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EFAC Australia

Bible exposition

The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast
(Luke 13:18-21)

This is the text of a sermon originally preached at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, for the Bush Church Aid Centenary Celebration Service, 26 May 2019 by Adrian Lane, the Victorian Regional Office of The Bush Church Aid Society.

This year is a great celebration! On the 26 May, 1919, one hundred years ago, “on a wet and windy night, a small gathering of 26 met to form the Bush Church Aid Society.”1 The first Organising Missioner, Syd Kirkby, wrote, “‘A day of small things’ it appeared to be, and, in point of numbers, carrying no great promise to those present.”2

In our gospel reading we read of another “small thing”: a mustard seed, “which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” (v19)3 We also read of another “small thing”: “Yeast, that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour, until it worked all through the dough.” (v21) And Jesus says, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.” In other words, “It starts

small.”

Jesus has in mind here a kitchen garden, with its vegies and herbs, and perhaps a few fruit trees or olives. Now, the mustard seed is not necessarily the smallest of seeds, but it’s pretty small. I’ve got one here between my fingers and I can hardly see it. It’s inconspicuous and easily overlooked. Yet when it is sown in good soil and watered, it grows into a substantial tree in the garden: 3 or 4 metres high, so that even “the birds of the air make nests in its branches.”

Or think of the woman adding a small bit of last week’s yeast to her dough. Jesus is talking about a lot of fl our here – probably 22 litres worth. Yet a small amount of yeast works through the whole batch, so that when it’s baked we now have bread for over 100 people.

This is what the kingdom of God is like. It starts small. And it

grows imperceptibly, quietly. You don’t even realise it’s growing till you go away, perhaps for holidays, and come back – and, “My goodness, hasn’t the garden grown!” It’s a bit like teenagers who grow through the summer – you don’t even realise how much they’ve grown till they put on their old school shoes – and they just don’t fi t! They’ve grown, steadily, quietly. Or it’s a bit like some Australian eucalypts that just keep growing, even in tough times, through drought and heat.

Bush Church Aid’s history is a bit like that. Those early founders in 1919 wanted to serve those in isolated parts of Australia – beyond the railway line. Yet think of the difficulties they faced: The First World War with its terrible loss and trauma had only just finished. The Spanish Flu was now taking an even greater toll. Our nation was just 18 years old. And returning soldiers were being sent to dry Mallee blocks that would never be sustaining.

Yet those early founders were committed to reaching all of “Australia for Christ.” They wanted every man, woman and child to hear of his love, of his care, of his death on the cross to pay the penalty for all the wrong they’d ever done, of his physical resurrection from the grave, proving that penalty of death had been paid. They wanted everyone to hear of his gift of his Spirit to all who believe. And they wanted every Australian to have the sure hope of eternal life, in new bodies, with believers from every tribe and nation.

Within 10 years, Ministers and Bush Deaconesses had been sent to Menindee, Cobar, East Gippsland, the Eyre Peninsula and the South Australian border. Hostels had been established at Wilcannia and Mungindi so that isolated kids could go to Primary School. A Sunday School by Post was now reaching 700 children. A hospital had been established at Ceduna, way out on the Bight. Even a plane had been purchased for Padre-Pilot Len Daniels. And 13 students preparing for country ministry were being supported at theological colleges – 8 men and 5 women. Yet all this started small – very small.

I don’t know if you’ve thought about this or not, but all through the Bible we see God starting substantial and eternal things in very small and ordinary ways. God began his people through Abraham and Sarah, who never believed they’d even have children – Abraham was 100 years old! God rescued his people through one man, Joseph, who’d been sold into slavery by his brothers for 20 shekels of silver. God rescued his people again through Moses, who miraculously escaped murder as a baby in a little floating basket! Yet again God rescued his people in exile through Esther, an orphan and a foreigner, who put her life on the line with the king of the empire! And ultimately God rescues his people eternally through a baby born in a cowshed, who himself miraculously escaped murder as an infant. And whoever would have thought that a small dispirited band of followers who’d gone back to fishing after the crucifixion would start a church that now numbers billions?

