Sermon: Joy in the Task

The Lea’atoa Family at St Andrews

Sermon preached at St Andrew’s Uniting Church, East Perth on 21 February 2021 on the occasion of the Induction of Rev Sione Lea’atoa as their Minister.

First let me say that it is a real privilege for me to bring this word to the congregation of St Andrew’s and your new minister Rev Sione Lea’atoa. By God’s grace all of our lives have become intertwined and perhaps it is the Lord’s providence that brings us all together again.

The Lord also has a sense of humour. The hymn books were handed out randomly at the door and it just so happened that in the one handed to me was this note – I had sent an email to Alan on the occasion of the first service in this new venue at Easter 2019 and in it was the note he had written down from that email. And here we are, gathered for the Induction of their new minister!

St Andrew’s was on a painful journey when I became the General Secretary of the Synod of Western Australia. You were hurting and you were angry. You had been moved out of your building on Pier St and were meeting in the East Perth Cemetery. I found three big leverarch files on my newly inherited bookshelf, several folders in my computer and stack of documents in the General Secretary’s confidential cabinet. I read only a small part and realised that this pain was not going to be resolved by reading history. So I called Alan McKenzie, the Chair of Council. Since then, we have together plotted out a future which saw this venue come into being and now the induction of your minister. Hallelujah! The past is gone and we have a new beginning!

Sione and Ana, we met, if you recall, when I was preaching at the Scarborough congregation. We had a long talk in the tearoom that day and several conversations over the years. Your journey has been long and not without struggle, and I am convinced that this calling to St Andrew’s is from God – I want to commend you, both congregation and minister to the task which lies before you.

When a congregation and their new minister come together, they face many challenges … new hopes, new dreams, a new call from God. Also a lot of uncertainty. There are two ways in which you can approach these challenges …

In the first instance you can be like Job who must have felt that he had the whole world on his shoulders –

Are the days of a man not like those of a hired man? Do I not only have months of futility and nights of misery assigned to me? 

Or you can be like George Verwer …

I have twice attended conferences where he has spoken. He is the founder of Operation Mobilisation and Chairman of the AD 2000 Missions Mobilization Network. Each time it has been an inspiration to me. He comes on stage – he is a bit of a showman – with a huge plastic globe of the world on his shoulders and he challenges his audience to reach the world for Jesus. 

George and Job are a study in contrasts. Both love God with a passion. Job, however had a focus on doing things right FOR God – make the sacrifice, be concerned that sin in his children’s hearts might bring about separation with God. 

For him, God is at a distance – keep doing right things for Him and He will keep things right for you.

George Verwer, on the other hand, is about doing things right WITH God. 

He understands that God has a passion for His creation and particularly for those made in His own image. His deepest desire is that we should be right with Him, restored in the relationship brought about by sin. For this reason He sent His Son … so that we would not perish. In Christ, God calls us to enter into the task with Him – to reach out to the world with the love of God and to call them into a relationship with Jesus Christ. 

George Verwer goes to this task with joy. He overflows with enthusiasm in reaching people for Jesus.

I read somewhere that he is a passionate advocate of radical discipleship as the only legitimate option for people who believe in Jesus.

You too, congregation and minister, are called to take joy in the task that it set before you. The joy of sharing good news with people who don’t know Jesus. The joy of sharing hope with the multi-cultural community of East Perth. It is not a joy manufactured by the world – like perhaps a Street Party or the Mardi Gras, when once the debris is collected it is already forgotten. It is not a joy dependent on our willingness to participate. 

It is a compelling joy that lifts our hearts when we set to the task.

And it is to this task that you are called – both congregation and minister.

This is your task Sione, but it is also your task, St Andrew’s. 

Take to it with joy, share the Good News …

And, with Christ’s compulsion in your heart set to the task that lies ahead.

Paul tells the Corinthian church that he cannot boast about what he does because he is compelled to do it. If you’ve got to do it, its not something that you can brag about. Paul tells us that he must preach the gospel voluntarily, of his freewill because only then there is a reward for him. He cannot preach under someone else’s orders because then he would simply be discharging a duty. He preaches the gospel because he is compelled to do it. He has no choice and yet it is his choice. 

