of students starting University for the first time.  They thirst. They thirst for knowledge, they thirst for friendship, they thirst for the opportunity show that they are adults, filled with life they thirst!

We all thirst.

During the week the Church Council met.  We thirst.  We thirst for God’s renewal of this congregation.  We thirst for God’s comfort for those among us who are facing death.  We thirst for new opportunities for the students who come here year by year.  We thirst for the energy and capacity to lead the congregation into a new future filled with God’s love and generosity.

We all thirst.

Take a moment thinking about the things for which you thirst.  Maybe it is a sign of God’s presence in your life.  Maybe it is for more time to do the things you want to do.  Maybe it is for comfort and peace as you face difficult health issues.  Maybe it is something for someone you love: your children, your spouse, your parents.

We all thirst.

Now turn and consider each other look at the people gathered here this day.  Do you know what they thirst for?  Have you asked?  Have you shared their journey?  As God’s people we are called to be here for each other. To uphold one another on a this journey through what at times seems such a  dry land.

We all thirst.

And now see, see with me and look at a man hanging discarded on a cross.  He is God’s son, he walked the earth, the dusty roads of Galilee and he shared the good news of God.  He healed people, he forgave them, the taught people of God’s presence and love! He opened the doors of hope for a relationship with God for all people.  But he was betrayed and left to die at the hands of the government of his time – the Roman Empire.  And the words that trickle from his dry lips “I thirst”.

Our God thirsts with us.

Jesus cries out.  “I thirst” and he is mocked and he is offered sour wine on a sponge but God, God hears, God hears Jesus cries as he descends into death and lies in the cold grave for three days.
But Isaiah’s prophesy is sure and true:

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.

Jesus is raised from the tomb.  The rich feast of God is coming.  A feast not of human hands but a feast of God’s love in which we are all satisfied.  This is our hope, our hope in an eternal feast of God’s love – celebrating as we enjoy:

a feast of rich foods,
a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-strained wines strained clear.
A feast for all nations.

This is our hope. This why we come.  This is why we share this journey.  We are not perfect and holy people.  We are a people who thirst.  And we are people who have heard that Jesus thirsts with us and that he has been raised form among the dead. 

We come to listen.  We come really listen.  We come to seek the Lord whilst he is near and in coming we become witnesses to each other of God’s love and generosity.

The temptation for us is satisfy the deep thirsts of our life at the well of consumption – where the 
buying a selling of goods has been sanctified and our happiness is equated to what we own and what we have.  But in the words of the great Mick Jagger “I can’t get no satisfaction.”  We can’t get no satisfaction but filling our lives with more and more things, cramming more and more into our time, to fill our empty lives.

The invitation is to come and to listen for God, to encounter God, to share God with one another and with anyone else that we encounter in our daily life, or who walks through the doors of this place. 

God has opened the doors wide, all arewelcome.

We may find that we continue to thirst.  We may feel that God is not alongside us.  We might bear little or no fruit.  But take heart for God’s message is that in Christ he has come not to tear down but to open up the possibilities and to be patient with us. 

The parable of the fig tree reminds us that God’s desire is not to cut down but to bring what need the manure of life itself, the food, the water that we need to sustain us and to make sense of who we are and where we are going.  Our place is not to judge God or one another but to nurture one another and to be patient as God tends the garden of our lives and the lives of others.  The fruit will come.

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters”

Everyone who thirsts. Everyone thirsts. We all thirst.

Hear the good news, the one who thirsted has been raised from the dead.  All our thirsts can be satisfied and we can drink deeply from the well of living water – eternal life.

Psalm 63:2-15
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips

Thursday, 11 February 2016

"If": An innocuous word filled with temptation

Two simple letters “I” and “f” change everything.

If you are the Son of God.

The moment this little two letter word is stuck in front of the assertion that Jesus is the Son of God it brings into question the certainty of identity.

If you are the Son of God.

And the same uncertainty springs in to our lives as well, constantly harassing us with doubts as the word turns statements into questions.

If you are a good person?
If you are loved by your children?
If you are loved by your parents?
If you have had a decent education?
If you have faith?
If you are loved by God?

Two letters that take us from a place of security into a place of uncertainty and doubt. And from doubt into temptation.

