Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
(Australia Day Service)

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:2,3
To the church of God which is in Corinth, to all who are called to be God's holy people, who belong to him in union with Christ Jesus, together with all people everywhere who worship our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

 

Peace and freedom

There has been an email getting around that proclaims to a definitive list to tell if you’re really an Aussie or not. Here’s a part of that list.

  • You've had an argument with a mate over whether Fords or Holdens or better!
  • You kind of know the first verse of the national anthem, but don't know what "girt" means.
  • You have hung from mum’s Hills hoist clothesline while a sibling gave you the ride of your life.
  • A thong is a piece of footwear (not underwear) and you own a pair of thongs for everyday use, and another pair of ‘dress thongs’ for special occasions.
  • You don't know what’s in a meat pie, and you don't care.
  • You call soccer ‘soccer’ - not football!
  • You've squeezed Vegemite through Vita Wheat to make little Vegemite worms and you suck your coffee through a Tim Tam.
  • You constantly shorten words to "brekkie", "arvo" and "barbie". You use the phrase, "no worries" at least once a day and encourage others saying, "She’ll be right mate".
  • I’m sure this isn’t a ‘definitive list’ but there are some things in it that we can relate to and are quite unique to Australia.
    What does it mean to be Australian?
    What’s so good about living here in this country?
    The answers that you might give to these questions could vary quite a bit depending on the stage we are in life and our experiences in this country.

    When travelling we met a lady from the Netherlands and when she found out that we were Australians she quickly told us that she didn’t like Australia at all. As the conversation proceeded we found out why. Coming from a small flat country like the Netherlands and having cycled across several European countries, she thought that she would ride her bicycle from Perth to Sydney - in January. She ended up in hospital suffering exhaustion, dehydration and heat stroke. This experience affected her view of Australia and she vowed never to return.

    On the other hand it’s always nice to get a warm and enthusiastic greeting and smile when non English speaking people find out you are not from Britain or America but Australia.

    Perhaps the greatest blessing that we have received from God's hand here in Australia is peace and freedom.
    Peace and freedom to worship the way we like,
    to speak freely,
    to travel where we like,
    to work and to enjoy our leisure time,
    to vote for the political leadership of our country.
    Often it’s only when we see on our TVs the lack of peace, the restrictions and limitations to freedom that other people are enduring under oppressive dictators and governments that we realise what a wonderful gift this country is.

    Apart from isolated incidents in Darwin and Sydney during the Second World War, Australia has never seen war on its soil. We have never experienced civil war. There are not many nations in the world that can make this claim. Peace and freedom are highly valued in this country.

    But are the people of Australia really free and at peace? Yes, we have political freedom and peace meaning which makes Australia a great to live, but do Australians enjoy the kind of peace and freedom that only comes from God? God's kind of peace and freedom is offered to everyone, but does God's peace and freedom rule the hearts and lives of our fellow Australians?

    To highlight the kind of peace that God gives, I want to focus on relationships. Paul was writing to one the most conflicted churches you are likely to see. He opens by reminding the congregation that they are members of the one church and joined to one another because of Christ’s connection with each one of them. He makes this plea, ‘By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you, my friends, to agree in what you say, so that there will be no divisions among you. Be completely united, with only one thought and one purpose’. Now, I believe we could all agree with that. He calls for unity and harmony among the members of the congregation. Now Paul didn’t come down in the last shower; he knew as well as anyone that 100% unity 100% of the time is impossible; but he asks us to try for it.

    As soon as groups of people gather together there are bound to be different dreams, different ideals, different visions, and different opinions. Let’s take a married couple who realise that they are not as compatible as they thought in the early days of their relationship. They are just 2 people and there are just 2 relationships (husband & wife) and hopefully they are able to get past this critical, sometimes painful, but unavoidable step in their growing together as one.

