Monday, 27 October 2014

20th Sunday after Pentecost- Br. Andrew

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached at Winmalee
by Br Andrew on 26th October 2014
20th Sunday after Pentecost

Whose Son Is the Christ?

Psalm 110 Jewish Orthodox Bible

Gideon was very young to have become a Lawyer but had done very well at his studies and he had recently graduated at the top of his class from the College in the Portico of Solomon, even though only seventeen years of age; Gideon was most eager to make his name.

Well, he thought, making Jesus look a fool might work in his favour, though to date no one else had succeeded. He had hardly had the chance to think of a curly question when a dig propelled him forward and one of the Pharisees hissed “ask him which is the great commandment in the Law?’  That is not fair, thought Gideon, there is no way that Jesus will manage to answer correctly by quoting just a single commandment because all the commandments have equal weight, we are to walk in obedience to all the Lord our God has commanded us..

Gideon had witnessed the Pharisees, and their ilk question Jesus relentlessly regarding the Law, the Jews thought him to be a mere man, and the carpenter's son. The Pharisees thought that he rejected the fixed moral Laws of their time, a libertine, a loose, and licentious person, that had no regard to the law, and good works: hence those words of his, "think not that I am come to destroy the law", Yea, they thought him to be a Samaritan, and be possessed, and to cast out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils.
Nevertheless, I went ahead, most respectfully, addressing Jesus as “Teacher” and asked the question.

Jesus replied by summarising the first 4 commandments those concerning the relationship between ourselves and God, all in one sentence! Then he said that the second was like it and summarised the remaining 6 commandments relating to the way we treat each other in another sentence. As an Attorney of the Torah I just have to admit that Jesus knows his Scripture because the sum of the Law and the prophets do depend upon the keeping of those two great commandments.

We were still gathered there, wondering what would happen next when Jesus asked the Pharisees a question: he asked them what they thought about the Christ, the anointed one and whose son he was.

Everyone, well almost everyone knows that the Christ will be the son of David and so Samuel, he that had shoved me forward said just that, the Christ will be the son of David. Then when Jesus quotes the scripture further I realise he quotes from the fifth book of the Psalms, Psalm 110 to be exact a Messianic Psalm, where King David wrote in the Spirit:

44“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
(NB Galatinus (q) says the true Targum of Jonathan has it, "the Lord said to his Word;'')
“Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

There was no Lord greater than David then, so where is the son that David would call his Lord? There was Solomon he had called his Song of Songs, only the Christ is worthy to be named David’s Lord and to sit on the right hand on high.

Now I am ashamed because I begin to fear that I have asked the author of the Law to explain it as though he were a nothing, a sinner– which is just what both Sadducees and Pharisees believe – someone to get rid of before the current corrupt system comes undone.
Here are the first three verses of this psalm, the way I learnt it and perhaps you might understand it more easily – it goes

1 A Psalm of David. HaShem saith unto my lord(Adoni) 'Sit thou at My right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.'
2 The rod of Thy strength HaShem will send out of Zion: 'Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.

'As you can hear there is no mistake what so ever that God Hashem, the Name, is speaking to Adoni; David’s Lord (the Messiah) who is the son of David, the Christ.

Should Jesus imply that this Psalm applies to himself then perhaps I have seen the face of God and live!

Gideon leaves stunned

The debate was over. Jesus had won decisively (cf. 22:46). But, of course, this only hardened the opposition and brought the crisis to a head. The crucifixion was, in the minds of the religious leaders, to be their final response.

After that they durst not ask him anymore: - But the answer is given to us later in the New Testament by the apostle Paul. For Paul writes to the Romans that he has been called by God into the service of the Gospel to announce, the good news concerning God's Son, "who was descended from David according to the flesh and was acknowledged to be the Son of God in power . . . by his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:3-4). Jesus himself is the son of David who was at the same time David's lord.

Many attested to this throughout Jesus’ Ministry, the Canaanite woman, the two blind men blind Bartimaeus, and the crowds in the temple, when he overthrew the tables, who sang Hosanna to the Son of David.

