What must WE do?

This is the text of the message I prepared for Lakes Entrance Uniting Church for Sunday 30th April 2017.

 Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23.

Good morning Church.

When I began my time amongst you on January 1st this year I told you in that first service that I’d not be telling you too much about myself from the front.  I said that my focus as a preacher was upon the gospel, and that if you wanted to get to know me then you were welcome to come to the manse and catch up.  Because of that you’re still finding out things about me, even after four months.  This morning I’m going to share another part of my story with you.

During the months between May 2003 and January 2009 I belonged to a Hillsong congregation, particularly the one which meets in central London.  The site of our worship moved about a bit, so I cannot tell you about a specific location, but Hillsong Church London was where I “did church” to use their terminology.  One of my great privileges as a participant in Hillsong Church London was the time I spent associated with the “New Christians Team”.  We were the sneaky ones who were sat strategically around the theatres where we met as church, and when everyone else had their eyes closed for the altar call we had our eyes open.  When someone in my “section” raised his or her hand for salvation I would see that hand, and then I would discreetly identify that person to one of my team members who would then approach that person during the final songs and speak with him or her about salvation as the service ended.  In 2004, there were something like 637 “hands” raised, some for first time salvation and others for a re-connection with God after a time “in the wilderness”.  In 2005, we saw the thousandth person that year raise her or his hand in late September.  We stopped counting after that: we had the delicious difficulty that converts were being made faster than we could count them.  So, we stopped counting them and instead focussed on loving them.

Two things from that experience stand out for me, and I hope you’re already seeing the link to our reading from Acts this morning.

  1. Whilst we never had 3000 people baptised in one day, God really was adding daily to our number those who were being saved.  One of our regular guest speakers was a church planter in India and his intention at the time of one of his visits to us was to plant 365 churches each year; statistically that would be one new church per day.  Let alone God daily adding people, this pastor wanted God daily adding new missional congregations to the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
  2. I remember that one service where no one raised a hand. I’m a bit used to this story now, but when I first began telling it in sermons in Australia I used to choke up at the memory.  Now to be clear, I’m not talking about no one in my section raising a hand, that often happened; what I’m saying is that after the hour and a half of song, praise, prayer, message, and all, there was not one hand raised across our theatre.  I remember the visible distress in our team room after the service: not one person had been saved anew!  We had been church and we had done church, and no one had found Christ anew.  No-one, not one!  We had failed God: to say we were devastated is an understatement, we were gutted and hurting.

Can you imagine why Hillsong Church is so successful at what it does?  I’m not here to praise them up, after all I am here and not there.  What they do with media, music and film, is another story, not a bad story, just not my focus this morning.  Can you imagine what it feels like to be in a congregation where the leaders go home crying, some wracked with sobs, because there was a service without a salvation?  I don’t need to imagine it, I was there, and it haunts me occasionally, and here’s why.  At that stage Hillsong Church London met in a small theatre, it had about 650 seats, and because of that there were three services on a Sunday.  There were salvations in the other two services that day, so it’s not like God went home empty-handed.  People were added to the Church that day.  So, imagine that.  Even though God was saving Londoners in the morning and in the evening, that not one person had asked for grace in the afternoon set off grief like I had never before seen in a bunch of Christian leaders anywhere.

In today’s set text from 1 Peter 1:18-19 the writer tells his readers, which includes us, that we were ransomed with the blood of Jesus; a ransom far more valuable than coin and bullion.  And in Acts 2:41 we are told that about 3000 were added to the congregation after they had been cut to the quick by the word of the gospel.

Do we really doubt that salvation is a precious thing?  More precious than anything the world can provide, more devastating when it is missed than any other human catastrophe.  Just think of it in these terms, to miss salvation is to have an “Act of God” which didn’t happen.  As nasty as storms and fires are we understand that they are awe-inspiring in their power: imagine how powerful a positive “Act of God” might be, and how awful to miss out.  Money cannot buy that, and if you miss that window in the skies how can you be sure that it will come again?  We as Christians have faith that there is always a way to God, but if you are not a Christian, and you miss your chance, how do you know there will be another chance?  Or, and this one does cut me to the heart, if we Christians miss our chance to open the skies to those who are not Christian, how will we know that they’ll get another chance?  We trust that God is gracious in seeking the lost to save them, but if this congregation did not extend a hand to welcome the lost how can we rely on the next congregation to do so?

And if we continue to miss our opportunities, if we continue to shirk our responsibilities, perhaps God will not send the lost to us anymore.  Maybe when God is shepherding a lost woman or man into the Kingdom of God God will send that one to one of the other denominations in town.  Now I’m not saying we are in competition with the other churches, not at all.  I am delighted that God is adding daily to the Church those who are being saved, even if they are being saved in Lakes Community Church, the Baptists, the Anglicans, and the Roman Catholics.  But if God is sending lost souls there because God feels God cannot send lost souls here…  I don’t even want to think about that being true.

So, what do we do?  Do we have an “altar call” each week for the next six weeks in the hope of having a mega baptism service on Pentecost Day?  Do you need to start bringing your unsaved friends to church more often so that I can preach salvation to them?  Do you actually trust me to do that, or is this congregation and its worship life embarrassing to you?  I’m not suggesting it is, and I’m not having a go at you at all: in fact, I have belonged to congregations where I would not have invited my unsaved friends along, so I know that such sentiments exist.  On the other hand, and this is new to me as pastoring a church is new to me, as your preacher and chaplain can I trust you to disciple and encourage those friends and neighbours of yours that I lead in salvific prayer?  I know that Hillsong lost converts when having “prayed the prayer” they were then not followed up or encouraged in their new faith by their Christian friends.

The gift we were given in Jesus Christ is beyond compare.  It is beyond value, (we’ve already said that), and it is beyond comprehension.  Salvation from sin, from its effects in our life (through the process of healing and discipline, not magic); security and salving from aloneness and hopelessness, and from feelings of worthlessness and uselessness; these are concepts that we could spend a lifetime of sermons and Bible studies unpacking and still not get to the end of.

