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Resources For Preachers and Leaders

Welcome to all you preachers, Bible-study leaders or anyone looking for some resources.  If you need to give a message, homily or sermon then I hope you will find these posts helpful.

I have been a preacher for over twenty years, and I am steadily adding messages from my back catalogue to this site.  I have led worship and preached in Uniting Reformed, Methodist, Baptist and Anglican churches.  I have also been privileged to worship with Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Seventh-Day Adventists and members of the Greek Orthodox Church.  Therefore, I am confident that you will find Bible-based words here, without sectarian bias.

Finding what you are Looking For

There are three ways to find your way around these resources:

  1. By Title – every sermon has a title, which outlines its theme;
  2. By Tags/Categories – these describe the book(s) of the Bible that the sermon is based upon; and
  3. By Liturgical date – this captures wherein the three-year cycle the sermon belongs.

Hopefully, these three methods should allow you to find what you are looking for!

Revised Common Lectionary

These sermons are organised using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).  This is a three-year calendar of Bible readings used by many churches.  Each year the RCL cycles through the Christian year – seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter & after Pentecost.  Some churches label Sundays between Trinity Sunday and Advent as ‘Ordinary’ or ‘Proper’ Sundays.

If you want to know how Bible books relate to the readings in the RCL, a helpful resource is the Reverse Lectionary.  This shows when Bible readings appear in the cycle.

Finding Sermons without the RCL

However, you don’t need to use the RCL at all, you can just find a sermon on any book of the Bible by using the post hashtags. 

God Is Prepared For Our Mess Ups

Scripture: Mark 1:9-15 and 1 Peter 3:18-22 (N.B. Genesis 9:8-17; and Psalm 25: 1-10 – Lent 1 Year B)

Introduction and Summary

John the Baptist, baptises Jesus; God and the Holy Spirit appear; Jesus then goes out into the wilderness to be tempted. John is imprisoned, Jesus begins his ministry and we hear his message: “the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”  Phew!

Meaning at the Time

It’s like the overture in an opera, a summary of the 15 chapters to come, and a manifesto for an election campaign, all rolled into one.  

  • Why was Jesus baptised?  Jesus publicly humbles Himself, and this is the trigger for God to endorse Jesus and the Spirit to anoint him Messiah. 
  • Jesus is also setting an example – showing the way for every follower.

Meaning at the Time

In this time of Lent, many people around the world will get to know God personally during this Lent, because, just as Jesus did, they will:

  • Hear the Gospel from others who became followers before them;
  • Be baptised, making their public commitment to God; and 
  • Receive the Holy Spirit.

Peter puts is like this: “While Noah was building his boat, for example, there was plenty of time for people to realise why and change their ways, but in the end a mere eight people were saved from the waters by getting into that lifeboat. Their experience was a bit of a preview of the way baptism saves you. It is not just a bath to clean up your appearance. Rather, you are pulled from the water to a new life so that you can stand before God with a clear conscience.” (1Peter 3: 20-22)

Application for Us, His People

But God has prepared even for when we go our way and not His, and getting lost in the wilderness. We can admit that we’ve taken a wrong turn and reconnect to Him at any time. We can have a special time with Him, not just in Lent, but during every feast, every Sunday and every day of our lives.

Thank God for Jesus!

Everything I Have Is In Christ

Scripture: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; and Matthew 21:33-46 (N.B. Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80: 7-15; and Philippians 3:4b-14 – Proper 22 Year A)

Context.  

Today’s scripture is:

  • The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20);
  • Praise for how God has made Himself gloriously known in nature, in the word and in history (Psalm 19); and
  • Jesus gives notice to the religious authorities in the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21).

Meaning at the Time.  

Such a great passage.  Paul says:

  • He has ‘no confidence in the flesh’. 
  • His great pedigree as a Jew, one of the people of God, just gets in the way. 
  • It is all just trash compared to knowing the Lord Jesus Christ.  
  • His righteousness comes from God Himself, not from human practices. 
  • He wants to follow Christ, copy Him, become his apprentice, graduating in death to eternal life – he doesn’t know how.  
  • He hasn’t made it yet, hasn’t grasped how it works. 
  • But he keeps going, reaching out towards Christ. 
  • He’s not looking back but forwards.  
  • He keeps going towards the finish line, to the medals, to the winner’s podium, and the applause.  

