Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday 4 August 2013 Ordinary 18

Possible theme(s): Trust in God not in wealth // Be what you are

Sentence: Truly, no ransom avails for one's life, there is no price one can give to God for it. (Psalm 49:7)


God of all the earth
You have given us the heritage
of this good and fertile land;
grant that we may so respect and use it
that others may thank us
for what we leave to them. Amen [Pent 24:2: NZPB p. 636]

Readings ("related"):

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Within wisdom literature in the Bible (Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Job) two perspectives on daily life stand in tension. Work hard, play fair, save for a rainy day, reap the rewards of sensible living is a perspective in Proverbs whereas in Ecclesiastes, represented in today's verses, life sucks. Working hard is hard work and tiring, playing fair is all very well but the end of the game is pain and death, saving for a rainy day could mean one's children get to enjoy spending it, and, as for the rewards of sensible living, what about all the nights lying awake wondering if one can get through the next day?

Our calling as preachers is not necessarily to resolve each tension in Scripture. Ecclesiastes is gloomy in outlook but that might speak to the pessimists in the congregation. The point of Ecclesiastes (and thus a challenge to pessimists) is not revealed in these verses (one needs to jump ahead to the last chapters). Ultimately gloominess is not the prevailing word but seriousness is. The wise person is serious about the importance of living well because God judges all our deeds (12:14).

The serious lesson in today's readings is that material gain may be in vain and thus the ultimate goal of life should not be defined by material success. That lesson ties in with the gospel reading.

Psalm 49:1-12

This psalm is strongly "wisdom" in its contents. Less a song than a sermon ("Hear this, all you peoples ..." v. 1, see also v.4). Its message ties in beautifully with the gospel: tis foolish to trust in wealth since death denies its advantage to us (vss. 5-9). There is also a tie to the gloominess of Ecclesiastes: death comes to both the wise and to the foolish (v. 10).

Colossians 3:1-11

This passage is "thick", rich in content. It begins with strong encouragement about focus or priority for Christian life (and thus ties in well with the other readings for today): "seek the things which are above" (v. 1, repeated v. 2). But, typical of Paul, a call to action is undergirded by theological reasons for the action. Christians are those who have "died" (to self, to sin, through identification with Christ on the cross, v.3) and been "raised with Christ" (to new life, to holy living, through identification with Christ in his resurrection, v.1). So we are to "seek the things that are above" (i.e. in keeping with being a "raised with Christ" person, v.1), doing so in the understanding that our "life is hidden with Christ in God" (v. 3). To be a Christian is, in a Pauline phrase, to be "in Christ." We are participants in the very life of Christ himself, through mystical union in the Spirit of God: thus Paul calls us to live outwardly what is now the inward status of our lives.

Thus the instructions through verses 5-9 make sense in this way: put to death the things that steer you away from the focus to which you are called. Verse 10 is the positive construction of new life in Christ: this new life is the life in which Christ remakes us to be what we are meant to be, people made in the image of God our creator (see Genesis 1:26-28) - it is elaborated further in verse 12 and following. The point here is not, "here are the rule of a morally upright life, obey them," rather it is, "You are called to live as Christ himself lives, thus these things can no longer be the way you live."

The final verse in today's passage reminds the Colossians that "in Christ" there are no divisions of people in the usual way (see also Galatians 3:28) and thus no excuses for how we are to live. Perhaps, particularly, Paul is urging that no one can claim an excuse for living badly on the basis of ignorance due to cultural background.

Luke 12:13-21

Any rich person should be uncomfortable reading Luke's Gospel! Whether we read Luke as aggressively attacking the rich or mildly challenging reliance on possessions, many passages in this gospel unashamedly talk about money, wealth and materiality with the edge that being rich is not a blessing.

Here Jesus takes an innocent request re a family inheritance and turns it into a warning to take care about greed and a statement about life itself. The abundance of possessions is not life. Kiwis keen on having a house to live in, a house at the beach, a boat to enjoy the sea and a large 4WD to take the boat to the beach, take note!

Then Jesus tells a memorable and pointed parable which speaks to all generations and all cultures about greed. A man, wise in the ways of the world, both accrues wealth and enlarges his storage of it, only to discover he has foolishly forgotten God who visits him in death and at a stroke takes the wealth away, leaving him standing before God in judgement with nothing.