I have always been a Christian.  If you want to argue the merits of that statement in view of original sin and the time between my birth and my accepting Christ’s lordship over my heart as a sentient adult, well I don’t care for your tone.  I was born into a family of disciples, raised in discipleship, and I’ve never departed from it.  I am not sinless, I am far from perfect, but I have always had God in the centre of my life.  And because of this, for the life of me, I cannot understand how anyone could possibly live without that.  I mean, how do unbelievers even continue in the world?  They exist because God created them human, but how do they actually live without the knowledge of God and this deep, core, fundamental, central, foundational, defining understanding that they were made in the image and likeness of God with the sole purpose of being loved by the God who made them?

This is why it is so important that we be ready when people from “outside the awareness of the love of God” come to us ready to respond.  Psalm 116 speaks of a man who was ensnared and in deep distress but God leant down so as to hear his cry for deliverance all the clearer, and God saved him.    He goes on in the later verses to say “now I will thank God with an offering and with public declaration of God’s magnificence and my gratitude.  I know that I am precious to God and that God is interested in me and takes care of me, God deals carefully with me.  I am nothing, yet I am precious to God, so I will praise and magnify God’s name.”

We must take care when people come to church.  We must be aware when something extraordinary is happening in someone’s life and any given Sunday is a special day for him or her because of what God has done.  Last week I prayed our confessions by using Bruce Prewer’s poem “During Last Week”.  But what if during last week something extraordinary happened and someone wanted to come and give exultant praise to God?  What if for us it’s ho-hum another Sunday, time to get the urn on and to ask who left the fans going, while a visitor (or more so, a local whose attendance we might take for granted) wants to be flat on her face before the Lord in exaltation or despair?

In the last two weeks, last week and Easter day, there were visitors here at 9:15.  Now I am not addressing these remarks only to those of you who are the early comers, those who arrive closer to 9:30 than 10:00 because you have jobs, we all need to hear this.  I am here earliest and I have my 9:00 jobs, so this is me too. We must never, ever, be too busy or too noisy in this house for those who need it to be a church.  Altar calls and discipleship classes aside this is what we can do right now, be church for those who are coming here on any given Sunday.

Here’s two quick stories to illustrate what I mean:

  1. I didn’t see this happen but I’ve been to the place where it did. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional place of the cross and the empty tomb, many different Christian denominations have their own zone.  Like us there are bowls for candles and intercessions: I have been there, I have seen the bowls, and I have lit a candle.  I have been a Christian on his first visit to Jerusalem.  I have knelt at the slab where tradition says Jesus was laid out between cross and grave.  I have knelt in the sepulchre itself, the empty tomb.  Well this story goes that another pilgrim such as I was, this one a woman of the Roman Catholic faith, joyfully placed her candles in one of the bowls of sand in celebration of her being in Jerusalem.  Can you imagine this woman’s joy?  Can you imagine this woman’s heartbroken terror when a bearded man screamed “No!” from across the space, and in a mass of cassocks and flame sent her candles flying?  She had placed Catholic candles in some very specifically other Orthodox bowl.  I mean, you’d think she’d shitted on the actual cross, with all the offence that my use of that word implies as well as the act.  Horrifying!  Not my use of the word “shit”, but the way in which this dear daughter of God was treated in her own Father’s house.
  2. I was almost there for this next story, I know the woman involved and I passed her in the foyer on the day in question. A young woman who had been inconsistent in her attendance at church for a few months was present one particular Sunday.  She was not backsliding at all, she was just struggling in life and her very new husband, who was not a Christian at the time, really only got to see her on Sundays so she’d stay in bed with him rather than go off to church by herself.  Anyway, the woman came to church this week, and feeling a little bit frail for a reason I’ll tell you in a minute, she sat in the very back row.  She sat there quietly, her head bowed, while the bustle of church went on around her.  The 8:30 traditional service (which I had preached at) was emptying out of the hall after coffee and the 10:00 family service crowd was arriving.  But there she sat, this young woman, quiet in the back row.  After church got underway, and the young woman had sung the first song and so forth, she was sitting, again silently and with her head bowed, when one of the regulars came in late.  Being late she sat at the back.  She sat next to the young woman.  And since the young woman had been infrequent in her attendance the older woman whispered to her: how are you?  How is your new husband?  How do you like married life in place of just living together life?  and your new house?  and being called Mrs?  And so on.  On she whispered, being friendly and interested.  On she whispered through the formal prayers.  On she whispered through the time for silent prayer.  On she whispered through the sermon.  The young woman, unbeknownst to anyone that day, unbeknownst to the older woman, unbeknownst to the minister or any of the elders, unbeknownst to me who passed her in the foyer as I left and she arrived at 9:45, that young woman had miscarried her first pregnancy earlier in the week.  She had come “to church”, practically “back to church”, to spend some daughter-time with her Father in Heaven and some crying time with her Comforter.  What she got was an hour of whispered interrogative interruption.

Let’s not do that.

Let’s never be that priest or that older woman.  Let’s all be aware of where we are and what this house means to everyone who comes.  Let’s take care of God’s house, not just in keeping the plastic-ware in its only possible correct drawer, the blinds at a certain angle, or the cars parked facing only east in the front and precisely one metre back from the gravel.   All of that is important, some of it is a legal imperative for OH&S, but if we truly believe this building to be the house of God then we must always be aware that God is at work here, and is welcome to be at work here, in God’s own house.  We can be fun, and we can be social.  You know I have a very evident sense of humour and most weeks I have elicited a chuckle or two from you.  That must not stop.  But we are first and foremost here, here in this place, here in the house of God, to worship and to respond to our glorious Father and magnificent saviour whom we adore so much.

So please Uniting Church, please Damien, please please please all of you and me, don’t get in the way of anyone else seeking God in adoration, desperation, or both.  If we are so care-giving, so careful in this better way, then maybe, just maybe, God will add to our number those who are being saved.

Amen.

 

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That Shy Hope (Easter 2A)

This is the text of the message I prepared for Lakes Entrance Uniting Church for Sunday 23rd April 2017.  This was the first Sunday after Easter.

Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Last week in course of my bringing you God’s word for Holy Friday I used a phrase which has garnered a great deal of feedback.  In speaking of what the day of our Lord’s death might mean for us I quoted C. Manning Clark and his description of the spirituality of Australians as “a shy hope in the heart”.  As Australians, we are not known to blow our trumpet in the world too much; unless it involves the Ashes or the Bledisloe Cup, but since neither of those trophies belong to us at present there’s little to say on the world stage.  Mostly we are a people who like to go unnoticed in the world; we don’t like tall poppies and we don’t like being told what to do.  Australia is not a shy nation, we never have been, but as a nation in the world we are far less brash than our nasal accents and the boisterous singing of our countrymen in European pubs might suggest.  We live in a lucky country, (a phrase which was originally an insult, as if such people of us don’t deserve what we have been given), and we like to think of ourselves as a nation of battlers, pioneers, diggers, and vanquishers only so far as we have made a go of it.  We are hard-fought survivors not empire builders; we are not flashy and we dislike those who are.  It is in view of this that Clark addressed the spirituality of Australia.  We are not a nation of flashy preachers, we are not Americans.  We are not a nation of lofty cathedrals and bells and smells, we are not Europeans.  Even as we have both of those things, Australia’s largest single congregation is Hillsong Church and we do of course have our cathedrals of the Roman, Anglican, and Orthodox varieties, for the most part the churchgoing of Aussies is local and hidden.  We are quietly confident that we are on the side of right: like Crocodile Dundee we believe in a Jesus who has fishermen mates and we reckon he’d like us because of that.  How much of this view of Australia is true, how much of it is stereotype, and how much of it was once true but is no longer so in an Australia which now resembles the culture northern hemisphere than it does the culture of the Northern Territory is not mine to say.  I’ll leave that to the sociologists, I’m a theologian and a narratologist.  But I think it’s an image worth looking at, and after the feedback I have had in this past week it seems like more than a few of you agree with me.

So, what is this shy hope in our hearts?  Is it permissible that Christianity be “a shy hope” at all?  After all isn’t Christianity all about witnessing and boldness?  Isn’t our call to extroversion, extravagance, and exaltation?  Aren’t Christians supposed to be the Strayan tourists in the world, loud, brash, bold, and publicly celebrating in season and out of season?

Maybe not.

I believe the story of the Christian scriptures is that the people of Jesus are to be confident but not showy.  The writer of Psalm 16, whom Peter quotes in his sermon on the day of Pentecost and names as David, has penned a song of trust and security in God.  Those who trust in the Lord in reliant assurance will live lives of delight, confidence and joy.  This is how we are to be: this confident reliance upon God is the Australia of the shy hope.

In John 20, following from last Sunday’s reading and speaking initially of the evening of Easter Day, Jesus appears to the ten, greets them with shalom and breathes the Holy Spirit onto them, imparting to the Church the power to forgive.  The purpose of the gospel is later summarised as being that those who hear it (without seeing) will believe that Jesus is Messiah, and that having heard and believed the message the life of trust in Christ brings an abundance of life.  In view of this Thomas, who meets Jesus a week after Easter, (which is to say today), does not deserve his title of “doubter”.  Thomas is no different to the others; recall that the men had not believed the testimony of Mary, indeed they had locked themselves away in terror until they saw Jesus personally (and somewhat miraculously) enter their locked room.  Jesus demonstrated grace in showing himself 1:1 to Thomas, as he had done on Easter day to the other ten.  In the same way that the revelation was given to eyewitnesses who then went and spoke of what they had seen to others who were never given the opportunity to see so now we have the gospel according to John to tell us that even though Jesus has ascended (which John does not record at all) all who hear can still believe in the written and spoken words of the evangelists.

Seven weeks after that first appearance of Jesus to the ten Peter stands up on the day of Pentecost, the Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the ten commandments at Sinai, and addresses the people he calls Israelites.  In Peter’s day, and indeed in our own day, the Israelites were native Jews who were not priests or Levites.  So, Peter is literally addressing the crowd, the common people when he tells them the story of Jesus and how his ministry amongst them had carried the evidence of God’s favour in deeds of power (dynameis).  God was obviously blessing and in favour of the work of Jesus, says Peter, but you Israelites, you mob of common man, you handed him over to Rome and Rome killed him.  Peter is pulling no punches here.  Perhaps he is bold in the Holy Spirit’s anointing, perhaps he’s an unschooled fisherman and doesn’t know how to be polite in public address so he’s calling a “manually operated, blunt-edged, single user excavating apparatus” a “bloody spade”.  It’s probably a bit of both, but at least he’s speaking plainly.  He goes on to say in his straightforward manner that the same power that worked through Jesus in his life, God’s power, the power which then raised him from death, (and thereby continued to attest to his identity), that same power now courses through Peter and the 120.  By that power, God’s direct empowering, the Jesus group proclaims Jesus as Messiah even as David in his day proclaimed the messiah as the message of the Lord God.  The power of God in Jesus the Christ, makes his disciples bold, confident, joyous in the face of continued life on earth.  We have seen Jesus raised, says Peter, therefore, we are confident (and no longer hiding in locked rooms afraid of what the Priests, Levites, and you Israelites might do to us).

This is supposed to be true of us today.  As an Australian (Strayan) Christian living in Gippsland in 2017 I live without the terror of Jewish authorities.  I live without terror of any authorities.  In part that is because of how Australia operates as a nation in my generation, but it is also because I am filled with the spirit of God and I am living a life of freedom and confidence because of “Christ who liveth in me”. As I said a few weeks ago about the Tanakh, the scriptures used by Jews, having the overarching message of the fulfilment of a promise for home so God has showed to Peter’s Israelite audience (who knew that tradition) an instance of this in God’s faithfulness to Jesus.  Jesus has been redeemed from the exile of death, into everlasting life in the land of promise.

In the letter attributed to him Peter extends the promise of God revealed in the resurrection (rebirth) of Jesus to all who trust in Jesus.  We, like Christ risen, are reborn into a living hope, and into the promise of abundance in Heaven and protection on Earth.  Life will be hard in days to come, there is no hiding from that fact, but God has your back and you can trust with full confidence in the promise given to you.  Let the fires of the world burn away the rubbish, let that happen because you know that there is something precious within you just waiting to get out.  Although you have not seen him you love him says the writer in 1 Peter 1:8, fulfilling what Jesus said in John 20:29.  As early therefore as the middle of the first century the discipleship thing is seen to be working: there really are second generation believers who have heard about Jesus from the eyewitnesses and believed in their testimony.  Peter and the eleven, plus the other members of that first 120 on the day of Pentecost, plus Paul and others who saw the risen Christ, went on to tell the story to others who never saw Jesus and those others believed what they were told.  And they told others, and they, and they, until in our day we have none who saw the risen Jesus, or even met the apostles in person, but have believed the message of Jesus in our billions.

