Saturday, 17 September 2016

Sept 18th - God's care; God's grace; our prayer.

Readings are Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Luke 16:1-13; 1 Timothy 2:1-7.

I am preaching at a church's 200th anniversary and instead of a single sermon I am dealing with each reading in a separate reflection.

Reflection 1
Well, happy 200th anniversary. This reading reminds us just why Jeremiah has a reputation for being gloomy.
“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick”.
But at least Jeremiah helps us to get real about the ups and downs of life. I wouldn’t mind betting that there have been at least some chapters in the life of this church when you have felt like sitting down and crying: when you have felt your joy is gone and your heart is sick. We would not be human if we didn’t sometimes feel that.
But Jeremiah is not just wanting to complain – he is reminding us that God feels these things too and that God hears the cry of his people.
Then Jeremiah demonstrates a real faith in God when he asks the question “is there no balm in Gilead?”. It’s a bit like us asking “is the Pope Catholic?” – it is meant to be rhetorical.
Things may be difficult, says Jeremiah, there’s no sense in ignoring the difficulties in life. But even when we feel we are in a hole, we still believe in a good God. When we feel awful – God knows it and feels our pain too. And there is balm – there is always balm – God will never stop loving us and will always stand by us as we suffer and struggle.
So we look back today and remember some of the good and bad chapters of the last 200 years – and we look forward to all that is to come. We recognise it will never be ALL good, and we hear Jeremiah ask “is there no balm in Gilead?” – is God going to be with us in the future? and will God heal and save and salve? And we answer - Yes!

Reflection 2
Of all the parables Jesus told, this might be the one we might wish he hadn’t bothered with!
It is what theologians call a real stinker.
It is an intriguing story though.
The manager is accused of being dishonest (is he guilty?) and is told he will be sacked. To save his skin he changes the debts of his master’s customers, so that they will owe him, the manager, and help him when he is sacked. But the owner is so impressed by the way the manager has called in the debts, he gives him his job back.
The problem is it can look like Jesus is approving of the manager’s dishonesty – and that can’t be right, can it.
But what if Jesus isn’t saying anything about good business practice and is saying something amazing about grace. What if this isn’t about money, but about forgiveness. Grace is the unexpected shock that means that even when we do the right thing (forgiving debts) for the wrong reason (self-interest) we still get rewarded and we ourselves get forgiven.
I think this parable is a clever story to get us thinking about a life that has nothing to do with just desserts – and everything to do with the shock of grace.
As we move in to the future, we don’t have to worry about calculating how best to get our life as a church sorted out – the manager who has a plan is side-swiped by grace. We should be honest, we should plan as best we can – but we should be ready for what God is going to do – way beyond our expectations. God may yet have a twist in the tale of the life of this church!

Reflection 3
So our first reading promises us that God will have balm for our souls when we need it, and our second reading promises the amazing, shocking, stunning grace of God to forgive us and make us new.
What do we do to access this balm and this grace?
Paul’s letter to Timothy says “make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone”.
In other words  - first pray, then pray, pray, pray and add a bit more prayer.
By praying we are listening for God’s leading, we are putting our concern for others in perspective by asking for God’s help, and we are remembering that all that we have comes from God and we should be thankful.
After 200 years of prayer in this place, really all I can say is – keep praying. Prayer will bring you peace, keep you right with God, and fill you with joy.
So on a foundation of healing, grace and prayer, may God’s church continue to bless this place. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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