Luke 12: 13-21 (Sermon 1: “A Fool’s World”)
Colossians 3: 1-11
Hosea 11: 1-11 ( Sermon 2: “A Fully Rounded God”)
Psalm 107: 1-9 & 43.
We have come here together
in the Presence of an awesome Host.
Here is patience and generosity, beyond our imagining.
Here is love and joy beyond our dreaming.
God satisfies those who are thirsty
and fill the hungry with good things.
O give thanks to God who is so good,
whose love goes on forever!
If you wish to be raised up with Christ,
then seek the high ground where Christ is found.
O give thanks to God who is so good,
whose love goes on forever!
Let the redeemed all say so together,
Those who have been liberated
and gathered in from many lands.
From the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south,
We seek the high ground where Christ is found.
O give thanks to God who is so good,
whose love goes on forever!
Let us worship our wonderful God.
WE APPROACH GOD IN PRAYER
You, Holy Friend, only you are our joy! You are the ground of our believing, the spring in our hoping, and the happiness in our loving. You are the reason why we are here and the purpose that will later take us on our journey. Help us to make the most of this time, reaching deeply and rising high in bountiful worship. Through Jesus, our guide and Saviour.
WE CONFESS OUR SIN AND TRUST IN SAVING GRACE
God is ready to satisfy those who thirst for goodness,
and those who are hungry for grace, will be filled with good things.
Let us in prayer make our confession..
If we were self sufficient, and had all the answers,
we would not be here, all-wise God.
If our achievements matched our aims
and if our deeds perfectly reflected our holist vows,
we would not be so spiritually hungry, God of truth and grace.
If we had cared for our neighbours with the love of Jesus Christ,
and cherished our loved ones without selfishness or impatience,
we would not be seeking your mercy, redeeming God.
We bring to you our inept and evil ways, and rest the troublesome load of frustration, disappointment, regret and guilt in your hands. Please wash the grime and infection from our wounds, and anoint us with the salve of forgiveness. Take us gently by the chin and lift up our faces so that we can look up into the face of Christ Jesus without shame or fear. With him let us recover our authentic humanity and face all coming challenges with his quiet strength and optimism. In his name we so pray.
Family of God, lift up your spirits with thanksgiving to God whose nature is always to have mercy. All who have come clean and sought forgiveness, shall never need to revisit old shame again. The untarnished future is God’s and it is now offered to you with open hands. You are forgiven, all things have become new! Through Christ Jesus our Saviour!
O give thanks to God who is so good,
whose love goes on forever!
PRAYER FOR CHILDREN
Save Us From Ourselves
please don’t let us get away
with spoiling our own lives.
Whenever we become a gup*,
and think more about toys and clothes and things
than about being loved by Jesus and loving you,
please be hard on us,
and save us from ourselves.
Clear our muddled brains,
put our own Spirit in our hearts,
that we may again start acting less like a gup*
and more like your true children.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
* gup= An aboriginal word for fool.
PSALM 107: 1-9 & 43
Come and celebrate the goodness of God,
whose unlimited love stands forever.
Let God’s liberated people sing and cheer,
all who are freed from deep trouble;
those who have found new birth
from Hobart to Cairns, Sydney to Perth.
Some wandered in a spiritual desert,
unable to find where they belong;
so exhausted from hunger and thirst
they had lost the will to live.
At their wits end they cried out to God,
and were liberated from their misery,
and taken along a newly opened road
to reach their true spirit home.
Let them celebrate this unqualified love
and God’s wonderful work amongst us!
Our spiritual thirst is fully quenched,
the hungry are filled with the best food.
Let all people take time to reflect
on the unlimited affection of God.
Whoever wants to be really smart,
must begin by taking God’s love to heart.
© B.D. Prewer 2000
He always talked big,
and liked dropping a name
when chatting with neighbours;
but his true claim to fame
was in building big barns.
His wife was a great mum,
his kids did well at school,
but he took these for granted
while he worked like a mule
on building bigger barns.
He schemed into the night
to make his farm more grand.