God loves to make something out of nothing! – just like he rescued the widow and her sons in our first reading – through a little bit of oil, all that she had, that just kept flowing. Don’t despise the small! God’s kingdom starts with the small. God’s eternal, massive kingdom starts with the small.

Secondly, do you notice how the kingdom of God completely transforms?

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a cheese factory. Into these vast vats of churned milk they throw a couple of handfuls of starter culture. And just like the yeast it quietly works through the whole. A little goes a long way.

Or it’s just like the glassmaker I saw down near Lakes Entrance. Into the clear molten glass she threw the tiniest piece of coloured glass, which completely transformed the whole. So it is with the Kingdom of God. It transforms. It transforms those who believe it. And it transforms those with whom it comes into contact.

I used to work for the Navy. I discovered that whenever I returned from leave, the language on my floor had significantly deteriorated. But as soon as they realised I was back, it suddenly transformed! I hadn’t even told them I was a Christian. And I hadn’t made any comments on their language. In fact, I’d been a bit overwhelmed by the whole culture and was keeping my head down. Yet somehow my shy presence made a difference.

And that’s our prayer at Bush Church Aid – that each of our field staff and their families would make a transformative difference in their communities – as they seek to reach Australia for Christ, whether it be Alfrene as she serves as an Indigenous School Chaplain at Gulargambone, or Ayumi as she teaches Scripture at Gilgandra, or Dale as he cares for people up at Red Cliffs, one of the poorest parts of Victoria. The kingdom of God transforms.

Finally, do you notice how wonderfully delightful the Kingdom of God is, as the birds nest in the mustard tree with their little babies and as we share fresh, crusty bread?

Some years ago I went through a period of chronic illness and was confined to bed. Outside my bedroom window were some fuchsias. The birds just loved their nectar. But fuchsia flowers hang upside-down, on very thin and supple stems. So to get to the nectar the birds had to do a constant variety of upside down acrobatics on bouncing, bending stems. Watching those birds feeding and dancing in the sun in my garden was such a delight – it kept me going through some of my darkest days.

What a delight it is to be part of the kingdom of God, with people from many nations, each seeking to “declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples,” as we read in Psalm 96:3. My prayer is that each one of us here has given back to God all that he has given us, and that each one of us here is using all that God has given us to extend his kingdom, to declare his glory among the nations.

God leads each one of us to the harvest fields he’d have us work in – through our prayers, our life, our gifts. My prayer is that we would commit ourselves afresh to reaching Australia for Christ, to serving those in remote, rural and regional Australia, through our prayers, our life, our gifts.

God’s kingdom is like a mustard seed, it’s like yeast. It starts small. It transforms. It’s an eternal delight. Let’s praise God for all that he has done to build his kingdom through Bush Church Aid these last one hundred years, and let’s commit ourselves afresh to growing his kingdom, to reaching Australia for Christ, especially remote, rural and regional Australia.

REFERENCES

1. S. J. Kirkby, These Ten Years, Bush Church Aid, n.d., 5

2. ibid

3. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, 1973, 1978, 1984

No mere political manifesto

Jesus’ campaign launch at Nazareth: Luke 4:16-21

Marc Dale is the Rector of Highgate in the Diocese of Perth.

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Political leaders give some of their most memorable and powerful speeches at their campaign launches and inaugurations. In May 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons with these words, ‘You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs—victory in spite of all terror—victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.’