Meaning for Today.  

Everything that Paul had in Christ we have in Christ.  He is a hero of the faith, but that doesn’t matter: we have everything that he had. 

God’s law, his word, the inspirations of the Bible, of history and nature all speak to us and help us along, but they are not the goal. No human is worth following or able to stop us: we answer directly to God through Jesus now. 

Paul has reached the finish line, he died some 1,945 years ago and he has arrived at his goal.  We press on to the same goal, the same reward. 

And Now for Something Completely Different

Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16 (N.B. Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Jonah 3:10 – 4:11; Psalm 145: 1-8; and Philippians 1:21-30- Proper 20 Year A)

Introduction.  

We’ve heard ‘The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard’.  In Matthew’s Gospel it comes right after Jesus meeting the rich young man, and just before Jesus reminding his followers that he was going to die.  

General Meaning.  

This parable reminds Christians, then and now, that salvation is the reward for signing up to work for God, but working harder doesn’t get us any more salvation.  We’re saved or we’re not: we can’t earn it, and salvation comes from God’s generosity not our efforts.  

However, we do get the pleasure of working for a good and generous boss.  We get to see (and maybe taste) the fruits of our labours We work alongside our Christian sisters and brothers for a common cause, and we are encouraged by each other. 

Particular Meaning.  

Did you notice that God called the latest workers in first?  Jesus is telling us that He will call the latest converts first to give them their full reward.  Here is a picture of a God who is eager, perhaps delighted, to reward the lost sheep.  It is also a God who is still teaching the faithful, even as they queue up in heaven to stand before His awesome throne. 

I’ve been a Christian, I’ve had a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, for about three decades now.  Many of you will look upon me as a youngster in the faith, and so I am compared to you.  So, there will be souls who converted late in the life – even after death (1Peter 4:6) – in the queue ahead of us.  We will have time to learn more than we ever did from any preacher on earth. 

Application.  

Our witness and work isn’t done yet.

Every time we get a chance to:

  • Pray for someone; 
  • Show God’s grace by being kind, forgiving and generous; and
  • Tell others “the reason for the hope that you have … with gentleness and respect” [1Peter 3:15]. 

But remember, that this isn’t a chore, were going to let God pay us generously and just share that with our mates as we pick the grapes.

Christian Duty

Scripture: Romans 13:7-14 (N.B. Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119: 33-40; and Matthew 18:15-20- Proper 18 Year A)

Scripture


Romans 13:7-14 [NIV]

‘Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.’  

Christian Duty

Introduction

Romans is often thought of as a difficult book to understand, with lots of complex theology and doctrine. However, this is a wonderful, simple passage, summarizing all the commandments.

Verses 8-10. 

What guiding principle should control our lives in society?

“Love.”  Not a mushy emotion, but an endless debt of charity to others.  Not just to other Christians, but to all people, particularly those in need.  

We ‘love’ (care for) ourselves, constantly, faithfully to the end of our lives – we breathe in and out.

Verses 11-14. 

A motive for why we should live like this. What further motive does he present here?

C.f. Romans 12:1 ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.’

Application. 

What will wearing the ‘armour of light’ mean for us, both positively and negatively?  

We now live in the age of salvation.  People no longer need to get what they deserve – God’s grace through Jesus can save all.  Therefore, we should live as generously.  

No further actions need to take place to fulfil God’s plan for humankind.  None of us know when the last days will be – except that for some of us they will be soon. 

We have nothing to fear from living openly and plainly.  We do not need to play games with God or with each other.

We may not hide our faith, or stop doing our duty, even though it may bring us trouble from those who don’t want to hear about human shortcomings, or that we may live a righteous or holy life in God’s mercy. 

Conclusion.  

Sisters and Brothers, we are just going to be ourselves, living in God’s grace.  Some others may have a problem with that, but it’s not our problem.  We are at peace with God, we live, we love we are His people.    

