Weekly Sermon

10 October Pentecost XX

2021 Advent Sunday

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Gospel Luke 21. 25-36 Advent One

 

"Screw your courage to the sticking-place," says Lady Macbeth to her doomed husband in Shakespeare's tragedy, "and we'll not fail."

However, fail they do and no amount of courage in the world can save them or turn them into heroes.
Courage is a bit like happiness: the more you seek it, the more you demand it, the more you try to call it up, the less you know it, the less it feels you have of it.

Words can stir us to courage when they are grounded in confident expectation and unshakable values or realities. Who would not rally around the
"I have a dream…" speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr., in which he paints the colours of freedom? Who would not feel stronger listening to the dogged determination of Winston Churchill in the dark days of 1940:

"Let us... brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves that, if the British
Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour!' "
Courage, as faith's activator, is the call in the words of Jesus to us today. He sits with his shell-shocked disciples in the temple grounds, sensing the profound disturbance at his words that this marvelous place of holiness and beauty will soon lie in rubble,
while pointing them to a larger catastrophe that will shake the whole earth as eternity arrives into time.

The claim of Jesus’ future appearing is a central and mainstream Christian claim. In 23 of the New Testament 27 books it is mentioned. We confess Jesus coming again in our creeds. We have an entire season in the church year dedicated to it,
this season of Advent. Jesus himself promises to return.

And in each and every circumstance the instructions of Jesus are the same Hold firm. Be on guard. Be awake. Don’t lose your nerve. Don’t get caught up in the concerns of the time. Remember who the true Messiah is, and what he calls you to,
and you are saved.

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say:

  • Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation [do not be weighed down by useless or profitless activity; using or expending or
    consuming thoughtlessly or carelessly]
  • be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with
    drunkedness [don’t drown in your own self]
  • be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with the worries
    of this life.

Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength. This is how we are to wait.

And how long must we wait as such? Jesus tells us “…, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.”

We know that the generation Jesus was sitting amongst has passed away however …. the word ‘generation’ can be used to refer to the category of people through all time who are resistant to the purposes of God. Hence in saying that ‘this generation will not pass away ‘ before the Son of Man comes, Jesus may be saying that as the moment of the first end and judgement was preceded by violence and opposition to God so also, the time leading up to the final end will be characterised by resistance to God, his Messiah, his people, and his gospel. And when has that not been so?

Much time may have passed since the first Christians looked to the heavens expecting to see Jesus returning, however the call of Paul is still addressed to us
It is now the moment to wake from sleep. 
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers. Let me almost end with a story about the how to’s of waiting ….

Robby Robins was an Air Force pilot during the first Iraq war. After his 300th mission, he was surprised to be given permission to immediately pull his crew together and fly his plane home. These young military men flew across the ocean to Massachusetts and then had a long drive to western Pennsylvania. They drove all night. When his buddies dropped Robbins off at his driveway just after sunrise, there was a big banner across the garage ”Welcome Home Dad!” No one had called, and the crew themselves hadn’t expected to leave so quickly. How could they know?
Robins relates that when he walked into the house, the kids, half dressed for school, screamed, “Daddy!”

His wife Susan came running down the hall. “How did you know?” he asked. “I didn’t,” she answered through tears of joy. “We knew you’d try
to surprise us, so we were ready every day.” That is to be our attitude toward Advent. This is a season for waiting on tiptoe.
The kingdom is drawing near. Christ’s words will never pass away. You can trust his
promises forever.

Like a child waiting for Santa Claus, be on watch.
Like a couple awaiting the birth of their first child, be on watch.
Like a family waiting for the return of their soldier, be on watch.

God does indeed come down, move amongst us and within. God did in times gone and does in times to come. As God did in the times of Moses
and the Pharaoh. However, this time God chose the suckling babe rather than the plague blasts as the
means of arrival and encounter.

We who rationalise our forces for good or for evil are suddenly caught up short –
the one who could "rend the heavens" and "set twigs ablaze" and "cause water to
boil" and "cause the nations to quake" and "make the mountains tremble" slipped in
as a helpless child, and the world knelt to kiss him on a starry night in Bethlehem.

