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          Author: Bruce D Prewer
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LENT 1

 

Mark 1: 9-15                             (Sermon 1: ďTesting TimesĒ)

1 Peter 3:18-22

Psalm 25: 1-10

Genesis 9: 8-17                         (Sermon 2: ďRainbow DayĒ)

 

OUR FOCUS FOR LENT

 

During this reflective, season of Lent, the saving grace of Christ Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

The forty days of Lent are time for self examination and correction.

Just as Christ fasted in the desert, leaving behind comforts and cleaving to the basics of his faith, so we go back to the basics of belief and trust.

Just as he faced temptations and sorted out the way ahead, so we confront our temptations and seek to re-find the true path on which we should tread.

 

Symbolically this church building is stripped of decoration at this season, the pastor wears the violet stole signifying grief and repentance, and we pray that God may strip us of every unnecessary weight that weighs us down. In this way we get ready for the fulfilment of Godís amazing love on the cross, that most holy event which is both wondrous and yet deeply scandalous. Let us pray.

 

OR

 

Lent is not a time for being miserable, but for taking stock and resetting our aims for following Christ.

            Loving God, in you we trust,

            let us never fool ourselves.

 

Lent is an opportunity for healthy repentance-

repentance for our indifference in face of the permeating evil of the world,

repentance for personal sins which we have glossed over as ďmere foibles.Ē

            According to your loving kindness,

            remember me, God of goodness and saving grace.

 

Lent is a time for joy; the exhilaration that comes-

from defying temptations,

from turning our face to the light that shines on the narrow path of Christ Jesus,

from walking into adverse winds and enjoying small victories day by day.

            Make me to know your ways, O God, teach me your paths,

            for you are the God of my salvation and my true happiness.

 

PRAYER FOR GODíS HELP

 

To you, loving God, we speak from the heart.

In you, loving God, we trust; because of your love we shall not be put to shame, nor shall temptations get the better of us.

Lead us in your truth, teach us what is right, for you are the God of our healing and rescue, and our deeper joys.

We want to praise and serve with all the capacity of heart and mind and soul and strength. Let us worship you well, without qualification, this hour and all hours, today and tomorrow and as long as we draw breath.

Through Christ Jesus, your True Child and our hope.

Amen!

 

WE REPENT AND RECEIVE RENEWAL.

 

Jesus says: ďThe time is ready, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel.Ē

O come, let us return unto our God,

Who will have mercy and abundantly pardon.

 

Let us pray.

 

Most holy God, we admit to you and each other that we are so dazzled by the false gods of this age, that we find it hard to recognise who we are, where we came from, or where we are going.

We easily become caught up in selfishness, seduced by cynicism, waylaid by glittering consumerism, and led by the nose along the highways and byways created by powerful, vested interests.

Please open our eyes that we may see ourselves more clearly, and seek you more diligently.

           

Most loving God,

            arrest the false godís that have diverted us,

            show us the deceits that have blurred our vision,

            unmask the poverty of our goals and longings,

            expose the cheap values that parade as virtues,

            save us from permitting a rift between Christ and us,

            and deliver is from cheap guilt and trivial remorse.

 

            Please bring us

            to an honest repentance, the forgiveness of sins,

            and the renewal of our faith and love.

            Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

 

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

Fellow travellers on the road to Easter, always remember that there is much more forgiveness in God than we could ever exhaust. Receive from God, through the grace of Christ, the blessing of sins forgiven and a right relationship restored.

 

Amen!

           

By grace we are saved through faith.

            Thanks be to God now and forever!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

Dear God,

            why is it so easy to see all the bad stuff in others,

            and complain about them,

            yet fail to notice many of our own sins?

 

Please stop us from blaming others

            yet excusing ourselves,

            from asking for your forgiveness

            yet not wanting to forgive others.

 

Could you please start work on the inside of us,

            dig with your fingers deep within our mind and soul,

            and make our feelings and attitudes more generous

            so that our words and actions can be more kind.

In Jesusí name.

Amen!

 

PSALM 25:1-10

            two versions: the second one is more free-wheeling.

 

My soul soars up to you, my God,

            in you I place my whole trust.

Do not allow me to be fooled,

            donít permit my critics to gloat.

In fact, let no believer be fooled,          

            but let the evil get what they deserve.

 

Direct me to recognise your ways,

            tutor me in your paths, God.

Lead me among your truths

            and instruct me always.

For you are my rescue and health,

            on whom I rely all day long.

 

Donít let me slip from your mercy,

            fill my mind with your sure love.

As for the youthful days long past,

            donít hold me to my errors and sins.

Cherish me within your firm love,

            nurture me in your goodness, God.

 

Our God is straight and reliable,

            willing to teach sinners a better way.

Modest souls are led to the right place,

            and the broken are taught Godís own way.

All Godís paths are paved with faithful love,

            available to all who keep faith and truth.

                                                                                                                        © B.D. Prewer 2002

 

PSALM 25: 1-10

 

My soul is about to burst with joy,

            in you I find my personal truth.

Donít allow jerks to mess me about,

            donít let my enemies crow over me.

I donít want any good guy rubbished,

            but to see disgrace heaped on the rogues.