If we read the parable itself as about the mega-rich and thus not about ourselves we should pay particular attention to 12:21: we each in our own way, even with the little we can set aside each pay day, "store up treasures" and thus should ask ourselves on what ways we are "rich towards God."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday 28 July 2013 Ordinary 17

(1) Social Services Sunday: This may help

(2) Ordinary Readings - Possible Theme: Prayer or The God to Whom We Pray is Kind or Stick with Christ

Sentence: How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13).


Father, we hallow your name
For you are worthy of our praise;
Your kindness and mercy give us confidence to pray
“Your kingdom come”;
So we ask and keep on asking that you will provide
Everything we need for life in your kingdom
In the power of the Holy Spirit
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Readings “Related”

Genesis 18:20-32

Don’t get stuck on “Sodom and Gomorrah” as a theme for this reading. It “relates” to the gospel reading because the latter is about prayer and in Genesis 18:20-32, Abraham is an intercessor. Lot his nephew lives in Sodom and Abraham is concerned that the three visiting men will destroy Sodom and Lot with it. So Abraham addresses the Lord (seemingly, putting 18:16, 22, 33 and 19:1 together, one of the three) and done so in a, being blunt, manipulative manner. He asks the Lord if he will really sweep away the city if fifty righteous people are found within it. The Lord says that he will not, rather he will forgive the city. But Abraham’s “fifty” is a bargaining ploy. He beats the Lord down to ten (though no reader will be fooled as to whether the Lord is being manipulated or not). Ten (presumably) is the size of Lot’s household. In the end, Genesis 19 tells us that only four actually survived the devastation of Sodom, and then Lot’s wife disobeyed instructions and paid for that with her life.

What then does the passage say to us about prayer? Surely we are not meant to learn from it that prayer might be a manipulative tool in our hands to get God to do what we want!

No, what we learn from the passage is that God is open to requests which draw from him his characteristic work, which is showing mercy. The downward count, from fifty to ten, does not show us how to manipulate God but how kind God is: on the smallest pretext God will be merciful.

There is something else to mention. Abraham’s concern is that the righteous in Sodom might be destroyed as the wicked are punished. He appeals to God’s character in order to avert unfair disaster for those righteous: “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” (18:25).

That is a good question to bring to a number of issues. Nothing to do with the other readings today, but the key to understanding hell lies in this question. You may need to think about why for a few moments.

Psalm 138

What kind of God do we serve, in daily life and in liturgy? What do we have to give thanks for? This psalm answers these questions: a God of steadfast love and faithfulness who has ‘exalted [his] name and [his] word above everything’ (v. 2); a God who answers the prayer of the psalmist and increases the strength of his soul (v. 3); a God whose glory is great and words impressive (v. 4-5); a God who looks for the “lowly” and cares little for the “haughty” (v. 6); when the psalmist walks in the midst of trouble, God preserves him from the wrath of his enemies and delivers him from trouble (v. 7); and, finally, “the Lord will fulfil his purpose for me” and the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever (v. 8).

We serve and worship a great and wonderful God!

Colossians 2:6-15

Why has Paul written Colossians? If all were well and going to remain well with the church in Colossae, it is scarcely conceivable that he would have made the effort. In fact, Paul is concerned that either something is wrong or about to go wrong for this church.

His most urgent concern is that the Colossians would move from Christ as the centre of their faith and life. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him,” (2:6). They have started well. They must not now stumble. What they especially need to avoid is being captured by some other claim to truth which is actually an “empty deceit” (2:8).

So Paul warns them and then pretty much goes over similar ground (2:8-15) as in chapter 1 (especially verses 15-23 – indeed 1:23 is a precursor to 2:6-7). Paul must have been very concerned for the Colossians.

What Paul is saying, in summary terms, is that Christ is all the Colossians need, Christ is supreme and in need of no supplementary or complementary figure, and on the cross Christ has achieved all things necessary for forgiveness from the past and making people alive for a new future.

Luke 11:1-13

There is a lot here and there is no need to comment on many matters which will be well-known to the preacher and congregation. A challenge with this passage is to expound what it says with freshness. But one way to do that could be to draw people to the importance of prayer about any and every situation in life: that is a fresh truth for most of us because … we forget to pray, we avoid praying, we allow busyness to clutter up our days and distract out nights.

