Sermons

SERMONS PREPARED BY REV. DR. KEN DEMPSEY

Rev. Ken Dempsey

Sadly Rev. Ken Dempsey  passed away on 24th April 2017.

Ken retired from his position as Placement Minister on 30th November 2016. His sermons are still available.

Email the Secretary, Elaine Peck, (epeck@vtown.com.au) for a full list of sermon titles.

TRUE FAITH PRODUCES LOVING ACTION*  June 26  2016

The message Paul is giving us on faith in today’s passage from the Letter to the Galatians is this: the only faith that counts is the faith that manifests itself in acts of love. He writes: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control”. It is a formidable list.  Yet the message is clear: faith manifests itself in acts of practical love.

Paul offers a similar message in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13. He says, and I paraphrase, if you truly love you will be patient, not irritable and ill-mannered with people. Nor will you be jealous or arrogant.  Instead, you will treat people kindly. You will not withdraw your care of a person no matter how he behaves, or what befalls him. Rather you will prioritize his wellbeing.

Paul is not saying that our good works save us. He is saying that true faithfulness will manifest itself in unselfish behavior. This means if we are faithful to Jesus then we will not be driven by envy, or excessive ambition. We will not play ‘favourites’, or form cliques.

According to Paul, there is no place for such behaviour in the life of the Christian, or of the Christian congregation. Yet all these forms of behaviour are acceptable in our society.  It is not easy to be unselfish when we live in a society that encourages us to be selfish.

Jesus offers a similar view to Paul’s of the importance of practical love in his teaching, and in his behaviour. In the Sermon on the Mount he sets out, what for him, are the key values and acts of the person of faith. He calls on followers to be humble, to be peacemakers, and merciful. He calls on them to care for enemies, as well as friends and kin.  Jesus implores followers to suffer physically and emotionally in the service of others. That is what he means when he says if you want to come after me, you have to take up your cross and follow in my footsteps.

Paul seems to be echoing Jesus stress on the importance of taking up one’s cross when he says being a caring individual or congregation is a risky and expensive business. He makes it plain that the faithful followers are going to get hurt. They will be misunderstood and treated badly.

We have a good example of Jesus living by the code of practical love in today’s story read from the Gospel of Luke. The writer tells of Jesus making his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem where he will die. He sends messengers ahead of him to a town in Samaria to make things ready for his visit. The people refuse to receive Jesus.

Why would his proposed visit worry the Samaritans? Because bitter hatred dating back several centuries existed between the Jews and the Samaritans.  Although the Samaritans were related ethnically to the Jews, and claimed to worship the same God as the Jews, the Jews despised the Samaritans for marrying people not of Abraham’s bloodline. This action rendered them impure. The Jews also despised the Samaritans and called them pagans for erecting their own temple on Mt. Gerazim and worshipping there rather than in Jerusalem.

For their part, the Samaritans thought of themselves as the true descendents of Israel, for they had preserved the ancient ways.  They resented greatly the fact that a Jewish ruler had conquered their forebears approximately two centuries prior to Jesus’ birth. For the reasons I have outlined, many Samaritans and Jews would have nothing to do with each other.

As we heard earlier, in today’s gospel story, James and John report to Jesus that the people of a Samaritan town were refusing to offer him hospitality. James and John want to punish these Samaritans.

They ask Jesus’ permission to invoke God’s power to destroy the town. They say to him, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy these people?”

Jesus rejects this proposal and rebukes them for putting it forward.  His disciples do not yet understand that he has rejected the use of violence to achieve his purposes and comes offering peace and love. He offers these gifts not only to fellow Jews, but also to their alleged enemies, which includes the Samaritans.

The accounts Paul and Jesus offer of the nature of love in action, inspires the content of the book Desmond Tutu wrote called God’s Dream.  I read this book to the children this morning. In it, Desmond Tutu says we hurt Jesus when we are selfish. Tutu says that God’s dream is for all of us to give up behaving selfishly and to give our lives to caring for others and sharing with others.

God is saddened when we are selfish. God dreams of us reaching out and holding one another’s hands. He dreams of us playing, laughing and working together.

God does not force us to love one another but he wants us to do so. We know from our experience that if we are treated badly we suffer, we feel alienated and our heart aches. God calls on us who are being hurtful, who are not sharing or caring, to put ourselves in the shoes of the people we are hurting and imagine how we would feel if another person treated us in the same way.

