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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. 

Cleansing the Temple

Scripture: John 2:13-22 (N.B. Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25- also on Year B Lent 3)

Aim: To preach the message John intended by putting this passage at the start of his gospel.

1. This Scripture Poses Questions (e.g. Is it ever acceptable to use violence?)

Why is this passage here?   Matthew, Luke and Mark put this event in Passion week, which makes sense – this act forces the Jewish Authorities to move against Jesus (v18 ‘what is your authority?’).  

What point is John making?  (The meaning at the time.)  

  • John is telling us that Jesus ministry was heading towards the cross from the very beginning; Jesus was going to do away with the Temple system of animal sacrifice (‘Around the World in 80 Faiths’). 
  • But John is also making a bigger point about Sin: vv15-17, Jesus cleanses the Temple – God will not tolerate it’s pollution; vv19-22, Jesus substitutes His body for the Temple; and is the implication that we imitate Jesus, that our bodies are like his, made for ministry and service not for sin?  

2. The reality of Sin.

Some see Sin as something that religion has invented to justify itself.

  • If there is no such thing as sin then how do we explain bad things in the world?
  • Maybe it’s because a few bad people do bad things.
  • Danger – we label others and become smug: ‘them and us’.
  • Limitation of this idea – how do we explain rich versus poor in the world? 

Conclusion – small prejudices and failures in each of us produce evil in the world when multiplied up billions of times.  

3. The Lesson for Us Today.

Mistake one – pretend that there is no sin because it’s not a popular idea.  (N.B. OT passage for today is the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17) – the OT hasn’t gone away!) 

Mistake two – become a believer, church or religion that says “no” all the time:

  • This gives religion a bad name not how Jesus worked; in the previous passage, vv1-11, Jesus turns 120 gallons of water into wine for a party!
  • We need to fill our Temple – our lives and bodies – with good things, with godly things.  A living, personal relationship with Christ, good deeds and service, cheerful thoughts and words.  Most of all the Holy Spirit: “… Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For [what non believers call] the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and [what non believers call] the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1Cor1:24b-25)  

The Story, the True Story

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38 and 2 Samuel 7:1-11, and v16 (N.B. Luke 1:46b-55; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; and Romans 16:25-27- also on Year B Advent 4)

Scripture: David & Mary’s Relationship with God

  • David’s intentions appear good, but God’s reaction suggests the King has got it wrong.
    • David has underestimated God, despite knowing Him better than anyone else.
    • David is tempted meet God’s ‘needs’, to make Him grateful, to be His equal.
    • (Illustration of the White, Western Pastor being given a gift by Black Africans.)
    • God is having none of this and tells David so through Nathan the prophet. 
  • Mary makes no such mistake.
    • Although she questions the Angel, Gabriel’s reaction shows her motives are pure.
    • Mary is poor, young & vulnerable (chattel of men); she’s nobody and she knows it.
    • She is inspired and in her praise of God she recalls that God humbles the powerful and raises up the weak (her).
    • Today, some are tempted to say that Mary didn’t say this and Luke made it up.
    • This is patronising.  Why shouldn’t Mary: recall her scripture; and be inspired? 

Today: What Stories do we Believe?

  • I’ve recalled a story from the Bible and derived a moral for today, but is it valid to do so? 
  • I heard on the news about a survey suggesting majority of people doubt the nativity story.
  • Let me tell you a fairy tale … (Credit Crunch story) … surely you don’t believe that?
  • We have sound historical reasons for believing Jesus’ existence, inc Nativity:
    • Luke himself provides many historical details that have been confirmed.
    • Two non-Christian (and hostile) contemporary historians wrote concerning Jesus. 

Our job as Christians this Christmas 

  • To accept God as God, like Mary did.
  • To respond in praise, recalling and understanding the stories of old, as Mary did.
  • To know that our faith is not blind, but based on historical fact.
  • God is real, Jesus is real, David and Mary were real people; Christmas is real.

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting … or ‘Here We Go Again!’

