The Honour of God

This is the text of the message I prepared for Serviceton Shared Ministry for Sunday 21st October 2018, the twenty-second Sunday in Pentecost, Year B.  It was my first sermon in my new placement.

Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Good morning Church!  It’s good to be with you at last.  Today’s readings from the Revised Common Lectionary (to give it its full title), a series which I see KSSM follows because it is published on the newssheet, come from Job, Hebrews, and Mark.  Two of those books are anonymously attributed in that Bible scholars are undecided about who wrote them, and some traditions say that the other one was written by a secretary.  Regardless of who wrote what, and whether the writers wrote on behalf of some specific patron or another, the points made by these writers intersect beautifully.  You will hear as we get to know each other better that I am a fan of the lectionary; not just because it encourages me as your primary preacher to make use of the Bible each week, but because the women and men who chose which readings go with which week, and which readings go with each other, set us up with some interesting ideas.  So it is today when we read about God speaking to Job and Job’s friends, about Jesus speaking with his disciples, and about who Jesus is with regard to the Jewish God in the mind of a Jewish person who has come to see Jesus as a unique revelation of God.

I have not been here in the past weeks; you know this, so I don’t know how much of Job’s story you have been told since the beginning of October.  So I hope you know who Job is, and the basic gist of his story, because I don’t want to go into it now.  Suffice to say that Job has had a hard life of late, and his God-fearing friends have not been entirely helpful in their well intentioned support, wisdom and counsel.  In today’s reading, from assorted bits of Job 38, we get to hear God’s response to all that has been said by Job and by Elihu, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar: and God is immediately on the offensive.  “Who are you?” asks The LORD over and over again; “who are you to question the Creator, the Almighty One”, and “what do you know about anything”.  Job 38:1 makes it clear that what God says is addressed to Job, but I wonder whether God speaks to Job while Job’s friends are still there, and God means for them to also hear what God says.  God somewhat takes the role of barrister for the defence and cross examines the prosecution witnesses, looking for humility in their responses.  Not only is Job brought to account for his constant whining, but God’s “who are you” questions are pointed at the friends.  “Who are you to presume to speak on my behalf,” asks God, “do you really know more about divine will and justice than Job?”  God makes it clear who The LORD is, and who isn’t The LORD.  God alone is God, God is the only god in the room, and not one of the five men in the room is correct in his own theology.

Last week at the induction service I said in my brief remarks that I’d been to the Salvation Army corps that morning.  A song that we sang was “I am a friend of God”, a song I’d not sung in Australia but which was familiar to me from my time at Hillsong Church London a decade ago.  Today I am reminded that even though the song is written about you and me and our relationship with God through Jesus, and that the song uses the language God used of Abraham, that Job was also friend of God.  All that God says to Job is true, correct and trustworthy as every word from God is, and so too are the words overheard by the friends.  God is not who you religious types think God is; suffering is not a sign of divine displeasure and grief is not a deserved condition for sin elsewhere.  The word of The LORD to Job is the same as the word to the four, and that word is “pull your head in, mortal one”, but the application is different.  Job was questioning God’s character, but the four friends were presuming to speak on God’s behalf to rebut Job’s complaint.  Job says that God is unjust, the friends say God is just and Job is a sinner, but God says that God is just and Job is not a sinner, but that God is God sometimes what God does is incomprehensible to human rationale.  If you don’t know how to make it rain, the how do you presume to comment upon the way that God does it, when only God knows how to do it?  You don’t know what you’re talking about, so stop talking about it, all of you…yes him, but especially youse mob.  That’s rather humbling to hear as a leader of faith: as it should be.

The Psalm set for us today, 104, declares that God is all that God claims to be.  The LORD who spoke to Job is indeed divine creator and the one who sustains all that was made, and The LORD is wise beyond human understanding.  Furthermore, Creation is for its own sake, not primarily for the purposes of humankind, and is an act of wisdom and an activity of the Spirit.  God’s care for creation is ongoing; humanity has stewardship of the world, but God retains ownership and abiding love.  God also retains control; the creation continues to exist because God continues to uphold it.  The messages of the Psalmist are clear when we think of Job, firstly that God is God and no one else is, but also that God remains interested and involved, there is no divine watchmaker here who set the world going by clockwork and then walked off.  God is just, God does care, and all that God does is done with wisdom and love.  This is the bit that the other four seem to have forgotten.