 

Help me to see what you are up to,

            show me, God, your know-how.

Get me on track and keep me there,

            You are the God who delivers,

each day I can bet my life on you.

            and you will never let me down.

 

Keep me in mind, loving God,

            let your love hold me tight.

As for all my youthful screw-ups,

            I bury them in your mercy.

In your love Iím something special,

            by your say-so I am a winner.

 

Our God is the best, for sure,

            even no hopers can get on track.

If we donít go ego-tripping weíre in,

            God can teach us the way ahead.

All Godís tracks are marked with love

            and signed with his own blood.

                                                                                                © B.D. Prewer 2002

 

WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE

 

Always the place of testing

and paradoxically resting

            the desert knows its own

            and nurtures them in ways

            that comfortable, urbane folk

            can never find in town.

 

What city folk see out there

as landscape harsh and bare

            intolerant of living things

            under searing sun and wind

            is to the desert people

            most providentially kind.

 

Here things mate, seed and grow

such as townsfolk never know

            with roots that dig down far

            below the shifting sands

            into that sturdier ground

            which wise souls love yet fear.

 

Here roo and desert oak,

spinifex and patient folk

            prophets and Maryís son

            find angelsí food and strength

            to go to any length

            trusting in things unseen.

                                                            © B.D. Prewer 2000

 

SERMON 1: TESTING TIMES

 

*

This is far too long for one sermon. A briefer version follows it.

 

The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan among the wild beasts And the angels ministered to him.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Mark 1:12-13.

 

He was not at ease with things. Jesus was not what this world likes to call ďa well adjusted person.Ē Please donít excite yourself or get offended by my daring to say that. I will explain.

 

In this Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent, we heard how Jesus (immediately after the exciting experience of baptism and the voice of God proclaiming him as the Ďbeloved SonĒ) set off into the wilderness, propelled there by the Spirit of God.  Markís account of the temptations is masterfully brief. Just two verses. Yet it says much. The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan among the wild beasts. And the angels ministered to him.

 

The Judean wilderness is a barren, mountainous expanse of limestone ridges and valleys which stretch from just East of Jerusalem down to the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea. It is a notoriously inhospitable place, with the reflected and radiated sunlight fiercely shimmering off the rocks by day, and the temperatures plunging down by night. Definitely not the place to go for a picnic.

 

Apart from a few Bedouin, who eked out an existence in a few small valleys where there was a tiny bit of topsoil in which to grow barely, and some scrub on the hills where goats could feed, the wilderness was a place inhabited mainly by religious extremists, those who believed in punishing the body and existing on very little. Some of these extremist lived alone, in caves, but more banded together in small communities under a strict rule.

 

Jesus felt driven by the Spirit to go out into this inhospitable terrain, the territory used by those who took religion to excess, to test his faith and calling as the Son of God.

 

Was that the action of a well adjusted human being?

 

JESUS; THE CONTRAST WITH OUR CULTURE

 

Jesus contrasts with the urbane citizens of Western culture. Our society is awash with the notion that the more mature a person is the more at home they are with the world around them. The well adjusted person is at ease, confident in their opinions, assured among the pressures of life, not given to excesses. To be Ďwell adjustedĒ is a most envied and prized thing. For most people, if we were to call them well adjusted they would purr like a kitten.

 

A similar attitude floats around religious circles. We encounter the idea that the truly spiritual person is a most serene and unruffled character, eminently reasonable in their religious opinions, not pulled this way or that, never over zealous or ridiculously enthusiastic. Well adjusted in fact. Maybe we have made an idol out of being well adjusted?

 

Maybe itís time to echo in some appropriate way, the Jesus life style? The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan among the wild beasts And the angels ministered to him.

 

THE DANGER OF CULTURAL SUBVERSION

 

One of the disquieting things about reading church history is that we soon discover how frequently Christianity has allowed the culture in which it is set, to take over and gravely distort the faith. Instead of the word and way of Jesus shaping the culture through the influence of Christians, the culture has misshapen our understanding of Jesus and what it means to be a follower of his. Repeatedly we have made an unholy alliance with things that are at odds with the raw message of Christ.

 

Examples are found in the stories of churches that have accepted, and actually participated in and perpetuated, the class and political structures of various societies. This can be seen in the way it accepted slavery throughout most of its history, the way it kept women in a position of subservience to men, the way it has blessed armies going off to slaughter one another, the way it has willingly prospered from the injustices that have ground down the poor, the way it has behind the scenes used political pressures to safeguard its self interest. Even in the way traditional, hierarchical church government soon came to ape that of the Roman Empire.

 

In such ways the church has allowed itself to be subverted by the culture in which it is set. The Gospel has been hobbled.

 

THE CULT OF THE WELL ADJUSTED PERSON

 

 

I believe that in our era, among many types of cultural temptations, some Christians have fallen into the trap of sharing and propagating the idea of being well adjusted.