This is the shy hope in our hearts.  We have been told that God loves the world, our world, our 2017 world, and that the evidence of that love was seen in a Bethlehem barn, a Roman cross, a garden tomb, and the eyes of the woman or man who told you that story and you believed it.  It is a shy hope, almost unbelievable, but it is a sure hope too.

Amen.

Resurrection Day

This is the text of the message I presented on 16th April 2017, Resurrection Sunday, to the people of Lakes Entrance Uniting Church.  It was the first time I had preached on Easter Day.

Colossians 3:1-4; Acts 10:34-43; John 20 1:18

One of my favourite songs for Resurrection Sunday is not a hymn or chorus, or even a “church song” at all.  It’s by U2, it’s called “Window in the Skies” and it begins:

The shackles are undone,

The bullets quit the gun,

The heat that’s in the sun

Will keep us when there’s none.

The rule has been disproved,

The stone – it has been moved,

The grave is now a groove,

All debts are removed.

 Oh, can’t you see what love has done?

It may seem strange to begin a reflection on the most foundational of Christian truths with a ten-year-old rock song, but I believe that this song, written by Christian men who work in “the secular realm”, expresses the same sorts of emotion that our reading from the gospel summons.

John’s gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb alone and before dawn.  She arrives to find that the stone – it has been moved, and so she runs for help, believing that the body had been stolen.  When she and a couple of the men return, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is said to have “seen and believed”, although we’re not told what he believed, and he and Peter having seen what they have seen promptly go home.  They just go home: as you do.

But not Mary, Mary stays there.  She takes another look in to what she understands is an empty tomb only to find that it is not empty at all.  The empty tomb is now occupied by angels, two of them, the same number of angels as there were men who have just gone home.  They ask her who she’s crying for and she tells them.  Did you get that, Mary tells a pair of angels, sitting in an empty tomb, that she’s upset that the dead Jesus has been removed without her knowledge.  There are angels…in an empty tomb…  Something extraordinary is going on here but Mary’s distress is too overwhelming for her to look past the first thing she’d seen; that Jesus’ corpse is missing.

The story goes on, Mary is alone in the garden once more since the men have gone home and the angels have not left the tomb, yet she is not alone and a man is there.  He calls her “woman”, and those of you who were around a few weeks ago know what happens when Jesus addresses a female conversation partner as “Woman”.  Revelation is about to happen.  Something more has happened in Mary’s vicinity, the story is reaching its climax, and Jesus calls her name.

The shackles are undone.

Some traditions put the words “don’t touch me” in Jesus’ mouth at this point, but I like what we have heard here, “do not hold on to me”.  Mary is allowed a hug, but not a long one, as Jesus has a very important appointment to keep.  I just love this moment in this story.  Consider what is happening here in what I believe to be one of the finest, and yet also one of the most under-reported events of that first day of resurrection.  Jesus is in the process of ascending to the Father, he’s heading for Heaven for the first time since he left Heaven at the annunciation of Mary his mother, this is the culmination of the resurrection when the Son of Man is to be vindicated in glory by God the Father, but that can all wait until Jesus has comforted his friend.  The risen saviour of creation pauses in the very act of ascension to embrace his weeping, confused friend to assure her that he is there and that it is truly he who is truly there.  And then, like every other man in this story so far, Jesus goes home.

To every broken heart,

for every heart that cries:

love left a window in the skies,

and to love I rhapsodize…

So sings U2.  So sing we.

The repercussions of the resurrection of Jesus are not limited to the final chapters in Matthew, Luke and John; neither are they evident only in our day and the miracle of today’s salvation in Jesus’ sacrifice.  In Acts 10:34-43 we read the immediate events of the resurrection of Jesus, of how the truth that God has no favourites was revealed to the disciples of Jesus and of how that message was quickly spread to all corners of the known world.  Peter, speaking in a Roman household in the Roman capital city of Judea, i.e. the city where Pilate and the bulk of his army actually lives, tells that pagan yet imperial household the message of Jesus: that Jesus alone is the source of forgiveness of sins, and of fellowship between those who have accepted his grace because they have received the message of his witnesses.   Cornelius the centurion had been searching for God, and God had sent one of Jesus’ moist experienced eyewitnesses to tell him that he was welcome in the family of God.  Cornelius, the gentile agent of an invasion force, is welcome to sit at the table of grace with Peter himself because of the resurrection of Jesus.

In Colossians 3:1-4 which was written before Acts but describes events that occurred following what we read there, Paul exhorts the Jesus-believers in Colossae to be confident in their pursuit of God and the Way of Jesus in life.  In other words, live as if you are already in Heaven because Christ who is in Heaven lives in you.  This is the story of the Reign of God which we have heard about so much in past months.  Live as if God is king and Jesus is lord: as if the world is already God’s own province, and that the influence and governance of God extends to where you live.  You can live like this, even though the roll-out of the rule of God is not yet complete, because Christ has ascended.  Yes, there is evil in the world, and yes there is harmful and difficult stuff which is not necessarily evil but is just not good, but since you are “hidden with Christ in God” as it says in Colossians 3:3 you can rely on the resources of the Kingdom to flourish where you are right now.

Jesus is celebrated by Peter’s testimony as one who went about doing good and healing all who were repressed by the devil (Acts 10:38).  The Way of Jesus was picked up very quickly by the apostles, disciples, and witnesses who followed him across the world.  Enter a place and tell the story of Jesus, heal any sick, expunge all demons, raise any dead, welcome each of the restored, go to the next town, repeat.  What was once a tomb, a dead-end, is now the front door to a well-worn path:  the grave is now a groove.

I have heard it said that a grave is a rut with the ends filled in.  But I’d like to flip that around and say today that a grave with the ends blown out becomes a channel.  Christian life is not about slipping into a rut, at least it is not designed to be:  Christian life is a way; and more than that it is a way where there wasn’t a way before.   Dead-ends become tunnels and channels, high walls become ramps, ridgeways and bridges like the raised track of a train.  The road of the way, just like the recently-dead Christ on Sunday morning, is unstoppable.

