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The Holy Spirit – Living Water

Jesus brought the grace of God to bear upon the world. This week we remember that he was baptised by his cousin John the Baptist. He was baptised in water. Jesus refers to the Spirit of God as “Living Water” when he meets with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 6. Cryil of Jerusalem writes,

“Why did Christ refer to the grace of the Spirit under the name of water? Because through water all plants and animals live. The rain comes down from heaven and though it comes in one form, its effects have various forms; yes indeed, one spring watered all of paradise, and the same rain falls on the whole world, yet it turns white in the lily, red in the rose, and purple in the violet.”

Have you been baptised?

Baptism is a sign of entry into the Christian faith. Baptism with adults is in response to their confession of faith in God as followers of Jesus Christ. Unusual occurences can accompany baptism. When Jesus was baptised, a dove descended upon him.

When I was baptised, an overwhelming flood poured down my body from above as if a surge of power passed through me.

Adult parents often ask to have their children baptised. This is a carry over from the days of Christendom when citizenship was linked to the church; when nearly everyone went to church and if you didn’t go, you were the odd one out. Parents would have their baby baptised or ‘christened’ – in the ceremony, the child was given their name and recognised as part of society. Parents would instruct their child in the faith and when the child was a young teenager, they would confirm their own baptism and be given full membership in the life of the church.

To offer oneself for baptism is simply to offer oneself to God in a covenant relationship.

It is important to recognise that the ceremony of baptism – washing with water, is what people do. It brings order to our church life and has done so for centuries. But God knows the heart of the person being baptised and God’s Spirit is not something the Church may control or order at will. Indeed the Church is subject to the Spirit and often finds herself changed by the work of the Spirit!

God breaks into our lives in all sorts of ways and when we recognise God, when we respond to that voice that calls us to wholeness, our baptism is our way of entering into the community of God’s faith – a sign of our belonging to God, being part of his people today and being involved in his kingdom of grace in all we do and say.

We are the people of God, brought to birth in the rush of water, washed and sustained day by day by the beauty of water. We see the wonder of rivers and streams, and the endless waves of the mighty seas.
Our faces are lifted up to receive the gentle rain and the miracle of the greening of the earth as it falls. (Dorothy McRae-McMahon)

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all

I was talking with someone who was in the process of moving house.

We were discussing Christmas plans and preparations, gift giving and the real meaning of Christmas.

On the subject of giving and receiving gifts, she shared that she had told her family and friends…”Unless I can read it, eat or put it in the bath, I don’t want it!” What was she on about? Needing to move house had shown how much stuff she had…stuff she never used now, clothes she had outgrown, bits and pieces that were only being kept because they might come in handy one day or because they had sentimental attachment.

I liked her phrase…”Unless I can read it, eat it or put it in the bath, I don’t want it!”

How much stuff clutters up your life?

How much of you attention is drawn to the storage space in a house or a shed?

What needs storage? Stuff. Stuff that we aren’t using, but which we might need. Stuff to prove who we are, what we are: stuff that defines our being.

God save us from our stuff! Give us peace from this constant problem of storage!

In the letter to Titus, we read ” For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all..” Titus 2: 11

What is the grace of God?

It is that benevolent, challenging, powerful and loving presence of God touching our life, bringing hope, peace, joy and love.

How has this grace appeared?

Grace appeared in the person of Jesus…born as a tiny baby in a manger in Bethlehem; taken as a refugee to Egypt as an infant, raised as a carpenter’s son in Nazareth and emerging in his manhood as an itinerant teacher, healer and bringer of God’s truths to Palestine. Wherever Jesus touched people’s lives, he brought the grace of God to bear…healing, restoring, encouraging, challenging, teaching. God’s grace was enacted through Jesus. He saved people from their diseases, from their being ostrasized within their own communities, from their lostness as a people belonging to God. He did this for his own people, the Jews as well as for the Romans and the Greeks and other Gentiles he encountered.

What is the salvation Jesus brought?

Salvation is God’s grace in action. When we think about the stuff that is cluttering up our lives and wish our lives could be simpler, in a world where we have so much and so many other people have so little..we are really saying…how can I be saved from materialism and consumerism? We seek solutions to our dilemma and in our seeking, we pray. We pray to God for help. What can I do? The answer to our prayer may be our salvation. I am reminded as I write of the story of the Rich Man in Matthew’s gospel, who came to Jesus with his question…”what good thing must I do to achieve eternal life?” Now ‘Eternal life’ is related to having peace with one’s self; peace from he assurance that my life is lived according to God’s kingdom plan of justice and mercy for all.

Jesus replied to him, “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.” The man became sad…he did not know peace at this thought. Perhaps he went away to consider more what Jesus asked of him and of his role in God’s world.

We can never know the peace of salvation, while we allow the gap to grow between rich and poor. The rich are rich to help the poor…to ensure those who have more can equip those who have less, with the necessities of life. When our stuff is used in this way, salvation is at work.

Of course it depends on what we value.