If you are…

Questions our existence, questions our meaning, and questions our purpose.

When Satan, the devil, Jesus adversary asks if you are of Jesus I believe that the devil is trying to lead Jesus into that place of insecurity that most of feel; the questioning of our existence and its value.

Of course, this tempting by the devil that is reported to us, we are told, comes after a period of 40 days of testing and temptation in the wilderness.  But let us not be naïve about these 40 days and this moment of confrontation that is reported to us, temptation is a daily event, a daily grind, a daily exercise that we all must face.

We get out bed in the morning and idols of this world and messages inherent in our culture question the inherent value that we already have as God’s children.  They say to us we must earn our place and our place is valued only by what we do and what we own.

We live in a world where the buying and selling of goods has been sanctified and in this world, this free market economy that has been given a life of its own, we have reduced human beings to another commodity.

In every business place, and even in our Synod office, we have human resource managers whose very title betrays what we think humans are – things, resources to managed, measured by their skills and outcomes.

The value we place on a person and their gifts is constantly being quantified.  You are $15 and hour or $25 an hour or $50 an hour and the list goes into the thousands and even for some the millions.
The culture tells us the value you add or the cost you create for the community and in this our identity as amazing creatures of God is questioned if you are?

The signs of our personal value are measured by what we consume – the size of our house, the make of our car, the latest device that we have bought.  The signs of our personal value are conditioned by the outcomes we achieve – the businesses we build, the studies we complete and the positions we hold.

Here is our temptation to make an identity for ourselves.  To seek our 15 minutes of fame as Andy Warhol once suggested.  Or maybe to create our own identity on Facebook, or through Twitter or Instagram.  Constructing meaning for ourselves because our society constantly ask if you are.

The nature of Jesus three temptations to turn stones to bread, to accept glory and authority from what the devil offer, and to test God are all tied to this fundamental existential question.

Do we accept who we are?  Do we accept who others are?  Do understand that we have a place in the world that transcends what we can do and how we have been commodified?

Jesus answer to the devil on each occasion is to affirm the primacy of God and God’s purposes.  For it is from God alone that our true identity and our true meaning is found.

It is in this relationship with God that the word “if”, those two innocuous letters, can be removed and we can discover and remember that we are; that you are.

For Jesus it was a moment of clear proclamation – he was the Son of God, he did not need to prove by doing tricks or by showing the devil or the world his value.  His value originated in his creation through the divine hands of love.

And we, we who also struggle with our asserting our identity, who are constantly confronted by this word “if”, day by day, moment by moment, can find a twofold hope in this scene.

Firstly, a hope in Jesus who is able to know himself as God’s Son so thoroughly that he does not need to draw on the resources of this world to find or define himself.  It is a hope that in our lives being tied to his we are consumed by the moments that we fail to resist the temptation to turn to the world and its idols to carve out our own existence.

Secondly, we hear and see in this interaction the possibility of following Jesus lead and removing something of the doubt and uncertainty from our own minds.  No longer do our lives have to be controlled by the existential uncertainty of the word “if” we can know:

You are…
You are a created, wondrous being of God.
You are loved by your maker.
You are a reflection of God’s glory.
You are unique and you are a blessing and you are blessed. And,
You are invited to share in God’s very eternal life.

When we hear not “if” but simply “you are” then the temptation to make something of ourselves and our lives by the world’s standards is subverted.  Rather, confident that we are loved and valued simply in our being, in our existence, we can be released to live as God’s children learning to love one another.

For the temptation to compete for authority and define ourselves by our perceived value puts us into competition with one another and scales human beings as if some are worth more than others.

But when we see Jesus ignoring the “if” we know not just the good news that he is indeed the Son of God but that too as children of God are all of value.

It does not matter how much we contribute or how little.  You are loved.
It does not matter how old or young you are. You are loved.
It does not matter if you are in your prime or standing at death’s door. You are loved.
It does not matter if you earn a lot or a little, whether you own many things or a few. You are loved.
It does not matter if you have intellectual impairments or multiple degrees. You are loved.
It does not matter if you have a physical disability or are as fit as an iron man or woman. You are loved.

This is the starting point for understanding how we might resist temptation and to live honouring those who are loved alongside us.