He took a heart attack and died
with the plans in his hand
for even bigger barns.
On a wintry afternoon,
the hearse drove slowly past
the biggest barns around;
then went on to the cemetery
where they put him in the ground.
© B.D. Prewer 2000
(See “Beyond Words” for
another on the same subject.)
Loving God, by your most precious son you have taught us that the good life slips through the fingers of those who are most grasping, yet falls like a bonus into the hands of the poor and the humble. Teach us to trust nothing that money can buy, but to build our life on those eternal verities wherein are found love and peace and holy joy. Through Christ Jesus our rock and salvation.
SERMON 1: A FOOL’S WORLD
Luke 12: 20
“And God said: you fool. Tonight you must give up your life.”
In an era when economics are king, and determine every policy from foreign affairs, to public health, to the quality of education, and to the sustaining of the arts, it is appropriate to hear again the story which Jesus told about a rich man and his plans for the future.
Here was a bloke who just wanted to build bigger and yet bigger barns. Now isn’t that an apt description of the expectations of many Australians? Although there is a considerable minority of battlers who are getting poorer, the majority are prosperous and expectant of more, while a few more are getting obscenely rich by leaps and bounds.
Have you noticed the size and ostentation of many houses being built in new sub-divisions? Is there some law (which I don’t know about) which decrees that as families grow smaller houses must get larger?
“I will pull down my barns and build larger ones...... and I will say to myself: “Self, you have plenty of stuff laid up for many years; take it easy, eat drink and be merry.”
While we are building our bigger barns, what is happening to our real selves?
THE PARABLE AS TOLD BY JESUS
Turn to the story told by Jesus.
1/ “There was a rich man whose land yielded heavy crops”
It looks as if he had the advantages of the rich, owing the best quality land, maybe able to employ the best farming practices, and also having the good luck of a few bumper seasons. I suspect that like every rich person I have ever met, he assumed that every gram of his success was well deserved. That his special character, or skill, or hard work, or even his righteous prayers, were being justly rewarded. There is no thought of good luck, and no thought of what some of us call providence. It’s a case of “I’m a good bloke and I deserve it.”
2/ Notice next that there is no suggestion of impropriety. Jesus does not even hint at anything wrong with his code of practice. There is nothing like those exploiters vehemently criticised in Jeremiah ( 12-11) that suggests his prosperity was the result of criminal activity. Nor was he one of those sharpies such as those referred to in Proverbs (11:26) whose intention was to build bigger barns to hoard the produce and finally force up prices. This is an honest man. In fact, he even quotes from the Book of Ecclesiastes ( 8:15) to justify his position.
3/ The only thing wrong with this rich farmer was that he was stupid. With all his property and all his big plans, he had missed the real point of life. He lost the plot. He threw all his energies into physical prosperity and planned for future physical self indulgences. He did not stop to ask: “Is this all there is to life?” And so he died as a spiritual pauper.
Imagine his funeral.
A large send off I am sure, because I have noticed through my ministry that people who build big barns (of one sort or another!) usually get a big “send off”.
What was his eulogy about? Success and big barns, I suppose. Afterwards, outside the church would the mourners swap stories about his big barns? Would they say to his widow: “He’ll be greatly missed. He set a standard in big barns that this district will always remember”. And the epitaph: “One who built the biggest barns. Sorely missed by all.”
I wonder how his children felt? Had he been a good father or was he so busy that he gave them scant attention? Did they really know him? Maybe he gave them lavish pocket money, but how much love?
And what about his wife? Did she feature in his allocation of time and energy? Was her advice ever sought? How does a marriage go when one partner is enthralled with building bigger barns?
The fact is that he was stupid. His missed the whole point of life. He left unexplored the personal-spiritual dimension, the better business of loving God and loving others. He had ceased to be alert to the precious nature of life, the wonder of the gift of each new day, the miracle of love, and the exceptional potential of his own soul.
(By the way, I even wonder whether his eldest son was lumbered with the expectation of having his late father’s plans for bigger barns brought to fruition.? If so, what a grim fate.)