Sione, listen to Paul’s understanding of his own call to preach the gospel.

He preaches the gospel because ….

(a) he is obligated to do it AND 

(b) because he wants to do it. 

He finds a joy in the task because it is for the Lord – he is called to serve the Lord and he wants to serve the Lord. And he understands the perfect tension of what that means:

Though I am free, I will be slave to the task …

Though I am Greek, to the Jew I will be a Jew…

Though I am a Jew, to the Greek I will be a Greek

Though I am not under the Law, yet to those under the Law, I will be as one under the Law

Though I am under the Law to those free from the Law, I will be as one free from the law

And to the weak I will be weak …

WHY?

Because, he says, I will be all things to all people so as to save some and so share the joy of the gospel with them.

This is the task … this is the call that God placed upon Paul’s life and yours. This must be your compulsion.

When we look around the world, even the church sometimes – it is enough to throw up our hands on horror. It is enough to wallow in Job’s depression.

But when we do that our focus is in the wrong place.

We are looking in the wrong direction. We are looking at situation and circumstance. We are focussing on the problem.

At the end of Job’s struggles, God confronts him with some straight forward questions.

Were you there when I laid the earth’s foundations?

Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn where it is to begin?

Do you send the lightening bolts on their way?

Can you trust the wild ox to bring in your grain and gather it on your threshing floor?

Job’s response is simple and true …

“My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You …….. “

I had heard ….now I see !!!

You see, ultimately we must look to God. And as we look to Him, the task set before us becomes a joyful one. There is no greater task than to share good news – we don’t do it because we have to or because we benefit from it … but because there is joy in it.  

Jesus declares in Mark 1:38 that he has come to preach – here, where everyone is looking for Him and also in the nearby villages. And He preaches not just by speaking but by declaring the Kingdom of God … by healing the sick and casting out demons. These are living proof that God’s Kingdom has come, that His reign has begun. He has power over illness, authority over the demons and He speaks as God in our midst.

And we can look to Jesus – His Kingdom has come. 

We don’t have to point people to a church, or a minister, or a book … we must point people to Jesus. St Andrew’s, that is your task.

Day by day you will come across people struggling with life. 

You don’t have to wait until Sunday to do something about it. 

You don’t have to wait until your minister is around.

You are the Body of Christ, point people to Jesus.

Sione is your new minister, you have called him. The Presbytery has ordained him and today will induct him to this charge. 

But the world does not now rest only on his shoulders, but on all your shoulders. Listen to him, he is wise beyond his years. He loves the Lord and he has the energy and desire to lead you, and the people of East Perth, into the same loving relationship with Jesus.

When our property team were clearing out the moveable items from the old St Andrews in Pier St, they found this wooden plaque. Alan has no memory of it being in the church, and it may well be from somewhere else but I thought it appropriate to give it to you at this service. It reads: “Sir, we would see Jesus”.

A wooden plaque from the old St Andrews Church in Pier St

The words are from John 12, where a group of Greeks came to Philip and put that request to him. We could say that they represent the world.

In any event, Philip took them to ….

To Andrew and they together took them to Jesus.

Here is your joyful task … help people to meet Jesus! 

May the Lord bless you as congregation, and as Manse family, as you serve Him with gladness and with joy overflowing in your heart!.


Sermon: Trusting in the Promises of God

Sermon preached at Leeming Uniting Church on 14 February 2021. It is both Valentine’s Day and Transfiguration Sunday. Both are, in a sense, about trusting in promises. While I do refer to the Transfiguration, mostly the reference is to Abram response to God – he trusted in God’s promise more than God’s command.

Genesis 12:1-12:9

Romans 4:1-5; 13-17

Matthew 17:1-9

Abraham was obviously the great example when it comes to faith. How did he ever develop such towering trust in God? What can we do to develop the same type of faith.