And we continue to do so.

Wendy

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21/11/2021 - 70th Anniversary + St Georges Day

APPLECROSS PARISH ANNIVERSARY

We gather this morning to celebrate the anniversary of 70 years of the Applecross parish. The Parish was formally established in 1951, having previously been included in the Parish of South Perth. It was in 1951 the first Rector was appointed. 

For some this parish has always been existence in your life.  For others it came into being during our life.

We celebrate our 70 years on the same day we celebrate the patronal festival of St George. Hence, we gather here at St George’s. St David’s being built 6 years later in 1957.
There has been no patronal festival for St George’s due to either a Rector leaving or a Priest in Charge arriving with of course the Covid pandemic. Even with the come and go of clergy and Formation students and the impact of Covid on many aspects of life here and abroad there remains much to celebrate.

There is always much to celebrate. Perhaps more here than in most places.

Today is a time to reflect on the years of people gathering for worship, for baptisms, confirmations, gathering for weddings and for funerals. Here in St George’s and over there in St David’s.
We know the church is not the building, it is much more than that, however, the building, buildings, remain the constant of this parish.
The outward sign of us of Applecross parish. The sign to our neighbours we are here.
The building, buildings, being a symbol that grounds the memory of God.
Phillip Larkin states in his poem, Church Going,
a church ‘… is a serious house on serious earth.’
Yet it is what we do, and say, and are which makes any difference to our neighbours which can make all the difference to our neighbours. That the church has been here, that we are here. With no plans not to be.
As a parish we are surrounded by the prayers of the faithful. Scripture has been read, hymns sung, sermons preached, and morning teas had. All that and more. Much more. Although the wording of mission and ministry may have changed in definition and in action over the years, the mission and ministry of 70 years has brought glory to God’s name, and hope and love.
Our mission, as our Archbishop states,
is God’s gift for everyone …
those within the church and those beyond.
Something about our lives together needs to be challenging enough and attractive enough for people to see that God is the possible answer to the questions they are living. Are we challenging and attractive enough? For us let alone for anyone else.

Our Archbishop has also stated earlier this year
Like so many human communities, the church in Perth is taking its own temperature,
So, what’s our temperature? 


Are we hot? Lukewarm? Cold? Or a number somewhere in between?
One way to gauge our temperature over the years in our church is by the stories of our parish. We are known by the stories told about us by us, and by the Diocese and by our neighbours. With some stories which can make us proud, and some which may bring us shame. Stories ranging in temperature.
Our Gospel for this morning gives us a story of how disciples are to be with each other, and with others. Perhaps a gauge of our temperature.
We heard some of the Lucan version of the Sermon on the Mount. Referred to as the Sermon on the Plain.

We know how this story goes.

  • Be merciful.
  • Do not judge.
  • Do not condemn.
  • Forgive and
  • Give.

We also know how this spirit-empowered life reads in the Gospel. Do we know how such an empowered life reads in this parish? A story ranging in temperature? Or a story of a constant temperature?

St George has a story of ranging temperature.  Apart from stories involving dragons, which came back with the Crusaders, there is little known of the story of George. He was probably born in Lydda around 280 to a Greek Christian family. His father was a soldier and George stepped into his father’s footsteps. And like his father, he did well in his chosen career until in February 303 when the army was ordered to sacrifice to the Roman God. All Christian soldiers were arrested, and George refused to comply and was decapitated on 23 April 303.

It is now time for our story to be lived by us as main characters in the hope we bring glory to God with a good, healthy temperature which promotes lives and enables all to flourish to be all whom God calls us to be. There is not much we can do about how the stories of the past and how they read
however, there is much we can do about our story and how we read.

Our Archbishop states We are all about being a healthy, inclusive, outward-looking, faith community enriching neighbourhoods in loving service to friends and strangers, loving with no strings attached.