The most surprising thing about people like this, is that they have little they can call their own. There was nothing left when death stripped him down to the essential truth. Our mortality shows what is really ours, what we are really worth; and this worth is not measured in big barns, big power, big popularity, big influence, big status. God’s currency is love, love and more love. Love cannot be devalued either in life or death. It is eternal. The fool in this parable had nothing to take with him in the hour of death. A fools life end’s with total emptiness.
A MAN WITH NO BARNS
Compare the builder of big barns with the story teller. Jesus said of himself: “The foxes have lairs, and the birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Already Jesus was watched by those who wanted to rob him of his freedom and take his life. Already in Jerusalem the schemes were progressing. This Jesus who travelled so lightly, would soon be hounded, betrayed , arrested, deserted, denied, tortures, stripped of even his clothing and butchered.
He did not get a funeral send off like the man with the barns. A few women and the disciples John stood near him. His enemies gathered around and jeered. At one point he cried aloud that even God seemed to have forsaken him. When dead he is quickly placed in a borrowed grave.
Yet this Jesus with absolutely nothing, is the person with the most riches. He has real life, boundless life, multi dimensional life, which transcends space and time. He has love-life, deathless life, so abundant that he shares it with every generation since.
You see, the riches of Jesus were seen in their full glory when he was absolutely stripped bare of everything else. This is the direct opposite of those who surround themselves with possessions.
Economic success? Possessions, money, eat drink and be merry? Those whom our society call wise, Jesus shows up to be “Fools!”
The person whom his killers labelled “fool,” God has declared to be his only true son.
AT THE LORD’S TABLE
See how wonderfully this comes together at the Table of the Lord.
What we have on this Table is a small quantity of bread and wine. You are invited to have a morsel from that small amount bread and a sip from that one cup of wine. It is minimal. Anything less and it would hardly be discernible.
By the world’s standards this is not a meal; it is a travesty. This is not the way to eat drink and be merry!
Yet we do. This is the real thing. This is ultimate celebration. For this fragment of a meal is infinitely more than any other meal. This is the maximum banquet of Christian experience, because here we are nourished by Christ himself.
Here we are staggeringly wealthy. It is the food of heaven, and as we eat we already pass from death to life and celebrate with the mighty host of those who live eternally.
SERMON 2: A FULLY ROUNDED GOD?
Hosea 11: 1-9
“When Israel was a child I loved him.”
In my sermon last week on Hosea, the image of God was masculine.
It used the metaphor of a man choosing a bride and cherishing her “for better for worse.”.
This week in Hosea chapter 11, the metaphor is feminine.
God is spoken of as a mother cherishing her child, then lamenting when that child grows up to be rebellious and dissolute. Thousands of mothers in Australia, and millions around the world, can identify with that motherly heartache.
Let us go through the text of Hosea again, in a freewheeling translation.
When Israel was a little child, I loved him,
And I set him free from slavish dependence.
Yet now the more I call his name
the more he runs away from me.
He sacrifices everything for false values
and burns himself out for the world’s idols.
Yet it was I who taught my child to walk.
I used to carry him till my arms ached.
He does not remember how often
I tended his wounds and healed him.
I first I led him with training straps,
the bonds of a mother’s true love.
I was the person who shared his pain
and still bear the yoke of his burdens.
It was I alone would bend down to him
and lift him up to suckle him.
Hosea recognises the mother-like nature of God.
Today I want to celebrate with you this aspect of the nature of God. The female qualities of God are most precious. Hosea and Jesus of Nazareth are the people who best express those qualities. They have what I will suggest is a rounded understanding of God.
What follows is more like a testimony than a sermon.
A MASCULINE GOD?
Like many of you, I grew up with the notion of a masculine God in my head.
After my period of teenage rebellion, and my brief visit into the territory of atheism, I returned to Christ like a desert creature thirsty for water.
But still, at that early stage (as far as I can remember) it was a male God.