And so, we find ourselves where every Sunday finds us: knowing that we are loved beyond our capacity to understand, rescued and restored from terrors we could never fully appreciate (nor want to), and empowered to live a life of unparalleled freedom and joy because of the Spirit of God who lives in us, just as that spirit lived in Jesus, Peter, Paul, all the Marys, and Cornelius.

Two weeks ago, we heard from John 11:25 that whomever continues to believe into Jesus will live into eternity.  This is the story of resurrection day.  Life is assured for you, not just eternal life in the sense that you will live forever in Heaven, but complete and abundant life in that your existence will always be bountiful, extravagant, and well resourced.  Trouble may come and trouble will come, the resurrection power of Jesus did not prevent Peter and Paul each being murdered by the Roman authorities, and I’m sure Cornelius didn’t long in command of his cohort once his conversion story came out, but such trouble will always be temporary.  The grave cannot hold any of us, it is now a groove, and a groove where Jesus walked before us to open the way.

Love left a window in the skies, and to my God, (who is love), I rhapsodise.

Come and see what love has done, what it’s doing in me

Amen.

Today is not a Funeral

This is the text of the message I prepared for Good Friday, 14th April 2017, for the people of Lakes Entrance Uniting Church.

Psalm 22; John 18:1-19:42

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

Today is a day of sorrow, but is not a day of mourning.

Today is a day for the way in which the historian Manning Clark described the spirituality of the Australian People: today is a day for “a shy hope in the heart.”

Today we are “an Easter People”, yes even today.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

This morning we heard the telling of a short story; a poem of thirty-one verses, a narrative which began with the words My God, my God why have you forsaken me?, went on to say I am thirsty and ended with it is finished.  It is a familiar story, but not just because it is a story repeated over six hours one dark Friday hundreds of years after it was first written down.  The Son of God is not alone among the daughters and sons of men in going through a time of seeming isolation from his God, his mates, and his senses. Abandonment, confusion, embarrassment and doubts assault each of us at times.  But…

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

This is a very private psalm, in scholarship terms it is referred to as a personal lament, more plainly it is one person’s whinge against the world.  But we have all been there, even Jesus: this is a sulk with good reason.

The biggest question this psalm asks is in Psalm 22:8, which in the Good News Bible reads if the Lord likes you, why doesn’t He help you?  (Aren’t you the Messiah?  Come down off the cross then! as the mocking scoffers of the Sanhedrin say.)  A good question: one I have asked on my own behalf many times.  Just because God was silent when Jesus was on the cross doesn’t mean I should like it when I am feeling tired and emotional.  Indeed, I remember asking this question in the company of my minister at a time when I was feeling like this, and he told me that it was a season of the Spirit which is sometimes called “the dark night of the soul”.  How many of you have heard that term before?  In fact, this dark night is not about being abandoned in blackness; as we have seen in the second part of this psalm God is, and always was, there.  The darkness is not about spiritualised depression; rather it is the steeping beyond the known and through the darkness of what is unknown to come to a new knowing.  Teachers know about that, that space is called “the Zone of Proximal Development” and describes where you can go next with a little bit of help.  This is the journey we guide our students along all the time; but it’s a lot scarier when God is doing it to adults.  Yet in the Contemporary English Version Psalm 22:21 reads don’t let lions eat me.  There’s no point saying that unless you think someone stronger than you is with you where the wild things are.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

It is easy to feel confused and overwhelmed when God has forsaken you: I am sure that Jesus felt just those things, confused and overwhelmed.  But what we go through in these times of darkness is like driving at night along an unknown road, (or even a known road in a rainstorm), rather than choosing to sit stationary all night and wait the darkness out.  We can act in faith to move forward, and with conviction sourced from the deep roots of God’s record in our history step onward in squinty-eyed, squeezy fisted trust.  Darkness is mysterious, but that is the reality of our mysterious God.  Faith is hope without sight: blessed are those who have believed without seeing, as Jesus told Thomas.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

We come to understand when the tenor flips in Psalm 22: 22 that the night of darkness in which a person may appear lost is the way which leads her to an even brighter light where she learns more about herself and the miraculous love of God more deeply.  The darkness is a way of progress, the tunnel at the end of the light that leads to even greater light.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

On this Friday when our saviour allowed himself to be murdered we see dimly and with a mass of contradictory confusions: in time we shall see clearly.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

When we go home in fifteen minutes’ time, and then on through Saturday, we will literally live in the time between times; the time between the commemoration of the death of Jesus and the celebration of his resurrection.  This can be a reminder to each of us that life’s dark patches come in bouts, and the more we grow and the keener we are to learn the more often these bouts will come.   It is scary, but like the wildest of rollercoasters it can also be fun when we remember that in God’s hands we may be spinning and ducking, but we are not crashing and burning.  When we are out of control, God is fully in control: and that is a good thing.  That is the confidence that lead Jesus to turn in Gethsemane to greet Judas rather than scramble away to hide at Mary and Martha’s place until the soldiers had gone.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

The light of God is the only true light.  Sometimes God uses the darkness we have taken ourselves into rather than directing us into a dark place and we learn that where God is there is light; false lights will lead us astray.  I have heard it said it is better to be in God’s silence, than in the world’s violence; even if the world at least has neon and noise.

Life with God is thrilling: Easter shows that, and as Christians we know it ourselves.  The God of the gentle whisper that Elijah heard is also the God of the cloud of fire and smoke that Moses saw; so why can’t God also be the God of absence that Jesus experienced on the cross?  On Resurrection Sunday, we shall be reminded that God always comes through when all hope seems lost: that’s the testimony of my life.  Regardless of the tuneful talents of fat ladies, I have learned that nothing is over until God says it is.  “It is finished” when God has accomplished all that was intended; and that goes as much for God’s plans for my life, your life, and this Church, as much as it does for God’s plan to deliver and restore the universe through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

What was achieved in darkness has been proclaimed in the light forever.

Amen.

Liturgy of the Palms

This is the text of the message I preached on Palm Sunday, 9th April 2017 at Lakes Entrance Uniting Church.

