Declare before God

Commitment Sunday

The Gospel today invites us as a church to ‘declare ourselves before God’ as good stewards. God loves giving – he gave no lesser gift than the wonderful gift of Jesus to ensure that we are not alone in this life. We are also invited to not be afraid – the most common commandment that the Lord tells us. When we think about our response to the Lord in the areas of time, talents and treasures, all kind of misconceptions and myths can get in the way. We imagine that (1) we need to earn God’s love – when we can do nothing that will make God love us more. We believe that if we (2) obey God we will not enjoy life and miss out on so many things – yet Jesus tells us that he came that we may have life in abundance (John 10:10). Finally, we think that God is angry and needs to be appeased, so we think that (3) we need to buy God off and try to do this at the least possible price – surely those few coins that we toss into the collection will be just enough!

In fact, giving shapes our hearts and lives. Giving is so much more about our need to give than God’s need to receive. He doesn’t need anything from us – but we certainly never grow until we learn to freely give. There are many places in scripture that teach the principle of the first fruits – beginning in Genesis 4 with the offerings of Abel and Cain – then the offering of a tithe from Abraham to Melchizedek (Genesis 14) and the instruction that God gave Moses to offer the first-born children to be redeemed by the Lord. This continues in the Exodus tradition of offering sacrifice, and culminates in the offering of the first fruits of the land once they take possession of the Holy Land (Deut 26).

Everything belongs to God!

When we think about our giving, we are invited to think about a few issues. The first is “How do I give?” – do I give intentionally, or only accidentally? The second is “What do I give?” – do I give my very best (the first fruits), or do I only offer the leftovers to God and the church community?

When we want to grow in any area of our lives, it is important to remember that it takes time to learn something new, and to become skilled and gifted in an area. So the first of the baby steps that we need to take is (1) begin to give regularly by making giving a priority in our lives. When St Paul teaches on giving (over several of his letters) he tells us that our giving should be Proportional and Regular (eg 2 Cor 8:1-3 and 1 Cor 16:1-2). As Jesus reminds us in the Gospel, do not be afraid of this. It takes practice to learn to do anything that is truly valuable.

If we have been giving for a while, then we may be ready to move onto baby step 2. Which takes the commitment to not just give something regularly, but to consider our finances and carefully determine how much we can afford to give – and then increase that amount by 1%. Remember, it is not the whole dollar amount that we give that matters – it is the proportion of our income. If we only give from our excess, then we have not even begun to really give. If it is too easy – perhaps we need to add another 1% to what we give – or maybe even 5%?

Finally, if you have been committed to giving sacrificially for sometime and you are willing to really trust in the Lord, then you can really level up with step 3 – which is committing to tithe on your gross income. There is a strange economics that comes into play once you commit to tithing. Even with a degree in Economics and Accounting, I am not sure why my finances have continued to do so well after I made this commitment many years ago to give what is already God’s back to God, his church and his people. But I know that this is something that we can always trust in – we can put God to the test in this area and he will be faithful. Guaranteed!

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All resources
Video Reflection: We Give (Dan Stevers)
Song Reflection: Open Up Our Eyes (Acapella by Bammel Church)

Corpus Christi – Lessons in Love

This Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ does not only draw to a conclusion this extended season of Easter Feasts – it also draws together the whole of the mystery and wonder that we have been celebrating since the beginning of Lent. The twin feasts of Trinity and Corpus Christi hang uneasily at the conclusion of the Season of Easter. We have already returned into the Season of Growth and Discipleship with the return of the green vestments as a sign of the new life of discipleship. But these two feasts, although described as feasts of the Lord in Ordinary Time, are really best understood as extensions of Easter, from which they derive their context.

What we discover is that these days are all about lessons in love.