 

These are testing times. The twentieth century was sometimes called the age of anxiety. Things have not got better in this twenty first century. Certainly the events following the infamy of September 11: 2001, and the bombings at Bali, and in London, have only increased this sense of anxiety. We see so much suffering, much of it endured by the innocents who become the chief victims of retaliation. There is so much global uncertainty flowing from injustice and violence, fear and prejudice, and from excessive reactions, that anxiety levels rise sky high. In such an era to be a well adjusted person, calm and steady in the midst of it all, seems even more attractive.

 

There have been a plethora of therapies, self help programmes, meditation programmes, and pseudo-religions like Scientology, aimed at helping people to be well adjusted within this anxiety-creating environment. Along with this there has been the proliferation of drugs to keep us happy, both the legal drugs prescribed by medicos and the horde of illicit drugs sold on the street by dealers.

 

In this ethos some have taken Christianity and made it an alternative psycho-therapy to keep us calm, level headed and assured in troubled times.  Jesus is turned into a very wise psychiatrist who is well before his time, offering us calm in the storm of life.

 

Alternatively, the temptation is to create small enclaves of introverted spirituality, where the hard challenges confronting the world can be set aside and largely ignored. Others have presumed to dispense a hyped-up Christianity like a drug, a Ďcloud nineĒ experience, an alternative ďfixĒ to make the difficulties facing humanity appear to float far away on cloud ten and leave us alone.

 

JESUS AND HIS CULTURE

 

Against this backdrop, both the historical and the contemporary, I am suggesting that Jesus,

is not a well adjusted person.

 

Face it. Jesus of Nazareth willingly went into that wilderness, allowed himself to go hungry and thirsty, to live alone among the wild creatures, and to be sorely tempted by Satan. Isnít that excessive? What well adjusted twenty first century man or woman would go off and do an excessive thing like that?

 

If you could have seen him sheltering under a rock overhang for shade, day after day apparently talking to himself as he tried to thrash out some difficult argument that was going on in his mind and soul, maybe you may begin to understand why I say that Jesus was not a well adjusted person.  By this world's standards, he was obviously a bit of a fanatic. He did not look for a secure place in a troubled world so much as wanting to get his next move right. Getting his priorities right. Getting his faith and calling right.

 

Jesus did not try to adjust himself to his environment. He did not try to adjust himself to the religious scene dominated by Pharisees, nor to the political scene dominated by the Romans in league with the chief priests at Jerusalem. He did not try to adjust himself to the social proprieties.

 

Examples:

 

Religion taught law; Painstaking observance to the very dotting of iís and crossing of tís.  

Politics taught compliance; keeping oneís head down, causing no unrest.

Society taught that there were some born to be rulers and some to be Ďruleesí; at the bottom of the pack were women, and outside the edge of the pack were foreigners, Gentiles.

 

This Jesus was fanatical enough to spend forty days in the wilderness fasting, and silly enough to think he was sent there by Godís Spirit. He emerged from the wilderness to be anything but well adjusted to these social/political proprieties.

 

Religion and law? Jesus refused to be bound by law but went beyond it to love; love was what mattered most. Godís free grace was the sources of this love.

 

Politics and the nation? Jesus refused to toe the party line of the Pharisees, never rocking the political boat. Nor would he join, or approve, the underground freedom fighters who thought that violence was the answer.

 

The social norm? Jesus refused to judge a person by race, showing favour not only to fellow Jews but to Romans, to Samaritans, and to Phoenicians. He not only debunked the idea of womenísí innate inferiority but he even included women in the itinerant band of followers who travelled over the countryside with the Gospel.

 

It was not for nothing that Jesus was called a trouble maker. He never set out to make trouble, but by refusing to be well adjusted to an evil world he inevitably became a trouble maker. Thatís the way he started. Thatís the way he finishes. The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan among the wild beasts And the angels ministered to him.

 

JESUS IN COUNSELLING?

 

At this point in preparing this sermon, my mind wandered off into fantasy. I imagined Jesus turning up for counselling at a local clinic. It went like this.

 

Counsellor: Mr Barjoseph, do you mind if I call you by a less formal name?

Jesus: Please do. Call me Josh, short for Joshua, thatís what my brothers and sisters call me. Now, what can I call you, doctor? Doctor always sounds a bit pompous, donít you think?

 

Counsellor: Ah...err.. well, err, yes okay. Then; call me Nathaniel. Not Nat. Nathaniel, thatís

what I prefer. Now Josh, what problem has brought you to me?

 

Jesus: Well Nathaniel, none really. It is my mother and our Rabbi that have asked me to come. They seem to think that Iím losing touch with reality, forsaking common sense for religious excess. Mum especially wishes that I would settle down, adjust myself to the hard facts of life, stop niggling at established practice; that sort of thing.

 

Nathaniel:  Uh.huh. And what do you think, Josh?

 

Jesus: Me? I think Iím just being myself and doing what I must do. For example, I do not agree with the rabbi when he says to shun foreigners, and I donít think its right to hate the Romans.

 

Nathaniel:  Mmmm....... So you donít see anything, err, letís say odd, in a carpenter putting his opinions before those of an educated Rabbi?

 

Jesus:  Odd? Of course not. Iíve thought about it and prayed about it. Rabbis have no exclusive claim to the ear of God. I reckon God loves every human being, and wants us to love them too.

