Christmas: A Time For Invitations

Welcome to St Augustine’s, especially if you are joining us to witness the baptism of Olivia and Tori this morning.

Christmas is now two weeks away… so it’s time to be inviting people to join us at our Christmas services!

Today you should each receive invitation cards, giving basic details of what’s happening. Can you think of friends or family you could invite? Which services would be the most suitable for which people?

The Christmas Eve activities might suit younger families, whereas the late service or the Christmas morning service might suit others better. Take as many cards as you like:

  • Put one on your fridge
  • Put a couple in your handbag or on your dashboard to remind you to give them out to people this week
  • Write on a card the name of someone you’ll see this week with a personal invitation
  • Pass them to neighbours, with a personal message.

We face the reality that going to church is not as much a part of people’s regular activities as it used to be. But Christmas is still the time of year that attracts the most people to church. People know the Christmas tunes, are familiar with the key characters of the Nativity, and many people wait until after Christmas before they head away on holidays. All of this gives us great opportunity.

Of course Santa and the North Pole contingent also play a role in people’s Christmases. The generosity and kindness of the original “Saint Nicholas” whose name has become “Santa Claus” has been swamped by the commercialism of Christmas, where we can feel a heavy burden of obligation to buy expensive gifts for numerous people.

Yet the gift of the Christ child remains the greatest gift anyone can receive. The maker of the universe takes on human life in all its trouble, pain and futility, which in a way is a message in itself, screaming at us to put aside the wrapping paper and notice what God has done. In our midst is hope, joy, peace and love, given to restore our relationships with our maker and with each other.

Christmas really is a wonderful time for remembering the things we really need in life, and the manner in which God has indeed provided them for us!

Be bold! Mark

Advent: do you feel it?

Welcome! It’s wonderful to gather together today. Please let me know if there is anything you’d like prayer for. And please say hi to someone you don’t know very well – it’s a good discipline to help us to keep a focus on being a welcoming church.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. On the one hand it is simply winding up and getting ready for Christmas, but it is also one of those times (like Lent) where a whole swathe of people in the community have their own traditions and rituals.

At the heart of Advent is the eager expectation of the coming of God to save his people. This finds partial fulfilment in the birth of the One who would do just that. But Advent isn’t just about looking back at Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. We look forward too.

Keep an eye out in our Old Testament readings over the next 4 Sundays for that forward-looking yearning of God’s people. The Old Testament Prophets were probably not aware that there would be two comings, not one. And so, even though so much has been fulfilled, like them, we look forward to God’s coming to fulfil his promises completely and put the world right.

But is this something we feel? Or is it merely a season that we enjoy? I do love the purple, and the lighting of candles. But Advent is not about those symbols; it’s the other way around… the symbols are about Advent: God coming as king to us to save his people and judge his enemies, bringing hope, joy, love and peace.

I guess the question is, do you trust in the Bible’s promises that Jesus will come again? He is not just a figure of history; he is a figure of the future. It can be hard for us to trust in a promise. So many aspects of our society have trained us well to be sceptical of promises… we try to keep our promises, but sometimes it’s not realistic (we think).

Well this is the spiritual challenge of Advent then… to ask ourselves honestly whether we believe that God will put things right… that there will be a day of redress, restoration and renewal. Ultimately this shines light on the fundamental question of whether God himself is trustworthy… whether you can depend on his word.

The Apostles who reflected on God’s first coming would say to us something like this: He has already come in fulfilment of seemingly forgotten promises… may this comfort us in the belief that he will come again to fulfil everything he has ever said he would do!

May Christ bless you this week!

Mark

The Rightness of Righteousness

Welcome! Great to have you with us this morning. God has brought us together to speak to us through his word, encourage us through each other, and renew us by his Spirit.

It was horrible to hear this week of the church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man walks into a church with an assault rifle. What he leaves behind is carnage. Carnage for the first responders, carnage for the families, friends and remaining members of the church, carnage for the whole town. Previously, a town largely unknown. Now tarred with notoriety. Now carrying an unthinkable burden.

In today’s Old Testament reading, we will hear these words:

“Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24

These are the words of God through his prophet Amos, calling for what he wants: justice and righteousness. What could those mean for us, as we reflect on the events of this week?

They’re both tightly connected of course. Justice is that idea of administering fairness. What happened in Texas was catastrophically unfair. To put right this level of unfairness is beyond human capability. How can any person restore what has been taken?

We must remember that God is watching. He is the only one who can bring justice upon the head of this dead murderer. Amos also says, Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light – pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?”

God is also the only one who can truly bring comfort upon the bereaved. Those who put their faith in Jesus can believe confidently that God will put things right. That is, after all, what righteousness is: things being right, just and fair.

Righteousness is the promise of the New Creation, inaugurated through the only perfectly righteous human: Jesus.