Beginning with Holy Thursday, the Lord strips himself of his garments to be a slave washing the dirty feet of the disciples as an example. Then he continues to offer this example and choice on Good Friday when love refuses to say no, and the Lamb of God is sacrificed for us and for our salvation. The day of Resurrection joy is the day when love has the final say and sin and death do not. The whole of the season of Easter provides a continuing reflection for us as disciples to continue to grow and learn in the school of love. As Easter draws to a conclusion, we move into this series of four feastdays that together celebrate this particular gift of love.

The Ascension opens us to the reality of love as gift and return. Pentecost draws us deeper into love that is as close as our breath. The Trinity reminds us of the dynamic union of love that exists in the very heart of God – a circle-dance union that we are invited to join. But all of these beautiful and powerful feasts can remain too abstract and distant from our ordinary lives and experiences. Which is where the gift of such ordinary elements – bread and wine – which are transformed and changed to become for us these beautiful and precious gifts. If we should ever doubt that God is close to us, the gift of food that we can eat and drink should be enough to tell us that our God is never distant, never alien. God becomes this ordinary bread so that we can hold him, and take him in our hands and place him on our tongues, that he might become one with us at even a molecular level. We could not even imagine something so intimate?!

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Trinity Love

For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son…

The famous and beautiful Gospel today (from John 3 verses 16-18) is the last part of a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, a man who is called a leading Pharisee and leader of the Jews. Even though he is a teacher of the law, it is clear that old Nic does not get some of the subtle distinctions that Jesus makes between earthly and heavenly realities and the clear gift that God wants everyone to have – the life of the age to come.

The whole approach of God to the world is rescuing it from its bondage to sin and death so that all human beings will be drawn into the communion of life and love that we can only find in God. Jesus tells us that this is the work of the Son.

Remember that in the Gospel of John, sin is not about morality – it is all about belief. So, judgement is not about some future reality or event, but about what happens in the here and now. Jesus brings it ‘down to earth’ and makes it present in himself.

Each person determines for herself or himself what their judgement will be. The only question that determines this is precisely the question of whether they decide or not to accept the revelation of God as a God of love, that comes to us through Jesus.

What we are seeing is exactly what God’s own love looks like. When Jesus died on the cross this was the complete and dramatic display of God’s own love. The cross was not a muddled accident. The cross was not God letting the worst happen to someone else. The cross is at the centre of this amazing new image of who God is.

He is now to be known as the God who is both father and son, and the son is revealed, ‘lifted up’, when he dies under the weight of the world’s evil. Evil which was and is in the world, indeed, which is deep-rooted within us all, was somehow allowed to take out its full force on Jesus.

When we look at Jesus lifted high on the cross, what we are looking at is the result of the evil in which we are all stuck. And we are seeing what God has done about it. In this amazing way, we are seeing what God’s own love looks like. We are seeing the gift of the Trinity of love – this community of love and life that we are invited to be part of.

Because evil lurks deep within each of us, for healing to take place we must each be deeply involved in the process. This doesn’t mean that we just have to try that much harder to be good. All we can do, just as it was all the Israelites could do, is to look and trust: to look at Jesus, to see in him the full display of God’s saving love, and to trust in him.

This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should have the life of the age to come.

The point of the whole story is that you don’t have to be condemned. God’s act in the death of Jesus has lodged a sign in the centre of history. And the sign simply says: believe, and live.

Recorded at St Paul’s, Trinity Sunday, Year A. John 3:16-18

Personal Pentecost

The Gospel today (from John 20 verses 19-23) takes place on the evening of Easter Sunday. Mary Magdalene, who is the first apostle to see the Lord tells them about her encounter with Jesus. Now these disciples also see him.

By saying it happens on “that day” perhaps the author also wants us to remember the understanding that the Hebrew scriptures had of ‘the day of the Lord’ – for example, Isaiah 52 verse 6 that says, “My people shall know my name; on that day they shall know it is I who speak.”

John tells us that it is the disciples who are gathered – not just the Eleven – or the 12 apostles minus Judas. Jesus then greets this larger group of disciples who have gathered with what had become the standard greeting within rabbinic Hebrew – shalom alekem – “Peace be to you.” Here, the words of Jesus are not just a wish – but a statement of fact.