I have counted Psalm 110:1, no less than 17 times in 12 different books of the New Testament, it is a Psalm that refers 1000 years into the future from David’s time and continues until the return of the Messiah, unknown years from now. In one sense it encapsulates the scriptures themselves, for there are so many references to it, it is used as a proof and an explanation or as part of a sermon in so many places, such as when Peter quoted Psalm 110:1 in his sermon on Pentecost:  “now that the Christ sits at the right hand of Power all other things will come to pass in God’s time.”
Some are overcome already by him, as sin, Satan, and the world; and the Jews, his enemies, who refused his Kingship, they have been destroyed: as yet all things are not beneath his feet, these will be; the antichrist, and the kings of the earth that are with him, they will be overcome by him; the beast and false prophet will be taken and cast into the lake of fire; where also the old serpent, the devil, after he has been bound and loosed, will be  also be hurled; and when the final enemy, death, shall be destroyed; until that time comes, Christ reigns and will reign, and afterwards too, even to all eternity…

I have passed around the Orthodox Jewish Bible’s version of Psalm 110 for us to think on, and to consider that in our hands is the ability to reduce the numbers of those who will suffer the wrath of the Messiah – merely by the witness of our living.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Sermon Extra - 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Loaded for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Year A - 19th October 2014

The Backside of God

Written: July 30, 2006

Centennial United Methodist Church

Linda Loessberg-Zahl

 A mother wanted to talk to her young son about his behavior in
kindergarten. One day she picked him up from school, put him in his booster
seat in the back seat and started for home. This would be the perfect time.
She often used the time in the car to talk with him. “Jeff, I want to have a
face-to-face talk with you about school.” They talked about the concerns his
teacher had about his behavior. After he agreed to stop chasing the girls at
recess, she said, “Do you have any questions?” He said, “Yeah… how come
whenever we have a face-to-face talk, all I ever see is your back?” Jeff
ended up with a different perspective than he expected. Have you been
there? Have you ever ended up with a different view than you expected?
 Have you ever wanted to see a particular play or concert, but you put
off getting tickets? You finally call Ticketmaster, (the box office, ticket
sales company) and you’re surprised and excited to hear that they still have
reasonably priced seats left. You think they are probably way in the back of
the audience. The salesperson says, “Actually these are pretty close to the
stage.” You figure they must have cut the price of the most expensive seats
at the last minute so they could fill the place. You get to the auditorium and 2
the usher takes your tickets and leads you from the back all the way down
toward the stage. You go up a few steps and there are your seats. You
realize that you are sitting to the side and almost behind the stage - with a
perfect view of the huge speakers. If you lean to the left and peek around
the speakers, when the performers come on the stage you have a great view
of their backs! Jilted! You wanted a front and center seat, so that you could
view the performers close-up, face-to-face, and take in the full meaning and
glory of the experience. Instead, like little Jeff, you end up with the
backside view.
 Moses was hoping for a face-to-face experience with God in the story
from Exodus that you heard today. Moses says to God, “I know you say
you’re with us, but could I see you in your glory?” “Couldn’t you just show
me your face?” I’d like to sit down for a tête-à-tête with God, a face-to-face
conversation about the meaning of life. How about you? Wouldn’t you like
to see God, face-to-face?
 In the tradition of the Old Testament, God tells Moses, “To see my
face would be too much for you, but if you’ll stand in that cave in the rock,
I’ll put my hand over you until the last minute, then take it away and let you
see my back.” 
 I wonder if Moses felt a bit jilted. He had a front row ticket, but
ended up seeing only the backside of God. That’s the best the rest of us ever
get as well.
 Now God promises Moses, “My presence will go with you.” This
conversation we overhear between Moses and God points to the great
mystery that surrounds God’s presence. That’s God’s promise to us too.
God’s presence goes with us as well. Often we also just catch a glimpse of
the backside of God, as God walks by. Sensing God’s presence is like
catching sight of someone passing by, out of the corner of our eye. Have
you experienced that? Have you experienced God’s mysterious presence in
your life?
 We don’t always recognize God’s presence for at least a couple of
reasons. First, we may be suffering from what they call inattention
blindness, and secondly, we may not recognize God from the back.
 Have you heard about what they are calling ‘inattention blindness’? It
has come up again in the whole debate about using cell phones while
driving. At first the experts thought using a cell phone with head phones or
a speakerphone would decrease the probability of having an accident while
talking on a cell phone, because it frees up your hands. But they found that
this wasn’t the case. Instead, it’s your attention that needs to be freed up to 
more safely drive a car. Scientists have found that our conscious minds only
perceive a fraction of the information that is coming into our senses.
 In an article from the Monitor on Psychology (Volume 32, No. 4 April
2001, “Sights Unseen”) Siri Carpenter writes “studies of visual perception
have demonstrated how startlingly little people see when we're not paying
attention.” Cognitive psychologist Brian Scholl, PhD, from Yale University
says, “This research is showing us something that we didn't think was the