The passage is suggestive of several sermons. Just preach one of them!

One sermon could be on the Lord’s Prayer. Luke offers a shorter and slightly simpler form of the Matthean version. It appeals to God as Father to bring his kingdom into being, a kingdom in which its citizens have food to eat, forgiveness of sins (and who forgive sins) and protection from trial.

Another sermon could be on perseverance and persistence in prayer.

A third possible sermon could be on the Father to whom we pray. The last verse of the passage challenges and inspires us to believe that the Father to whom we pray is kind and generous, like a good human father only much more so.

There is then a Postscript: for whatever reason some situations require persistence in prayer, it is not because God is mean and tight-fisted.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sunday 21 July 2013 Ordinary 16

Possible theme(s): Only One Thing Needed or Christ Alone


You O Lord are my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in you and I am helped; therefore my heart dances for joy, and in my song I will praise you. (Psalm 28:8)


Let us not serve you grudgingly like slaves,
But with the gladness of children
Who delight in You
And rejoice in your work
Empowered by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Readings ("Related")

Genesis 18:1-10a

Abraham and Sarah offer hospitality to three strangers. The providing of hospitality is the common theme with the gospel reading today. Abraham directs Sarah what to do. (By the standards of the day and the location) a sumptuous meal is provided. Abraham is mostly exhibiting a cultural norm of being hospitable. But we can see an element of grace: Abraham welcomes three men with no particular claim on him through family or other ties. Without obligation to do so, the men indicate that Sarah will (finally) become pregnant with the child promised of God. In entertaining strangers, Abraham and Sarah have welcomed angels, even (stretching a theological bow from the Old Testament to Trinitarian orthodoxy) God in Three Persons. Google Rublev's Icon!

Psalm 15

The perfectly formed Christian character finds its description in this psalm! Note that this character includes both personal piety and integrity, social relationships, and community dealings.

That this psalm is a psalm (a song for worship) is justified by the opening verse: the perfectly formed Christian character is not a list of moral attributes but a description of the person who may live in the close presence and intimacy of God.

Colossians 1:15-28 [content to be added later today, Tuesday 16 July]

Paul is "all Christ" in this passage as he sets out his understanding of the significance of Jesus of Nazareth. There are various ways in which we could break his praise (doxology) of Jesus Christ into categories. One way is Christ the creator (vss. 15-17), Christ the head of the church (vss. 18-22), Christ in the life of the believer (vss. 23-28). Another way is to think of vss. 15-22 as a creed, this is what Christians believe about Jesus Christ, and vss. 23-28 as code of discipleship, this is how Christians live out the gospel. A third division could be to think about what is said here about the gospel: Jesus as the centre of the gospel message Paul proclaims, the content of the gospel (especially vss. 20-22), and the aim of the gospel (especially vss. 27-38).

Nevertheless the passage flows from one verse to another, each of which has 'deep content' about important matters in the life and belief of Christian people. Whole sermons could be preached on verses such as 15, 16, 17, 18, and, well each individual verse!

Luke 10:38-42

Mary and Martha are enigmatic characters in the gospel, appearing only here as a pair of sisters and, in association with their brother Lazarus, in John's Gospel. Luke almost certainly tells us this story to illustrate aspects of discipleship.

As a follow up to the parable of the Good Samaritan, the story is an illustration of loving God and loving your neighbour, the story of Mary and Martha illustrates love of God (through Mary's devotion to Jesus as her Lord) and love of neighbour (Martha's practical service). In respect of discipleship alone, the story illustrates the priority of the disciple: to sit at the feet of the master teacher, learning as much as possible, even prioritizing this over the ordinary work of life. Typically of Luke, this story underlines that female disciples are important in the kingdom of God (see also Luke 8:1-3).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Good Enemy Sunday 14 July Ordinary 15

Possible theme: The good Muslim


Collect: Pent 23:1 or 23:2

Almighty God
you teach us in your word
that love is the fulfilling of the law:
grant that we may love you with all our heart
and our neighbours as ourselves;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings ("related' rather than "continuous")

Deuteronomy 30:9-14 (I suggest 30:8-14 would be better)

Behind the zeal of the questioner of Jesus in Luke 10:25-37 is a desire to obey the Lord because, according to Deuteronomy, the Lord will make the obedient Jew 'abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings' (30:9).