As we think about God’s involvement in the world, it is easy to think that he mustn’t really care about righteousness and justice, especially if he let’s this sort of thing happen in a church. But let’s remember that he too mourned the loss of a murdered son. He knows the pain.

But he didn’t look on in helpless confusion as we do. He raised Jesus to life, and promises us the same glory if we turn to him in faith.

Can we understand the Bible as a whole?

It is great to have you with us at St Augustine’s today. I trust that you are made to feel welcome! Please let any of us know if there is any way our community can support you.

Last Sunday I preached on the Parable ofthe Sower from Matthew 13. (You can listen to it again on our website any time www.staugs.church/sermons). Jesus challenged us to be the sort of soil in which his word flourishes. His word to us is more precious to us than we can imagine, because it is the way we grow in faith and confidence in him. It also points to aspects of our lives that he would like us to reevaluate. Repentance should be a normal and regular response to hearing God’s word.

However sometimes it is hard to make sense of parts of the Bible. They can be complicated, culturally distant, and sometimes seemingly contradictory. And there are parts of the Bible that can be simply difficult to believe.

I think one of the things we struggle with most is understanding the Bible as a whole. It’s almost as if we need a map to help us know where we are, because the bible is an unfolding story, not just a random collection of writings. The events of Genesis form the basis for the events of Exodus, and so on.

For this reason, over then next 7 weeks I would like our sermons not just to look at the passages for the day but to start at the very beginning and work our way through the first 11 chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1-11 lays the foundation for everything else in the Bible, and helps us to see the arc that actually ties the whole of our Scriptures together.

Genesis 1-11 also contain things like the 6 day creation account, Noah and the flood, as well as other things people find difficult to reconcile with modern science. So I would like to address these issues as well and show that we can absolutely depend on the word of God, but we do need to be asking the right questions.

One of the other benefits of a structured sermon series is that the topics will line up with the content of the Growth Groups. So if the sermons raise questions, you can go along to the group and think it through in more detail.

I am looking forward to opening the Bible at the very first verse with you, commencing next week (30 July). May God enrich us all.

Painting for proclamation

Welcome to St Augustine’s. So glad you can join us today!

Last Sunday afternoon, I got a delightful surprise. I turned up to church at about 4:30pm in preparation for our Sunday evening Growth Group at 5pm, and I saw that the Church Hall door was open. I knew that Samuel Chan and a few others had started work on painting the hall a few hours earlier, so I thought I’d drop in and see how things were going.

The staff had made a decision a few weeks earlier, in consultation with the finance people at Diocesan Office, to paint the hall to help spruce up the interior after we moved the Op shop to the Old School. Samuel got quotes from professional painters, but both were more than we could justify under the current financial pressures. But we were able to source paint for a discounted price. So Samuel bought the paint and other equipment, and started prepping the walls!

We want to use the hall to expand the ministries of the church, and to hire out to the wider community. We want to think of ways to serve the local community. And it seems to me pretty important to make this space as inviting as we can, with the modest resources we have at our disposal.

As I walked through the door, I saw a group of people standing in a circle and I suddenly recognised Mee Ping’s voice… he was leading in prayer. I quietly walked over to the group, closed my eyes and joined in the prayer. He was praying in a very upbeat manner, confidently asking God to bless our use of the hall and asking that Christ’s name would be proclaimed there. As I prayed, I could smell fresh paint, and wondered how much work they’d done, but thought I really should wait until he’d finished praying before I opened my eyes and looked around…

Well sure enough, the prayer finished, we opened our eyes and I saw every single wall painted! A little bit of touching up was needed the following day, but otherwise, it was done.

So THANK YOU to the huge group of over a dozen volunteers who painted all afternoon last Sunday, and ESPECIALLY to Samuel for amazing hard work, initiative and leadership. Come and check out the hall as soon as you have a chance!

The Trinity: Why Stick With A Bewildering Doctrine?

Welcome to this morning’s service at St Augustine’s. We are delighted to have you with us.

Today is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is definitely one of the more tricky Christian doctrines, and so this is one of the more complex pew sheets for the year!

  • Not three Gods, but one God: Father, Son and Spirit.
  • Not one God who changes from Father to Son to Spirit depending on what he’s doing. Rather, God who is Father in relationship with Son in relationship with Spirit in relationship with Father.
  • Not one God with three different heads that pop up at different times. Instead, the Triune God.

Is this supposed to make sense? And how do we make Christian belief simple and easy to communicate to a desperately needy world if we insist on doctrine that seems to contradict itself?