case—that we can fail to perceive very major things going on right in front
of our eyes.” Several fascinating studies have been done that support this
startling fact.
 For example, Simons and Chabris showed people a film of two
basketball teams, one wearing black shirts and the other wearing white. The
researchers asked participants to count how many times a basketball was
passed between members of one team, ignoring the other team. Many people
in the study didn't notice a woman who walked through the scene carrying
an open umbrella, even though the woman was on the screen for several
seconds. The participants were so focused on their counting task that they
missed what was right in front of them.
 Sometimes we may have ‘inattention blindness’ when it comes to
God’s presence in our lives. We get so focused on whatever we are doing, 
that we fail to see the powerful presence of God in our lives. It’s not that
God is not present to us, it’s that we are not present to God. Did you catch
that? It’s not that God is not present to us, it’s that we are not present to
 Is there something in your life that is taking your focus away from
God’s presence with you? Look for God’s guiding presence with you, and
God can help you with whatever has your attention.
 Is there something distracting you from God’s purpose for you? Like
Moses, God has important work for you to do in your life. Pay attention to
God’s presence with you and you will find a renewed sense of purpose in
your living.
 Maybe you’re very intentional about looking for God’s presence in
your life, but you haven’t seen anything. Sometimes we miss God’s
presence because we don’t recognize God from the back. Did you know that
God looks like other people from the back? Sometimes God looks like
someone from our family or a close friend, who loves us and wants to help
us grow into the people we were intended to be.
 Sometimes God looks like people like Cathy Arends. Cathy is a
minister and nurse who works with pregnant women who are incarcerated at
the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. Wendi, an expectant 
mother in the pastoral care program, says: "Ms. Cathy was the only person
that saw any good in me. I knew from the first time we met at the prison that
she saw me as a child of God with potential. It didn’t matter to her what I
had done. She saw my future and was willing to stand by me. Without her
presence during my long labor I don’t know what I would have done. She
stayed with me throughout the night - she didn’t have to - she wanted to. I
saw the face of God in her. Now I know God loves me, and I’m never
coming back here." The mother of Shawanda, another young woman wrote
to Cathy: “Without your steadfast love for my daughter, I am afraid she
would have tried to kill herself. She told me she can feel God’s love every
time you come to the prison. You have done more positive things for her
than anyone in the past 7 years. I truly owe it to you that she made the parole
board.” Shawanda and Wendi caught a glimpse of God when Cathy Arends
walked by.
 Pastor James Fenhagen found that from the back, God looked a lot
like a group of Israeli and Palestinian parents who he says “came to this
country to bear witness to the possibility of peace in the Holy Land as seen
not by the political leaders, but by a number of grieving parents.” “The first
speaker was an Israeli business man from Tel-Aviv who just several weeks
before had lost his son in the conflict that is tearing the Holy Land apart. He 
was followed by a Palestinian woman who told of holding her daughter in
her lap as her child died of gun fire. ‘We are here tonight,’ she said, ‘to tell
you how we have been brought together by our grief. We have moved
beyond politics. We are together because we care for all our children.’” That
night, as he listened, James said, “I saw the face of God in the faces of those
men and women who had come together to share their lives with us” (From
The Gift Of Pentecost, Pentecost, 2002 - Washington National Cathedral,
The Rev. Canon James C. Fenhagen).
 The scripture (1 John 4) tells us that God is love and wherever there is
self-giving, healing love, we can be sure God is there. Have you seen
someone who looks a lot like God from the back, someone who seems to
bring God’s love when they come into the room? Is there someone you may
not even know personally, someone in the news, someone in the community,
who seems to shine with the love, the compassionate face of God?
 You probably heard in the news this week about Charles Moore, the
homeless man in Detroit who found $21,000 in bonds. He went to his
counselors at the neighborhood service organization for help in finding the
owners. He only received $100 reward money from the family. A lot of
attention in the community and news was focused on the stinginess of that
family, but my attention was glued to the generosity of the strangers who 
learned about it. Charles is a roofer by trade who lost his job and became
homeless. Did you hear that he has received over $4000 which he plans to
use to find a home, and the offer of a job? Those caring strangers inspired
me. I caught a glimpse of God walking by.
 More than anyone, Jesus puts a human face on God. Jesus Christ
gives us a portrait of God’s concern for justice, God’s tender compassion,
God’s healing power, God’s inclusive vision. God’s presence was so
powerful in him, when Jesus walked by people said, “I think we just saw
God.” So, first and last, look closely at the witness of the life of Jesus and
the presence of the risen Christ in your own life.
 Dare to discover God’s presence in your life. Be present to God’s
presence. Pay attention to the ordinary gifts of grace and love you are given,
while you’re taking care of other business. Notice those in your life and in
our world who inspire you, who have a resemblance to God from the back.
Look at the divine features in the face and life of Jesus. You’ll catch a
glimpse of the back of God, as God passes through your life. That’s more
powerful than anything you’ll see through Ticketmaster! Amen