According to the Bible, God wants us to include, not marginalize, or exclude people.  Whom, then, does God want us to include in our community, in our church, in our leisure?  With whom are we to share our love? For whom are we to care? No one is to be excluded, is the message of Paul and of Jesus. As we sang earlier, in God’s eyes there is one race, the human race to which we all belong.  We are to love God by loving others.

Fulfilling the command to love is no easy task. In his latest book, Beyond Belief, famed social researcher Hugh Mackay stresses that (contrary to popular belief) loving someone has nothing to do with whether you like them or not.  Loves work is the hardest work.

The question for us to answer is this: will we help God’s dream for all humans come true?  Whatever a person’s gender, sexual preference, age, religion, race, or nationality, rather than patronize or marginalize her (or him), will we accept that person as a fellow human being: as our equal. Will we be prepared to forgive anything she has done that injured us?  Finally, will we prepared to begin the hard work of extending loving kindness to this fellow human being? AMEN

*Resources that proved helpful in preparing this reflection: Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, Brendan Byrne, The Hospitality of God, A Reading of Luke’s Gospel, and Human Mackay, Beyond Belief, subtitled, How we find meaning with or without religion.

 The Cost of Prophetic Action              July 12  2015

The examples of John the Baptist, Amos and Jesus

John the Baptist is in deep trouble, he could not be in deeper trouble.  He is locked up in Herod’s dungeon.  Herod has put him there to protect him from his own wife Herodias.   Herodias is determined to destroy John  because his condemnation of her marriage to Herod is threatening her position at court and even threatening Herod’s rule.  John tells Herod that he has disobeyed God’s law by marrying his brother’s wife.

John goes further.  He declares that Herod’s sin disqualifies him from being a Messiah.  Why should this worry Herod and his wife?   Read More

Empathising: the indispensible step to peace *   June 28 2015

Today I am going to tell you a true story.  It is a remarkable story for it tells of the development of a close friendship between a woman, and the killer of her father. It tells of the change in their outlook and action that has had a positive impact on the lives of probably thousands of people.  It is a story that communicates the powerful message that empathy – that is putting yourself in the place of the other and seeing things from their point of view- has an indispensable role to play in any conflict situation; whether the conflict is occurring in our personal relationships, a work situation, a local community, the nation, or wherever.

Empathy produces understanding of the other, and increases the chances of us treating the other, be it a person or a group, respectfully and humanely.  Read More

Believing or “Faithing”?                                 June 7  2015

This sermon focuses on the differences between belief and faith, or more specifically, between  believing, and what I am calling faithing, a coined word, whose meaning I will explain shortly.

Distinguished Biblical scholar, Keith Dwyer tells us that ‘Faith’ is a peculiarly Christian word.  Despite the fact that we often refer to other religions as ‘Faiths’ it is not a term that other religions use much at all.  ‘The Faith’ is a feature of the Christian tradition only.  However, the distinctive qualities of faith have often gone missing in the Christian tradition because the practice developed of using belief and faith interchangeably. That practice generally prevails today, much to the detriment of Christianity.     Read More

God goes that God may come                        May 17   2015

Today we celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ.  The scene is the Mount of Olives about a kilometer from Jerusalem. Jesus is telling his disciples that he is going away.  He is trying to reassure them; reduce their anxiety.  “Stay together”, he says, “Wait in Jerusalem for the promise of God to be fulfilled”.  They are struggling to come to terms with his impending absence when suddenly, he disappears into the clouds.

They stand transfixed, unable to do anything, staring in disbelief.  Then, just as unexpectedly, two men in white appear – heavenly messengers – probably angels.  They too seek to put the disciples’ minds at rest.  They say to them, “Do not worry for everything is going to be O.K. Jesus has not gone forever. He is where he belongs: with God, in heaven, seated on his right hand, but he is coming back the way he went”.   Read More

Jesus puts limits on our choices                  May 10  2015

Here is the problem for we followers of Jesus.  Jesus chooses us and says this is how you are to live.  It means we cannot do as we please.  Of course, we have the option of rejecting the offer to become a disciple of Jesus.  But if we accept his offer, then limits come into play.  Jesus puts limits on how we behave, how we think.