The clue, it seems, is that Abram lived by promises, not commands. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

On the day when God first spoke to Abram, God said, Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

Listen to the promises God made to him.
I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing .
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you

God directed Abram to do only one thing-“Leave”-and in response God promised eight wonderful things to him. But it did require Abram to leave his country, his people, and his relatives-in other words, he had to get out of his comfort zone. He had to give up the land he knew best, the culture he had grown up in, the familiar sights and sounds. People who walk by faith often hear God’s voice telling them, “You need to leave now. It’s time to move on to something new.”
Sometimes that word has to do with geography, as in Abram’s case. At other times, God directs his people to leave certain work situations, sever relationships, or make other difficult changes. When you walk by faith, God never lets you settle into some area of stability. Just when you reach a certain place spiritually and decide to pitch your tent and relax for the rest of your life, God says, “Leave.” This was the story of Abram. In fact, he was never allowed to settle down permanently as long as he lived.

So, Abram left his home to live off the promises of God.
We cannot live off the commands of God, but we can live by the promises. The commands of God reveal his holy character to us, but they hold no accompanying power. Instead, the grace of God flows through the channel of his promises. God must first do for us what he promised, and only then will we be able to walk in obedience to his commands. He is God -everything must begin with him.

It is true that God’s moral commands teach us where we fall short, but it doesn’t bring a solution to our human dilemma. Only the promises bring us hope –if we respond in faith, as Abram did. This is what sustained him throughout his life. And, in fact, by the time Abram arrived in Canaan, God was already adding more promises. He said, “To your offspring I will give this land”. God’s abundance kept flowing as Abram responded to the call of the original promises.

Mostly we are command-oriented. Every day we wake up conscious of God’s moral law and try to do right so God will approve of us at the end of the day. And it is a great struggle. We would do better to wake up thinking about the promises of God and what he has said he will do for us. Then his power working in us will lead us into the way of obedience and right living.
The tender love of God toward us, as revealed in His gracious promises, is the only thing that really draws us into a closer walk with the Lord.

Abram felt so close to God that “he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD” between the towns of Bethel and Ai. Abram’s heart reached out to God in worship. God had been so good to him, so generous, so affirming. Abram had not earned any promise or blessing; it was all because of grace. He could not help lifting up his heart and hands to God in adoration. And that’s how we should be, and will be, as we walk in faith.

Abram had no master plan only the trust in the promise of God. 13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
The book of Hebrews tells us that “by faith Abraham obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going”. He had no map for the journey. He simply headed west toward the Mediterranean, and that was that. God had said he would show him where to stop when he got to wherever he was going.

That would be a struggle for us, wouldn’t it? Not just in our travels, but in planning out our careers and our lives, we simply have to have a comprehensive plan. We do very few things by faith.

Abram didn’t have a clue. If you had met up with his caravan at some oasis, the conversation might have gone like this:
“Abram, where are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, how will you know when you get there?”
“I don’t know that, either. God only said he would show me.”
“You have quite an entourage here. When you do arrive, who will supply all the food you’ll need? After all, if you’re going to survive in a new place, how are you going to eat”?
“I don’t know. He just said he would take care of me.”
“You don’t seem to have a security force. Who is going to protect you from the Jebusites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and all the rest of the warring tribes? “
Abram would just shake his head and wander away. Faith is happy to step out not knowing where it’s going so long as it knows that God is there. As long as God’s strong hand was holding Abram’s, everything was going to work out just fine. He simply moved ahead in faith.

We like to control the map of our life and know everything well in advance. But faith is content just knowing that God’s promise cannot fail. And that is the excitement of walking with God. When we read the book of Acts, we never quite know what’s going to happen with the next turn of the page. The Spirit is in control, and that is enough. Paul had no formula as to how he would evangelize; he was simply going by faith. God unveiled the route as he went along.

The promise at the beginning of the book of Acts is “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”. No wonder Jesus told the disciples to “wait for the gift my Father promised”. Just as Abram and his wife Sarai had to wait with expectation for what God had promised them. Having faith in the promise is the key and the only hope for anyone.