All sermons appearing on the Centennial United Methodist Church

Monday, 13 October 2014

God's Vineyard


Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, 2014
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the
Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

The text for our sermon today is the First Reading 

Dear friends in Christ,

God had called Judah and Jerusalem to be His in a special way by promising that the Messiah would come into the world through them. Already in Genesis, God promised that the Saviour was to come from Judah (Genesis 49:10). Later, the temple in Jerusalem was a symbol of God’s presence with His people and a reminder of His promises.

Without His promise of the Saviour, God would not have called Israel from Egypt, given them a land of their own, and established a worship centre for His people in Jerusalem’s temple. The rich promise of God brings a response. When Isaiah considered the promises of God, he encouraged the people of his day to walk in the light of the Lord. To walk in the light is to know the light, to recognise it, and then to follow the path that it illuminates.
 The psalmist wrote,
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Sadly, in Isaiah’s time, God’s people rejected His promises. Instead, they adopted “superstitions from the East” rather than walking in the light of God’s Word. They had become like the Philistines and their pagan neighbours in consulting omens and soothsayers.
 Where God offered light, the house of Jacob had adopted darkness. Isaiah had called them “the house of Jacob,” reminding his Old Testament audience of all the promises of God to them. However, many of the people rejected all those promises, and so God grew weary and threatened them with punishment.

Nevertheless, after the threats of punishment, God also spoke words of comfort to the faithful. Yes, the judgments would come, but those faithful who remained among the unfaithful nation would find comfort in the beautiful promises of cleansing and protection. The alternating pattern of threat and comfort was nothing more than God’s proclamation of law and gospel. The law threatens the ungodly as well as the sinful flesh of every believer.

 The ungodly dismiss the threat and continue without heeding it. No matter how much God threatens the ungodly, they will not fear Him, while the godly hears the same threats and recognises the voice of God condemning the sinful flesh. The believer trembles at his sin and its consequences. He stands completely at the mercy of God, knowing that he deserves nothing but death and eternal damnation. He is sorrowful to the point of death. But God does not leave any believer in that condition. No, God is good, and He speaks words of forgiveness, love, and hope to those drowning in sin. God has been good to us - not only to us but also to Christians who have gone before us. Throughout history God has revealed Himself to be good and gracious. The question therefore comes to mind: if God has been and is so good to us, why do we have such a hard time being good to God? This is how the people in Isaiah’s time were. So Isaiah reveals a skilfully developed parable to make clear Israel’s failure to carry out the purposes for which God had chosen her. Isaiah can’t help but break forth in song.