Even as my concept of God expanded massively to encompass, and underpin, and outreach the immensities (and the awesome intricacies) of the universe that were unfolding through the discoveries of modern science, my concept of God nevertheless had a masculine tone to it.
That does not mean that I visualised God as some kind of cosmic grandfather.
I knew very well that God was too “Other” for any such crude visualisation. But in prayers I used the “God our Father” words a lot, and that inevitably tinted my thought with maleness. (I am utterly convinced that one cannot use words in that way without them shaping a certain feeling about the nature of God.)
Looking back now, I see that my notion of God was far from being well rounded.
It was lop sided view of our Creator, Redeemer and Inspirer. And I was the poorer for it.
A FEMININE GOD?
Things changed a few years down the track.
Still precious to me is that day in the late 1950’s when a footnote in a theological treatise raised the feminine aspects of God. The thought set my mind expanding yet again and my thoughts dancing with glee. If humanity is the handiwork of God, made to reflect something of the nature of the divine, then female qualities issue from God’s own nature.
This insight brought a wonderful enrichment in my spiritual experience.
My wife, my mother, my sisters and cousins, my women friends and also those other robust women who confronted, needled me or nurtured me, all reflected the glory of God. Wonderful!
The God I am now able to love and worship
includes (yet goes far beyond!) the best I have experienced in womanhood.
I think I saw, and still see, woman as being stronger than men.
Generalisation? Yes, of course all generalisations are dangerous. Not all women can classed together, no more than all men can be so categorised. Many men have their female side, and many women have their masculine side.
Yet there seems to be a tenacity in much womanly loving.
A painful nurturing and creating which exceeds that of many (maybe most) men. There is a profound strength and courage and complex embracing of hope. Women (that dangerous generalisation again!) seem more willing to suffer for those whom they love. Resurrection-like, they rise up from disasters. And they don’t give up.
It is significant that it is so in our aboriginal communities.
Where loss of faith and hope among the men have led to tragic degradation, it is the women who hold things together. They themselves are often abused and violated, yet they hang in there, caring and hoping and fighting for a better life for all. Men may still occupy the up-front positions on community councils or on government sponsored boards. But the real strength lies with the women. They are the dependable ones in the community, and the real innovators and hope bringers.
Women understand that new birth involves travail.
They cope when many men become frustrated, angry or fall into a heap. They hold on to the dream when others may settle for the mediocre.
THE BEST OF MANHOOD AND WOMANHOOD
Our God is awesomely complete.
The God of Christ Jesus, and the God of the prophet Hosea, has the best of human qualities in supra-abundance. The best we see in both manhood and womanhood flows from God our creator, sustainer, and redeemer.
I was ready for the so called feminist revolution.
Because of that one footnote I read in the 1950’s, and the way God used it to widen my narrow mind, it was no surprise to me when the gender revolution shook the church. From the late 1960’s and 70’s and onwards, advocates of the feminine nature of God came out into the mainstream in Christian thinking. I am indebted to woman Biblical scholars and theologians who have taken a leading role in recent decades. Things I was groping towards, yet partially blinded from seeing by my own maleness, they have made explicit.
A few women thinkers have, from my (male) perspective, gone overboard.
In their enthusiasm, some at times have put at risk the key nature of God as revealed in Christ Jesus. But that is to be expected when one considers the layers and barriers of male resistance they have had to surmount. There are excesses in all revolutions.
HOSEA TO JESUS
The God whom we worship, is indefinable.
Far more wonderful than we can ever speak or conceive. Yet what we have come to know we should treasure and celebrate with undiluted joy!
Hosea showed a new breadth of understanding.
He pictured God as a mother bending down to embrace and suckle her child, Israel. A mother who cries out when her child grows rebellious: “How can I give you up!” Yet Hosea was torn between this new insight into God and the older authoritarian idea of God who might indeed be ready condemn and cast Israel aside. In his prophecies he swings between light and gloom.
Jesus inducted us into a deeper understanding.
He revealed a God of tenacious love who will never surrender the human family. A God who was willing to suffer crude humiliation and extraordinary pain for humanity. A God for whom the travail of a cross was the way of redemption and new birth.