The story is told of a rich family who decided to take their children to a third world country so they could learn how poor people lived. When the children returned home, their parents asked them, “Well did you learn how the poor people in the world live?”
Oh, yes,” they said. “So tell us, what did you learn from the trip?” asked the parents. Their son answered, “I saw that we have one dog and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have a whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go out of sight. We have a cleaner who serves us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.” Their parents were speechless. Then the children said, “Thanks Mum and Dad for showing us how poor we are.”

Now there are some young people saved from materialism and consumerism!

Salvation brings the peace of God into every situation. That is why poor people can still be happy – they know peace. That is why people dying from AIDs and Cancer can still have hope – they know peace.

Unless it is something to read, or eat or put in the bath – I don’t want it!

Peace can come when we know that we have helped a child learn to read.

Peace comes when we work to ensure the world’s food is distributed justly and all people have enough to eat.

Peace comes when we conserve resources so that all people have clean water to drink, to wash and grow their food.

The writer of Titus also tells us that the grace of God trains us or teaches us “to live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly.” verse12.

When we live in the grace of God, when we live our lives in the salvation that Jesus Christ alone can bring, our lives are changed by the grace of God. We become more self-controlled, decent & honest and more godly.

Let’s face it…when we live our lives in self-controlled, upright and godly ways, the whole world is blessed – and peace reigns. To achieve this lifestyle is simple. It is to give one’s life into the hands of the one born at that first Christmas, the one we call the Prince of Peace, the one who is the Saviour of the world. Amen

From Sadness to Gladness

Sermon for Sunday 19th November – West Lakes Church Family Sunday.

The Bible reading is the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1

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There is a picture of people’s hands clasped up in prayer and pleading to God. The colours are sad colours…they look like the colour of the sky on a sad and gloomy day…grey and black.

When we feel sad we can pray to God about what is making us sad.

Like Hannah did when she wanted a child of her own to love…she went to the Temple, which is like a big church and she prayed.

I think Hannah teaches us something about God when she prays about her sadness. She teaches us that we don’t have to hide our feelings from God…that we can be honest about what is going on our lives. We don’t have to pretend we are OK when we aren’t feeling OK.

When we are happy we can tell God about it.

And God wants to know about the times we are feeling sad too.

Now sadness is not all bad news.

There are times when I’m sad because I didn’t do a job very well and I feel I let people down, or when I didn’t do very well in a test or when people laugh at me and make fun of me. I talk to God about those times, because I feel like the picture on the screen then.

Other things that make me sad are when I see people dying of diseases like AIDs in Mawali and lots of those people are young children. I feel sad when I hear that people have their precious things stolen and when I hear there is not enough water in the River Murray and it’s dying.

Sadness like this comes from really caring about someone or something.

Perhaps you have felt sadness like this too if someone you know has been hurt or something you care about is getting worse.

Sadness like that urges us to action.

We want to do something about it to make it better.

Often when Jesus was walking around with his disciples, he would be sad when he saw the way some people were treated badly, through no fault of their own. They were treated badly because they were blind or crippled or poor. Jesus didn’t think that was how God wanted the world to live.

So he would do something about it.

He would heal the people; he would challenge the people in power about their attitudes. He would feed the hungry.

He would tell people about God’s kingdom.

A bit like the lady in the play today – she wanted to tell people the good news about God’s blessings. But she wasn’t just all words, was she? What was in the Bible she gave away?

Twenty dollars! Enough for a good feed for 2 homeless people.

That changed sad faces to glad faces, didn’t it?

Someone who cares can help you when you are sad too. God needed that lady to share his love and to care for those 2 people in the gutter. That was how they knew God’s blessing.

That lady was willing to share her faith in God to bless and she was willing to give $20 for God to use her to help others who are sad.

That’s how the church or the people who believe in God and worship God by following Jesus Christ, works.

We all feel sad sometimes.

We all care for one another when someone is feeling sad.

When we feel sad, we can turn to one of Jesus’ friends here at Church to help us be glad again – glad to be alive. Like the little girl in the picture.

And as a friend of Jesus, we can do things about situations that make us feel sad, like the drought…conserving our water, so everyone can be glad again!

One thing that makes me feel glad after I’ve been a bit sad is to sing a song about Jesus…and that’s what we are going to do now.

But first let’s have a prayer:

Dear God,

Thanks for wanting to know when we are sad as well as when we are glad. Thanks for people who care about our feelings and who do good things for us. Amen

Where are you God?

Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” There was a man, a simple man, who lived in Blanchetown – his name was Ron. He worked all his life in a simple job, was married with 3 kids, built a shack on the river and retired there. There is a serenity about the river…a stillness and a peace, where often the presence of God may be experienced. I took Ron’s funeral today – he had a loving family and many children and grandchildren, who all loved him passionately. He was a mentor and a source of wisdom. One boy said, “he taught me how to reel the fish in!” I could imagine Ron sitting in his tinnie with his wife, soaking in the ambience of the river, being at peace with himself. God was there, but he didn’t know it…he just experienced the grace of God.