1 Let me sing to the One whom I love a song of the One whom I love about His vineyard! The One whom I love had a vineyard on a fertile hilltop. 
2 He dug it over, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watch-tower in the middle of it, and also cut out a wine-vat in it.

If we look ahead into the New Testament, it is as if Jesus were using this parable as a text for His parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-46, our Gospel reading for today.
Isaiah sings of the Lord’s effort in creating a vineyard. The Lord did everything. He chose the ideal location, prepared the soil, planted the best vines, and built a watch-tower and a wine-vat. If any question remained about the effort of God, one only needs to think of the stones of Palestine. In that part of the world, clearing the land of stones required a great deal of toil and sweat for any gardener. Cutting out a wine-vat and building a watch-tower were also arduous tasks for any one preparing a vineyard. 

The song is a parable that emphasises the grace of God. God initiates; God acts; God works - no one else. When God acts, results follow. The vineyard sits atop a fertile hillside where it will get rain and sunshine.

 All is ready for an abundant harvest. Yet, in spite of the tender care given to the vines, which represent the children of Israel, it only produced bad grapes. God was good to them, but they were not good to God. They did not fulfil the purpose for which God called them. 

This lead God to ask: “Now, you people living in Jerusalem and you men of Judah, decide, please, between Me and My vineyard!  What more should have been done for My vineyard than I have already done in it? When I waited for it to produce grapes, why did it produce only bad grapes? God, the owner of the vineyard, tells what kind of fruit He had a right to expect from the people of Jerusalem. “What more should have been done?” God asks. His second question is, “Why?” 
Both questions were addressed to Jerusalem and Judah. But the people gave no answer because they knew that God was accusing them. They failed to produce the good fruits. In spite of all that God’s grace had done for them, they turned away from Him and pursued pleasure and evil. When God expected fruits of faith like love, gentleness, humility, faith, and reverence, the people yielded a crop of perversion, gluttony, arrogance, greed, and mockery.
Although God expended great effort in creating this vineyard, He would destroy it. This vineyard could not be helped by being pruned or cultivated. It is past saving. God will break down its wall, and it will be trampled down. The time for God’s judgment has arrived. The vineyard will become a wasteland where briars and thorn-bushes will grow up. The judgment will be so thorough that the Lord will command the clouds not to let any rain fall on it. One should not forget the implications of that comment. 

God controls all things, even the forces of nature, and He will use all things to accomplish His purposes.

This parable presents a short, poignant history lesson. God had created the people of Israel and Judah. God had chosen Abraham, had made Abraham’s descendants into a mighty nation when He led them out of Egypt under Moses, and had protected them as they conquered the land and established a monarchy under David and Solomon. But things had changed. God’s people had deserted their gracious Lord, and God would deal with those who had scorned His grace, patience, and goodness, and the people would be led away into captivity.

 Not much has changed between then and now. It is so tragic to see, even within our own church, more and more of God’s people deserting Him. Many whom God has called through Holy Baptism no longer heed the Word of God. They too are like vines producing bad grapes, and they will only have themselves to blame when the kingdom of God is taken away from (them) (Matt. 21:43).

 By the way, their producing of bad grapes is not the result of bad soil. In the vineyard Isaiah was speaking of, there was nothing wrong with the soil. In fact, the Hebrew for ‘fertile hilltop’ literally means “on a horn, a son of oil.” This phrase, used only here in the Old Testament, describes a geological  formation that is wonderfully fertile. It is into this good, fertile soil, Isaiah says, that Jesus places and plants choice vines. Not only did the vines represent the children of Israel, but they also represent you and me. We are the crown of His creation! We are somebody because God made us and because Jesus died and rose for us. Peter says that “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light,” (1 Peter 2:9).