Please don’t take the following amiss:
Jesus to me seems to be one of the most feminine men who ever lived. By that I do not mean he was what is sometimes labelled “effeminate.” He was strong and daring, robust in thought and deed. As well as being insightful; intuitive, and compassionate, he was tough as a mother’s love, and as enduring as a woman’s tenacity.
Jesus regularly spoke of his God as the intimate “Abba.”
He was using the affectionate word of a child for his daddy; expressing the more tender and nurturing side of a father rather than the authority and power of traditional male stereotype. That does not mean he was a soft touch. The scene in the temple when Jesus “cleansed “ it, also helps define the nature of Abba.
Jesus reflected God more truly than any other person .
No doubts on that score. As well as the male qualities, he also revealed those feminine qualities which eternally belong to God. As God’s one, true son, he was then, the most feminine man who ever lived. He was a person of enduring grace. For me as a Christian, Christ Jesus remains the litmus test for any concept of God we would embrace.
Through him God is revealed.
In him we find both the authentic fatherhood and the motherhood of God, the brotherhood and sisterhood of God, the female friendship of God and the male mateship of the most holy God.
GOD IS ALWAYS GREATER THAN WE THINK
The truly rounded God is found as we journey in faith:
From Abraham and Sarah to Ruth and Isaiah, from Hosea and Gomer to Mary and Joseph; from Bethlehem to Galilee, from Golgotha to the empty tomb, from a breakfast with a risen Lord on the shores of Galilee to the fiery love-energy of Pentecost.
I say again, we can never speak adequately of God.
Nor can we ever conceive God as an image in our mind. God will always be greater than we think. But that greatness includes both those rich virtues that we tend to see as either male or female. In Christ we have the call, and the saving grace, to become more like this very God as we love and respect one another.
This I believe.
So help me God!
WE GIVE THANKS TO GOD
Let us give thanks for the many things that are priceless.
Let us pray.
We thank you, delight-full Creator and Redeemer,
for the host of things that money cannot buy.
Sunrise on a cold morning and wreaths of mist in valleys.
Magpies warbling in the rain and ducklings exploring parkland ponds.
The micro-delicacy of small wildflowers and the bold splendour of wattle blossom.
For the pleasure of waking refreshed after a night of uninterrupted rest.
Familiar faces that smile a greeting and share the breakfast rush.
A wave from a neighbour or a surprise visit from an old friend.
For the awe we feel in the presence of exquisite beauty or pure goodness.
Human curiosity which itches to explore and make sense of things.
Love which spends itself without thought of either comfort or reward.
For the Christ who came among us with a zest for abundant life.
The parables that unsettle us and leave us exposed to raw Gospel.
His saving grace which pays the highest price that we might truly live.
We thank you, delight-full Creator and Redeemer, for joys so freely available,
and for the added joy of knowing that they not just good luck but your gifts
to a much-blessed people. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Let us brings the needs of other people before the throne of grace.
Let us pray.
Loving Friend, continue to bless us day by day. God of both the saints and the fools, please uphold your children by your immense and dependable love.
Bless all health and overcome all disease.
Bless all happiness and overcome all distress.
Bless all faith and overcome all anxiety.
Bless all enlightenment and overcome all ignorance.
Bless all forgiveness and overcome all bitterness.
Bless all compassion and overcome all violence.
Bless the lives you have given us, and overcome all fear and death.
God of saints and also of fools, save your children from everything that diverts and corrupts,
and saturate us in the truth of Christ Jesus. In his name we ask it.
A BLESSING FOR THE WILLING
Happy are they who know where the real treasure is to be found.
Happy are they who take from the treasure and share it.
Friends of God, prepare to leave this church with spirits lighter than when you came in;
Trusting Christ to take an intimate interest in the costly investment he has made.
Invest in others as his love has invested in you;
Rejoicing in the fellowship of his Spirit.
The blessing of the eternal God is upon you:
Now and forever.