I’m always amazed at the account of the Transfiguration. These men had walked with Jesus, they had seen miracles, they had seen the trust which Jesus placed in His Father –but there on the mountain, when the Father declared His pleasure in the Son and instructed them to listen to Him, they fell down terrified. And their first reaction – “Lets do something! Lets build a house. Lets stay here forever.”
It was a faith building exercise, a revelation of the true nature of Jesus and of His mission, and all they wanted to do was build a shrine.
Faith is so much more than the physical, it is a call to follow the promises of God.
On the Mount of Transfiguration Peter wanted to build three shrines –one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He could probably have organized them quite well, but that wasn’t the point of the Transfiguration. Its intention was to confirm the promise of God in Jesus as revealed in the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). They didn’t see that, because they were still caught up in the motives and comforts of the flesh rather than the promises of God.
And perhaps the reason why Jesus told them not to tell anyone was because they had failed the test. They had to wait until after the resurrection before they could talk about it, once they had grasped the enormity of this revelation and its consequences for a life of faith.

Too often the search for leaders is for people who are sharp and clever at getting things done, or who know the Scriptures without understanding their intent as the revelation of God’s promise. We don’t look for leaders with the faith of Abram who are willing to trust God wherever he leads.
We forget that the Church was founded in a prayer meeting. Simple men full of faith and the Holy Spirit led it in its earliest and most successful years. They concentrated not on the secret of church growth, but on the secret of receiving the power God has promised. Because of their faith, the Lord gave them both power and growth.

Even Paul was humble enough to admit to the church at Corinth that, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:1, 4-5). We need this kind of approach to ministry and stimulation of faith in the Church today.

In fact, God has a wonderful plan for all his people. And while He doesn’t necessarily reveal everything to us He does ask that we take his hand and walk along in faith. He will show us soon enough what should be done.

Faith deals with the invisible things of God. It refuses to be ruled by the physical senses. Faith is able to say, “You can do what you like, because I know God is going to take care of me. He has promised to bless me wherever he leads me.” Remember that even when everything stands against us, the God of Abraham remains faithful to all his promises. Jesus can do anything but fail the people who trust in him.

God calls us to faith and in faith. When everything around us is confusing and doesn’t seem to be going according to plan we can still trust implicitly in the promises of God.
So today I’m inviting you to follow in the footsteps of Abraham. Begin carefully and prayerfully to search the Scriptures, asking the Holy Spirit to make God’s promises come alive to the point where they direct you and where you can live off them, even as Abraham did.

God’s plans are universal –from the beginning of time He has set in place a plan of salvation and the promise of eternal life to all who believe “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. And He desires us all to listen to the Son He loves, with whom He is well pleased.
The first step is to trust the word of God.
God’s plans are however also quite specific, In Jeremiah 29:11, He says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

God has a plan for YOU. Don’t be afraid when you don’t know exactly what it is; how God will lead and supply for you. Rather, just hold firmly to His word, to His hand and walk in faith. There is no need to worry about what any other person might be doing or how God might be calling them. “What is that to you”, said Jesus in response to Peter’s question about John. It really doesn’t matter, because God has promised to uphold and defend you. And He will lead you in the way that you should go. Listen to Him and follow Him.


Getting back to Blogging

It has been a long time since I have had the time or inclination to post to my Faith2Face blog. I certainly need to go back over previous posts and tidy up a little, especially as WordPress have so magnificently improved the platform. I also need to explore these improvements to see what works best for this blog.

My absence has been primary because I have been out of the pastoral ministry for the last five years and focussed much more on administrative matters in the Church. This does not mean that I have not been “Facing up to Faith” – indeed, quite the opposite – my day to day decision making and leadership direction has had to be firmly grounded in my faith and trust in Jesus as Lord of my life. Available time has been the main inhibitor. Nonetheless, I have kept up the practice of posting a short prayer, arising from my early morning devotions, on Facebook each day. I am a little overwhelmed by the response to these prayers which, while primarily relevant to my own life, seem to have touched the mark in many other people as well.

You can follow my Facebook feed (which also includes all the ordinary posts like family events, my favourite music clips etc) here.

I do get invited to preach in local congregations and so my first “new” posts will be the messages which I bring on those occasions.