 

Nathaniel:  Mmmmmm....., uh-huh. Well, that is one way of looking at it, I suppose. What else is proving to be a problem, Josh?

 

Jesus: Women.

 

Nathaniel:  Thanks goodness for that, Josh!  I mean, um...er.. that seems normal for a young man like yourself. It is normal to have sexual urges. Okay?

 

Jesus: Sexual urges? O quite. I get you. But thatís not the issue, Nathaniel. My brothers think it is wrong of me to honour women in the same way I honour men. Like, to sit down with them and discuss our Scriptures and our faith. They have some smart insights, you know?

 

Nathaniel:  Am I hearing you Josh? You sit with women, as if you were in a rabbinical school, and discuss theology with them?

 

Jesus: Yep! Of course!

 

Nathaniel:  Right..... er...I see. And why do you choose to do that? It is not exactly a common way to go, do you think?

 

Jesus: Maybe not so common. But it is right. Iím sure of that. It is a part of the mission which God gave me when he spoke to me.

 

Nathaniel:  Uh hah! You say God spoke to you? You hear heavenly voices? Does that happen often?

 

Jesus:  Not that often. But even when it does not happen, I still seem to have a clear idea what God wants me to do. Itís sort of intuitive. God and I are very close, like father and son.

 

Nathaniel:  Hmm. Really now!  I hear you, Josh. I hear you. You say you and God are like father and son. My dear Josh, do you miss your father Joseph very much? How old were you when he died?

 

Jesus: Of course I miss him. We all do. I was only thirteen when he died. And he was a wonderful father to us.

 

Nathaniel:  Sure, sure, of course.........Letí stop there for now, Josh, if you donít mind. I think we are making some progress. When I see you next I would like to talk more about this, er..., special relationship you have with God.  And about how you felt when Joseph died. I am most interested. Very interested indeed.

 

The session ends. Jesus is ushered out. Doctor Nathaniel immediately pens a note to the mother, with whom he had previously spoken.

 

            Dear Mary,

 

I am afraid your anxiety is well based. You son Joshua is certainly a maladjusted boy. Even more so than you feared.

 

There is no easy way of saying this, but I must say it anyway. My diagnosis is that he is suffering from a psychotic illness, and he is extremely delusional. Maybe with the use of drugs, and ongoing counselling, we shall be able to hold the personality disorder in check and enable him to adjust to the real world and live an almost normal life. No promises, though.

 

He presents as a very difficult case.

 

In the meantime, humour him and try not to argue with him. What you are dealing with is far from rational.

           

Yours sincerely,

                        Dr Nathaniel Mindpecker.

 

CHRISTíS MALADJUSTMENT AND OURS

 

Jesus was certainly not adjusted to the world of 1St Century Palestine. I believe that if he were in the flesh today, he would also be seen as a gravely maladjusted person. These days we are unlikely to go as far as having him executed, but we might load him up with drugs, or confine him in a clinic for some time.

 

The kind of man Jesus was, a person of sublime truth and grace, would never sit at ease within the distortions, lies and corruptions of this world. His teachings about living humbly, scorning power and money, forgiving your enemy, turning the other cheek, giving without expecting reward, picking up a cross and following him along the path of love, are still at odds with most of the things people run after in our culture.

 

The question you now must ask is this........No, I will ask not you but myself, and allow you to do your own self cross examination if you will.

 

ĺHow far have I been seduced and subverted by the reigning values of this ambitious yet             anxious society?

ĺTo what degree have I compromised the rough edges of the Gospel by compliance with the             expectations of our culture?

ĺHow seriously have I edged away from the Gospel of Jesus into an uneasy adjustment to this evil world?

ĺIn what ways have I tried to use religion as a therapy, rather than as the catalyst and catapult for dealing with the sickness of the world around me?

ĺTo what degree am I daily offering my life to the cause of Jesus and his transformation of      all things?

 

I remind you again:  Jesus appeared to be excessive. After Jesus experienced the joy of his baptism, he did something rather bizarre. He felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to go out into the wilderness, to half starve himself, to live among the wild beasts, and to wrestle with the matter of how was he going to live his life and fulfil the reason for his birth?   He did not seek to be a well adjusted citizen; he sought only to glorify God.

 

PS

 

There is a PS to the story:  ďAnd angels ministered to him.Ē  Angels, the messengers of God, do minister to the needs of those who choose to be poorly adjusted to the pervasive social norms, in order to give greater glory to God. Angels come in many forms. Old and young, friends and opponents, smartly dressed and shabby, well schooled and self educated. But they are here. Godís messengers; the ministering angels; encourage and feed those who dare to be true to the Highest, not counting the cost of being seen as different.

 

I now tempt you with a penance for Lent: Dare to be maladjusted in the cause of Christ. Affirm even wilderness experiences, not as illness but as true sanity. And be good humoured about it. For Christís sake!

 

 

SERMON 1: TESTING TIMES  (Shorter Version)

 

The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan among the wild beasts And the angels ministered to him.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Mark 1:12-13.

 

Jesus was not what this world likes to call ďa well adjusted person.Ē Please donít excite yourself or get offended by my daring to say that. I will explain.