Interestingly, the Trinity is not explored or even mentioned in the Bible. What we do find though are these sorts of things:

  • From today’s OT reading, Deut 6:4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (“oneness’ is a key concept).
  • Psalm 24:10… who would the King of Glory be, entering Jerusalem to defeat God’s enemies? Yahweh Almighty himself! (yet it is Jesus who comes).
  • Jesus is described as God in numerous ways (e.g. “The word became flesh”, “The exact representation of God’s being”, “The Lord of Life”, “The [visible] image of the invisible God”.
  • Jesus refers to God as The Father, and himself as The Son, and talks about himself as having come from the Father’s side (John 17:5). And he promises to send the Spirit once the Son has gone… so in some way God is relational, even though there is only one God.

Yes this is complex. But why do we want God to be simple? What makes me want to explain everything about him, or draw a diagram to depict him?

God wants us to seek him. And he has made himself seekable in the pages of Scripture. But the Bible’s picture of God describes a glorious, unapproachable, incomprehensible, eternal being, who is the source of all life and wisdom. Put simply, I am merely a created being, and my wisdom is therefore limited. The doctrine of the Trinity is the best attempt by theologians to explain how God describes himself in the Bible. And in fact all the doctrine can do is show us what we can and cannot say about God.

So rather than leading us to speculation or cynicism, may the doctrine of the Trinity lead us to humility and worship!

Archbishops Old and New

Good morning! It is a great pleasure to have you with us today. Please let me know if there is any way I can be a help to you, or if there is any information you would like.

In the church calendar, last Friday was the feast day of Augustine of Canterbury, missionary and bishop (died 604). Augustine was a Benedictine Monk sent on a mission from Rome in 597 by Pope Gregory the Great to Britain, with the task of Christianising the land. An opportunity for mission had arisen with the marriage of King Ethelbert of Kent to Bertha, a Christian, who (it was hoped) would be able to help persuade Ethelbert to convert.

On the one hand, the mission was a great success: Ethelbert became a Christian, and so did thousands of others in a very short space of time, perhaps through the influence of a newly converted king; perhaps through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Augustine became the first “Archbishop of Canterbury”, a role that predates the existence of the Church of England, but which today is the highest office in the Church of England, and in the Anglican Communion worldwide.

However, it turned out that there were already many Christians in Britain before the arrival of the official party from the Church of Rome. It’s a reminder to us that we are all servants of one higher than any popes or archbishops. We are servants of the One who is building his church in both visible and invisible ways through the unstoppable power of his Holy Spirit.

In light of this, I was greatly heartened at Clergy Conference this week to hear from the brand new Archbishop of Adelaide on this very topic of growth. Archbishop Geoff Smith talked about a 4-fold growth that he is hoping to see in our Diocese: growth in numbers, growth in faith, growth in serving, and growth in generous giving.

But it wasn’t just a motivational speech telling us all to get busy. He has perceived a certain air of defeat in our Diocese… a fear that our church is slowly declining and there is not really much we can do about it. In contrast, he urged us to remember that God can provide all the necessary resources for growth. He said, “God will lead us if we are prepared to follow and to trust.”

There are many steps to this. But Archbishop Geoff was adamant that the first step is prayer. Start praying for growth (if we haven’t yet) and confidently expect God to answer these prayers.

So as we reflect on the ministry of the first Archbishop, let’s take the lead of our own Archbishop and commit our Diocese to prayer; then eagerly work for and expect God to flourish the ministry of the gospel in our city.

 

Child Safe Ministry: Why? Who? What?

Welcome to St Augustine’s! It’s a joy to be able to meet together: long termers, visitors, as well as recent new members.

Child Safe Ministry: Why? Who? What? You may have noticed that recently we’ve mentioned courses, checks and processes. It can get us more than a little frustrated, bewildered and even offended by being required to fulfil certain expectations and face scrutiny.

Firstly, why does our church require us to have Child Safe Ministry? In a word: love. We believe that children (both younger and older) must be safe in our church. We love our kids… it’s that simple.

You don’t have to look far in the media to uncover the abuse history in Australian churches. Our Diocese has spent years responding in a way that befits the church of Christ. It has been a very costly process, led by former Archbishop Jeffrey Driver, who met face to face with numerous survivors, listening to them and crying with them.

The Diocese has placed certain requirements on all Adelaide Anglican churches to ensure that history never repeats. But I urge you not to consider this an authoritarian over-reaction. We need to embrace this, simply because we love the vulnerable. It is the very character of God to lift up the lowly; Jesus was adamant that children be welcomed AND protected.

Secondly, who needs to go through the processes? Anyone who is ever likely to be in any space on our site with anyone under 18. This doesn’t include being in large crowds (eg church) with kids. But if you’re involved in the kids program from time to time, if you take groups on tours that include under 18s, if you are in any kind of leadership in the church, then the Child Safe Ministry processes are for you. Additionally, any person in the church may attend the courses free of charge.

Those required to do child safe checks for other organisations (eg a schools, nannying, etc) simply need to provide evidence. Eg, if you’ve been on a mandatory reporting (Child Safe Environments) course before, please send us a copy of your certificate. Same with any police check you may have done within the last 3 years.

