Sunday Night Live Sermons
CELEBRATING GOD'S OPPORTUNITIES
Bexley Uniting Church Centenary Service
4th August 2002
No one celebrates a centenary with indifference. The new century ahead invites us to open the door of opportunity to launch new dreams, to create new relationships, to increase knowledge and expertise, to begin a difficult task again, to establish new patterns of living, to achieve new goals and to plumb new spiritual depths. The centenary of a church that has worshipped, witnessed and served for one hundred years, invites us to enter the door of opportunity before us. We are invited to enter to all the future holds. To refuse to enter with enthusiasm will mean we will be confined to more of the same, repeating the mistakes and errors of years past. Shakespeare said: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat; and we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures."
A centenary invites us to celebrate God's opportunities and enter the door of opportunity set before us and take advantage of the new beginning offered to us. The history of the Bexley Methodist and later Uniting Church is full of grand memories, good people, happy occasions and significant experiences. The great highlights in everyone's memory are matched with faithful and regular service to God and the community. Here for generations, birth has been celebrated, babies have been baptised, children taught, young couples married, families supported, the sick strengthened and the dying comforted. From here people have marched to war, to go in missionary service, to fight for spiritual causes, to wrestle the powers of darkness and to serve the needy.
What a cause for celebration! But whenever we celebrate God gives us new opportunities. One of the seven churches in Asia to whom John wrote was the church at Laodicea. This city, inland from the west coast of Turkey, and at the junction of the Lycus and Maeander valleys, is today but earth covered ruins except for the lukewarm springs that made this area a popular recreational spot for Roman soldiers during the first century.
In this important letter, John wrote to a church with some characteristics of this church celebrating its centenary. John tells the church that God has placed before them another door of opportunity that they can enter, if they so desire, and once having entered that door it would lead them into new life and possibilities beyond their imagination. Today before the Church in Bexley is a door of opportunity that you may enter.
1. A DOOR OF OPPORTUNITY FOR AUSTRALIA.
Jesus knew the community of Laodicea. It was famous for its wealth, its banking and gold smithing. But in God's eyes it was poor because it possessed no heavenly riches. It was famous for its black wool, cotton and textiles, but in the eyes of God it was a naked city. Its wretchedness fully exposed to the eyes of God. It was famous for its colourful healing eye salve that gave the name mascara to the eye colour women wear today. But in God's sight it was living blind to its opportunities of witness and service. To the eyes of the nations it was wealthy, fashionable, sophisticated - very much like the city of Sydney in which we live, and the country of Australia of which we are a part - but in the eyes of God it was poor, naked and blind. We are blessed with so much, yet use so little in God's service.
Australia has everything going for us. We can be proud of our achievements, wealth, possessions, economy, sporting prowess. But how does God see us? I suspect also as poor, naked, blind. Yet we can open the door of opportunity for Australia if we celebrate this centenary of this church properly.
This church at Bexley can help open the door of opportunity to Aboriginal justice. After a century of great injustice on issues of land rights, political restriction, health, education and housing inadequacies, policies that resulted in a stolen generation, deaths while in custody, alcohol and drug abuse, we now have the opportunity before us as a church to add our voice to those who are seeking that justice is done now.
This church at Bexley can help open the door of opportunity to house the homeless. At last the community understands the tragedy of the homeless in Australia and realises that we have a national economic disaster on our hands which has left people homeless in larger numbers than any bushfire, cyclone or earthquake. Over 100,000 people are on Sydney public housing waiting lists: they will inhabit heaven before a unit owned by the NSW Government! Most of these homeless were born in Australia, but a number are refugees and asylum seekers from other countries staying in our detention centres. For all of these home is wherever there is a community laundry and public toilet. This great country should be doing better than that! Let us make an opportunity for the homeless! Bexley Church has a fine record of being concerned for issues of social justice as witnessed to in your history. Celebrate the opportunity to be more committed in Australian social justice.