 

In this Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent, we heard how Jesus (immediately after the exciting experience of baptism and the voice of God proclaiming him as the Ďbeloved SonĒ) set off into the wilderness, propelled there by the Spirit of God.  Markís account of the temptations is masterfully brief. Just two verses. Yet it says much. The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan among the wild beasts. And the angels ministered to him.

 

Was that the action of a well adjusted human being?

 

JESUS; THE CONTRAST WITH OUR CULTURE

 

Jesus contrasts with the urbane citizens of Western culture. Our society is awash with the notion that the more mature a person is the more at home they are with the world around them.. To be Ďwell adjustedĒ is a most envied and prized thing. For most people, if we were to call them well adjusted they would purr like a kitten.

 

A similar attitude floats around religious circles. We encounter the idea that the truly spiritual person is a most serene and unruffled character, eminently reasonable in their religious opinions, not pulled this way or that, never over zealous or ridiculously enthusiastic. Well adjusted in fact.

Maybe we have made an idol out of being well adjusted?

 

Maybe itís time to echo in some appropriate way, the disruptive life style of Jesus? The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan among the wild beasts And the angels ministered to him.

 

THE DANGER OF CULTURAL SUBVERSION

 

One of the disquieting things about reading church history is that we soon discover how frequently Christianity has allowed the culture in which it is set, to take over and gravely distort the faith.

In such ways the church has allowed itself to be subverted by the culture in which it is set. The Gospel has been hobbled.

 

I believe that in our era, among many types of cultural temptations, some Christians have fallen into the trap of sharing and propagating the idea of being well adjusted.

 

These are testing times. The twentieth century was sometimes called the age of anxiety. Things have not got better in this twenty first century. Certainly the events following the infamy of September 11: 2001, and the bombings at Bali, and in London, have only increased this sense of anxiety.  More recently we ha ve had the natural disasters like the bush fires in Victoria, devastating floods in  Queensland , the earthquakes Christchurch New Zealand, and the terrifying tsunami in  Japan.

 

 

There have been a plethora of therapies, self help programmes, meditation programmes, and pseudo-religions like Scientology, aimed at helping people to be well adjusted within this anxiety-creating environment. Along with this there has been the proliferation of drugs to keep us happy, both the legal drugs prescribed by medicos and the horde of illicit drugs sold on the street by dealers.

 

Alternatively, the temptation is to create small enclaves of introverted spirituality, where the hard challenges confronting the world can be set aside and largely ignored. Others have presumed to dispense a hyped-up Christianity like a drug, a Ďcloud nineĒ experience, an alternative ďfixĒ to make the difficulties facing humanity appear to float far away on cloud ten and leave us alone.

 

JESUS AND HIS CULTURE

 

Against this backdrop, both the historical and the contemporary, I am suggesting that Jesus,

is not a well adjusted person.

 

Face it. Jesus of Nazareth willingly went into that wilderness, allowed himself to go hungry and thirsty, to live alone among the wild creatures, and to be sorely tempted by Satan. Isnít that excessive? What well adjusted twenty first century man or woman would go off and do an excessive thing like that?

 

If you could have seen him sheltering under a rock overhang for shade, day after day apparently talking to himself as he tried to thrash out some difficult argument that was going on in his mind and soul, maybe you may begin to understand why I say that Jesus was not a well adjusted person.  By this world's standards, he was obviously a bit of a fanatic. He did not look for a secure place in a troubled world so much as wanting to get his next move right. Getting his priorities right. Getting his faith and calling right.

 

Jesus did not try to adjust himself to his environment. He did not try to adjust himself to the religious scene dominated by Pharisees, nor to the political scene dominated by the Romans in league with the chief priests at Jerusalem. He did not try to adjust himself to the social proprieties.

 

 

It was not for nothing that Jesus was called a trouble maker. He never set out to make trouble, but by refusing to be well adjusted to an evil world he inevitably became a trouble maker. Thatís the way he started. Thatís the way he finishes. The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan among the wild beasts And the angels ministered to him.

 

JESUS IN COUNSELLING?

 

At this point in preparing this sermon, my mind wandered off into fantasy. I imagined Jesus turning up for counselling at a local clinic. It went like this.

 

Counsellor: Mr Barjoseph, do you mind if I call you by a less formal name?

Jesus: Please do. Call me Josh, short for Joshua, thatís what my brothers and sisters call me. Now, what can I call you, doctor? Doctor always sounds a bit pompous, donít you think?

 

Counsellor: Ah...err.. well, err, yes okay. Then; call me Nathaniel. Not Nat. Nathaniel, thatís

what I prefer. Now Josh, what problem has brought you to me?

 

Jesus: Well Nathaniel, none really. It is my mother and our Rabbi that have asked me to come. They seem to think that Iím losing touch with reality, forsaking common sense for religious excess. Mum especially wishes that I would settle down, adjust myself to the hard facts of life, stop niggling at established practice; that sort of thing.

 

Nathaniel:  Uh.huh. And what do you think, Josh?

 

Jesus: Me? I think Iím just being myself and doing what I must do. For example, I do not agree with the rabbi when he says to shun foreigners, and I donít think its right to hate the Romans.