So when we get to Mark 10, where we read of James and John asking for places of honour beside the throne of Jesus, we have been brilliantly set up by the compositors of the lectionary.  I mean, who chooses this story as a match for the interruption of God into Job’s lament?  I am a preaching nerd, proudly so, and this kind of thing makes me excited about God’s message to the Church.  God is awesome and above any responsibility to answer to human complaint, and God is creator and sustainers of the Universe for God’s own pleasure and the Universe’s own purpose, and here two random Galileans ask to be Deputy Messiah in the caucus of the Kingdom of God.  The temerity of it!  The utter arrogance!  Or did they really not know what they were asking?  I hope they were confused about God rather than thinking that they were actually worthy of such an honour.

It can be a comfort that this story tells us that the other ten disciples were enraged and indignant at the request of James and John.  At least they know who Jesus is and what an insult to his majesty the brothers’ request was; unless of course they were actually angered by Jesus’ response.  I wonder, did they assume thrones in the Kingdom by virtue of their being the first disciples, first as earliest and first as superior, and now Jesus has dashed that assumption.  If you understand that the time when Jesus came into his glory was when he was lifted upon the cross, it is interesting that in Mark’s account that at the right and left of Jesus were two criminals who mocked his glory from their own crosses.  In today’s reading from Mark 10:42-44 Jesus speaks of what lay ahead of him and of those who followed him: discipleship of the Messiah is not a life of thrones and lording it over heathens but of service and suffering.

So what does this mean for us?  What should it mean?  I like the way that the writer in Hebrews 5:1-10 has reminded us that everybody who serves God serves at God’s invitation.  As someone God has chosen, and who the Church has confirmed, and someone for whom there was a very recent reminder of these two callings within the past week, it’s good to remember that.  In all of the congratulatory emails and phone calls from family and friends I am reminded that, yes, congratulations are in order and I have been given the great privilege of ministering in my first placement as a pastor.  A good thing has happened to me, and congratulations are in order, but where some people have kindly offered that this placement is “much deserved” I’m taking that with more than a grain of grace.  I acknowledge and agree with what they are saying, yes I have worked hard and yes I have completed my university courses and practical ministry experiences with diligence and long hours.  Yes I have stuck with the Church and particularly with the system when it seemed that I was facing roadblocks and detours, and the occasional dead-end.  But do I deserve this role?  Do I deserve you?  (Do you deserve me?) No matter how hard I have worked, no matter how much I have stayed the course and run the race thus far, I am here because it is God’s pleasure that I am here, and when God moves me then I will move.  I am here because I offered myself to God, and God gave me to you, because God loves you.  So my first thought is not that I am “God’s gift” in the arrogant sense of that phrase, but that if I am an offering of God’s grace to you then I’d better make sure I stay under God’s lordship and instruction while I am here.  The author of Hebrews reminds us all that God chooses the fallible to mediate between humankind and God lest the priestly overestimate their worth and abilities.  I am here as your pastor because I possess certain gifts, gifts appropriate for the exercise of ministry within the Uniting Church as we heard last week from Marjorie.  Yes I have worth and abilities, and yes I have worked hard to increase those; but I am here because God chose me and not because I have earned this place.  I wouldn’t be here if I’d not worked so hard, but that’s not why I’m here.  I’m here because God is gracious and generous and God chose me for you and you for me for the next three years or so.

So while I am here I want to act and think like Jesus.  Jesus did not presume the commissioning of God, as if his selection for ministry was a foregone conclusion and God would be stupid not to choose him, so why should any of us?  In the same way that God questioned the arrogance in the philosophising of Job’s friends, and their distance from understanding his suffering, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus does understand human suffering.  Our high priest would never spout platitudes or half-baked theologies of prosperity for righteous.  Jesus whose greatest glory was seen in his greatest suffering, his greatest identification with all who have been rejected, abused, insulted, and murdered by systems and corrupted powers, is the great model for Christian life and Christian leadership.  I sincerely hope that in 3 or 5 or 10 years time I get to drive away from Kaniva & Serviceton to move to my next placement within the Church, wherever that may be, and that my time here will not end with me crucified somewhere public, painful and embarrassing.  But if I’m not willing to die for Christ here, then I’m not worthy of the calling God and the Presbytery and you have trusted me with.

But then, as the Church in this place, neither are you.

So as the Church in this place let us each and all listen for God, obey God, and speak for God only when the Spirit is speaking through us, and not from our memories of Christian clichés.  Let us ask Jesus how we can bring him honour rather how he can honour us, and let us live in and enjoy the world created by God for God, but a world in which we have a place as the apple of God’s eye.

Amen.

Advertisements

Whoosh!

This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of God at Lakes Entrance Uniting Church for Sunday 4th June 2017.  It was the Day of Pentecost.