Scripture: Mark 1:1-8 (N.B. Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; and 2 Peter 3:8-15a- also on Year B Advent 2)

It’s Advent – Christmas is coming: again! 

Liz does the preparations – cards, presents, annual message to the Nation, food shopping, visit whose parents at Christmas and New Year? Parties at work, concerts at school, visiting friends and relatives, Having people round, extra chairs, decorations out of the loft, etc. … then collapse in a heap.  Oh yes, and by the way it’s the Birth of Jesus!

Going Over the Same Ground Again and Again!

Christmas, and all that goes with it, comes around repeatedly, doesn’t it?  It’s like road works on the Motorway or painting the Forth Road Bridge[1]!  And I must confess I sometimes feel that my faith is like that.  I am frustrated by my personal prayers, which seem repetitive and lacking inspiration.  I’m not finding time to do my daily devotions and I haven’t read the Bible daily, simply for the pleasure of letting the Word flow through me, for a long time.  This comes out in my character – I find myself being increasingly judgemental, increasingly frustrated with others and critical of them.  In short I feel that I am setting a poor example and witness – I’m letting God down.  There are times when even Christmas seems an empty celebration.  I get to then end of another year (where did that go?)  I never help Liz like I always say I’m going to, and I feel like I stumble through Advent and into Christmas itself being distracted by material things and without being spiritually prepared and expectant.  I’m not ready to celebrate and really relish this gift that God has given us. 

Waiting for Christmas, Waiting for Christ’s Return

But then I Remember doing a project on Astronauts going to Mars, which is a 3-year trip.  All the science said that people need events, a drumbeat, a rhythm to life to function properly.  Well, we are on a 70-year trip, aren’t we?  And the world’s journey is much longer.  Today we think of both Christ’s First and Second comings.  The Jews had to wait hundreds of years for the Messiah, and we’ve had to wait 2000 already for Christ’s return.  We humans could be stuck on this planet, in this history, in this universe for a long time.  Maybe the annual cycle that we go through is training.  Maybe, while the days and years pass we should use this cycle, ride it like a wave, to make the most of every moment (“if you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty-seconds’ worth of distance run”) and also to focus on the eternal, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Maybe that’s what I need to do for life, not just for Christmas! 

The Personal Rule of the King

We heard the kids talk about the return of the King on tour and preparations.  Everything gets painted when the Queen visits, but Gordon Brown doesn’t have to come round to get the roads fixed (but he does have to get the interest rates down).  However, Kingship is personal!  Ancient and medieval  peoples understood that, whereas we do not – we are indoctrinated to accept democracy and rationality and order; things that are from ancient Greek culture, things that the Romans used to build an Empire; these things were rediscovered and celebrated in the renaissance and through to today.  These are fine things for sure (consider their opposites), but they are not from God. 

We need that refreshment, that renewal, we need to celebrate Jesus’ Birth, a baby, something fresh and innocent and new and wonderful (although babies are demanding too!)  We need, not human invention, however fine, but God’s truth – personal, unexpected, unusual, and refreshing.


[1] But not any more – they have a new coating that doesn’t need replacing so often!

The Son of Man is Now Christ the King

Scripture: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Matthew 25:31-46 (N.B. Psalm 100; Psalm 95:1-7a; and Ephesians 1:15-23 – also on Year A Ordinary 34/Proper 29)

Introduction.

The ‘Credit Crunch’ worrying everyone, but terrible things happening to poor people in the Congo put our worries in perspective.

It’s a good time to think about helping the poor: but then it always is!

Why does Jesus call Himself the “Son of Man”?

In OT Ezekiel uses the term ‘son of man’ 93 times – only twice elsewhere.

It’s use reminds Ezekiel of his human weakness, compared to former power. (Israel)

Jesus uses this term for himself – was he identifying with the weak, exile Ezekiel?

Jesus identifies himself with the poor and the weak.

How does Jesus separate the sheep and the goats?

He does this on the cross – repentant and unrepentant sinners on different sides. 