 

Nathaniel:  Mmmm....... So you donít see anything, err, letís say odd, in a carpenter putting his opinions before those of an educated Rabbi?

 

Jesus:  Odd? Of course not. Iíve thought about it and prayed about it. Rabbis have no exclusive claim to the ear of God. I reckon God loves every human being, and wants us to love them too.

 

Nathaniel:  Mmmmmm....., uh-huh. Well, that is one way of looking at it, I suppose. What else is proving to be a problem, Josh?

 

Jesus: Women.

 

Nathaniel:  Thanks goodness for that, Josh!  I mean, um...er.. that seems normal for a young man like yourself. It is normal to have sexual urges. Okay?

 

Jesus: Sexual urges? O quite. I get you. But thatís not the issue, Nathaniel. My brothers think it is wrong of me to honour women in the same way I honour men. Like, to sit down with them and discuss our Scriptures and our faith. They have some smart insights, you know?

 

Nathaniel:  Am I hearing you Josh? You sit with women, as if you were in a rabbinical school, and discuss theology with them?

 

Jesus: Yep! Of course!

 

Nathaniel:  Right..... er...I see. And why do you choose to do that? It is not exactly a common way to go, do you think?

 

Jesus: Maybe not so common. But it is right. Iím sure of that. It is a part of the mission which God gave me when he spoke to me.

 

Nathaniel:  Uh hah! You say God spoke to you? You hear heavenly voices? Does that happen often?

 

Jesus:  Not that often. But even when it does not happen, I still seem to have a clear idea what God wants me to do. Itís sort of intuitive. God and I are very close, like father and son.

 

Nathaniel:  Hmm. Really now!  I hear you, Josh. I hear you. You say you and God are like father and son. My dear Josh, do you miss your father Joseph very much? How old were you when he died?

 

Jesus: Of course I miss him. We all do. I was only thirteen when he died. And he was a wonderful father to us.

 

Nathaniel:  Sure, sure, of course.........Letí stop there for now, Josh, if you donít mind. I think we are making some progress. When I see you next I would like to talk more about this, er..., special relationship you have with God.  And about how you felt when Joseph died. I am most interested. Very interested indeed.

 

The session ends. Jesus is ushered out. Doctor Nathaniel immediately pens a note to the mother, with whom he had previously spoken.

 

            Dear Mary,

 

I am afraid your concern is well based. You son Joshua is certainly a maladjusted boy. Even more so than you feared.

 

There is no easy way of saying this, but I must say it anyway. My diagnosis is that he is suffering from a psychotic illness, and he is extremely delusional. Maybe with the use of drugs, and ongoing counselling, we shall be able to hold the personality disorder in check and enable him to adjust to the real world and live an almost normal life. No promises, though.

 

He presents as a very difficult case.

 

In the meantime, humour him and try not to argue with him. What you are dealing with is far from rational.

           

Yours sincerely,

                        Dr Nathaniel Mindpecker.

 

CHRISTíS MALADJUSTMENT AND OURS

 

Jesus was certainly not adjusted to the world of 1St Century Palestine. I believe that if he were in the flesh today, he would also be seen as a gravely maladjusted person. These days we are unlikely to go as far as having him executed, but we might load him up with drugs, or confine him in a clinic for some time.

 

The kind of man Jesus was, a person of sublime truth and grace, would never sit at ease within the distortions, lies and corruptions of this world. His teachings about living humbly, scorning power and money, forgiving your enemy, turning the other cheek, giving without expecting reward, picking up a cross and following him along the path of love, are still at odds with most of the things people run after in our culture.

 

The question you now must ask is this........No, I will ask not you but myself, and allow you to do your own self cross examination if you will.

 

ĺHow far have I been seduced and subverted by the reigning values of this ambitious yet             anxious society?

ĺTo what degree have I compromised the rough edges of the Gospel by compliance with the             expectations of our culture?

 

PS

 

There is a PS to the story:  ďAnd angels ministered to him.Ē  Angels, the messengers of God, do minister to the needs of those who choose to be poorly adjusted to the pervasive social norms, in order to give greater glory to God. Angels come in many forms. Old and young, friends and opponents, smartly dressed and shabby, well schooled and self educated. But they are here. Godís messengers; the ministering angels; encourage and feed those who dare to be true to the Highest, not counting the cost of being seen as different.

 

I now tempt you with a penance for Lent: Dare to be maladjusted in the cause of Christ. Affirm even wilderness experiences, not as illness but as true sanity. And be good humoured about it. For Christís sake!

 

 

 

SERMON 2: RAINBOW DAY?

 

Genesis 9:12-13

 

God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I now make with you and every living creature with you, for all generations to come. I will place my rainbow among the clouds, and it will be a sign of the pledge between me and the earth. 

 

The beauty of the rainbow, which most commonly adorns our skies in the seasons of spring and autumn, is a sign meant for everyone.  It would be sad if we ever allowed any one, sectional group in the community to appropriate it solely for themselves. If there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I believe it is meant for everyone.

 

I hereby make an arbitrary decision to declare this day, Lent 1, as ďRainbow Day!Ē Yes, you heard right: Lent 1 as Rainbow Day.