2. A DOOR OF OPPORTUNITY FOR BEXLEY CHURCH.
The main criticism of the church at Laodicea was that it was a lukewarm church, like the water that flowed from the hills, neither cold nor hot. The church lacked commitment. Perhaps this is the greatest criticism of the Australian church. Heresy is not our problem. Resources are not our greatest need. Leadership is not restricted. The commitment of our ordinary members is still the greatest problem of the Australian church. What an opportunity is open now for members of Bexley Church to become more committed to Christ and His church. Personally, decide to enter the open door of worship. Make sure you worship regularly every Sunday. Never miss a service! Attend midweek service and fellowship opportunities. Get caught up in God's glory! Look at the photographs of this church taken over the years and you will see how people enjoyed their commitment.
Personally, decide to enter the open the door of witness. Over the years this church has participated in many programs of witness to the community and people of many nationalities and backgrounds have been blessed by your witness. Continue to find the joy in sharing faith! Personally, decide to open the door of service. God expects us to do something to help others. Service to others is the rent we pay for the space we occupy on planet earth! Members of this church have helped many of the service activities of Wesley Mission, none more than Jim and Thelma Pendlebury who have served Wesley Mission for more than thirty-six years, Jim having been our Honorary Treasurer for more than thirty years. So many of you, like Jim and Thelma, regularly serve others. But to the remainder, may I encourage you to enter the door of service.
The church at Laodicea had a threat hanging over its head. Because it lacked commitment and was neither hot nor cold, the Lord indicated "I am going to spit you out of my mouth." I have drunk that luke-warm, limey water and I spat it out! The Lord indicated that if a church does not commit itself whole-heartedly to worship, witness and service, the candlestick would be removed. The presence of the Lord would disappear. Their light would be extinguished. That did happen. Today nothing of the city remains. The valley consists of desolate mounds covering ruins. There are no houses, churches, mosques. The ruins of the city have been plundered by local farmers who wanted the cut stone, and many an animal pen has been built of fine Roman marble. Pigs now live where nobles once ate. Geese waddle through a former temple. The church failed to enter the open door set before it and its light was extinguished.
3. OPEN THE DOOR OF OPPORTUNITY FOR YOURSELF.
What a wonderful time for the members of the Bexley Church to celebrate God's opportunities! Enter the door for intellectual growth. Bexley Uniting has a proud tradition of Bible study classes, Sunday School and study classes to help its members grow intellectually. You have leaders of small groups in homes and the church. Enter that door for personally intellectual growth. Enter the door for social relationships. Many people live in isolation, feeling rejected, alienated, lonely. My wife and I have enjoyed the social relationship of a score or more people from among the membership of Bexley Uniting Church on a regular basis for more than twenty years. It is not a closed group. You have that door of opportunity for you to enter. You will do yourself a great blessing if you enter that open door of social relationships.
You can enter the door for spiritual commitment. You may have been on the fringe of spiritual commitment for some time ? just a lukewarm attitude to Christ and His church. That makes Him sick! Enter the door to real commitment to Christ and His cause and find the deep assurance and confidence spiritual commitment brings.
The Lord starts with calling you to repentance: "Be in earnest then, and turn from your sins". So turn from your past ways. The Lord then calls you to faith: He offers you a gracious invitation: "Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his house and eat with him, and he will eat with me." He indicates your life is like your own house: you own it, you possess it, you rule the roost. But He comes to your life and stands at the door and knocks and seeks admission. He does not force his way nor seeks entry by fear. Only love invites Him in. He promises to abide with you in friendship. He comes not just to share supper but to exercise sovereignty. He is now Master of your house. Move from lukewarmness to commitment! Say "Kindle a flame of sacred love on the mean altar of my heart!" and mean it!
When He enters your life He changes you. From poverty your life now possesses true riches; from nakedness you are now clothed in righteousness divine; from blindness you now see. Have you heard that invitation? Bexley Uniting Church celebrates God's opportunities. You have an open door of opportunity set before you. Enter all the future holds. Do it gladly! Celebrate God's opportunities as a church and individually.