There’s a Time and a Place

Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20 (N.B. Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; and Romans 12:1-8 – Proper 16 Year A)

Introduction.  

Private worship, evangelism or service? 

Scripture

(Matthew 16:13-20).  ‘Who do people say I am?’; they say a precursor of the Christ. ‘Who do you say I am?’; Peter says ‘You are the Christ’.

Meaning at the Time:  

  • Jesus tells Peter that no mortal could have known this – it was a revelation from God.  
  • Moreover, the public confession of this knowledge – at the right time – will become the basis of the world-wide church.
  • This will unlock the culture (kingdom) of heaven upon earth.  
  • Peter and the other disciples will teach this to the world and heaven will back them up.  

Then Jesus tells them not to tell anyone! I believe that this was because Jesus had work to do, and revealing his true identity would start an uprising.  However, Jesus had to fulfil God’s promises to His people. Then Jesus had to die on the cross to save all people, not just the Jews.

Meaning Today.  

Today, the world tells us to keep quiet about Jesus being the Christ.  It’s not convenient, it causes controversy, it gets in the way of business!  Preachers sometimes tell us the opposite.  We must evangelise all the time!  It’s our duty, etc, etc.  I don’t think that either extreme is helpful or Biblical. 

Conclusion.  

We have different things to do as disciples, in different times – we work, worship, witness.  If we do any one of them all the time, then it will get in the way of the others.  We are to preach and teach, but also to serve – perhaps this will give us the credibility, the integrity, we need for others to really listen to our message!

Let’s follow Jesus’s example, ask the Holy Spirit to help us listen, observe and for the good sense to know when to do or say what.  Amen. 

I Praise You Because I am Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Scripture: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (N.B. 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; and John 1:43-51 – Second Sunday After Epiphany Year B)

Sermon on Psalm 139

Song Psalms, this is my favourite.

Introduction to the Psalm.

With respect to an individual person:

  • Verses 1-6 describe the insight that God has;
  • Verses 7-12 describe the oversight that God has;
  • Verses 13-18 describe the divine foresight God has from conception to death;
  • Verses 19-24 describe the plaintiff’s devotion to God. 

Stanza 1: The God who knows it all (vv1-6) 

  • David admits that everything he does is under the LORD’s surveillance – sitting, standing, coming in, going out – everything!
  • Even David’s own thoughts are known intimately by Yahweh 
  • v5 is interesting ‘You hem me in’ – can mean ‘cornered or besieged’ or ‘guarded/circled for protection’ (sheep in a fold)
  • v6 suggest that David sees this being hemmed in as a positive thing – “such knowledge is too wonderful for me”

Stanza 2: The God who sees it all (vv7-12)

  • David reflects here on his inability to escape from God’s presence – “where can I go?” 
  • Not to the height, depths, east or west – nowhere to hide! 
  • v11 – interesting statement – does he sometime seek darkness in order to escape presence of God? A frustration that he cannot hide? 
  • Or is v11 a reflection of a King of Israel who has been fighting amongst the darkness of the surrounding nations where God is not worshipped and yet he is confident that even there he is safe in the hands of God? 
  • The clue again, v10, this is a positive thing that God sees all 
  • Yahweh is the God who can light out of darkness and who can call darkness, light! 
  • Nowhere is beyond God’s reach, comfort and care 
  • It’s an astonishing picture of God – seeing all, knowing all – even following and pursuing the Psalmist wherever he goes – east or west; height or depth 

Stanza 3: The God who creates all (vv13-18) 

  • The Psalmist turns to thoughts of God as Creator 
  • Even in the womb David is seen and known – ‘you created my inmost being…’ 
  • David knows that all his future is in the Lord’s hands 
  • David praises God for his unbelievable thoughts and knowledge of him (vv17-18) 
  • All of the detail of David – his height, his weight, his fear of the dark, childhood accidents, teenage traumas, weaknesses, strengths, relationships – every imaginable detail of every imaginable person 
  • I believe that more than 100 billion people have existed on earth – God knows every imaginable detail of everyone if them, of us!
  • God knows us better than we know ourselves 

Stanza 4: Be found amongst those who are for God (vv19-24) 

  • The psalm takes an unusual turn in v19 as David thinks about his enemies and his hatred of the wicked 
  • vv19-24
  • We’re reminded in this stanza that there are people who do rage against this God who knows, sees, and created everything.
  • We’re reminded that a choice needs to be made – are we for OR against the LORD? 
  • David expresses his choice in very stark terms as he aligns himself with the Lord who knows all, sees all, and made it all. 
  • As he goes on he prays that he wouldn’t be found amongst the enemies of God – vv23-24

There are a couple of things to say here.  