Judgement is our problem and we need to solve it – the consequences are dire and many will suffer them.

Often in our desire to show people a loving human, Jesus we forget to show the King – the judge with authority to make demands on all people. 

Perhaps we are afraid to show him thus, because we have a cynical view of authority?

So what is important: faith or deeds?

Our society worships money not God – is this why Jesus emphasises the use of money in the Kingdom of God so much?

Motive: too many churches are living to please people, not God, by doing good deeds.

If we try to do good works without God then we will burn ourselves out, or become something other than a church.

If we do good to the exclusion of proclaiming the ‘Good News’, that people can be saved from the coming judgement, then we will decrease – so will our good works. 

Conclusion

Now that Jesus has physically returned to God from his exile on earth, we are His body, powered by the Holy Spirit.

Our purpose for helping the poor is to show people God and save them (the poor physically and spiritually, and the on-looking wealthy from judgement).

Leadership in the Kingdom of God, 2.0

Scripture: Judges 4:1-7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (N.B. Psalm 123; Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8, [9-11], 12; and Matthew 25:14-30 – also on Year A Proper 28/Ordinary 33)

Introduction

Topical to think about who can lead in the Kingdom, (I don’t do topical, I do Biblical, but it’s the scripture for today).

Judges 4:1-7: 

  • Deborah is the only Judge who is also a prophet.
    • N.B.  there are other female prophets: 3 in the OT; and 5 in the NT.  
  • She sends for Barak, son of Abinoam, (not Obama – Michelle).  This completes a cycle:
    • The Lord has commanded him to attack the Hebrew’s enemies.
    • The Lord is responding to His people’s cries as they are oppressed.
    • The people are oppressed because God has given them up into their enemy’s hands.
    • God has given them up because they have sinned.
  • (v8 onwards, Barak won’t go unless she comes too – so she leads the army into the field of battle as well.)  

Thessalonians:

  • Probably Paul’s earliest letter, Sent in haste to deal with specific issues.
  • Here he was trying to reassure Christians who had lost loved ones, wondering what would happen to them – at the time he expected Jesus to return soon (this view changed later).
  • He urges the church to remain alert and on good behaviour, because we expect the imminent, yet unpredictable, return of Jesus. 
  • He first uses the military armour analogy for correct Christian character. 
  • Paul is often accused of bias against women, but perhaps we have a clue as to why here:
    • Is he thinking of a military-style organisation, inspired by the all-conquering Roman Army, which will carry out the Great Commandment?
    • As Christ will return soon and unexpectedly (in effect this is still true for each one of us), there is no time to spare on anything but the Mission.    

Leadership in the Kingdom

  • ‘Leadership’ is dynamic, it’s about going from A to B, not staying as we are (c.f. ‘Management’ is about maintaining “business as usual”).
  • From scripture we learn that Deborah exercises three kinds of leadership:
    • Judgement, to settle disputes by discerning right from wrong in a situation;
    • Prophecy, to discern what God wants for the future, perhaps by seeing events in the context of God’s will and plans.
    • Taking decisive action based on the results of judgement and prophecy.   
  • Paul does the same.  He looks at the church’s situation, considers the spiritual context and urges a particular course of action – to resist pressure from the pagan world to conform in this case.
  • What is the purpose of leadership?  Deborah & Paul restore the people’s relationship with God.
    • Not just through preaching or Theology: charities restore the bad done by society.
  • We are all leaders now, as we have been given the Holy Spirit and the Bible: we can all judge the situation; discern God’s will in scripture; and take action.  Some of us will lead others.
  • The other topical issue is whether practising homosexuals should be leaders in the Kingdom of God – I leave it to you to decide whether they can, based on what we have seen today.  