    Now add a child (a son) and suddenly there are 6 relationships within the family that need to be nurtured and maintained (husband, wife, mother, father, son of the mother and son of the father).
    Add another child (a daughter) and the number of relationships with in the family doubles to 12.
    Add a third child and the number of relationships within a family jumps to 20.
    In our family there are 4 children and that means 30 relationships. With all these relationships in one family there is little wonder that things can be complicated or less than peaceful. Now add to the family your children’s partners and their children and you end up with a very complex situation. At the moment there are 110 different relationships between the members of our immediate family and that is bound to increase and inevitably make things more complex again.

    Bring together 250 people in a congregation and the relationships within that group are too complex to even begin to try to fathom them all out. Or put together the few million people in the south-east corner of Queensland and then expect no road rage, no stealing, no conflict or violence. Inevitably when people interact with one another there is going to be some conflict at one time or other. This is what makes up a large part of news broadcasts. People behaving badly towards other people is news.

    And so we come back to Paul’s advice to the Corinthian congregation. We don’t know how many people were involved but the relationships were certainly all messed up. There as anything but peace – there were open conflicts, disagreements, put downs, insults, arguments, stubbornness, lack of understanding, and impatience among the Corinthian Christians and so Paul says, ‘By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you, my friends, to agree in what you say, so that there will be no divisions among you. Be completely united, with only one thought and one purpose’.

    Through Paul God is saying that God asks us to be of one mind; to be united in mind and in purpose. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have animated discussions and disagreements; but we need to find out what it is that we have in common and not let any conflict get in the way of the relationship that God has created between each of us at our baptism.

    What we have in common makes a big difference to the way we handle conflict in our living room and in the church. What is it that we have in common - Jesus Christ and the love of God? What I say now applies equally to our own family and to the family of the church. When the Bible talks about peace it’s not the manufactured kind – the peace that comes from looking the other way when conflict arises and pretending that there is nothing wrong. Nor is he talking about the kind of peace that lasts only while things are going well but disintegrates into bad language and behaviour and hot tempers or cold silence when things don’t go our way.

    The peace that Paul is talking about is the kind that focuses on Jesus and his love for us. He goes to great lengths to point out to the squabbling Corinthians that they have something special – unity that comes from being brothers and sisters with their Saviour Jesus. Jesus has made peace between us and God through his death and resurrection. We have been called into the family of the church by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, baptism and strengthened in that relationship through Holy Communion. We have in common the love and forgiveness of God. Because we share this together then it follows that we should let God's peace and love in our hearts rule the way we react to others who upset and hurt us. There is no room for
    ‘an eye for an eye’,
    giving someone a piece of your mind,
    hurting through unkind gossip and back-stabbing,
    or refusing to have anything to do with that person or that group of people.
    The love and freedom that we have in Christ compels us to do our utmost to seek peace, be reconciled, overcome our differences, be understanding and patient.

    Paul says this to the Ephesians, ‘Try your best to let God's Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God's people. We have only one LORD, one faith, and one baptism. There is one God who is the Father of all people’ (4:3,4). Our purpose as Christians is to love one another especially those in the church and in our families, in the same way that God has loved us – that is generously, graciously, ungrudgingly, letting the Holy Spirit control our reactions as we demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23). Simply put – focussed on Christ and his love we find true peace.

    This brings me to the question that I asked earlier, "Are the people of Australia really free and at peace? Do the people in our country, our shire, our city know about the peace that only God gives and the true freedom from sin and death that Jesus gives? People in our country have still to discover or rediscover the kind of peace that is real. Even though everything else is collapsing around them and chaos rules the day, they can still be at peace knowing that they are God's, his love for them never stops and he will always be there to give them the strength and courage that they need.

    We live in a land that is blessed in so many ways but there are so many who are missing out on the most important blessing of all – Jesus Christ and the love that flows from him to us. This congregation has been put here by God and hasn’t survived all this time by accident. God has a purpose for us, namely to share his love and peace and the freedom from sin and its hold on our lives with those in our congregation and especially those in our community who have yet to experience what Jesus can do for them.

    I would like to see added to the list of the characteristics of an Australia that I mentioned at the beginning something like this – Australians know the love of God and endeavour to let that love control their lives.

    © Pastor Vince Gerhardy
    St Paul's Lutheran Church, Caboolture - 28th January 2007
    E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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