 

Turn to the story of Noah in the aftermath of the great flood. There it is said that God makes a promise not only with Noah but with all the earth. This covenant is for every person and for all living creatures. God so loves the world, that it will not be allowed to perish.

 

God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I now make with you and every living creature with you, for all generations to come. I will place my rainbow among the clouds, and it will be a sign of the pledge between me and the earth.  Genesis 9:12-13

 

Inspired by this shining symbol of Godís covenant-love, I repeat my declaration: Letís make today, the first Sunday in Lent, a Rainbow Day!

 

NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE DISCIPLINES

 

ďHeh, Bruce, hold on,Ē some of you might want to protest.

 

ďIsnít Lent about being repentant and solemn and disciplining oneself against the works of the flesh, the world and the devil?  How can a happy symbol like the rainbow be suitable symbol for this season of penitence which commenced on Ash Wednesday?Ē

 

If that is how you feel, I get the message. Lent has indeed traditionally been projected as a time of sackcloth and ashes; of denying oneself luxuries and submitting again to the yoke of Christ. For some years I saw it that way myself and projected that theme within the parishes where I served. But as I reached the middle years I began to question that approach.

 

Firstly I began to see that the best disciplines did not arise out of the question: ďWhat should I go withoutĒ but rather with this one: ďWhat extra thing can I do for Christ during this Lent?Ē Believe me, it is more challenging to be positive rather than negative.

 

I donít want to completely discard the old way. Maybe both aspects have some validity. There is much to be said for cutting back on self indulgence. There is equally much to be said for undertaking new challenges in Christís name. For going the second mile.

 

OPPORTUNITY FOR JOY

 

There is more. There is the matter of being happy.

 

These days, in my ageing years. I want to go even further and warn, ďIf you canít be happy while disciplining yourself during Lent then something is wrong.Ē

 

Lent is an opportunity for greater love, peace and joy in the service of the Lord Jesus. There is a special happiness in taking stock of oneself, letting go of old sins and truly repenting. There is happiness in calling the bluff of the devil, and choosing the hard way rather than the easy way of least resistance. There is a joy in aiming to draw closer to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ as we attempt to honour him in new ways within our homes, our church, our neighbourhood or our workplace. Discipline and joy are compatible.

 

Even when Lent continues through its forty days and enters deep shadows of Holy Week, joy is still an option. As step by step we draw nearer to that awful cross up on Skull Hill, the message is still not all gloom. For at its core it is about the faithfulness of God to this world. Godís covenant love. Godís promises. Godís determination that redemption shall be available no matter what the cost. The Holy Love that will conquer all even if it has to be through outward ignominy, defeat, suffering and death.

 

The Cross is certainly a bleak testimonial to human evil but it is also a shining monument to the faithfulness of the loving God, our Creator and Redeemer.

 

I am glad that the Jewish people saw a rainbow in the sky as a beautiful sign of Godís covenant; a sign of his steadfast love which promises not destruction but hope and reconstruction. It is on this basis of Godís covenant love with this world, that we dare to happily engage in a Lenten season of self discipline. It is on the basis of Godís covenant love that we dare to confront evil with a quiet buoyancy of spirit; in fact it enables us even to laugh into the face of the evil one as we take the initiative and dare to be pro-active during Lent.

 

PAINT SOME RAINBOWS

 

I invite you, dear friends of God, today at the beginning of Lent, to rejoice in the rainbow.

 

Against all the evil you see in the world, against all the injustice and corruption you observe in our nation, against all the perverse evil you see raising its sneaky head within yourself, dare to paint a rainbow!

 

In your thoughts and prayers paint a rainbow against all that is cloudy and fearful, against all that is gloomy and unenlightened.

Paint a rainbow over your frustrating failings and wilful sins, and over your irksome doubts and ignorance.

Over your sins within family life, or the ugly compromises you may have had to make in the sphere of your daily work, set that rainbow.

Over the apathy of the self righteous and the cowardice of those whose good intentions get easily buried, paint that rainbow.

Project a rainbow over the motley fellowship which is the church, with its flawed ministers, stumbling leaders and its sometimes passive congregations.

Paint a rainbow over your town or your city, over your court houses and your parliaments, over your farmlands and your aboriginal communities.

In your mind paint a rainbow wherever flawed and lost humanity struggles to find a way of its own mess.

 

The rainbow is a permanent sign of Godís faithful love. A love which not only creates, but constantly recreates and redeems.

 

POT OF GOLD

 

There is really a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is the golden treasure of Godís faithful, covenant love for the world.

 

This season of Lent, while we travel it with Christ as he sets his face like a flint in the direction Jerusalem with its abuse, suffering and death, let us journey hope-fully. Lent is best observed under the arching covenant hope, the rainbow of the promises of God.

 

Maybe at the start of this sermon I got a bit carried away by arbitrarily declaring Lent I as Rainbow day. There are many other wonderful messages appropriate for this season. Nevertheless I stand firm on my underlying motive: All that happens, all that will happen, during this sacred season, should be done from confident faith in the God whose love is ďever faithful, ever sure.Ē

 

There is much joy to be found in Lent. There is as pot of gold wherever the rainbow touches the earth. Not froth and bubble light-heartedness, but deep down, profound, precious, holy joy. The joy that no enemy, or no tragedy, should ever be allowed to take from us.