Remembrance for the Future

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 and Matthew 25:1-13 (N.B. Joshua 24:1-3a; Psalm 78:1-7; Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Amos 5:18-24; Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20; and Psalm 70 – also on Year A Ordrinary 32/Proper 27)

Scripture

Thessalonians: 

  • Probably Paul’s earliest letter, Sent in haste to deal with a specific issue.
  • Paul is eager to help and reassure, rather than to teach complex theology.
  • Particular issue of the rapture: 
    • Different views on the rapture and the end times; complex and competing theories on where this fits it – probably irrelevant!  
    • Paul was trying to reassure Christians who had lost loved ones, wondering what would happen to them – at the time he expected Jesus to return soon (this view changed later).

Matthew:

  • Very probably written after Thessalonians; Matthew had to address the issue of individual Christians, even apostles dying before Jesus return.
  • Hence he recalls this parable as part of long treatment (Chap 24-25) of end times.  
  • Matthew urges us to use the time while we wait wisely – will we be found wanting when Jesus returns?  

Remembrance

  • First Error is don’t Remember: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana)
    • Be ungrateful: Atheist “did you sacrifice any goats as well?”
    • Ungrateful Christians? – need to thank our country for our religious freedom.
  • Second error is do nothing but Remember – dwell on past times and glory in them:

Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight

and I’m going to drink till I get my fill

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it

but I probably will

Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture

a little of the glory of, well time slips away

and leaves you with nothing mister but

boring stories of glory days”                                                  (Springsteen)

  • I don’t like the phrase ‘our glorious dead’ on the Cenotaph or war memorials:
    • Do we mean: War is glorious? God is on our side? They are in glory with God? We glorify the sacrifice of people? We glorify them for their sacrifice?
    • What about the wounded, especially the very many wo/men who have no visible wounds, living daily with their present and past?  Not so glorious?

For the Future

  • We remember to guide our future actions – to have hope, be informed and not ignorant.
  • As God’s people, Christians must remember better than others for good reasons:
    • To pass on the truth to future generations, to choose the real God, not false ones.
    • To reinforce our faith – the bedrock of our salvation and post-salvation Christian life.
    • To be thankful to God and sensitive to others – the proper Christian character. 
    • To have the correct perspective on our lives, on history, on why we try to live as we do.

God’s Judgement on Those Who Forget His Commandment

Scripture: Ezekiel 21

We’ve just heard from Ezekiel in about 590BC, prophesying that Babylon would destroy Judah and Jerusalem – all that was left of the 12 tribes of Israel.  It’s easy to think of such apocalyptic OT writings as a bit literary and not literal, but before Ezekiel was a refugee and prophet, he was a real person with a real job (someone important).  The events he describes were real, in v14 “Let the sword strike twice, even three times.” And Judah was struck three times, in 602, 597 and 586BC. 

However, the real impact of this passage to the hearer would have been the idea that Babylon was God’s sword of judgement.  This would be a devastating blow to the Jewish listeners, who considered themselves God’s people – how could God use unbelievers to punish His own people?   

We’ve been through with the kids how wealthy we are in this country and what we do with our wealth.  And there’s nothing wrong with having good things, even Jeremiah, the gloomiest of prophets, says God plans to prosper and not to harm us (Jer 29:11). 

We are wealthy and powerful, because of many things (e.g. education, industrialisation, welfare) that came from Christians wanting to enable others to read the Bible and to know Christ.  But as a society are we loving our neighbours as ourselves?  Giving to Charity?  £3.60 per week out of £533 (two-thirds of one percent)! 

What might be the sword of God’s judgement today: global Islamic terrorism? the global economy and credit crunch? global warming and climate change?   It’s fashionable today to laugh at preachers who preach doom and destruction.  When the Revd Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s minister criticised American policy on a number of things he was turned on by the establishment.  I was in the USA at the time and the vitriol being hurled at him was astonishing – but a lot of the things he said I could not factually disagree with.  He concluded a sermon thus: “We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure that Third World people live in grinding poverty … We are selfish, self-centered egotists who are arrogant and ignorant and betray our church and do not try to make the kingdom that Jesus talked about a reality. And — and — and in light of  [this]  God has got to be sick of this …”  The US might be wealthier than us, but not 5-time’s wealthier.     