          Yet, we live in a society whose media perpetually puts out the message that true happiness comes from abolishing limits. Read More

God’s Blessing, Our Children, and Us         April 19 2015

The day that we give thanks for Saskia, this lovely child, and ask God’s blessing on her life is the right day to remind ourselves that it is our relationships that shape and form us.  We do not enter this world with a well-formed sense of self. On the contrary, we do not enter it with any sense of self. Relationships are what determine our self and our sense of identity: who we are; how we view the world, how we view ourselves, what goals we set ourselves, and the values we live by. Read More 

Easter Day Transformations    April 5 2015

On any Easter Sunday, many preachers make three claims. Firstly, that the tomb of Jesus was empty, secondly, that the tomb was empty not because someone stole the body but because God had physically raised Jesus from the dead, and thirdly, that Jesus appeared to his followers after his death in a form that made it possible for him to be seen, heard and touched. On any Easter Sunday, the same three claims are made through the medium of hymns and liturgy. Does the Biblical record justify these claims?  Let us see!  Read more

Why was Jesus Killed?*  Good Friday April 3 2015

Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of Christ, conveys the message Jesus was born in order to die. The film concentrates on the last 18 hrs of Jesus’ life, from his arrest on Thursday evening through to his crucifixion on Good Friday. It commences with this verse from Isaiah. He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by His wounds we are healed (Is. 53:5). The message is clear: the primary purpose of Jesus’ life was to die for the sins of humankind.

For me now, the idea that any loving father would organize the brutal death of his son to clear the way for a loving relationship with me, or any other human being, is completely unacceptable. It contradicts my experience of parental love and my experience of human love generally.Read more

Will we take up our cross and follow Jesus on ‘The Way?’

March 22 2015 Lent 5

Mark’s Jesus has reached a pivotal point in his ministry.  Up till now he has been directing his ministry to the kind of people he’s known all his life: the ordinary folk of the province of Galilee: the fishermen, peasant farmers, the day labourers, and tradesmen.  He has also been reaching out to the marginalised and the social rejects of Galilee, the prostitutes, tax collectors and the seriously deformed.

At his baptism God commissioned Jesus to set in motion the coming of the kingdom. Jesus has chosen to announce its immanent coming to the more needy and desperate classes rather than the powerful and privileged classes. It is to the more needy and desperate he daily promises liberation from evil, oppression, deformity and being despised.  However, he does more than talk about the coming of the kingdom.  By exorcising evil spirits, and healing the deformed and mentally ill he demonstrates that the kingdom of God is breaking into human affairs and the forces of evil are being overcome.  Jesus’ rapidly growing reputation as a compelling preacher, and effective healer ensure that wherever he goes crowds quickly assemble, to hear what he has to say and witness him work his miracles.Read more

Baptism: Celebration, Commitment, Community

March 15 2015

I want to draw attention to three features of the sacrament of Baptism First, it is a celebration, second it is an expression of love and commitment, and third, it requires community. Read more

  ‘Lent and following in the way’  February 15 2015

On Ash Wednesday many Christians are daubed with ashes as a blunt reminder of the ephemeral character of their lives and as a symbol of their penitence for their failure to love God with all their heart, mind and strength, and their neighbour as they love themselves.

In ancient Israel, ashes also symbolized grief for what was once so beneficial and wholesome but was now gone: healthy bodies, sound minds, a loving family, and life itself.  Ashes were also used to symbolize, on the one hand, the loss of a redeeming relationship with God, and, on the other, the pervasiveness of sin.

The Christian church adopted from the Hebrews the practice of using ashes as a symbol of human sinfulness and of penitence for wrongdoing. So, let us now talk about sin.Read more

Hospitality and Healing*  February 1 2015

It is the Sabbath and Jesus is in the Synagogue in Capernaum preaching. He startles his hearers, especially a man possessed by a demon.  The man interrupts Jesus’ presentation by screaming out two questions: “Why are you interfering with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” He follows up with a declaration of who Jesus is:

“I know who you are, you are God’s Holy messenger”.