God’s love for Cain and for Abel   Genesis 4:1-10

T he story of Cain and Abel speaks to guilty people who have screwed it up, and to innocent victims. It speaks to those who are tempted to resentment and bitterness, and to those who despair when believers fall prey to evil. It speaks most fully when seen together with the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

When considered on its own, Genesis 4:1-10 is a story about Cain, and how the Lord deals with him as he becomes a murderer and an outcast. Cain is angry when God favours Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Perhaps Cain felt he was the victim of some divine unfairness. Perhaps he wanted to be lord of his brother, but God’s favour threatened this aim. The Lord draws near to Cain, precisely because he is in this sullen, angry state, and asks him some hard questions: ‘Why are you angry? … If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?’ These questions challenge any assumption Cain may have that he has a reason to be angry, or that God is treating him unjustly. The Lord does not explain the favour thing to Cain. He simply but earnestly warns Cain that he is at a crossroads. Will he do what is right, despite being the unfavoured one, or will he let the vampire sin in, and become himself one who crouches to spring, and take the life of another? This is not perhaps, what Cain would have liked from God, but it is, nonetheless, the good gift that the Lord has for Cain on the verge of Cain’s selfdestruction; it is what he needs.

Who’s Building Your House?

The Parable of The Two Builders: Luke 6:46-49

Adrian Lane serves as the Victorian Regional Officer for Bush Church Aid

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?

Here we have two men, each building a house. Both are listening to Jesus’ words. Both hear exactly the same words. Furthermore, both houses look exactly the same. Ultimately both houses face the same flood. One man’s house isn’t even shaken, while the other man’s house is swept up in the torrent, collapses into wreckage and is carried off downstream, totally destroyed in one quick gulping swoop. Could this be us? I don’t know if you noticed or not, but both men call on Jesus as Lord. One isn’t some godless atheist or follower of another religion.

Why does one man’s house stand, while the other’s is smashed to smithereens? ‘The answer is obvious,’ you say. ‘One man built his house on a foundation, while the other didn’t.’ Of course, but why? Is he just cheap? Not wanting to pay the price for a solid house? Is he lazy, cocky or cavalier? ‘This’ll do. A flood? The last one was 70 years ago!’ Or perhaps that’s where most people are building their houses? ‘Everybody else is doing it this way’ No doubt the river flats look attractive and comfortable, with plenty of grass and trees. 

THE BIBLE AND ME

The wedding at Cana: Just what hour is it?

Recently, I heard some excellent teaching on John’s Gospel. Setting the cultural scene for the wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11), the speaker explained that in first century Jewish weddings, it was the duty of the bridegroom to provide the wine and so the lack of wine at the wedding would be the cause of great embarrassment for, and possibly even legal proceedings against, the bridegroom. That led me to reflect on that awkward verse 4. Mary had explained to Jesus that the bridegroom (a friend or cousin?) at this wedding was facing exactly that situation, and whatever his mother expected of Jesus here, she clearly thought he was not going to leave his mate in the lurch. But Jesus responds, ‘Woman, what to me and to you? My hour has not yet come.’ I have looked at the dozen or so commentaries I have access to and, besides a few which are rather vague, largely suggesting Jesus’ time for miracles has not come, most say that the 'hour' referred to is Jesus’ glorification in his death, resurrection and ascension.

Bishop Peter Brain ministers in Perth, WA and beyond.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.’ Revelation 2:4-5

In this thematic study I hope we can reflect on these awful, and unexpected words of rebuke from our Risen Lord. There are a number of contexts that we need to conside. These include: first, our Lord’s words from Matthew 24:9-14 (around 50 years earlier) with his general warning that in the last days ‘because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold’; second, the privileged place the Ephesian church enjoyed in God’s economy, with Paul’s longest settled ministry, the remarkable public bonfire of repentance, the elder’s seaside retreat, the presence during the next 40 years of pastors like Timothy, the apostle John, Priscilla and Aquila, Tychicus and its strategic place amongst the churches in the surrounding region. (Acts 19, 20:17-38, 2 Tim 4:12-22, Rev.2-3); third, the letter we call Ephesians, with its rich teaching about God’s grace and warm-hearted encouragement to continue their sacrificial love to others, not to mention Paul’s prayers for their love to blossom, reminds us of their rich heritage.