We can understand King David being accused of infidelity to God by one of his many enemies.  David stole another man’s wife, raped her and then murdered the husband when she became pregnant.  No doubt the scandalous tale was embroidered a bit by the gossip of jealous people, which was the social media of that time and still is today.  

Also, David gets treated as an individual because he was a major character in the story – a King, chosen by God – so his personal story is important and becomes an example for us all. 

But it’s Verse 14 that makes this my Favourite Psalm.

OK, this is it, this is why it’s my favourite: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.  Here is Rachel’s birth announcement, which carried Verse 14a.  Verses 13-16 describe God’s intimate knowledge of us from before birth, to our death.

Rachel was born 25 years ago, but Verse 14 have come to mean a lot more to me since then.  The kind of capture my journey from atheism to faith.  I believed in evolution and the Big Bang (the Theory, but I also like the series) and I was fascinated by the beauty and complexity of the universe.  Eventually, my growing awareness of just how complex, how beautiful and how unlikely the universe was, overcame my objections and my eyes were opened to the possibility of God.

In Verse 15 the Psalmist is right to observe that we are formed from the depths of the earth, because that’s where our substance came from.  Our mothers ate plants and animals (who ate plants), so all the stuff we are made of came out of the earth.  

However, the story of our creation is so much greater than that.  The elements that we are made of were not created in the Earth.  We are:

  • 10% hydrogen, all of which came from the moment of creation, some 13,7oo million years ago;
  • 18% carbon, most of which came from small stars dying;
  • 65% oxygen, all of which was made in the shockwave of a massive star exploding – a supernova;

Most of the rest (6%) is nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, then less than 1% is potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium.  These are all made by stars dying in different ways.  Interestingly what killed many of those stars was making Iron, which makes our blood red – we would suffocate without it.

Iodine and Molybdenum, which we need to live, did not come from dying stars.  When a star over 10 times larger than our sun dies, it explodes in a supernova and leaves behind a collapsed core, a neutron star.  

Now a neutron star is a very strange thing.  Every object, you and I, are made of atoms, and they are mostly made of empty space – we look and feel solid, but that’s electric fields, not solid matter.  But a neutron star has no gaps, it is solid matter.  It is so dense that it weighs more than our sun, but it would just about fit between here and Henley Beach.

Iodine and Molybdenum, were made not by one neutron star, but by two neutron stars colliding.  We really are fearfully and wonderfully made! 

The ‘So what’ Test.  

So why am I telling you all this, what’s it got to do with Jesus?

Well, John thought that it was so important that he started his Gospel by reminding us that Jesus was one with the creator at the moment of creation.

In our walk as Christians, we will encounter people who dismiss the possibility of God, and far more who just pay God no attention (except in emergencies).  I’ve heard people say that they only believe what they can see is real.  I wonder if they understand what ‘real’ really is? 

There are also those who believe, and sometimes try to tell us that science and religion are enemies.  I remember seeing a Christian on TV refusing to where a mask and screaming “I don’t believe your science, because I believe in my God”.  

Now, I don’t think that this sister had thought this through.  If we believe that there is only one creator, one God, then He made the laws of physics, the forces that bind our universe together and balance it.  Science only works because God made creation orderly and consistent.  

“The heavens declare the glory of God;

    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

    night after night they reveal knowledge.” [Psalm 19:1-2]

Some atheists have tried to claim that science is ‘on their side’, that ‘science proves that God doesn’t exist’.  This is false.  The scientific method consists of coming up with a hypothesis based on observations, then constructing an experiment to confirm or disprove that hypothesis.  As there is no experiment to determine whether God exists then science has nothing to say about the existence of God.  Nothing.