Jesus does not answer his questions or comment on his claim that he is God’s Holy messenger. Instead, he performs an exorcism: he commands the demon to be silent and to leave the man. The evil spirit throws the man into convulsions, lets out a loud scream, and comes out of him.  The man becomes calm, behaves normally. All present are amazed! Read more

Experiencing an Epiphany    January 18 2015

So you have had an epiphany have you?  Do you know of someone else who has had one?  You probably have heard of a celebrity having an epiphany. It’s really cool for celebrities to have an epiphany and to broadcast the fact.  But, not only celebrities are having epiphanies.  Ordinary people like you and I are talking about their epiphanies.

So what do people mean when they say they had an epiphany?  Is it the same thing as what the theologians and liturgists mean when they talk of an epiphany?  It is in some ways, but there are usually important differences.  The epiphanies we celebrate in Christian worship are occurrences in which the invisible God makes himself visible to one or more people whom he has chosen as instruments for his plan of salvation.Read more

The Baptism of Jesus: Is it valid to declare it an Epiphany?January 11 2015

John is on the bank of the Jordan River calling on people to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.  He declares to his hearers that God is soon going to establish his rule on earth. John believes that the only thing stopping God coming immediately are the peoples’ sins. He warns his hearers that when God comes he will sit in judgement on every living soul. John declares to his hearers, if you truly repent and are baptized you will be saved; if you do not do these things you will be damned for eternity. The people who hear John preach are scared out of their wits. They queue in thousands for baptism. Read more

Let love be our word, let love be our way          December 21 2014

In four days time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The nativity scene is the centre of festivities on Christmas day. It shows Jesus with his earthly family gathered in the stable. The scene makes it seem natural and right that Christmas day should be celebrated as a family day.  But that is not what the first coming of Jesus was principally about.  So let us today focus on the fact that the babe in the manger became the man Jesus.  The man Jesus’ mission was not about establishing a religious movement founded on kinship ties.  On the contrary, he insisted that his followers prioritize their commitment to him over their commitment to their kin.

When, on one occasion, Jesus was told that his mother and brothers wanted to talk to him, Jesus replied: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing at his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother”.  Read more

Accountable and Prepared                November 9 2014

Today’s parable is an encoded message from Matthew to his congregation. The congregation is all at ‘sixes and sevens’ because Jesus anticipated return to earth to establish God’s kingdom has not happened.

As the parable tells it, the bridesmaids are to be prepared in plenty of time for the wedding feast.  Now, of course, the message is not really about taking steps to ensure you participate in a wedding feast.  The wedding feast is a metaphor for what happens when Jesus returns to earth.  The bridegroom is Jesus. The bridesmaids are the congregation. The members of Matthew’s congregation are anxious to be among those who share in the joys of the kingdom.  Their problem is that they do not know when the event will take place. They do not know the date or the time of the day, to circle on their calendar.

What answer does Matthew give to the question obsessing his congregation, ‘When will Jesus come?’  He doesn’t give an answer. Matthew tells them that no one knows when he will come, but whenever it is the Lord will hold all of them accountable for how they have lived their lives. The last verse of today’s reading spells out this message,

 Read More

The Vineyard Owner and His Two Sons     October 19 2014

It is the last week of Jesus’ life and Jesus has come to Jerusalem. Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  This action sounds harmless enough to us. However, it is certain to provoke both the Roman and Jewish authorities because a king rides a donkey when he comes in peace. If Jesus did not want to provoke the authorities he would have walked into the city. True, Jesus is declaring he is a king of peace, but he is declaring he is a king. From the Roman point of view that is sedition and punishable by death because there is only one king and it is Caesar.

The crowd responds to Jesus’ triumphal entry with cries of ‘’Hosanna, Son of David’.  The scene outrages the Jewish religious leaders because they know any public unrest will lead to the Romans intervening violently, and that makes it inevitable Jews will die.Read More

An Outrageously Generous God      October 5 2014

Strange title for a sermon you may be thinking.  Well there are at least five parables in the New Testament in which God behaves outrageously.  The story we heard today is one of those parables.  The landowner, who is standing in for God, behaves in an outrageous way when he gives a full day’s pay to the workers who have only worked for an hour.  In Jesus’ day no sensible landowner would have dreamed of behaving in this manner.  It would not have made business sense and would have been viewed by his contemporaries as perverse.

