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.

Growth groups (and why we need them)

Good morning and welcome to St Augustine’s! We are always glad to have visitors amongst us, and those who may be considering joining us regularly. Please let me know if I can be helpful in any way or provide you with any information.

Growth groups. What are they? What do they have to do with church? And should I join one?

What are they? Well, even though our congregation is small, it is also enormous. Far too big to be a place of deep, open and honest conversation. Of course, our goal is that the content of our services will be deep, open and honest! And yet to grow in our dependence on Jesus, and to deepen our knowledge and love of God, we need each other in a more intimate setting than a public worship service. Growth groups are there to help us to grow, as we build relationships of trust and openness with one another.

What do they have to do with church? Well put simply, our church (like any church) needs to grow. Of course, we want to grow numerically: all of us would love to see vibrant Sunday gatherings, full of new people exploring the things of God. But just as the growth of a garden requires attention to each and every plant, so too does the growth of a church.

I don’t think our faith should be an add-on to our lives, like a membership of an association or a hobby. Our faith is a core aspect of who we are as persons. Faith in God is only one of many “faiths” that we have in life. And I’m not talking about other religions! We put faith in the brakes and steering systems of our car when we are on the road. If we didn’t trust them, we wouldn’t get behind the wheel. We put faith in builders who put 20 tonne rooves over our heads, in doctors who prescribe chemicals for us to ingest or inject, even in chairs we slump our weight into. We put faith into more things each day than we care to consider.

The big question is: what does it look like for us to put our faith in God? Do I trust in the things or people he has created more than I trust in the One who created them? Well yes, often I do. And this usually doesn’t become apparent unless I have open, focused conversations about these very things.

Should I join a growth group? Another way of putting the question is, do I need to grow? Growth is intrinsic to life. No growth and we shrivel. Are you open to the idea of building relationships, studying God’s word, and reflecting with each other on what it means for our lives? And to committing the details of your life to him in prayer with others?

I’d love to encourage everyone to think carefully about whether you might join one. Would you consider it? No matter what our stage in life, I know that God will bless us if we humbly seek to grow in our knowledge and love of him.

What is an Australian Easter?

Thank you for joining us, especially if you are not a regular church attender… we are honoured to have you with us, and trust that our time together is encouraging, welcoming and thought provoking.

What is an Australian Easter? It’s a bit different from Christmas, with its strong family associations and big lunches or dinners. Easter does mean chocolate, mostly eggs and bunnies.

But I think the Easter most Aussies think about is the holiday. The 4-day week-end, just long enough to get away for a few nights or to get out into the garden. And the weather is often great.

It fits well with the Aussie way of life: we like getaways and outdoor activities, and ironically sometimes need to be forced to take time out to do these things.

What place then does the Christian message have? It’s actually pretty jarring. Good Friday represents the cruel death of the one we call the Son of God, literally thousands of years ago, and literally on the other side of the planet. This part of Easter probably struggles for RELEVANCE for many people. So remote in concept, time and place.

And then on Easter Day there is the claim of resurrection from the dead. That this Son of God remained dead only for a few days and then appeared to his followers. This part of Easter probably struggles for BELIEVABILITY for many.

How about you? In the end, the Christian message is not about telling people they must go to church instead of going on holiday. It is a message that requires a personal response. What do you YOU make of Easter? Do you believe that these events actually happened?

The impact of Easter involves coming to terms with these extraordinary things that God did in our world. We may want him to take away our illnesses, our financial struggles, or our relationship difficulties.   And yet Easter challenges us to ask whether God himself might have some kind of agenda for the world.

After all, if he allowed his son to be nailed to a cross, he must have been doing something important. Likewise, if death itself is reversed at the first Easter, God must have some kind of agenda for the world… what is it?

My family and I wish you a happy (and reflective!) Easter.

Palm Sunday: laying out the green carpet

Welcome! We trust that you enjoy your time today at St Augustine’s. We’d love to connect with you in some way if you are up for it. Feel free to chat to me after the service, or to contact me using the contact information on the pew sheet.

Today is Palm Sunday and we remember the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. In our Lent Bible Studies we looked at this recently in Mark 11. It is often called the “triumphal entry”. Why do you think this is?

There was certainly a big crowd. Many people spread out their cloaks on the road. Others had cut leafy branches (or palms) and laid them out on the road. So Jesus had a kind of ‘red carpet’ welcome, although it was more likely a green carpet!

In addition to what they did, it is important what they said. In Mark 11:9-10, the people called out a range of things. The first was “Hosanna”, which is a term of praise. But it literally means “Oh save us!” It is actually a cry for help, addressed to Jesus.

The second cry is “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. This is God’s envoy. And to say that he is blessed is to speak with great admiration for him. It’s an expression of great honour.

The third cry is “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” David was promised an eternal kingship for one of his descendants, and to associate Jesus with that kingdom is to say this is promise-fulfilment time. Hopes are high for this man. Not only are they treating him as king, they are suggesting that a new, eternal reality is dawning.

The fourth cry “Hosanna in the highest” implies that heaven is watching on. The angels are participating in this praise of Jesus the One come to save.