If someone says to you that science shows there is no God, then ask them which experiment proves that.  They won’t admit that they are wrong; they will waffle.  As an auditor, I have a little test when people claim something: “show me”.  I suppose the modern version is “let’s Google that”!  

Conclusion

Psalm 139 reminds us how complete God’s knowledge is about us, how intimate and detailed His view is of us.  David knew this, but even King David’s knowledge of God was partial, and obscured by his sin, but he knew enough to praise God.    

Now we know more:  

  • Jesus has become human and died for our sins on the cross, bridging the gap between us and God;  
  • God has sent the Holy Spirit to live in us;
  • And now God’s revelation in scripture is complete, and we can interpret it with the mind and example of Christ.

Some embrace science while rejecting God’s revelation, while others embrace God’s revelation while rejecting science.  We can enjoy both.  The saved Christian has nothing to fear in studying God’s creation – we may be puzzled, dumbfounded even, by its strangeness and complexity, but we praise God for His creation.

Now that we are saved by Jesus, we are children of God, sisters and brothers of Jesus.  There are no go-betweens any more, no Kings or Priests to intercede for us, but Jesus Himself.  Each one of us is a major character in the story.  We are co-workers with God, and what we think and do and say can advance His kingdom.  Now we can and do know God, even better than the King in the final verses of Psalm 139. 

Let us Pray:

Search me, God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Amen.

Who Do I Think I Am? Who Do We Think We Are?

Scripture: Luke 2:42-52 and Colossians 3:12-17 (N.B. 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; and Psalm 148- also on the First Sunday After Christmas Year C)

Aim.  To ask: “Who do I think I am? Who do we think we are?”

It’s the Christmas holidays, a ‘family time’ we are told.  

1. Things in the news recently:

  • Statistics show that children of single parents are more likely in trouble and drugs – why?
  • People who thought/pretended they were gay – why? 
  • Ipswich prostitute murders: the girls – why? The men – why?

2. The example of Jesus in Luke. 

(In Chap 2, Luke has Jesus in the womb, as an infant, a little child, a child (here) and a man.)  Jesus is 12 years old, so has not quite reached manhood at 13.  He is lost for a whole day in the large extended family or ‘company’, clearly people they knew and trusted.  

  • Then in v49 we come to the reason for the passage – Jesus has realised who he is!  (Some doubt this interpretation, but no other reason for this story: also v50.)  His question says ‘if you knew who I was, you would know where I would be, what I would be doing – you would trust me.’ 
  • In v51 we see that Jesus, knowing who he was in relation to God, was then obedient to his earthly parents.  As a result of this he grew “in wisdom and stature” and thus also grew “in favour with God and men.” (v52).  

3. The instructions to the Colossians.  

(In vv1-11, Paul has urged the Colossians to focus on heavenly things, rejecting earthly (immoral) things, and to recognise that Christ is equally in all who are saved, regardless of external appearances.) Then:

  • In v12, Paul urges them to be a virtuous company (c.f. the fruit of the Spirit).
  • In v13 he emphasises especially forgiveness, citing the example of God through Jesus.  (Beware pride: Just because we know God doesn’t mean that we’ll always get it right!)
  • In v14 he holds up love as the thing that encapsulates perfection and pulls them all together.
  • In v15 he promises peace, both individually and as members of a company, as the reward for the preceding love and obedience.
  • In v16 he encourages deep, living knowledge of scripture, in order to teach and correct each other in our fellowship.  We are also worship God thankfully.
  • In all these things, whatever we do or say, we are told to do it in the name – the power and Spirit of Jesus, our leader and master, giving thanks to God.

Thus the company of believers is be: virtuous; to forgive; to love; to be at peace; to know the Bible; to worship; to obey Jesus and draw strength from him; and to be thankful.  We might read these things as instructions for bringing up children, and to us as children in Christ.  This is the Kingdom of God.  

In conclusion.  