In a moment we’re going to hear what ideas the kids have come up with to spend less and share more.  Let’s not consider what they have to say in a spirit of fear, but in a spirit of desiring to please God – like Jesus. 

Christian Leadership

Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12 and 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 (N.B. Joshua 3:7-17; Pslam 107:1-7, 33-37; Micah 3:5-12; and Pslam 43 – also on this day)

Jesus words on Leadership

  • Jesus acknowledges that the Pharisees have authority but says not to follow their example.
  • He lambasts them for 4 crimes.
    • First, they failed to practice what they preached. One thing said, another done. 
    • Second, they placed heavy burdens of religious law upon people, but then did not support them in the keeping of such law in everyday life. 
    • Third, they made their religiosity a public performance, being concerned most of all that people recognise their superior holiness and do them honour for it. 
    • Finally, the rabbis apparently insisted on being addressed by honorific titles.
  • Jesus demands a leadership of servility and humility.
  • He doesn’t do away with the pecking order, but turns it up side down.
  • The aim is to please God, not look good in front of other people.

Paul’s Example

  • Paul is writing to the Thessalonians here to defend his ministry from attack (vv1-8). 
    • His stay was brief and he had to leave suddenly – some where suspicious of him.
    • He does this by reminding them of his conduct and obvious motives.
  • He reminds them that their troubles are the same as those of other churches (vv14-16).
  • In vv9-13 Paul sets out his example:
    • He and his companions worked hard not to be a burden to the new believers.
    • They preached the “Gospel of God” to them. 
    • The Apostles were “holy, righteous and blameless”.
    • They encouraged, comforted and urged the believers to be worthy.
    • He focuses on God’s kingdom and glory – work, witness and worship for all.
    • The believers accepted the Gospel as the word of God, not of the Apostles.

Every Christian is a Leader – If we Understand What Leadership is and is Not

  • (NOT) Leadership seems to be in short supply sometimes in our church.
    • We seem to be allergic to leadership; our Minister’s don’t seem to be trained to lead.
    • Nationally we hear very little from church leaders – or is it just not reported?
  • I recently heard an ex-Bishop describe himself as an agnostic; it became clear that:
    • He couldn’t accept God because he couldn’t prove God – he lacked faith.
    • He had no personal relationship with God, no baptism of the Spirit.
    • Without faith/Spirit he couldn’t understand even the basics of scripture. 
    • No doubt he was very clever intellectually and had lots of qualifications!
  • True Christian Leadership is much more basic, as everyone can:
    • Try to live a life pleasing to God – with integrity.
    • Enjoy a personal relationship with God through Jesus, and the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.
    • Tell others the good news of salvation through faith, and about their own journey.
  • Jesus accepted the Pharisees’ authority, because “they sit in Moses’ seat”:
    • They had access to scripture and passed it on to others – as we can today.
    • Through scripture they could discern God’s will – as we can through the Spirit.
  • Paul’s perspective is eternal – we will be judged in the end times, which seem far away, but:
    • We need to be patient – God’s love is closer than we think.  
    • God’s judgement is closer than we think and will come sooner than some think.

If we have a relationship with God through Jesus, the authority of Scripture and the motivation of love for others then we are true Christian leaders.

Abundant Encouragement

Scripture: Romans 8:26-39 (N.B. Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128; 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119:129-136; and Matthew 12:31-33, 44-52- also on this day, Proper 12 Year A)

Introduction

God knew that we would face difficulties and weakness, the Christian life would not always be an easy one lived with strength.

Scripture

In Romans, Paul writes his most complete, thorough (and complex) explanation of the Gospel and what it means for non-Jews – people like us!

  • When we are weak and clueless the Spirit helps/guides us (vv26-27);
  • God works (v28) with three possible meanings:
    • for the good of those who love him;
    • [God ensures that] all things work together for good; or
    • Works together with those who love  Him [for] good.
  • God knew us, made us like Jesus to be His siblings, He called, justified and glorified us (v29);
  • Again, God the Father (vv31-33), God the Son (vv34-35) work generously for us;
  • Verse 22 from Psalm 44, after God’s people suffered defeat in battle (no prisoners), yet we are more than victorious in suffering (vv36-37);  and
  • Absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God (vv38-39).   