Numbers 11:23-30; Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:27-30; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

Last week when I spoke with you about Ascension as a forgotten festival I mentioned that it’s the more Evangelical churches, which are more often low-church in style, who overlook this event.  Today is Pentecost and of course Evangelicals love this one.  But like Ascension, Pentecost is not known to the world, and like Ascension we Christians can go about our business today safe in the knowledge that the Secular Humanists are not insisting upon equal rights for bunnies, bilbies, or fat men in red suits.  (Mind you, this being Pentecost there’s nothing wrong with being a fat man in a red shirt at all!)  Yet today is also a forgotten festival, or so it seems, in some parts of the Church; and those parts of the church, somewhat surprisingly, are the Pentecostal movements.

I used to belong to a church which was Pentecostal in orientation; and even though our senior pastor didn’t like that title for its negative connotations, we were a congregation where the Spirit was welcomed and allowed sovereignty.  But while we certainly celebrated Christmas on its nearest Sunday, and Easter Day on Sunday (but not Friday), I don’t remember us ever celebrating Pentecost despite it always falling on a Sunday.  I guess when you belong to a fellowship where the arrival of the Holy Sprit in the worship time is a weekly occurrence, and the gifts of the Spirit Godself, and as released through the people, are expected and desired, you don’t need to set aside one particular Sunday to celebrate the Spirit.  After all, if you don’t expect the Spirit on the other 51 Sundays in the year, what are you doing?  In other words, if you are always Pentecostal, who cares really what happens on the seventh Sunday after Easter?

It’s actually a good question, but I don’t think it has just one answer.  Of course, we want Holy Spirit to be here each week, and in our town each day of the week, including today.  But that’s not enough of a reason for me to not celebrate the anniversary of this momentous occasion in the history of the world.

When I lived in Darwin the pastor of the local Assemblies of God church drove the sort of car that many men would drool over.  It was a black XR8 ute, so a V8 Falcon with big wheels, narrow tyres, a rorty exhaust, and everything that screamed “boy racer”.  The local Uniting Church minister at the time drove a platinum VRX Limited Edition (brackets Series One end brackets).  So, a Magna V6 with bigger wheels, narrower tyres, and a far rortier note than a standard Magna, or even the standard VRX.  It also had red leather seats.  It wasn’t as cool as the XR8, but the VRX was still pretty cool.  Both ministers had personalised rego plates on these cars, the Uniting Church bloke had his name “REV.ROB”, which was pretty self-explanatory and went with his other job as track chaplain at Hidden Valley Motorsports Park, home of Darwin’s round of the V8 Supercars plus weekly dirt squirts, motorcycles, and even speedboat races in the Wet Season.  The AoG pastor had “WHOOSH”.  I was present when Rev Rob, my dad, asked his colleague in ministry about the rego plate.  “Whoosh?” says Rob, “that the sound of an XR8 flying past you?” “Nah mate,” replied the pastor, “Acts 2:2, mate, whoosh!”  So, there you go, Pentecostal people do know about the sound of the Spirit first descending upon the Church in might and power.

And many of you know, because you’ve met him, that Rev Rob now drives an orange XR6 bearing his “REV.ROB” plates now in SA rather than NT form.  The legendary VRX is sitting out the front of this building today.  Orange paint job in one place, red leather seats in this place, don’t let anyone tell you the Uniting Church doesn’t do power from on high!!

But, as with many stories of God acting powerfully in the life of Jesus or the first three generations of Church as recorded in the scriptures, these are not the first times this happened.  Whoosh! is also a sound familiar to the Hebrews, and rightly so.  In our reading from Numbers 11 this morning Joy told us of how when Ruach ha-Qodesh rested upon the seventy they prophesied loudly.  Even those not in the gathering, but who had been chosen, prophesied while the spirit was present above the tent of meeting.  We are not told of fire or wind, perhaps the evidence of the cloud’s descent was enough, but certainly there was noise as seventy men shouted aloud the news of God’s sovereign glory and God’s desire for the world as it was to be related through the Abrahamic people. Moses’ prayer for the people was that everyone would carry the authority of God in this way, not just the seventy men and not only while the cloud was descended upon the group.  Moses saw that the Spirit had been given without limit, Moses certainly didn’t lose power by God taking from him to share with the seventy.  Moses understood, and we understand now, that when God blesses a people with power and authority for the work of proclamation there is more than enough empowering spirit for everyone to be filled to overflowing.