The evidence of our society today, the example of Jesus and the instructions of scripture all tell us that people who do not have a relationship with their heavenly father and maker, cannot fully relate to themselves or to others, and may lose their way altogether in society.  As a church we are here to help people relate to God, to themselves, to each other and to society.  BUT, relating to God and his Kingdom comes first.    May I wish every one of you and this fellowship every happiness and success in this mission in 2007.

Prepare the Way for the Lord

Scripture: (John the Baptist) “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” (Luke 3:4b). (N.B. Baruch 5:1-9; Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; and Luke 3:1-6 – also on the Second Sunday of Advent Year C).

Aim: To explore what does means for us, today?

1. Intro

Hark back to children’s address, it’s making a straight path into our hearts NOT about getting cleaned up before coming to God (77 Habits).

2. So what is this ‘straight path for the Lord’ then? 

Alice . . went on. “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” 

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. 

“I don’t much care where –” said Alice. 

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. 

“– so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation. 

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Seneca (Roman philosopher born at the same time as Christ) “If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favourable to him.”

To move in a straight line implies we have an idea of where we are and where we need to be.

Doing what is needed rather than what is easy (in both a practical as well as a moral sense).  Often find individuals and organisations (like churches) that have forgotten what they are trying to achieve, and who just settle down into a comfortable pattern of action.  

“Why are we doing this?”   “Because we’ve always done it!” 

“Between now and then you’ll have been working together with Jesus like a well oiled machine producing one good thing after another, all bearing the marks of justice and integrity which draw attention to the glory of God’s goodness.” Paraphrase of Philippians 1:vv10-11 

3. The crunch: “Am I open to God?”

My own example, of not being open to God for 8 years wrt preaching.

Holy versus Whole discussion.  Holy: “of high moral or spiritual excellence; belonging or devoted to God.”  Whole: “in uninjured, unbroken, undiminished or undivided state.”  Attractive to link them: in Old English the two words are related, and God wants us to be whole.  Three problems with this:

  • Need to recognise that we don’t have to be whole to come to God, we don’t have to ‘have it all together’.  Quite obviously some people will never be whole (e.g disabled, mentally or physically ill or emotionally damaged).  
  • We must accept that none of us will ever be spiritually whole in this life (and reject the pride that says so).  In Philippians, Paul says that God completes what he started us when we die (= Jesus comes again).
  • “The final (desired) product of all psychotherapeutic intervention is a fully individuated, integrated, whole person.” But John was calling for repentance – a change of heart.  The holiness that he is calling for is not about focusing on ‘me, me, me’ but upon God, God and God.  

Summary.

We rejoice that we don’t have to get cleaned up to come before God.  We can be Holy without being whole.  Final healing and completeness will come at the end of human history when all things are restored, but, for now, it’s enough for us to turn to 

Science, Theology and Faith

Scripture: Luke 23:33-43 and Colossians 1:11-20 (N.B. Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79; and Psalm 46 -also on Year C Proper 29/Reign of Christ)

Introduction

I spoke to the kids about the Northern Lights book by Phillip Pullman.  Pullman is an atheist and despises organised religion.  When I started reading his books, I was puzzled by his criticisms – here was a church of power and oppression that hasn’t existed for several hundred years.  (Rowan Williams says that Pullman is criticising dogmatism and oppression not the church, but he’s missing the point.)  Pullman portrays a pre-enlightenment church and sets out to show how evil it is.  He then attempts to use science to explain away the existence of God.  There are two problems with Pullman’s approach.  First, he doesn’t appear to realise that science is an organised religion (explain).   Second, he doesn’t realise that what he is doing is bad science.  Good science: observe; hypothesise; and test.  Bad science is pushing an agenda – being dogmatic! 

Good Theology vs Bad Theology

In just the same way there is good theology and bad theology.  In today’s Gospel reading, one sinner accepts Jesus and will join him in paradise; the other does not and will not.  Note, it doesn’t say where the other will go, but it’s not to paradise, because Jesus has separated the two – one on his left and the other on his right.  Now some would say that a God of love would never condemn anyone (I sympathise, but this is wishful thinking).  However, they are missing the point.  Jesus doesn’t reject the sinner, the sinner rejects Jesus!  No one asked Phillip Pullman to reject God and despise the church – he chose to do that all by himself.  Thus, if we avoid dogmatically prejudging this Bible passage we conclude that we must accept Jesus and put our trust in him to be saved.  (If I might make a scientific parallel, you’ve got to get in the plane in order to travel.  N.B.  Lord Kelvin said that “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible”!)