Psalm 25:1-10

The psalmist is keen to follow in the Lord's way. He tells the Lord he puts his trust in him and asks for support - to not be put to shame, not to have his enemies exult over him. That is the negative, what the psalmist does not want to happen. What he wants to happen is that he is made to 'know your ways, O Lord' (v. 4) and is led by the Lord 'in your truth' (v. 5).

Why this enthusiasm? The psalmist does not appeal to the blessings of prosperity promised in Deuteronomy, though what he seeks is a blessed way of life:

'All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees' (v. 10).

Colossians 1:1-14

Colossians is a great letter. It is philosophy and piety bound in a proclamation of the gospel and bathed in prayer. Today we start a series of four readings from the letter. Paul sets out the gospel and its concrete application in the life of the believer. Note the 'therefores': 2:6, 16. Paul is saying this is the gospel (you are set free, transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, etc) therefore act accordingly (do not let people enslave you or condemn you or be taken captive by another philosophy).

Here in these first fourteen verses of the letter, Paul begins in his own classic style. There is a greeting with theological depth (vss. 1-2: address to 'saints and faithful brothers and sisters'; 'grace', 'peace', 'God our Father.') There is expression of prayerful love for the Colossian readers (vss. 3-14) - as well as love of praying for them. Paul never wastes words and these verses both flatter the Colossians and remind them of theological truths (e.g. 'we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints' (flattery) 'because of the hope laid up for you in heaven' (theological underpinning of Colossian virtue), v. 4-5).

Yet Paul's entreaty has no complacency or sense of achievement or completion of spiritual perfection. He prays that his readers 'may be filled with the knowledge of God's will ... so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord ... May you be made strong ... may you be prepared to endure everything ...', vss. 9-11. The Colossians know Christ and follow him, but there is more to know and a stronger following in Christ's way to be continued.

With these words Paul sets out the structure of the letter. Here as he writes these opening words, and in the remainder of chapter one and into chapter two, he will teach them 'knowledge of God', that is, knowledge of the God they meet in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. Through chapter two and beyond Paul will spell out practical aspects of living lives 'worthy of the Lord.'

What then is the 'word of truth, the gospel that has come to' the Colossians (vss. 5-6)? Paul states it in a unique form in verse 13 (with a more familiar refrain in verse 14):

'[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.'

Here, in a nutshell, is the importance of the gospel (without it, humanity is in the grip of the power of darkness), the power of the gospel (our response to it becomes a release from the power of darkness and entry into the kingdom of Christ) and the content of the gospel (God loves us, out of that love rescues us from slavery to sin, guilt from sin (see v. 14), and receives us into his kingdom).

Luke 10:25-37

One way to get to grips with the depth of the challenge Jesus offers to his questioner is to substitute 'Samaritan' with another word, one which gets to the heart of present day challenges about loving those who are different to us, who threaten us by their existence, whose identity identifies them as our enemy.

Depending on what people group we identify with, there is likely a people group whose existence challenges us, as Samaritans once did for Jews. What impact does the parable of the Good Samaritan have if we are Palestinian readers and the parable is the parable of the Good Israeli, or if we are a GLBT community and the parable is the parable of the Good Homophobic Bigot, or if we are part of the Western world and the parable is the parable of the Good Muslim or the parable of the Good Illegal Immigrant. In each case we could imagine also the converse.

The point of the parable is striking when we press into it. To a question about who our 'neighbour' is, in respect of the second great commandment, Jesus answers with a story about an enemy! The questioner is perhaps wondering if 'neighbour' means everyone in the street, or just the person who lives next door. Jesus blasts any such small-mindedness out of the, well, neighbourhood. Our neighbour can mean our enemy. If so, then our neighbour is anyone. And everyone.

So no one can be left behind, no one passed by on the other side of the road. If we are serious about inheriting eternal life (see also Colossians above about inheriting the kingdom of God's beloved Sin), then this story of a lawyer intent on so inheriting and the response of Jesus pointedly enlarging the scope of what must be done in order to be fit for that kingdom, should cut deeply into us. Cutting away, for instance, our prejudices about certain people. Cutting away our rationalizations about why we should not show mercy to certain people. Cutting down our limited vision of community action and opening up a new vision for love in the world.