Revelation 2:1-7 must be taken to heart if we are to be kept from a similar rebuke. The Ephesians were commended for all the things we labour and give our lives to in local church ministry. Their persevering hard work attracted our Lord’s praise but so too their distaste for unapostolic false teaching and conduct, not once, but twice (2:2,6). Furthermore they had not grown weary in their endurance (3). They were the kind of disciples we who claim to be apostolic, evangelical and faithful to our Lord aspire to be. These contexts help us understand the surprise it must have been to hear our Lord’s rebuke when read out to their church in Ephesus, not to mention the other six churches, who had no doubt benefited from and looked up to this larger church.
Since none of us wants to hear a word of rebuke from our Lord, I want to pose a few suggestive questions as to what this forsaken first love might look like and offer some passages, mainly from Ephesians, that taken to heart could keep us from hearing this devastating word when we face our Risen Lord. Could it have come because a subtle shift over the years had seen privilege move through responsible service into pride? Reputation (Rev.3:1) as with flattery (Ps.12:2-3; Prov.28:23) is not always easy for sons of Adam and daughters of Eve to handle. These passages may help: Eph.2:8-10; 4:7,8,11,12,13.

Might the cut and thrust of calling out departures from apostolic teaching and conduct become an end in itself, causing us to love the exercise of rebuke and correction more than love for our Lord and the restoration of the errant? We lose our first love of seeing sinners established in Christ. Passages to consider: our Lord’s pattern (2:5), Paul’s example (2 Tim.2:22-26) and Eph.4:15; 2:1-5; Matt.5:43-48 and 11:28.

Could our desire not to rebuke for fear of losing friends mean that we love the praise of people more than that of God? Our Lord’s rebuke gave his brothers and sisters opportunity to repent. Loving God and others must keep these two in tension. Passages to consider alongside the previous verses include: Eph. 5:3-14; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Matt. 11:29-30.

Can our desire to work hard and persevere as faithful church members leach out of us the love we once had? The disappointments of church life can sour us and easily cause us to settle back expecting to be served rather than serve. When disappointment morphs into bitterness or resentment to others or to God we have entered fatal territory. How can this drift be addressed? How do these passages remind you of your first love in for what God has done for us individually and collectively? Eph. 1:1-2; 1:3-14; 1:15-23. Is God’s love to terminate on us? Ponder: Eph.4:1-16; 4:20-5:2 and 5:15-21.
Strengths can easily become weaknesses. A church that has enough people like us puts us in grave danger. What we think is loving may be self-indulgence. We no longer go out of our way to sacrificially love those who might not reciprocate. Is this dangerous territory? Ponder: 1 Cor. 11:17-34; 12:31-13:13.

Discipleship and controversies, like the one we are facing within our denomination, challenge us not only to be faithful to God and his revealed Word written, but to grow in love, both to God and the people we are part of, not to mention those whom we are to exhort and evangelise. Revelation 2:4-5 remind us how easy it is forsake this love even in the interests of Christlike discipleship, and of our Lord’s desire that we grow in and maintain this love until he returns. Two couplets from Ephesians may help keep our love alive. These are the exhortations about the Holy Spirit in 4:30 and 5:18, which are congregational in context but individual in our responsibility to pursue (1:14-15; 2:22). Add the example of Paul’s thanksgiving prayer for others and exhortation to continually grasp God’s extraordinary love to us in Christ (1:15-19 and 3:14-21).

Is it possible that our reading of the Bible in order to persuade others to remain committed to apostolic doctrine and conduct may replace our personal Bible reading primarily to nurture our fellowship with and love of our Father, Saviour and Spirit, where we gladly welcome their nourishment and correction for us as adopted children? Nothing is so necessary for our growth in love than hearing God speak to us, whereas nothing as potentially fatal as reading Scripture for the purpose of applying it to others. What is described so wonderfully, as the sword of the Spirit (Eph.6:17-20) can focus on the sword to correct others, rather than the Spirit’s way of growing our love for God and others (Rev. 3:20, Col. 3:14-17).