In the centuries after the arrival of the Hebrews in the land given to them by God as a base from which to tell of God’s glory to the world, the settled people continued to hear from the wind of wisdom and holiness, Ruach ha-Qodesh.  The Psalmist wrote in 104:27-30 that the world is entirely dependent upon God’s sustaining presence.  You shall send forth your spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth says 104:30 in the wording of the New King James Version.  God’s creative act by the Wise and Sacred Spirit is an act of renewal, not only of creation.  The Spirit does more than the activity of brooding in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit is active in renewing and refreshing the creation; therefore, the activity must take place more than once.  Like Pentecost, which the Church believes was not a once-and-only event, so Jewish tradition in the Torah and the Ketuvim, the Law and the Writings of scripture, attests that God continues to send the Spirit when the Spirit is required.  We are to expect the Spirit and welcome the Spirit when the Spirit comes, because the Spirit is sent by God to meet our need for God.

The gifts which are given by God through the Spirit are as diverse as the needs of the Church in the world.  Paul instructs the Church at Corinth in this, saying that prophecy and prayer language are not enough: many human needs would be left unmet if God sent prophets and interpreters, but no one else, into the world.  Each need therefore has its corresponding ministry, God’s response to that need, and each ministry has its corresponding gift, God’s empowering for the work of that ministry.  Paul addresses the matter from the other side in saying that every gift has its corresponding ministry, in part because the Corinthians were so fascinated by the extravagant work of God amongst them that they had forgotten to utilise the enabling of God to conduct and complete the work of God.  Each gift has its corresponding minister who brings the gift to remedy the need with the presence of God.  It follows then that different gifts are given to different people for them to use in different situations in the world.  No two Christians are identical in their make-up, nor should they be.  We are each unique and all complimentary, designed to work together, to fit together.  Since no Christian is exempt from the call to ministry, (I told you a few weeks ago that it is baptism which makes you a minister, not ordination), since no Christian is exempt from ministry all Christians are provided with the gifts required.  Women and men have gifts, not just men; girls and boys have gifts, not just boys; and of course, children and adults have gifts, not just adults.  New converts and life-long disciples have gifts, not just the decades old believers; ordained and lay have gifts, not just the ordained; and the same can be said for diversity in race, nationality, material wealth, health, marital status, and so on.  If you are a Christian you have gifts, because if you are a Christian you have ministries.

But of course, we know that not all gifts are prevalent in all people.  I actually believe that all Christians have all gifts, you’ve not been given a portion of the Spirit at your baptism but all of God, but I also believe that God only uses some of the gifts in each person to ensure that all of the gifts are expressed in the local church.  For example, not everyone in this room can preach, but in the very next breath I say that I am not the only person in this room who can.  You each have the fullness of the Spirit that I do, but only a few of us, me included, are called to use the gift of preaching.  And of course, the inverse is true where even as your minister, and whoever comes next to this place, ordained or not, is the same, there are things which God has not called me to do and I therefore cannot do as well as those of you whom God has called.  I have no idea what those things are, because I am incredibly gifted, but I’m sure there something someone here can do better than I could.  😊

Paul provides a list of gifts.  This list is not exhaustive, there are other gifts which Paul does not mention here.  I don’t think the unmentioned gifts are less important, it’s just that Paul is making a point and his point has been made.  It’s not all about the prophets and tongue talkers, he is saying, just look at all the other examples.  There are gifts of Wisdom (application of information) and Knowledge (insight to partner wisdom).  There are gifts of Faith (confident assurance for encouragement), Healings (note that this is plural), and Miracles.  Consider how Faith might work in a team with Healings and Miracles; that’s how it’s supposed to work.  There are gifts of Prophecy: (telling the truth with boldness), and of Discerning of Spirits (naming names for the purposes of directed response, perhaps by the prophet).  There are gifts of Prayer Language (for worship and intercession), and of Interpretation of prayer language (to partner with the pray-ers and the prophets).  And as I say there are many more.  I have been used by God in the ministry of Intercession in the past, which draws from the list just read but also needs further detailing, some of which is found in Ephesians 4:11-13.

The evidence is clear from the history of the people of God, from the time of Moses, the time of David, and the time of Paul that God is pouring out the Spirit on all humankind.  In his Pentecost Day sermon Peter declares the evidence of God’s action, and that it is God who is acting, is seen in the present day amongst those who are prophesying and speaking of visionary dreaming.  In other words, God’s people are speaking the truth clearly and with a deep and trustful hope for the future, even as Joel said they would in his day, Peter’s day, and on every day leading into the last days.  Again, no one shall be made exempt, not by age nor by social status, not by anything other than his or her unwillingness to act for God.  There will be no doubt what is happening, this will all clearly be the work of God, and those who see this and call out to God will be rescued by God from whatever and wherever they are lost in.

When the spirit falls, the truth is told and people are saved, healed, and restored.  Moses saw it in the desert, the 120 saw it in Jerusalem, and Paul writes of it to a church in a pagan city in Europe so they know what to expect and how to operate when it happens.

Are you ready?  Are you willing?

Then let’s have at it.

Amen.