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Matthew 21:1-11

Palm Sunday is one of those days of which I have specific memories from childhood.  I couldn’t tell you what happened on the third Sunday in August in any given year, or even the second Sunday in April for that matter, but while actual years are uncertain I can recall Palm Sundays from years long past.  I mean there was that year, several in fact, when we(e) Sunday school kids paraded into church waving huge palm fronds and singing Carl Tuttle’s “Hosanna”.  There was the year when “Jesus” actually rode in to church on a mountain bike covered in tinsel, and the year previously when a real donkey had been sourced.  (When said, donkey left behind what donkeys sometimes do, right in front of the pulpit, the mountain bike was substituted in seemed a better option the following year.)  I remember the cool vicar we had in one church where we high-fived each other in passing the peace because it was “palm” Sunday.  (Don’t laugh, I nearly made you do it today.)  I remember the huge palms we had available to us the three years my family lived in Darwin, and how the front of the church looked like a Pacific Islander hut.  I remember processing in to the cathedral one year with a couple of hundred of us, waving the palms we’d collected in the forecourt as we walked the length of the nave, back down the sides to the great doors, and then up the nave again to find a seat.  I remember the palm crosses we had in Hobart, and how those were kept by us as bookmarks in our Bibles and then returned to church the following year on Shrove Tuesday when they were incinerated and used for the ashes of the next day’s Ash Wednesday.  I remember several years hearing the “Hosanna, Hey-sanna, -sanna, -sanna, Ho” from Jesus Christ Superstar as our call to worship.  And I remember last year when there were no palms at all but clay crosses made by a potter in our congregation: I’ve been wearing mine all Lent this year and have it on now.  (Thanks Mark from Yankalilla!)

But what I don’t remember, really, is any of the sermons from Palm Sunday.  Perhaps, like me, you know the story so well that you don’t remember ever being told it, or any specific occasion upon which it is told.  What the other lectionary readings are never really mattered since you know the minister would preach from Matthew 21:1-9, Mark 11:1-10, or Luke 19:28-40 depending upon which year of the cycle we were in.  (And in case you have forgotten we are in the Year of Matthew in 2017.)

My lectionary tells me that for this Sunday, this year, there is no Old Testament or New Testament reading set.  None.  They are blank spaces in my chart for today.  Just a Psalm, and a Gospel.  Looking further into the lectionary I see that the same Psalm is offered each year, actually a choice of two, and one is not a song of celebration at all.  Amidst all the branch waving, coat flinging, song and dance and donkey poo of Jesus’ heralding by the crowd there is a note of distress and depression.  Some are sad when everyone else is celebrating.  Well spotted, I say to the choosers of the lectionary: always someone will be sad whenever a party is passing through, and oftentimes, indeed always I would suggest, there are sad feelings within the party itself.

I’m not convinced that Palm Sunday was a completely joyful day for Jesus.

One interpretation of the events of Palm Sunday, offered by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan among others, is that Jesus on his donkey is deliberately making a fool of Pilate.  The whole event is parody. Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is a mirror of and a direct challenge to Pilate’s own entry into the city on the same day as an act of protest at the Roman imperial procession.  Jesus is possibly simmering with anger, perhaps frustrated by the noisy crowds who haven’t got as clue of what he is up to as he calculatingly affirms the alternative way of the Reign of God.  The contrast between the two processions is plain: one, a procession of peasants lead by Jesus on a donkey coming from the East and Bethany via the Mount of Olives, and the other a procession of soldiers lead by Pilate coming from the West and the provincial capital at Caesarea Maritima on the coast.  More than competing parades the two processions indicated competing theologies.  Beginning with Augustus and now in the person of Tiberius the Roman emperor was hailed as “the Son of God”, “lord”, “saviour”, and bringer of “peace on Earth”, terms unwarranted according to Jewish theology and terms later taken by the Christians to refer to the man entering the capital from the mountains.  With Jesus being hailed with “Hosanna” as blessed and Davidic there is a distinct and deliberate political feel to this event: Jesus’ parade is anti-military, anti-war, and decidedly anti-imperial.  It is not a party, not at all.

I don’t remember hearing that message in my childhood, not at all.

But that’s okay, Borg and Crossan might not be “right” in their interpretation, and even if they are not “wrong” there are other ways of looking at what is going on

Jesus acts deliberately on this day, the Bible assures us of that.  In Matthew’s account, which we heard today, Jesus appears to rides two animals, a donkey and a colt and we are told that the disciples put their cloaks on “them” and Jesus sat on “them”, which is to say both animals.  Matthew, and so does John, quotes Zechariah 9:9 as the reason why the donkeys must be present, but in Matthew Jesus explains it to the disciples before the ride and in John Jesus speaks to the crowds after he arrives.  In John Jesus responds to the worship by riding a donkey, in Matthew Jesus orchestrates the worship by arriving unannounced on two donkeys.  Either way, he’s up to something.

I think the clue is found in the Zechariah passage itself where the king of Zion triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on…the foal of a donkey has a few things going on.   He is obviously a victor, both in the tradition of the Jewish Scriptural tradition and the Roman Imperial tradition, but he is also humble.  He’s riding a foal, not a stallion.  Perhaps the parody of Pilate is not so nasty in its intent, perhaps Jesus is humble and is showing a better way.  Yes, he is king, yes, he is returning to his capital, but he doesn’t need to make a big show of it, he knows who is he and his people flock to him because he is their king, not because he is loud and covered in brass and flags.  Real kings, like real men, don’t need to show off; real kings are confident and calm.  Let Pilate have his monkeys, the unruffled Jesus does what he wants to do, and he is so attractive because of it.

This also is missing from my memory of child and youthhood pageant, the chillaxed Jesus cruising in to town.  But I like it.

Open the gate for the righteous to enter so that he might to give thanks to God, demands the Psalmist in Psalm 118:19-20. We read of one man’s public, celebratory thanksgiving for salvation in Psalm 118:21 found in God’s seeing the hidden potential in him and for giving him a second chance to shine in Psalm 118:22.  This leads into delight in recognising God’s handiwork at work in Psalm 118:23, which leads into the day of rejoicing in Psalm 118:24.