Yet what is a healthy temperature for a healthy flourishing parish? The most reliable way to check our temperature as a parish is to take your own temperature. So, are you hot for God? Lukewarm in what you choose to do and choose to be? Cold for anything other than yourself? Afterall, if some of us are hot for God, it only takes a few ice cubes to result in a church lukewarm in mission. In the story of our parish, and our mission, what character do you play?

What character do you want to play in the next chapter of our story? here is no set script – apart from the one written on your heart.
The author being, of course, God. Be confident, courageous, and compassionate forever ensuring there is room for the Spirit to accompany and guide us as we set out into the time we share, checking our temperature, as we write our story. A story moving us into the character God calls you, and me to be for this body of Christ. 

The Lord is with us.
And also with you.

Wendy

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31/10/2021 - Pentecost XXIII

Pentecost XXIII  Ruth 1. 1-18; Mark 12.13-17, 28-34


What is the first commandment?

Jesus is asked, and he responds in words which are very familiar to us. The first commandment is to love. Specifically, to love God with our entire beings, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

A commandment we hear most every time we gather for worship. In Mark’s account of this ask, the scribe agrees, and elaborates on Jesus's answer with a surprising insight of his own: to love God and neighbour is much more important than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. Adds the scribe. In other words, love is more important than piety, ritual, tradition, or penance.

Love is more important than religion. When Jesus hears the scribe’s words, he proclaims that the scribe is not far from the kingdom of God. Everyone listening in on the conversation falls silent, not daring to ask Jesus another question. Our Gospel story ends in stunned silence. Ruth’s version of love, which we heard today in the Old Testament reading, is the version that silences the crowd in Mark's Gospel story, centuries later. Ruth’s words spoken in the aftermath of catastrophic loss, and on the cusp of ongoing uncertainty and danger.

The ancient stories of scripture can help us redefine our understanding of love. The primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment. When Ruth pledges to ‘walk in love’ with Naomi, she knows that her path will be unfamiliar. It will be costly. We know from the end of Ruth and Naomi’s story, it will also be the path that leads to healing, redemption, joy, and new life.

Turning from Ruth and Naomi’s story to our own story of love and commitment – How many times have you been loved when you were bitter and bereft? When has someone loved you in the midst of their own vulnerability? How often have you pledged your fidelity to the vulnerable, the lost, the defeated, the hopeless - and discovered that God meets you in that pledge? When have you embarked down a loving path, not because of what you felt, but because you responded in obedience to the first and greatest commandment? Silence is the appropriate first response to the radical love we are called to.

We dare not speak of it glibly. We dare not cheapen it with shallow sentiment or piety. We dare ask for the grace to receive it as the scribe received it. In awed and grateful silence.

The love which flows from God knows no barrier of skin colour or national boundary or pronoun. This love burns on the lips of those who would cage up the refugee, ostracise those who are different, or condemn those of different beliefs.
This love which gives rather than takes, which forgives rather than condemns, includes rather than exclude, is ultimately taken outside nailed and crucified by the nails of people who live not in love but in fear.

However, this love is stronger than any cross, any nail, any fear-based belief. This love lives in our heart, and in our soul, and in our strength, and in our mind enabling us to do more than merely obey the command to love, we live that love. We are that love.
Wendy

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24/10/2021 Stewardship Sunday

Stewardship Sunday Job 42.1-6, 10-17 Mark 10.46-52

 

When we first meet Job, he is a careful and perhaps even fearful father, a man who covers all bases and secures God’s protection for his family by even praying for his children’s possible sins. Theologian Ellen F. Davis in her thought-provoking book, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, writes: This book [of Job] is not about justifying God’s actions; it is about Job’s transformation.

It is useless to ask how much (or how little) it costs God to give more children. The real question is how much it costs Job to become a father again. How can he open himself again to the terrible vulnerability of loving those whom he cannot protect against suffering and untimely death? When we last see Job, he is lavishly loving his new children, breaking social custom to give his daughters as well as his sons inheritances, and naming his three beautiful girls with almost mischievous delight: Dove, Cinnamon, and Horn of Eye-Shadow. In other words, when we last see Job, he is choosing life.