The Lord expects us to produce good fruit. He expects us to be productive. That’s why Isaiah says He “also cut out a wine-vat in it.” A wine-vat was the place where the good grapes were pressed together to make wine. The wine-vat was the gathering place for the harvest. When the good fruit was produced, the harvest was gathered. The Lord wants us to be good to Him. He wants us to trust in Him in everything. He wants us to show forth the fruit of the Spirit in our everyday lives, that is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, (Gal. 5:22). But we cannot produce this good fruit if we, like those Israelites, stop feeding on God’s Word, and turn to the world. If we do that, then we can expect judgement. God says, “5 Now therefore, please let Me inform you what I shall do to My vineyard! I shall tear away its hedge and it will be destroyed. I shall break down its wall, and it will be trampled down. 6 I shall make it a wasteland. It will not be pruned or cultivated. Briars and thorn-bushes will grow up. I shall also command the clouds not to let any rain fall on it.” 

In other words, God says: “All you are yielding is bad fruit, and if bad fruit is all you have to give, then bad fruit is what you will get in return! I’m taking away my blessings and My protection!” What a horrible situation to find oneself in! What are we to do? If we have let the love of God grow cold in our hearts, if we have been producing bad grapes, then what now? 
The simple answer is to repent. Seek the Lord while He may be found (Is 55:6), and if you know of others who have wandered from the faith, remind them of the coming judgment, when everyone will stand before the Lord. Remind them that it is still not too late to repent. Use God’s Law to prune, and His Gospel to raise new shoots that go on to produce good fruit. Remind them of the promise God makes in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land!”

May we all in the words of the Apostle Paul, “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, (Phil.3:14), and pray that we continue to produce good fruit in His name. Amen. The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost-Br Simeon

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Holy Redeemer

An ECCA Parish

In the care of the Ecumenical Franciscan Order

Homily preached at Winmalee
 Br Simeon on  Sunday 12th October 2014


Everything is ready - come!

Lord we thank you for the gift of your Word and as we think on these things open our hearts and minds to hear your word to us. Amen.

My friends, I think, that of all the social and cultural events people can attend, a wedding is the happiest and most joyful. And it's an honour to be extended an invitation to such an important event. It's something to be taken very seriously; because the invitation is a way of expressing that you are important to the one who invited you, and that they desire you to be a part of the happiest day of their lives.

In biblical times, as today, an invitation to a wedding was something to be taken seriously. And the wedding feast in Jesus' parable was to be taken even more seriously by those who had been invited to it; because it was arranged for the son of a king. To be invited to such a feast was a very great honour indeed!

Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast is another illustration of Israel’s rejection of God’s promise. The invitation is therefore extended to everyone -- Gentiles, foreigners and those who do not know God -- to come to the Lord’s table.

Jesus tells a second parable within the parable of the wedding feast. The wedding garment is the conversion of heart and mind required for entry into the kingdom. The Christian who does not wear this mantle of repentance and good deeds will suffer the same fate as those who reject outright the invitation to the wedding. As the apostle Paul writes (Romans 13: 14), we must “put on” the garment of Christ.

God has invited each of us to his Son’s wedding feast – the fullness of God’s life in the resurrection. The only obstacle is our inability to hear his invitation amid the noisy activity that consumes our time and attention.
God invites all his children to his table – distinctions drawn according to economic class or influence, discrimination by race or origin, reservations due to mental or physical ability disappear at the banquet of the Father. In order to be able to take our own place at God’s table, we must first realise God’s vision for the human family at our own tables.

The parables of the king’s wedding feast and wedding garment confront us with the reality that we cannot be Christian without conversion; we cannot come to the feast of heaven while remaining indifferent to the empty plates before so many of the world's children; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we cannot love those we can see.

Our lives are pieces of fabric that we piece together to make a garment fitting to wear at God’s wedding banquet. They are made from the fabric of our kindnesses, our caring, our compassion; they are sewed together with the thread of gratitude, respect and humility.
Christ, in the parable of the king’s banquet, calls us to realise that every one of us has a place at God’s table — a table that extends from our own family table in this time and place to God’s great banquet table in the next.