The first words spoken by Elizabeth Tudor after she was told that she’d inherited the queenship of England are said to have been Psalm 118:23. For a Protestant, bastard, girl under house-arrest and the ever-present threat of execution for treason (or a simple, quiet murder) to inherit a kingdom from her Roman Catholic, and rather bitter half-sister, the new Queen Elizabeth knew that divine forces were at play.  The same is true of us: let us rejoice and be glad in this day is a fitting response.  Look at how the psalmist goes on, crying out “Hosanna” which means “God save me and look here my salvation comes” all at once.  The hosanna in Psalm 118:25 is the beseeching cry of a woman who knows she has already been chosen for salvation and is waiting with bated breath for God to complete the marvellous work in her.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD says Psalm 118:26, “baruch habar b’shem Adonai” as Jews still yell to each other in worship, and “baruch b’shem” when they’re passing the peace.  The crowds called this to Jesus as he rode past them, indicating that their hosannas were directed towards him.  The one who comes in the name of the LORD is the same one who brings salvation and success, and the one who calls forth the light. These words are loaded with meaning for Jewish worshippers.  In the story of Jesus these are not the cries of an overexcited mob who have lost their minds, the people know what they are saying and that is why the Sanhedrin are so disturbed by it.  Tell this uneducated rabble to stop using worship language, they tell Jesus later.  Jesus responds that they may be uneducated but they know worship when they see it, and it is so obvious that even if they (like you) missed it the geology of Zion itself would cry out.  As Hillsong pastor Darlene Zschech has said “no way!  If Jesus is here I refuse to be out-shouted by a rock!”

The Psalm, when placed beside the gospel, gives us two versions of the events of this day in the life of Jesus:

Version one is that Jesus himself is demanding that the gates be opened to him, so that he may enter and worship the God who has been so amazingly faithful to him.  Let’s not forget how amazing the Father was to the Son; Jesus had a lot to say thank you for.  Even as he set a model for us in receiving baptism, Jesus also shows us that no-one is above the duty to worship God in thanksgiving and wonder.  So, gates, open wide and let Jesus himself cry Hosanna! to the God who will save and is right now saving him.  This might be a less well known version, but when you consider that in Matthew Jesus gets off the donkeys and walks straight into the temple I believe he had worship on his mind.  (That he then throws the noisy farmers’ market stallholders out is even more evidence, he’s here to pray and not to eat jam donuts at 30c each or three for $1, or buy perfumed candles and bric-a-brac.)

Version two is the better known one, that the crowds recognise in Jesus the one who brings the salvation of God.  We bless you, the one who comes to us in person with the authority of God, (coming in the Name, Ha’Shem), to do the work of God amongst us.  Open wide those gates so that when the saviour comes he will not be held up for one second.

So, whether you believe Jesus rode one animal or two, that he came as parody of Pilate or as humble yet confidently beloved worshipper of God, that he was enjoying the moment of the joy of the crowd or silently meditating on the full ontological meaning of the prophetic sign he was enacting, the public entry of Jesus to Jerusalem is significant.  This year amidst our palm branches and our memories of the pageants of decades past, of donkeys, mountain bikes, sword-grass and pottery crosses, High-Church, Low-Church, and perhaps even no-church Palm Sundays of remembrance, that our key duty is to worship God in thanksgiving and awe at what the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem really meant for him and for the world.  One man came to give all that he had in worship of God, and all that he had was taken from him before a week had passed.

Amen.

Beyond the Last Straw

This is the sermon I preached at Lakes Entrance Uniting Church on Sunday 2nd April 2017.  This was our first service back ” home” after two months retreat at the chapel at Lake Tyers Beach.

Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:17-27, 38-44

 I have heard it said that the key difference between the Old Testament and the Jewish Scriptures is their end point.  Last week Lyn read to us from Isaiah and she introduced that reading as “from the Hebrew Scriptures”, which was not incorrect, even as she was actually reading from what is the Christian “Old Testament”.  What’s the difference you ask?  The end point I answer.

So, here, in celebration of our return to this house, I offer another quiz with a pen as prize.  (And let’s hope this time the pen which is won stays in Gippsland.)  Here’s the question: what is the last book in the Jewish Scriptures?  And before you answer I’ll give you a big hint, it’s not the same book at the end of the Christian religion’s Old Testament.

[Anyone?  It’s 2 Chronicles.]

In today’s first reading we hear the story of the prophet Ezekiel and his vision of a valley of dry bones.  Ezekiel is asked whether the bones can live again, in other words could any good come of the situation.  I love the answer Ezekiel gives, he says “you know Lord”.  The obvious answer is of course “no”.  Here we have a valley of thousands of dry bones, very dry according to Ezekiel 37:2, and God asks “mortal”, (so there’s a hint), “mortal, can these bones live?”  Of course they cannot, they are dismembered and dried out.  There is no flesh.  Bones cannot live without a blood supply, and a dried-out dead bone cannot live again even if blood is returned to it.  The valley of dry bones is a valley of dead bones.  But listen to Ezekiel, “oh Lord GOD, you know.”  Even as a mortal faced with the firmest evidence of mortality Ezekiel has enough faith to look beyond the obvious “no” to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in that God alone determines what does and does not happen.  And then, through Ezekiel’s prophesying and God’s responding to the word as it is being proclaimed, the Lord’s spirit moves upon the bones to create new life in dead Israel.

There’s three things I want you to hear before we move on to the story of Jesus and Lazarus:

  1. Ezekiel “only” prophesies to the bones, just as Jesus “only” calls to Lazarus. There is no mechanical manipulation in either story; no laying on of hands, no making mud from spit, no forensic anthropological jigsaw puzzle while singing “’dem bones, ‘dem bones”.  There are only human preaching and God’s re-breathing spirit at work here.
  2. Ezekiel’s story is set in the wider context of his life of prophecy and the book which carries his name. As is true of the story of Jesus within his life and within the story told by John these stories are not about individual corpses but about whether dead people can live again.  In Ezekiel’s time the question is whether there is hope for a defeated, decimated nation.  These bones not only lacked sinew and muscle, but breath and spirit.  In the same way that God makes Adam by forming a body from the elements at hand, and then breathing life into that husk of a man, so the bones are re-ligamented (which is where we get the word “religion” from) and then re-animated with the spirit of God.  This is a story of national, indeed global significance; it’s not just about the dead soldiers.  Jesus’ raising of Lazarus is also a story about more than just the once-dead brother of Mary and Martha.
  3. The promise in Ezekiel’s story is not just life and spirit, but these “on your own soil”. Yes, the nation will be restored, but more than that the people will have a home.  This is the big story of Torah, Tanakh, the Jewish religious scriptures.  Where the Christian Old Testament is fulfilled in the coming of the messiah, and its last paragraphs (Malachi 4:1-5) are about “The great day of the LORD”, the Jewish story is fulfilled in the Jewish people coming home from exile and dispersion to Jerusalem.  Its last paragraph (2 Chronicles 36:22-23) is about King Cyrus of Persia restoring the razed temple so that the Judahites may “go up” to worship once more.