I am not naïve, like you I constantly give in to the temptation to define my own existence.  To accumulate knowledge and position and wealth as a reflection of my identity but here in this place we are reminded together of God who is the origin of all that we have and all that we are.  Here in this place we are reminded that we are loved and valued and do not need to fight God or each other to know that.  Here in this place we encounter the one of whom we can say “You are the Son of God” and we can with Jesus, say to ourselves, say to each other and say to the world with all its pressures and temptations:

“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
“It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
“It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

This is the good news, there is no “if” because God “is” and you “are”. Jesus knew this and resisted for our sake so that we might know that we too simple "are"

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Not knowing what to say

When I was growing up we used to move pieces of furniture around in the lounge room and using pillows and blankets we would make a fort or a cubby or a tent. I wonder how many of you did the same thing! Some of you may even still do it!

All you need is a piece of material and a couple of chairs and you can change a lounge room into a place of adventure and experience.  We could hide from our enemies? We could camp in the wilderness? We could tell stories and our imaginations turned us into heroes and villains?

These moments of imagination and excitement found in the joys of childhood are in their own ways divine moments when we live naively and exuberantly.  It struck me as I considered what to say about the reading this morning that at some level this naïve exuberance is what affected Peter, James and John.  There they were, up on that mountain with Jesus, and Jesus appearance changed and the prophet Elijah and Moses appeared before them and their whole world was changing.

When Peter offers to make tents he is not thinking of a child playing in a lounge room but of an ancient custom of building tents at the feast of tabernacles.  It was a way the people remembered that once upon a time in an ancient past they had been exiles and pilgrims.

The men and the boys would pitch their tents, of to be more accurate their tabernacles, and ground themselves sin the story of a God who had walked alongside their people from those ancient times right up until the time in which they lived.

Building the tents pricked their imaginations to a history they had never known personally and took them on a journey of rediscovering that God had been with them through it all.

Of course, we are told that Peter said this because he did not know what else to say and I think the reality is that when we truly encounter the divine presence, when God shows up, often we are left dumbfounded.  The distance between God’s life and our lives seems vast.

Yet Peter’s response, as uncomprehending as it is, appeals to the habitats of faith that grounded him in God’s presence in the life and history of his people.  God had been with the people then and by offering to make the tents on that mountain maybe Peter was expressing an insight, however awkwardly, that his mind was struggling to grasp – God was with them in that very moment.

The gospel writer Luke seems to be having a little bit of a dig at Peter but it is a dig that we should see in the context of the fact that in this amazing moment amidst the confusion and terror the voice of God comes as encouragement and affirmation.  God says, “This is my Son, the beloved! Listen to Him!”  Peter’s now knowing what to say and his terror before God are not to be seen as something to be ridiculed but as a response of faith.

From the outset of today’s service I have invited you to think about why people come to church and even why you are personally here today.  For me, one of the answers lies in Peter’s response of wanting to build the tents.  It is here we learn the habits of our faith: how to pray; how to speak about God; how to listen to the scriptures; how to eat the bread and drink the wine; and so on. We learn the habits of our faith and we do so hoping that when the moments of revelation come we can respond.  When God shows up we like Peter will have something to say.

But more than that we come in faith that when we gather those moments of divine revelation can visit us as well.  Gathered here we are on the mountaintop and God is present.  Or like Moses, we are beside the burning bush.  I say this because I have a fundamental belief that when two or three gather in Christ’s name he is present through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We come and we share each week in pitching the tents.  Remembering God and we remember too that it is not just us that pitches tents.  At the beginning of one of the other gospels the one written by God we are told that in Jesus God pitched his tent among us. 

In Jesus, God lived and died and rose again in order that we might know God and God’s love and forgiveness more closely.

None of us responds perfectly to God or to the revelations that we might experience in our lives.  None of us comprehends God accurately.  As a congregation we probably have more questions than answers but we come here each week and we reminded that even Jesus closest followers struggled to know what to say when God was right there in front of them. So, it is OK for us to come and to listen and to respond as best we can as we offer to erect the tents of our faith as we imagine the possibilities of God revealed to those who have gone before us and those who are yet to come.

Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”

It is good to be here and let us pray that we might encounter that terrifying and reassuring presence of God in this moment.