Choosing courage. Choosing to open his heart to love what he cannot control. This is the choice that lies before us, too. Opening our heart to love what we cannot control. When suffering comes, when loss shatters our belief in a predictable world and a “safe” God, will we participate in the lavish, unbounded love of God, who adores a created cosmos that includes contingency, chaos, destruction, and disorder?

This week’s Gospel reading features a healing story which is also of choice. Also about will we? Blind Bartimaeus sits by the roadside, begging for money. As Jesus and a large crowd pass by, the man begins to shout: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Those standing nearby try to shut him up, but their reprimands only prompt Bartimaeus to shout louder. Jesus stops and asks the same people who had just scolded the blind man to lead him forward. They obey. Take heart; get up, he is calling you, they tell Bartimaeus, who throws off his cloak and springs up. And Jesus asks the same question he has just asked James and John What do you want me to do for you? My teacher, let me see again, Bartimaeus replies.

Immediately, the Gospel writer tells us, Bartimaeus regains his sight, and follows Jesus on the way. In giving sight to Bartimaeus Jesus heals the spiritual blindness of the surrounding crowd. Though Bartimaeus is the literal blind man in the story, it’s the crowd - the blind man’s friends, his peers, his culture, his society - that renders him unseen. To their seeing eyes, the blind man by the roadside is invisible, and therefore expendable. His shouts and cries are not worthy of attention. His suffering is not important enough to warrant tenderness, patience, or even curiosity. When the invisible one dares to speak out, the only efficient and reasonable thing to do is to shut him up. The only priority is to restore order, re-establish the social hierarchy, and maintain a status quo that keeps the privileged comfortable. That comfort is precisely what Jesus renders impossible.

Once the crowd sees Bartimaeus, they cannot unsee him. Once Jesus opens their eyes to his full humanity, they must respond with compassion: Take heart; get up; he is calling you. Jesus heals the crowd first so that they can, in turn, participate in Bartimaeus’s healing. What the blind man needs is not physical sight alone; he also needs visibility and validation within his community. In this double miracle story, Jesus grants him both. Bartimaeus - in his blindness - sees what the crowd does not. He calls Jesus “Son of David,” a title Jesus doesn’t make public during his ministry.

The Gospels make clear that Jesus’s true identity remains hidden from most people until after the Resurrection. Even his disciples struggle to understand who and what their Teacher really is. It might be the case that most of Jesus’s followers are too busy seeing what they want to see - a magician, a political and military leader, a carpenter’s son, a wise man – to notice what the blind man - free of all such filters – discerns so quickly: Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God. We might say, then, that this is one of the rare and beautiful moments in the Gospels when Jesus himself is truly seen. Bartimaeus sees Jesus as wholly and purely as Jesus sees Bartimaeus; the gaze and the recognition in this story are mutual.

I wonder if Jesus stops because the blind man surprises and delights him with this visionary gift. “Teacher, I see you.” We hear Bartimaeus “throws off his cloak” and follows Jesus “on the way.” A cloak is both a beggar’s covering and his livelihood. The cloak he wraps around his shoulders for warmth and security. The cloak he spreads out on the ground every morning to collect coins from passersby. The cloak he folds again to gather up each day’s meager earnings at nightfall. I am in awe of the trust Bartimaeus has in Jesus by the end of this story – a trust deep enough to enable him to cast aside what’s most familiar and safe, in exchange for “a way” that is new, and full of uncertainty. In shedding his cloak, Bartimaeus sheds his identity. In setting out on “the way,” Bartimaeus becomes a disciple, a traveller, a pilgrim. He commits himself without looking back. He strains forward instead of clinging to history.
On this Stewardship Sunday, we are being asked, what can Jesus do for us? And there is a lot Jesus can to do … for us. As there is a lot we can do … for us. Like Job we can choose life in the experience of much hardship. Like Bartimaeus we can strain forward instead of clinging to history Jesus asks Bartimaeus to articulate his heart’s desire. What do you want me to do for you? Isn’t it obvious what Bartimaeus wants Jesus to do for him? Jesus asks, anyway. He doesn’t presume. He doesn’t reduce Bartimaeus to his blindness. Jesus honours the fullness and complexity of a human being who has many desires, many longings, and many needs.

