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Sermon, Pentecost 13B, Sunday August 12, 2018

St Petri Ladies Guild 90th Anniversary.

Ephesians 4:25 – 5:225 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5 1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. John 6:35,41-5135 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’  Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

They always told us at Sem’ that getting along with your Ladies Guild was a must for a pastor. ‘Whatever you do, do not cheese of the Ladies Guild’, they said! Why? Because they know how to serve and they do serve. Ladies Guilds can support the congregation’s ministry enormously.

This is true. The Ladies Guilds and other groups of committed women of God can make things happen in a local congregation. They certainly have in this one – for 90 years. They are a powerhouse of service in the church and with their support, good things happen.

But trying to tell a Ladies Guild what to do is like trying to herd a bunch of cats. Impossible! They like their independence and like to make decisions in their way. Fair enough. But when they support something in the congregation, they really support!

I would like to know how many catering functions, how much money, how many projects, small and large that the St Petri women have supported over the 90 years of its existence. I think we would all be amazed at just how consistent, generous and effective their serving has been for the gospel work, not just at St Petri but across the LCA and in our local community too.

When I think of Ladies Guilds, Branching Out, all kinds of other groups of women who serve others for various purposes and in various ways I always find myself recalling those women around Jesus.

The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8: 1-3).

I think of Mary Magdalene at the Crucifixion along with Mary his mother and the same Mary Magdalene at the Easter tomb.

Then I think about the women mentioned in the Book of Acts and in the New Testament letters who obviously were a very supportive group when it came to the gospel mission in their locality.

I think of the evangelist Euidia and Syntyche who “struggled together with Paul in the ministry of the gospel” (Ephesians 4:9,10). Then there is Phoebe: patron and servant in the Roman church (Romans 16:1-2); Lydia, the maker of purple cloth who seemed to also sponsor the new church in Philippi (Acts 16:14-15, 40).

And then I ponder how different Jesus’ treatment of women was for his culture. I read an article by a Franciscan scholar (Barbara Leonhard) this week who said;

Jesus refuses to treat women as inferior. He recognises their dignity and their gifts.

He names the woman with the intolerable bleeding “Daughter of Abraham” in full public view. (Luke 13:16).

He initiates conversation with a foreigner (the Samaritan Woman at the well) and respects her questions and her search and her pain.

The list goes on. In short Jesus is quite revolutionary, as is Paul in the way women are recognised and regarded as having dignity in God’s church and gifts for his mission.

So, I believe it is fair to say that the women of this congregation have “walked in the way” Paul speaks of with his people in Ephesus. They have indeed been ‘imitators of God’, as he encourages them to be. They have ‘walked the way of love’ over the years, as Jesus has walked with us giving himself up for us and being a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Women of God are indeed a fragrant perfume as they give of themselves for the work of the Lord in their way.

I have seen a certain good humour, a certain earthiness among our women. I have seen self-less service mixed with a tinge of fun, deep care for each other, willing hearts of service, all mixed with the scars of a life well lived but lived in the world for real. When they gather they are a group carrying the wisdom that comes from faith in real experience over the long haul. They can speak of injustices, inequalities, harder things than that, and yet do so with a living joy, a living faith, a living awareness of Jesus being with them all the way along and still.

Of course, even the lovely Ladies Guild women are not always a sweet fragrance. Same with the blokes. Same for everyone. Sometimes we are actually on the nose. Paul speaks of what this being ‘on the nose’ looks like.

We are on the nose to the Lord when we do not sacrifice our own needs for others but demand they meet ours more than we give of ourselves to them.

We are on the nose when delve into the bitterness of past regrets and pain to pay people back, or act in some malicious way to get our own back or do some damage because it feels good – for a while.

The smell is not so good when we let the sun go down on our anger and keep it all locked up beneath the sun – hide it all away. Of course, no one can do this forever. Eventually is pops out of the hidden place into full view. All it can take is someone trying to shed some light on it or the sun simply shining on it. Then we turn to rage. Then damage is done.

Paul says, that we sweet smelling baptised people of Jesus can give the Evil one a foothold in our heart by keeping troubles, regrets, pain, loss, grief and anger hidden. The Devil’s foothold is that by which he climbs all over us with the goal to squash us. It stinks. He stinks.

But there is a beautiful Offering of God that heals our wounds by his own wounds. In love he closes up those footholds and kicks the Evil One off of us.

Jesus, the sweet-smelling sacrifice of God comes to us and simply says that he is special food for getting us back to where we long to be – at peace, in rest, in love, in open-hearted serving and giving to others not out of duty, but because of delight – delight in Jesus – the Bread of Life.

He is the difference between the old rage and hidden pain and anger and the ability to share your anger carefully and quickly in a way that does not tear down but actually builds up.

Jesus is the difference between endless self-serving and a life-time of self-giving and the joy and the fulness that kind of service creates.

The Bread of Life is the difference between dismissing and damaging women out of a lack of love and respect and treating women with the dignity and value they have as fellow creatures and workers in this gospel mission we all share – with all their considerable and unique gifts.

Next time you are at a function hosted by our faithful women and you pick up that much favoured curried egg sandwich with its magnificent perfume (then and a little later!), think about the Bread of Life and how he is your life and gives your life and then imitate his sacrifice, his giving, his loving, as our women have done faithfully and mostly joyfully for so long. His word and gifts are the way to what we all want – compassion, kindness, and forgiveness.

Just like the beautiful curried egg smell that wafts through the hall, so will your serving and giving and sacrificial loving be a sweet-smelling fragrance for others that help them find the Bread of Life and his beautiful promises of unity, love and hope.

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