Meaning at the Time

When Paul was powerful, he did terrible things to God’s people, but when he was called, he accepted weakness, suffering and hardship to further God’s kingdom.  In doing so he joined the other Apostles, who knew Jesus face-to-face, better than anyone else and who have the best seats reserved for them in Heaven! 

Meaning Today

And are we not better people when we are weak and cannot wield power over others (Power corrupts…)? Are we not of better character through suffering, however unwanted it was at the time?  Whatever we have suffered in our lives, we are secure in God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In our security, let us abandon the climb to power and accept our weakness.  Embrace our security as God’s children, Jesus’s siblings and houses of the Holy Spirit.  We can afford to be merciful and generous to our enemies, because we have seats reserved in heaven.

Murder, Murder, Murder

Scripture: Exodus 20:13 and Mark 10:17-31(N.B. Job 23:1-9,16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; and Hebrews 4:12-16- also on Year B Proper 23)

Hello everyone, I’m Simon and I’m one of the elders at City like North Adelaide. it’s my privilege to be preaching to you this morning and bring you a message about one of the ten words.

Introduction

Today we’re talking about murder, which should need no further explanation.  Murder is wrong, and that’s all there is to it. This command is only 4 words: “you shall not murder” (NIV); some of the other commands – on idols or the Sabbath – merit several verses of explanation, but not this one: “you shall not murder”. 

Theology

When I was wondering what to say about “you shall not murder”, I remembered an article in an online magazine, called The Gospel Coalition, by an African-American theologian called Carl Ellis.

In the article he said that biblical righteousness is like a window with our panes of glass.  “Righteousness has four dimensions:

1.      Piety. Doing what is right according to God in a narrow sense that involves devotion and ceremony: “Live . . . in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:2).

2.      Justice. Doing what is right toward your fellow[s] … ultimately to do right to people is to do right before God. For example, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

3.      Personal. Living rightly before God as an individual: “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated to God and pleasing to him” (Rom. 12:1).

4.      Social. Living rightly before God as a corporate community, namely, as the body of Christ: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

… This can be illustrated by the Window of Righteousness. Think of this four-paned window as a picture of how the gospel plays out in individual lives and society.” [Illustration.]

Ellis asks why some American evangelical churches seem to focus on personal impiety only, “When a person sins and suffers his or her own consequences”. Why don’t they address:

  • Oppression. When a person sins and forces others to suffer the consequences, or when he or she imposes their sin on someone else”; and
  • Institutional [unrighteousness]. Sin that is woven into the structure and social fabric of society. It’s sin that doesn’t need the intention or the consciousness of the sinner to have effects on its victims”.

Application

There is an example of this that I have to address, even though it is painful and controversial.

Recently, the ‘black lives matter’ campaign was sadly reinvigorated by the horrific slaughter of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Protests happened also in Australia, and many protesters focused on the deaths of Aboriginal people in custody: 432 since the 1990’s.  However, if we look at the bigger picture, we find that many more non-indigenous people died in custody.  We also find that the median average age at death for aboriginal people is the same, whether they die in custody or not.  

However, we also know that indigenous people are much poorer than other Aussies.  We know “… almost half of Aboriginal men and over a third of women die before they turn 45. At all ages, Aboriginal life expectancy is lower than for non-Aboriginal Australians[1].  Aboriginal people die about eight years younger than other Australians. 

Friends, it does not have to be this way.  In New Zealand, indigenous people live about the same length of time as other Kiwis.  In the USA, people of the First Nations live slightly longer than other Americans.  We are all very rich countries, so what is Australia doing so wrong?        

So, why am I going on about the statistics about the deaths of Aboriginal versus other Australians in a Christian message? 