Jesus then shows the disciples his hands and side and it is at this moment that they can begin to move from disbelief to belief and they are ‘overjoyed’ at seeing the master. Showing his body to them connects his earthly body to the risen Jesus and fulfils the promise that Jesus had made during the last Supper that their pain and sorrow will turn to joy (see John 16, verses 20 to 22).

After their recognition of him not simply as the risen Jesus, but also as their Lord, Jesus can now greet them again with shalom alekem – “Peace be with you.” Only now can they actually receive his gift of peace. And only now, after receiving that gift of peace, can they hear and receive the commission of the Lord: ‘As the father has sent me, so I’m sending you.’

All of these disciples, through their faith in the risen Lord, and with the gift of his peace, are now able to be sent, that is to become apostles of the risen Lord, just as Jesus had been sent by the father.

How on earth are the disciples to do such an extraordinary thing? Only with this precious gift from heaven – the gift that comes through the breath of Jesus – the gift of the holy Spirit. The Spirit is precisely that which empowers this fragile community to continue the work of Jesus. This is the only time that this word ‘to breathe’ is used in the New Testament, and it clearly evokes God breathing the breath of life into the first human in Genesis 2.

The Spirit-empowered mission of these disciples is to forgive sin – which in the Gospel of John is all about belief, not morality. To sin is to be blind to the revelation of God in the person of Jesus. So the commission that the disciples and the church receives in this Pentecost moment is to continue to make the love of God in Jesus known in the world. By doing this we are true to what Jesus said about the action of the Paraclete back in John 16 – “to prove the world wrong about sin – because they do not believe in me.”

The gift of the Spirit comes so that we can continue what God sent Jesus to do.

Ascension – Absence and doubt

The first question that emerges on this feast of the Ascension is why sometimes it is better for a person to leave. For parents, that day when a child leaves home to go to university or on their first big European back-packing working-holiday, the absence can be heart-wrenching. Yet we all know that there is a need to let a young person find themselves and their own identity.

In the case of Jesus, his departure is very different. He needs to be physically absent so that he can be present in even more wonderful ways – present not only in the word of God and in the sacramental life of the church, but also in the call to friendship and discipleship. The conclusion to Matthew’s gospel is fantastic. He carefully places the action back in Galilee, where it all began, and high on the side of a mountain (of course). The eleven disciples (with the absence of Judas) make their way and when they see Jesus, some fall down in worship – although some hesitated (distazo in the Greek, which could also mean ‘doubted’). Even though some hesitate – perhaps because as good Jewish lads they are still not entirely sure that worship of anyone other then the one and only true God, the LORD, is appropriate. But it is clear from Matthew, that he invites his readers to join those who worshipped. Even so, Jesus draws near to all of them – even those who distazo’d. 

It is then that Jesus offers to them his final commission, reminding them that “all authority on heaven and earth belongs to Jesus” so “Therefore, Go!” Go into all the world, not only to baptise (initiate into the sacramental life of the church) and teach (which the church has also very faithfully fulfilled) but primarily to “make disciples.” This call, which the church has sometimes resisted and often fails to fulfil today remains the heart of the great commission. But we are not alone in this. Jesus promises, as Emmanuel, God-with-us to be with us always, and that we will also have the gift of the Holy Spirit to provide all that we need.

View other resources: http://www.frrick.com/messages/eaa-28-may-2017/

Easter 6 – The odd power of God

As we move towards the great feast of Pentecost, the readings begin to focus on the expectancy and hope of receiving the holy Spirit. We have the first of four passages in the Gospel of John regarding the coming and promised Paraclete. As Jesus tells the still-misunderstanding disciples about what to expect, he makes a series of compelling promises about life in the kingdom, including the promises that we will do even greater things than he has done, and that any prayers that we make that are truly done according to the will of God will be answered.

But to make sense of all of these gifts, we do need to look at what the power and authority of God is really like. One way is to look at different kinds of powerful people, to see which one is most like our images of God and which is most like God in reality.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am.
Easter, Sunday 6, Year A.