 

WE BELIEVE

 

We believe in God the Creator,

            whose goodness seams through all creation with irrepressible beauty and truth,

            whose patience and generosity exceed all human expectation,

            and whose glory neither earth nor the heavens can contain.

 

We believe in Christ Jesus, the true Child of God,

            who came with a disruption that shook the powers of evil, though it cost him his life;

            who from beyond death comes again to gather his disciples into a community of the free;

             who refused to be intimidated by threats, or waylaid by any religion which had no grace.

 

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

            the source and sustainer of abundant life,

            who from the very beginning flows from God,

            enhancing the gifts of church in the service of humanity.

 

We believe in the church as the universal body of Christ,

            in the forgiven people as the sharers of Christís peace,

            in the timeless, mystic fellowship of all Godís people,

            and in the life that transcends all sorrow and death.

            Amen.

 

PRAYERS FOR OTHERS

 

            (If appropriate, the following bidding and response may be used)

 

Most Holy Friend, your goodness always tests our readiness to receive it, please increase our eagerness for you and enlarge our ability to share your love around.

            Gracious God, steer us through times of temptation,

            And deliver us from evil.

 

On this Sunday in Lent we think of those who are being acutely tempted:

tempted to look the other way when wrong is happening in their workplace;

tempted to misuse their gifts for a sordid purpose;

tempted to allow untamed emotions to hold sway;

tempted by the corrupting power of money;

and those tempted to stay in a rut rather than strike out on new paths for Christ Jesus.

            Generous God, steer us through times of temptation,

            And deliver us from evil.

 

We pray also for the many who feel pushed and tested almost beyond their endurance;

those in positions of heavy responsibility who feel overloaded to the point of collapse;

or those pressured from all sides by factions in workplace or community;

suffering peopleĖand all who must watch a loved one sufferĖ who feel they can bear no more; kindly folk whose patience with a difficult friend is now at breaking point;

persecuted Christians whose faith seems stretched beyond their limit;

and the depressed whose inner being endures a misery which no human word can alleviate.

            Merciful God, steer us through times of temptation,

            And deliver us from evil.

 

We also pray for those who seem to be in a position of advantage:

the happy, that their happiness may always be used for goodwill and compassion;

the strong, that their energies may be used wisely and gently;

the clever, that they may employ their mental facility for good not evil;

for the rich, that their wealth may be shared for the uplifting of the poor;

for the powerful, that they may use their position as a blessing to humanity;

and those of strong faith, that they may walk humbly and affirm the weaker souls.

            Righteous God, steer us through times of temptation,

            And deliver us from evil.

 

And now most Holy Friend, we pray for each other in this church. None of us know the extent of the pressures that some may be under this very day. Look upon us all, read our thoughts and weigh our feelings, and by your utter resourcefulness, ďsave us in the time of trial and deliver us from all evil.Ē Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

            Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

As Christians we are never promised that we wonít be troubled or tested, but that we shall not be overcome.

 

Therefore go out from this place cheerfully and boldly, for the God of Christ is on your side and nothing can ultimately defeat those who are encompassed by such an incomparable love.

            It is Christís grace that is saving us, not our achievements.

            By faith we accept this grace of God and go on our way with thanksgiving.

 

            The inexhaustible grace of Christ Jesus,

            the all-embracing love of God,

            and the resilient friendship of the Spirit,

                                    is yours

            today and for evermore.

Amen!

 

 

THREE BOOKS BY BRUCE PREWER
    THAT ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE
              BY ORDERING ONLINE
    OR FROM YOUR LOCAL CHRISTIAN BOOKSHOP

My Best Mate,  (first edition 2013)

ISBN 978-1-937763-78-7: AUSTRALIA:

ISBN :  978-1-937763-79- 4: USA

Australian Prayers

Third edition May 2014

ISBN   978-1-62880-033-3 Australia

Jesus Our Future

Prayers for the Twenty First Century

 Second Edition May 2014

ISBN 978-1-62880-032-6

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Although this book was written with young people in mind, it has proved to be popular with Christians or seekers of all ages. Through the eyes and ears of a youth named Chip, big questions are raised and wrestled with; faith and doubt,  unanswered  prayers, refugees,  death and grief, racism and bullying, are just a few of the varied topics confronted in these pages. Suitable as a gift to the young, and proven to be helpful when it has been used as a study book for adults.

Australian Prayers has been a valuable prayer resource for over thirty years.  These prayers are suitable for both private and public use and continue to be as fresh and relevant today as ever.  Also, the author encourages users to adapt geographical or historical images to suit local, current situations.

This collection of original, contemporary prayers is anchored firmly in the belief that no matter what the immediate future may hold for us, ultimately Jesus is himself both the goal and the shape of our future.  He is the key certainty towards which the Spirit of God is inexorably leading us in this scientific and high-tech era. Although the first pages of this book were created for the turn of the millennium, the resources in this volume reflect the interests, concerns and needs of our post-modern world.