In John 11 Jesus is similarly on his way “up” to Jerusalem to celebrate Pesach, the Passover, the celebration of the work of God in liberating the Hebrew nation and giving them a land of their own.  We remember that John has built his gospel around seven (or eight) key “signs” that Jesus is indeed Immanuel and in this chapter we see the penultimate one, the last one John presents in Jesus’ lifetime.  In John 11:44 by his spoken word alone Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  This episode is the hinge point of Jesus’ life according to John, a major major plot device by the author.  Indeed, this event is the last straw which solidifies Jewish opposition to Jesus, and from this point it is only a matter of days until Jesus is murdered.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke the Jews decide to kill Jesus when he knocks apart the temple traders on Monday in Holy Week, but in John it is this event which gets Jesus killed: this is blatant in John 11:53.  Jesus is gloriously dangerous at this point because when Lazarus walks from the tomb Jesus’ earlier words “I Am…the resurrection” (which he said in John 11:21-22) are confirmed.  The authority of the messiah has been displayed and for the Sanhedrin, this is a situation which cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.  The only way to respond to a prophet who proclaims himself to be “the resurrection” is to kill him dead, and to do it publicly.

But let’s look at the other team, the ones who believe in Jesus.  Martha in saying “even now” in John 11:21-22 shows that she has confidence in God in the way that Ezekiel did.  Lazarus, her brother, is dead; but Jesus is now present and anything might happen.  Mary in John 11:32 gets part way there, suggesting that Jesus might have prevented the death, and Jesus is moved by her challenge.   One of the commentators I referred to this week suggests that Jesus’ weeping is compassion for the mourning sisters, who appear to be deep friends of his, but also his indignation that death has come to this house.  In his God-with-us persona Jesus is livid that a human life has been taken, something so precious to God snatched away by the insidious evil of illness in the world.  There’s more going on here than an empathetic man welling up in the presence of his tearful favourite girls, he’s had enough of the world wherein humans suffer and he wants it finished.  The fact that Lazarus and his sisters love and are loved by Jesus did not preclude Lazarus from terminal illness and death; God does not play favourites in that way.  But the fact that this family is dear to Jesus touches the heart of God profoundly on behalf of all human grief and the pains which cause it.  So, in the presence of the sisters’ faith in him and in the hearing and seeing of their tears for their beloved brother Jesus does the God-thing.  Jesus, like Ezekiel, does not dwell on Lazarus’ condition (that he’s dead) but shifts his focus to what could be done through it (that God would be glorified).  Not even death is the final word when God is involved.  God is not in favour of death and destruction, God never has been.  The God of the Jewish scriptures and therefore of Jesus’ theology is the God of homecoming and the end of exile.

There is no option for Jesus here, Lazarus must come back.

Martha’s confession in John 11:27 is the best example of what John believes about Jesus, and it sets the scene for what Jesus does by explaining why and how only he can do it.   What Martha says is far more profound than anything that Peter says about Jesus in John’s gospel: Martha knows who Jesus is, and she knows that death is never the end of the story for Jews.  However, in John 11:39 she still worries about the stench if the tomb is opened.  Maybe she is so used to Jesus speaking metaphorically that she struggles with his speaking literally.  She believes wholeheartedly that Jesus can restore Lazarus to her and Mary, and I think she even believes that Jesus wants to do this, but like Mary the virgin last week the wonder of its actually happening in the real events of the day is beyond her.  Even the deepest, most profound faith cannot overcome all trouble.  This is a great reminder for us when we doubt our faith, as strong as it is.  If we are not in a place where we can be baffled by God and amazed by the activities of Jesus, then we’re not really paying attention.

I am reliably informed that a direct Greek translation of the words spoken by Jesus in John 11:25 reads the one who continues believing into me that one will definitiely live into eternity.  Our hope, like that of the ever homecoming Jews, is about far more than believing certain concepts and doctrines; it is trusting in someone and being entrusted to him as a relational thing.  Only God can breathe life into what is as long dead as a valley of desiccated bones or a four-day’s stinking corpse in a desert cave, but we are assured that God will do entirely that in God’s perfect time, however late that seems to us.

Amen.

Acts of Easter

This is the text of my ministry message for the April 2017 newssheet at Lakes Parish UCA.

Several weeks ago, I read to you a prayer which I wrote in 2011, a prayer entitled “An Act of God”.  As I write today Cyclone Debbie is pounding its way across the Queensland coast, and whole tribes of television Karlites and Kochies are battling the rainstorm and wind to provide up-to-the-minute reports.

 In today’s Queensland storm, and yesterday’s 38 degrees in Lakes Entrance, I am reminded that while climate and weather can play havoc with our human plans, God’s plans are not thwarted.  Whether your theology suggests that God sends storms, or allows storms, or that God has simply set the world in motion and lets the elements look after themselves, I am convinced that God remains in overall care and charge of the world.  For me, as I prayed first in 2011 and then last month in the face of immanent fire and flood disaster in New South Wales and Western Australia, the assurance that God has all things in hand in the work of the Church is ever present.  Remember, the Acts of God are not the storms themselves but the work of the local Christians in responding to the needs of neighbour and stranger in the aftermath.

As we move toward Easter in the next two weeks, through it in the middle of April, and beyond it as we head toward May, let us remember that we have a role in what God is doing in the world.  The greatest Act of God was seen in the death of Jesus on the cross, but God is still at work amongst, amidst, and because of those who remain faithful to the call to call forward the Reign of God in the world.  Our gospel is one of salvation, which implies that the world needs to be saved/salved, so we are conscious that we live amongst danger.  The gospel requires a response, not just a “sinner’s prayer” that gets us a grace-based, forgiveness assured ticket to Heaven when the time comes, but that we resist evil where we see it and that we bring healing to those who have been laid low by it.  That time has come.