As you hear the story, do you find yourself identifying with the workers who started early and finished late, and saying, “This is not fair!” Read more

Accentuating the Positive and Eliminating the Negative  September 21 2014

We underestimate the extent to which Jesus in both his words and his actions put the accent on the positive in the lives of those around him,…Jesus’ words and actions highlight his capacity to see the potential for good in even the smallest actions and in the most ordinary people.  Read more

Who are the wheat, who are the weeds  Pentecost 10 September 7 2014

Why did Matthew set out to frighten the socks off his congregation? What did he hope to achieve by dangling his congregation over the fires of hell? Read more

The table fellowship of Jesus and bringing in the kingdom  Pentecost 8 August 3 2014

We meet up with Jesus today when he is out walking. There is a large crowd pressing in on him because he has just healed a paralytic and Jesus’ healing always draws many people to him.

As he walks along he sees a tax collector, named Matthew, sitting at the tax booth.  Jesus issues this command to Matthew: ‘Follow me!’ and, according to the writer, Matthew gets up and follows Jesus.  In Luke’s version of the same event we are told that Matthew left all and followed Jesus.  That is very remarkable because Matthew was a wealthy man.

In the light of your experience do you believe it happened in the way it is described?  A stranger issues a man with the directive to come and follow him and he obeys? We can understand why the writer has presented the story in this way.  He is composing his gospel some 50 years after Jesus’ death and he wants to refresh the memories of his congregation about just what kind of Lord they follow. Read More

Forgiving the Unforgiveable       Pentecost 6    July 20   2014

In Luke’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives these two directives to his followers. The first is, “Love your enemies!”  The second, “Do good to those who hate you!” These two directives are such big asks.  They go against what comes naturally to human beings.  There is something deep inside that drives us to get even with those who hurt us or hurt ones we love.

You may be prepared to love someone who hates you but are you prepared to do good to someone who hurts your child? Read the full sermon

The Sower    Pentecost 5    July 13    2014

 The first sermon I ever preached was on the text “A sower went out to sow.” The aim of the sermon was to get the hearer to ask himself or herself what soil they represented: am I the soil that is so hard it forms a path and the seed cannot take root, and as a result God’s word cannot gain access to my heart? Or am I like the rocky ground where soil lacks depth and seed springs up quickly then dies? That is have I responded enthusiastically to the word but then lost interest; or am I like the seed that falls among the thorns?  The word takes root but has to compete with other passions that ultimately win out, love of riches, for example. Or am I like the good soil: that is am I one of the people who hear the message, take it to heart, and work to ensure it changes the pattern of my life?  And I rounded off the sermon by challenging hearers to emulate those people whose lives were akin to the rich and fertile soil.

What I know now is that the sermon I was preaching some 60 years ago, offered a lopsided account of the passage of scripture.  Read the full sermon

Rock or Sand: which is it going to be?  (29th June2014)

We have been so socialised to see Jesus as the founder of Christianity and Lord of the church that we often forget that Jesus would never have seen himself as a Christian. Jesus was a Jewish man and he remained a Jewish man for his entire life. Jesus’ scriptures were the Jewish scriptures, and his weekly place of worship was not a church but a synagogue, which he attended on a Saturday not on a Sunday.

Jesus never set out to establish a new religion. The church is a post Jesus phenomenon. He set out to transform Judaism so that it would become a more valid expression of the God he had come to know through his own spiritual journey.
Read the full sermon

Jesus’ Way?   (15th June 2014)

 The directives we heard Jesus give in today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel sound irrational and foolish.  According to Matthew, Jesus says, no longer do we go with an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. From now on, we always give in to the evil doer. This command would have shocked his hearers because the natural thing to do is protect yourself, and the people and things you love from the harmful actions of another person. Read the full sermon

The Holy Spirit blows where it wills, and resides wherever it chooses

 (8th June 2014)

The way the story of Pentecost is presented can create the impression that this was the first time the Holy Spirit became available to people?”  According to the scriptures, it was far from the first time. The scriptures emphasize that from the beginning of human existence, the Holy Spirit has played a significant part in our affairs. The writers of the Book of Genesis make this clear in their second account of the creation. This is what they say, “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. Read the full sermon

Jesus meets us on the road to Emmaus (4 May 2014)

It is Easter Sunday and two of Jesus’ distraught followers are wearily making the long journey from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus: a journey of some eleven kilometres.  They are so shattered by the event of the day – the crucifixion of their master Jesus by the Romans — they cannot think or talk of anything else. Read the full sermon

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