St Paul doesn’t refute people like Pullman with clever arguments.  He simply restates the simple truth.  God is the creator of the universe, and Christ was with God before creation.  Jesus is fully God and fully man – his sacrifice on the cross has made it possible for everyone to be brought back to God.  The resurrected Christ is therefore head of the church.  (So that’s what we should do.  ABC: admit your sin; believe in Jesus; and commit your life to Him.  Take it or leave it.  God isn’t going to compromise with humans to be popular.)

Conclusion

If we believe that God created the universe and is the author of reality, then we have nothing to fear from good science.  If God is the creator of the universe then good science will only teach us more about Him.  If we accept that God is the author of reality, then the Bible, which records the history of God’s relationship with us and our part of his creation, then good theology will tell us more about Him – and us.    If our faith were based on mere academic learning, even if it was good science or good theology, then we would be vulnerable to the academic arguments of atheists and heretics.  But our faith is based on relationships.  Our church is not an authoritarian institution, but a network of friendships.  And our faith is based on our personal relationship with God through Jesus the crucified and resurrected Christ.  We have nothing to fear from mere books, however cleverly written.

The Proper Use of Money

Scripture: Luke 16:1-13 (N.B. Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; and 1 Timothy 2:1-7- also on Year C Proper 20)

Aim: To discuss how Jesus commends Christians to use their money.

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager.  We could be confused by this story and the sayings afterwards, so a quick resume:

  • We don’t know that the manager was dishonest, only that an allegation was made.
  • However, given what he does when he knows he is under scrutiny, what was he like when he thought no one was looking?! (a moral – someone was looking)
  • When he cancelled part of the debt, he could have been a) waiving his own commission and/or b) cancelling any (hidden) interest payments.
  • If the latter, was his rich employer honest, when the law forbade the charging of interest?!
  • Verse 9 – so his master praised him for his shrewdness, and Jesus points out that we can learn from the shrewdness of others, even from the worldly. 
  • C.f. “We can learn, even from our enemies.”  Ovid (Roman poet who died when Jesus was about 20), but Ovid also said “The end justifies the means”, which Jesus is NOT saying! 

The Sayings of Jesus.  Luke includes some related sayings of Jesus that he may, or may not, have added at the time:

  • Verse 9.  Jesus encourages us to use wealth wisely, with an eye on our eternal destiny: be generous, honest, do not cheat, exploit or enslave others.  God will act as though we did it to Him!  (c.f. “do unto others”, “love you neighbour as yourself”)
  • Verse 10.  Jesus makes an observation.  He is interested in our behaviour in small things – even when we think we are not seen, he sees – as a sign of our character.
  • Verses 11-12.  Jesus draws a spiritual lesson from v10: material things may not be spiritual, but our attitude to them will be used to judge us – who says ‘money is none of God’s business’?! 
  • Verse 13.  Jesus concludes that we can’t serve both God and money – one will become master of the other.  This is the ‘bottom line’! (why do we say that, should money have the final say?)

What does this Mean for Us Today?

Easy to talk about money at the moment, because of Northern Rock, now we are reaping the whirlwind of dishonest lending, just as the Third World has for decades.

Meaning for individuals:

  • Meaning for non-Christians:
  • Salvation is free (grace) – we can’t buy God’s favour.
  • Salvation leads to a lifetime of discipleship, and this is costly.
  • Surrender of self: our time, talents and money.
  • Meaning for Christians:
  • Tithing – not an optional extra.
  • Use of time and talents for spiritual purposes.
  • Investing in the future – with an eternal perspective. 

Meaning for us all:

We’re encouraged to practice doing the right thing in the little things, so when it comes to the crunch we will, perhaps, do the right thing because it is our habit.  Whoever is being honest in the story, or not, Jesus doesn’t ask us to be stupid; he asks us to be generous, as our Father is generous in forgiving us.  

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