We are most at risk of forsaking our first love when we think; ‘it couldn’t happen to me or to our church or group’. To be forewarned by our Lord in the gospel and Revelation 2:4 rebuke, are a reminder of his deep love for us. In both it is clearly for our good, since he understands not only our human frailty but the pressures of decided discipleship from the world, the flesh, the devil and the church. His call to the Ephesians to repent, to ‘remember the height from which they had fallen and to do the works they did at first’, show us that his rebukes are always designed to restore us. His call to repent, by remembering and doing again what they did when they were first caught up in the experience of his love in Christ hold the key to our growth in love. The following practices have helped me in this challenge. I share them with the prayer that they may be of help to you.

Recalling simple (yet profound) truths through singing songs like Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so, or Wide, wide as the ocean, or Here is love vast as the ocean, or, How deep the Father’s love for us. Ponder: Psalm 100; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25, Eph. 5:18-21, Rev. 4:8, 10-11, 5:8-10. Congregational hymn singing is like the hump on the camel; stored up praise to sustain us in dry times! And if this seems childish, see Luke 10:21, 18:16.

Looking for every opportunity of thanking God when we are recipients of his love, whether from his promises, provision, providences or people. Passages worth pondering: Psalms 95:2-4,100:4-5, 103:8-14, 119:67-72; 103-105. We are far more likely to love God and others when we are habitually grateful to God and one-another. Consider: Luke 17:11-19, Eph.1:15-17, Col.3:15-17, 1Thess.5:16-18, Heb.12:28-29, Rom.1:21.

Sharing in the Lord’s Supper gives us opportunity to remember and rejoice in God’s love for us. Ponder the joys of looking back to our Lord’s deep love displayed on the cross, of looking around thanking God for our brothers and sisters saved by the same grace of God we have received, of looking upwards reflecting on our loving and sympathetic High Priest and looking forward to the glorious Day of our Lord’s vindication which we will share. We are more likely to go out of our way to sacrificially love our brothers and sisters when we intentionally thank God for them around his table.

Being attentive to Bible passages that bring before us both the grandeur and obligations of God’s love are most helpful. Here are seven sets of verses that keep on encouraging and challenging me: Set 1—Matt.5:43-46; 20:28; 22:37-39; 25:31-46. Set 2—John 3:16; 13:34-35; 14:15-21; 14:23-27; 15:9-17; 19:25-27; 21:15-19. Set 3—Romans 5:1-8; 8:28-39; 12:9-13; 13:8-10. Set 4—1 John 2:3-6; 3:1-3; 3:11-20; 4:7-21. Set 5—1 Thess.1:2-5; 3:6; 3:12; 4:9-10. Set 6—1 Peter 1:22-2:3; 4:7-11; 2 Peter 1:3-11. Set 7—1 Tim. 1:12-17; 6:6-11; 6:17-19; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1:13-14; 3:1-5.

Our son’s athletic coach reminded them that “practice makes permanent, not perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect!” If we fail to consider how we can stir up one-another to love and good deeds or are cool toward God, we don’t get better at doing it. We get worse. Coolness, selective discipleship, sullenness and carelessness easily take over from zeal, warmth, servant hearted thoughtfulness and initiative. The older I get, the harder it is for me to think more of others needs above my own. This study is for me and I trust may be of help to you. The best way not to forsake our first love is to do the opposite, actively to cherish both God and others. I Thess. 3:12 makes this plain: ‘May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.’ Overflowing love is the only sure way for our love to increase. This should not surprise us since this is the kind of love that God has lavished on us (Eph. 1:8, 1 John 3:1).

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