Easter 5 – Living Stones

One of the interesting things about the season of Easter – and to a lesser extent, Advent and Lent – the ordinary pattern of our Sunday readings is changed. For example, in Year A, when we read from the Gospel of Matthew, our Sunday readings are taken (more-or-less) sequentially from Matthew’s gospel, and the first reading, drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures, bounces off the Gospel – either providing another example of a healing, or an allusion or incident that the Gospel somehow fulfills. But during Easter, the first readings are taken from Acts of the Apostles, the second reading is a semi-continuous reading of I Peter, and the Gospels are seemingly more random – chosen to highlight particular Easter themes.

Today, on this fifth Sunday, the second reading from the first letter of St Peter provides a powerful reflection on what being living stones is all about. Perhaps because Simon was renamed as Rocky – aka Peter – he had a great reason to spend time reflecting on what being a rock is all about. This dense passage brings together many scriptures from across the bible to provide the basis for the christian life and the call to worship God as a ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ that has been set apart to sing the praises of God.

Easter 4 – An invitation to life

Whenever you read a gospel passage, one of the first things to keep in mind is that the division of the text into chapters and verses is historically recent – and sometimes is not the best. So in reading any given passage, we need to always begin with the section before our passage to get a better sense of what may have been happening to provoke the events in the section that we are considering. So in this case, when we are reading chapter 10 of John’s gospel, we need to see what has been happening in chapter 9 – which was the sign of the healing of the man born blind. The healing in turn had provoked questions in the man himself, who moved through various stages of disbelief through belief and ultimately worship (John 9:38). The question that is lingering in the air is – “who is this man Jesus?”

Jesus begins to address this by using the allegory of the good shepherd, the sheepfold and the gate. The shepherd is already a common image in the Hebrew scriptures, finding its height in the figure of the first (and only?) truly good king a millennium before – King David. Other key moments are the Psalm we read today – Psalm 23, as well as the great prophetic challenge of Ezekiel 34.

More significantly, Jesus is making an invitation to all of us today – an invitation to believe in the awesome promise of Christianity – that Jesus does not want us to live a half life, or to reduce the gift of life that he is offering to us to mere morality or religion. He warns us that there will be thieves who will try to steal and kill and destroy. What we sometimes forget is that those thieves are our own expectations, regrets and disappointments with our family and friends.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am. (8 mins)
Sunday 4, Easter, Year A. John 10:1-10.

Two on the road

The story of two disciples walking along the 60-stadia road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is rightly considered one of the greatest examples of resurrection life and discipleship-in-community ever written. One of the problems with this text is just how rich it is. There is so much material here that followers of Jesus are able to join Cleopas (the only named disciple) along the road many times in careful reflection and meditation without ever depleting the rich well of connections and spirituality. Today we will pause to consider five different aspects of this wonderfully rich resurrection scene.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (13 mins)
Easter, Sunday 3, Year A. Luke 24:13-31

I invited three different people to share their experiences of Alpha during term 1 and invited people to join the next session of Alpha which begins this week.

Easter 2 – Breath and life

On the second Sunday of Easter (or the eighth day of Easter), the church always offers before us John 20 for our Gospel reflection, commemorating both the first appearance of Jesus to the church on Easter Sunday, and then his second appearance eight days later, on the second Sunday. To appreciate the full beauty of this Gospel, we need to first look at in parallel to the first half of John 20 – the first scene of the resurrection. We will focus on the part of the Gospel that the church will again offer to us for our reflection at the end of the Easter Season, on the Sunday of Pentecost. In John’s Gospel, there is no need to wait for fifty days before the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to the church. No, the Holy Spirit is the gift that Jesus breathes upon the group of disciples who are gathered (not just the 11 Apostles) on the day of the Resurrection.

Recorded at St Paul’s (15mins) 6pm, 8am & 10am available.
Easter Sunday 2, Year A. John 20:19-31.