Don’t we all do that? Experience the grace of God without realising or recognising that the deep peace we feel, the sens e of being love and “all is well” comes from the One who created us, who “knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139) … for the cynics, not everyone can understand this truth, but if you pray for God to reveal Godself to you, look for a sense of deep inner peace, look for a blessing from creation, for often creation reveals something of its Maker. There’s no getting away from it!!

Thanks God for Ron…help his family in their time of grief. Amen

Hannah’s barrenness

In 1 Samuel 1 we read of Hannah weeping before God because she is barren. She is ridiculed by the “other woman” she shares her husband with. Her barrenness in those days is seen as a sign of God’s disfavour. She is so overcome that she appears “drunk” to Eli, the High Priest of the Temple, as he watches her weeping and praying silently. He immediately makes assumptions about Hannah – she is drunk!!

How often do we make assumptions about people simply on their appearance or their behaviour? We need to take time to get to know someone, to develop a simple trust between each other that allows for open communication.

Even though Eli ticks off Hannah and tells her to get out and get herself together, Hannah has enough courage to say she is not what he thinks. Eli does listen. Often people don’t! They can be so consumed by their own opinions and so insecure that judgement is passed immediately. Eli recognises he has made a mistake about the woman and joins her in her suffering by praying for her and asking that her petition be heard and granted by God.

We are called to enter into the pain and suffering of each other, by being understanding of one another. By offering words of comfort and hope with the person. By praying for them.

The Scriptures say that Hannah left feeling much better. Her encounter with Eli began with misunderstanding, but because time and effort was made to share and listen and join in solidarity through empathy and prayer, Hannah was uplifted. She went home, had intercourse with her husband and became pregnant.

Not everyone has the happy outcome. There are many childless couples who long for a baby and their prayers are not answered. As their community we are invited to listen to their sharing, to join them in their suffering, to pray for them for a child, for a hope, for an acceptance and means to deal with their pain so that they may feel supported and understood and be uplifted.

Whatever your sadness and its cause, is there someone who has demonstrated they just don’t understand? Takle a moment to share what is really going on with you. God may well use you to help them listen and empathise and as a source of spiritual energy through your prayers. They may uplift you in spirit – you may encourage them in loving and caring for others. together you will make community.

Grief and Loss in the Book of Ruth

The opening words to the Book of Ruth talk about a famine in Bethlehem (which means “house of bread” – it would seem that God’s provision was not present in that place at this time) and how a man from there Elimelech (whose name means “My God is King”) takes his wife Naomi and 2 sons Chilion and Mahlon to live in the land of Moab.

Here is great loss and grief already present. Elimelech must no longer have faith in his God as King…ruler and provider for his life. Did he feel God had let him down? He had no bread for his family so he chooses to go to the Land of Moab. But why would he choose Moab and not Egypt or some other land? The choice of Moab is a choice against God for an Israelite. The story of Lot and his daughters in Genesis 19 tells of the incestuous origin of the Moabite people. The Moabite people were cut off from the Lord God (Deuteronomy 23: 3 – no Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the Assembly of the Lord) The Lord God was angry at the Israelite people for having “sexual relations with the women of Moab” (Number 25: 1) in their journey to the promised land. It would seem that the Moab would be the last place that an Israelite would want to go and still be in relationship with God. Yet Elimelech chooses to take his family there, away from the “promised house of bread.”

Have you ever been disappointed with God? Let down? Does God ever seem silent to your pain? It is tempting in this post-modern age of pluralism to give God the heave-ho and move onto one of the many other religious groups and try out their gods.  So many religions: which one is truth?  Jesus said, “I am the Way; the truth and the life…no-one comes to the Father but by me.”  I think he meant that in him we can find truth about our religious questions.  Peoples all over the world seek to worship a god.  If God, the Creator of the Universe does seek to live in a close relationship with all the created order, then it would make sense that God would place within human hearts the desire to find their God. Many religions around the world do reflect the nature of God.  Why would God not reveal Godself to the Australian aborigines, the Indians, the people of Africa or the Pacific Islands?  Jesus came to show us the nature of God.  In him we see the true God…that is why we can only find the Father by running it past what Jesus said and did.

So if your god demands you to do certain things like sacrifice, pay for your paryers to be answered etc, then that is not the true God.  We can all feel let down when our prayers are not answered, but be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water when you are thinking that maybe God isn’t there after all, or cannot be trusted to meet your need.

Loss takes something away from life…Elimelech felt a loss in his hunger and desire to care for his family.  Loss always creates change, but they are not the same things.

Change adds something to life.  Loss is a black hole: change is a quantum leap into a new galaxy.  We can never avoid loss, but we can choose the change it brings.

Welcome!

Hi, I am Reverend Sue Ellis of the West Lakes United Church. Follow my writings on this blog to see my thoughts about Sunday sermons and also leading worship in an aged care facility.

I hope you find it useful and stimulating.

Blessings,

Sue