  • First, Jesus tells that he is “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  Again and again in all four gospels Jesus says “I tell you the truth…”; even though he is the Son of God he appeals to his listeners to believe him because he is truthful. 
  • Second, James the brother of Jesus, reminds us that “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (Jas 1:20). 

When a pressure group uses a fact in isolation on social media, they are deliberately trying to create outrage, they’re trying to arouse our emotions so that they can manipulate is into supporting them. However, looking for someone to blame is not going to fix anything.  We might feel good wallowing in our outrage, but it’s self-indulgence.  It costs us nothing; we don’t have to make any sacrifice if we just blame others.    

Exegesis: Mark 10:17-31

Let’s see how Jesus dealt with this subject.  I’m using Mark 10: 17-31, which was used by Jacko to introduce this whole series. 

In the beginning of a story Jesus is approached by a rich young man and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus starts to answer by quoting the commandments, first of all ‘do not murder’.  The young man says he’s kept all of these. In V21 we’re told that Jesus looked at him and loved him, but then he does something extraordinary “one thing you lack”, Jesus says, “go sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me.”

Why does Jesus say this confronting thing?  Elsewhere Jesus does this to shock the religious out of their comfortable complacency.  In this case I think that Jesus is saying ‘you have so much that your personal piety is not enough, God requires more from you’.  Jesus concludes in V23 “how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God”. 

The disciples were shocked.  If you think that wealth and successful are a sign of God’s blessing, then how can anybody be saved?  But Jesus says no, with man this is impossible but all things are possible with God.  Again, Jesus says that we need God’s Grace, and we cannot be saved by our personal success or piety.

Peter complains that he and the others left everything to follow Jesus, so how can it be the even they won’t be saved?!  Jesus reassures his disciples that those who have made sacrifices to follow him will receive a reward much greater than anything they could have enjoyed on Earth.

Then Jesus goes on to say many who are first will be last and the last, first. What does this mean?  Jesus is referring to hierarchies.  We observe this pecking order in chickens, and other animals, but humans do it too.  In the animal kingdom it stops endless competition and fighting between the chickens, which wastes energy and reduces their chances of survival.  Once every chicken knows where it belongs in the hierarchy, it no longer has to fight for a position – life goes on for each chicken and for the whole flock. 

Jesus does not say that he’s going to do away with this hierarchy, but he does say that he will turn it upside down and those who are on top will find themselves coming last, and those who are poor and powerless and downtrodden will come first. 

Now brethren, the real reason that too many Aboriginal people are dying in custody is that too many are in custody in the first place.  I don’t mean that domestic violence and threats to kill should go unpunished, but I suspect that being poor and downtrodden makes such acts more likely.  

I don’t see many rich criminals in prison.  Several large corporations in Australia have made hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue for years, but have paid no tax whatsoever.  Are the company directors, lawyers and accountants who do this in prison, alongside are Aboriginal brothers and sisters?  No, they are not.  Rich, successful thieves don’t go to prison.

Conclusion

Our society may think itself righteous because we are rich and successful, because we a respectable and appear to obey the law.  We have great power and fabulous technology; we live a long time.  We are outwardly religious and we inherited a western system that has conquered the world.

But I have no confidence in the flesh, in this outward show (Phil 3:1-14).  I have no confidence in strength to deliver piety or justice, whether personal or social.  

I have no confidence in our human pecking order to deliver justice for the poor, but I do believe that Jesus will deliver justice for everyone.  I also believe that copying Jesus will advance the kingdom.  We might have to speak truths that others don’t want to hear.  We might have to sacrifice our riches to love others with charity.  We might have to lower ourselves in the pecking order to raise others up. 

Friends, the good news is that we are not going to get what we deserve, because Jesus will save us from our false outward piety, our riches and our failed justice.  Everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord will be included, even though our righteousness is patchy, at best. Come, Lord Jesus and use us to bring righteousness to our world.  Amen.


[1] Source: Aboriginal life expectancy – Creative Spirits, retrieved from https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/health/aboriginal-life-expectancy

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