And yet… he is riding a donkey, not a king’s warhorse. This is a fulfilment of Zechariah 9:9, which promised that Israel’s king would be … lowly. This means he is simultaneously victorious and humble.

How do you view Jesus? Humble and weak? Victorious and judgemental? Neither of these pairs reflect the Bible’s value system. In the Bible, humility is connected with strength, not weakness. And victory is given (by God), not snatched by superiority.

So this Easter, let us grow in our admiration for Jesus, seeking to know him as he truly is. After all, there is much to draw us to him!

 

Invisible baptism

Welcome to St Augustine’s! We hope you enjoy your time with us.

Today is a very special day: an opportunity to baptise Stella Mak. In the service, we will find out more about Stella’s background and longstanding desire to be baptised. It is an honour for us to share in this significant day for her.

Like Holy Communion, baptism is a physical sign of a spiritual reality. The water just comes from the tap, and it doesn’t make a great deal of difference whether it is sprinkled over someone or whether they are submerged.

When a person becomes a Christian, he or she puts trust in the promises of God and appropriates them personally. It is the difference between knowing that Jesus brings salvation and calling out to him to be my saviour. It’s the difference between facts about Jesus and relationship with Jesus.

When you ask Jesus to save you, an extraordinary thing happens. The Holy Spirit connects you with Jesus. It is an invisible connection – you may or may not feel it – but one that immediately changes the entire trajectory of your life. Instantly, Jesus becomes your representative. His death on the cross becomes a death that pays for your sin. His burial in the tomb enables you to be counted as having been buried for your sins. And, wonderfully, his resurrection becomes the guarantee that one day you too will be resurrected… raised from the dead to be with him for ever. And yes, this connection with Jesus is called … your baptism. In Romans 6, Paul puts it like this:

Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

What a joy this is! It calls for a visible symbol to help us celebrate. And Jesus chose water baptism to represent visibly this hidden spiritual baptism: an outward sign of our inward cleansing and preparation for eternal life with God. Thanks be to him!

The challenge of forgiveness

Welcome to St Augustine’s: it is our pleasure to have you with us today. Please let me know if there is any way I can help you out.

This week in our Lent Bible Studies we looked at chapters 11 and 12 of Mark’s Gospel. It’s a long section, with various accounts of Jesus words and actions, some of which seem confusing. Why did he curse the fig tree? Why is that story intermingled with him visiting the Temple and overturning the tables? And isn’t it odd that in the parable of the tenants in the vineyard, Jesus says that the owner “will come and kill” the tenants… how is that consistent with the message of love and forgiveness? Many great conversations about these questions.

But the hardest question wasn’t difficult because of its oddness. It was difficult because of how hard it is to do. Mark 11:25 says “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Perhaps you know someone who is hard to forgive? Someone who has hurt you or a loved one, and you just cannot imagine releasing them from that… We regularly pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, but for many of us there are some situations that are seemingly unforgivable.

It is interesting though to see the links that the Bible makes between our own forgiving of one another and God’s forgiveness of us. The reality is: God forgave us “while we were enemies”. God forgave a debt far greater than the debt others have to us. And yet it says we can’t really claim God’s forgiveness if we’re not willing to forgive others.

This is a challenge indeed. And yet we must not put our own salvation in jeopardy, nor hold ourselves in bondage, by clinging on to other people’s sins in our hearts.

If ever there was a subject for prayer, this is it. If you’re not sure who you need to forgive, ask God to tell you. He may bring to mind a long list, or just one name. And if you feel that forgiveness is beyond you, then ask him for help!

“And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. Philippians 4:7.

Greatness apart from achievements

It is our great pleasure to have you with us at St Augustine’s today… welcome, and please let us know if we can be helpful to you at all. Our intention is to demonstrate the grace and kindness of God to each other and to those who are new among us, as He has demonstrated it to us.

As many of you are aware, I was in Sydney this past week, and it turns out that while I was there I was able to attend a memorial service for an old friend of mine, Mike Ovey. Mike passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in January in London, and a funeral was held back then. But on Monday this week at All Soul’s Langham Place in London, a memorial service was held for about 2000 people. A video recording of this service was sent to Sydney so that a smaller group of us could also participate from this side of the world.

Why the multiple events? Who was Mike? He was the principal of Oak Hill Theological College in North London, and one of the sharpest minds in church leadership in the world today. But for me, Mike’s loss is not about his status or his achievements; it’s about who he was and the contribution he made to my life.

Mike was gentle and kind, and always had time for people, especially those in difficulty. He was a great conversationalist, and always interested in what the other person had to say.

I had the privilege of spending a semester in one of his classes in 2004 on the Doctrine of God. And I can truly say that this course turned my whole understanding upside down. I believe that the information and learning we gather about God ought to turn us to praise and wonder – this was what I took from Mike.

Mike was also my youth group leader when I was in Cambridge as a high-schooler back in 1989. Mike was a funny guy who didn’t take himself too seriously, and we warmed to him straight away. But the whole time, his great desire for us was to see us grow in our knowledge of our maker and redeemer.

There are certain people in life who leave a lasting and deep impression on us for all the right reasons. I am deeply thankful to God for Mike and the person he was and the impact he had, despite his shortened years.