Thirdly, what is involved? There are 2 tiers of people: check the website for more details (adelaideanglicans.com/saferministry). At the lower tier, you need to familiarise yourself with the “Faithfulness in Service” document, which outlines Diocesan policies in this area, submit a police check, and attend the Ensuring Safer Church Communities (ESCC) course.

At the higher tier, in addition to these, you need to fill out a questionnaire (which includes a local and national screening process), plus attend an extra course: Child Safe Environments (CSE).

All of this process needs to be renewed every 3 years, and there are shorter versions of the courses available for those renewing. We are now keeping records of compliance and dates, to ensure we’re fulfilling our obligations.

Folks, I know in some ways this isn’t pleasant. And there is inconvenience. But remember we do it because we love our children.

Good motherhood

Welcome to St Augustines, and happy Mothers Day! It is great to have you with us today, whether you are a visitor, a guest or a regular.

Our Western society is pretty skilled at commercialising a good thing, and Mother Day is no exception. It seems we can’t have a good celebration without buying things, and we can’t buy anything without a whole lot of advertising.

But I guess if anyone deserves a gift of appreciation, it’s a mother. Having seen the immense commitment and hard work of my wife in the bringing up of our three children, I now have an additional perspective on mothering.

It’s not just the hard work providing for a whole range of needs for the kids, and being willing to sacrifice in a whole range of ways. It’s also the fact that mothers seem to be deeply wired in their application to the best interests of their children. That deep wiring never seems to get disconnected, although it can so easily be neglected or forgotten by the beneficiaries and life companions!

Today there are 3 aspects of this on which I find myself reflecting: First, I am deeply thankful not only to my own mother as well as to the mother of my children for their deep commitment, hard work and dedication, but also to other mothers around me. I’ve often reflected on the fact that our community needs great leadership… well there’s no better leadership than to give yourself wholly and sacrificially to the best interests of your children, a leadership that is not only intense, but also long-lasting. The impact of mothers on our future as a society must never be underestimated. Let us be a community of thankfulness and appreciation.

Second, I am aware that for many there is a level of pain associated with the notion of motherhood. Whether it be the loss of a mother, breakdown of relationship with a mother, or the unfulfilled desire to be a mother, we must not underestimate this. Given the enormous potential of motherhood for good, and the seeming natural preparedness of women for motherhood, it should not surprise us if there is a great deal of soul-searching when expectations are dashed. Let us be a community of compassion, seeking each other’s comfort and support.

And third, I reflect on our heavenly Father, the one who made us male and female, wiring us as we are. The one who demonstrated in an ultimate sense the notion of sacrificial parenthood. Our Father has shown his love to the whole human race in giving us life, sustaining our lives, and then in redeeming us through his Son, Jesus, whose life was laid down for our restoration. Through being joined to God’s Son, we may call God Father. Let us be a community of praise and thanks to God, drawing our inspiration from the source.

Is baptism spiritual insurance?

Good morning! Welcome to St Augustine’s. What an honour it is to have visitors with us, especially for special events like a baptism. It is of course Asher Peterson’s baptism this morning, and we welcome family and friends, as well as any others who are visiting today.

Many people consider the baptism ceremony to be a kind of spiritual insurance policy for kids, a way to ensure that they are counted as Christians. Parents want the best for their kids, and may want them to be Christian, even if they themselves have little or no interest in Jesus.

This raises a big question: does water baptism achieve some kind of spiritual result? Many people assume it does. However this is not the message of the New Testament. Although it was a command of Jesus’ to his Disciples to baptise people, baptism is not the thing that saves us (or our kids). It is Jesus’ actual death and resurrection that saves us.

When we repent of our sins and put our faith in him, we are counted as being “baptised into his death”, (Romans 6:3) meaning that we are joined to Jesus, and benefit from the fact that he died for sin. The sprinkling or immersing of people into water is simply an outward sign of this connection to God.

So what does this mean then? First, it means that repentance from sin and faith in Jesus is what it is all about. Baptism is a wonderful celebration of salvation and entrance into God’s family. But if we are baptised without having repented of sin and putting faith in Jesus, then the baptism achieves nothing. It’s a nice family day, but has no spiritual effect whatsoever.

Second, parents can baptise their children on the basis of their own repentance since the promise of God for salvation is for all ages, even those who cannot yet make a response for themselves. The key verses are Acts 2:38-39, where the Apostle Peter says:

38 “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

This is why the Baptism service for infants places such an emphasis on the intention of the parents and sponsors to be faithful, because until children are able to make their own decision, we play a representative role for them.

So it’s is great cause for celebration. But even though today is a day for focussing on Asher and his life, it is even more a day of thanks and praise to God for what he has done for Asher through Jesus, our Lord.