In asking the question, Jesus invites Bartimaeus into the honest self-reflection essential to growth and healing. What is in your heart? What do you long for? Where in your deepest desires might we find each other? Jesus invites us into the honest self-reflection essential to growth and healing.

What do you want me to do for you? Isn’t it obvious what we want Jesus to do for us? Jesus asks, anyway. He doesn’t presume. Jesus doesn’t reduce us to our blindness. It is at once a loving and a terrifying question. It calls for radical honesty. Radical vulnerability. Radical trust. In his compassion, Jesus will not stop asking. And in our need, we will not stop telling him.

Wendy

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17/10/2021 - Pentecost XXI

Pentecost XXI Gospel Mark 10:35-45

 

Last week my 3 year old grandgirl asked me if I was a kid or a grownup?

A grown up I said, with great authority and a clarity of confirmation … and yet I have been reflecting on the question and my answer ever since.
The questions of little ones tell us much of what they see, and what we may have become too grown up to notice. We become blind. The child loves and trusts, a child can ask the outrageous, the questions we might like to ask however lessons of politeness and manners and decorum keep our mouths and hearts shut.

Today’s question of James and John has all the qualities of a child’s question.  We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you? They ask. James and John have a love and a trust for Jesus which allows their question to be asked. They can see that Jesus is going to be in glory and they don’t want to be forgotten. They don’t want not to be there. Jesus, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.
What is it you want me to do for you? Answers Jesus. Using his familiar way of answering a question with a question. With Jesus there is no hesitation, embarrassment or concern. Jesus is not going to be comprised, tricked or have his word put into question or doubt, this will not happen no matter the ask, so Jesus asks James and John What is it you want me to do for you? 

Their want was for each to be granted to sit one at his right hand and one at his left in his glory.  Jesus has another question for them. He asks if they are able?  Are they able to be baptised with the baptism he is baptised in, able to drink the cup that he drinks? Are they able to be part of the story of God which includes the pain of crucifixion for the glory of resurrection. And they say yes.

They were able to ask the question because they were blind to all what their answer would hold. Unlike blind Bartimaeus who had the vision to ask to see
these disciples did not see their blindness. Jesus knew all that and more as he lovingly answers them and then waits for them to grow into their answer.
The questions we ask are a signpost of where we are in life. We ask about what we see and want. 

Where did I come from? asks the child.

Do you like me? asks the insecure school boy and girl.
Do you love me? asks the young person.
Will you marry me? asks the nervous person.
Why me? asks the dying mother of two young children.
Where did the love go? asks the divorced person.
How much? asks the unemployed person.
Where is home? asks the one with dementia.
Where is God? asks the inmates of Auschwitz.
How can I do this? asks the prisoner in for life.

Today’s gospel is calling us to ask our question, and to live our answer. To be part of our answer. What would be your question to our Lord? What have you seen, and what can you live? Our question could be anything, and some may include …

Why has this happened to me?
Has all of this been for nothing?
Where were you when I needed you?
Why is there so much hatred about love?
Will I be reunited with loved ones in heaven?
Is eternal life mine?
Is the pandemic to do with judgement?
Why do so many hunger while others feast?
Were women priests part of your plan all along?
And what about those changes to the Lord’s prayer?
Will good people enter heaven even though they choose not to believe in you?
Is Hitler in heaven?

And if Jesus were to ask of you What is it you want me to do for you? how would you answer? What is it you want me to do for you?
And in our question let us not be like James and John … who were blind to all whom Jesus is for them, and for us. May we be able to ask our question and able to live the answer, able to live the answer of all our questions. Able to be part of the answer.

And if all that is asked of you, and all the questions of life seem too much and too many, there is a wonderful poem by Rainer Rilke, which may also need to be asked. One I often used with prisoners when their questions were of not being able to live what they could see.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.
Do not seek the answers that cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them, and the point is to live everything.

Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it,
live along some distance day into the answer.

The Lord be with you.

Wendy.

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