Rev Robert Benn Sermon Sunday 23rd February 2020

At the 131st Anniversary Service

The Bible Reading: 3rd John




I read an article recently by an Annandale local resident entitled: “Seven things I’d miss about Sydney if I made a tree change”.


Among the “seven things” Hunter Baillie Presbyterian Church was listed.  


He wrote: “I’m no God-botherer, but Hunter Baillie is my local landmark, and one that I look out on from my balcony every sunset.  From wherever I am in the inner-west I can see its towering honeycomb spire reaching for the stars and guiding me home.  Simply heavenly.”


It’s good to be here at Hunter Baillie today!  One hundred and thirty one years.  A great heritage, “Guiding people home”.


And as I think of this heritage, my mind goes to what we read of the first minister, Rev Peter Falconer MacKenzie. “He feared God and had no other fear!”


Of his widow, Isobel Dunmore Lang MacKenzie, daughter of John Dunmore Lang, “The expression of her love for Christ was in loving service to others”


What a heritage!  What wonderful memories on this day of anniversary.


And then there is Helen Hay Mackie Baillie, that great benefactor.  Her generosity resulted in the erection of this building.  And so the spire, “guiding people home”.  The gothic architecture, flying buttresses, internal pillars of Aberdeen granite, the organ built by famed William Hill and Son of London.  On and on we could go.


Very impressive.  One hundred and thirty one years of being high profile in Sydney and her society.  A witness to God of all Grace.


I wonder how many hearts have been stirred to matters of eternity in this very place where we sit today.  Hundreds.  Thousands.


But what now, as we move away from our 131 years and stand on the threshold of year 132?


Anniversary time is always a time for careful reflection, isn’t it?  Re-evaluation.  How to state our vision for the next chapter?  How to nuance the eternal gospel for the 21st century and for our local fellow citizens?



Third John


I have titled my sermon today, “Back to the sources”.  Or for you students of Latin,  “Ad Fontes”


This was the motto during the Renaissance.  A return to classical sources, for the devotees believed there was life there.


This was also the motto during the Reformation (300 years later).  A return to the Scriptures, for there was Light and Life there!


And we’ve been there in song this morning, haven’t we?  Psalm 42, “In the same way the deer is drawn (ad fontes aguarum) back to the sources of water, so my soul is drawn unto you, O God.”  


Back to the sources, to learn again, so that one can go forward with vision, strength, and confidence. 


This is our hope for Hunter Baillie, as at anniversary time we engage our minds in our commitment to do well, and please our Saviour God as we open our next chapter.


Ad Fontes … back to the sources!


The setting for 3rd John


Now, I don’t want to just take you back 131 years.  I want to take you back almost 2,131 years.  To a little church, just birthed, probably in the outback of north western Turkey.


It is a tiny letter.  It has just been read publicly, taking less than two minutes, and when we read it through privately, it takes less than one minute.


But short as it may be, there is a loveliness about it.  Written by John “to my dear friend” Gaius.  And as we read, we are struck by its beauty:  “Dear friend I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”

Aah, it warms our hearts.  A loveliness of faith, and relationship.


It’s like what a dad of today might write to a son of whom he is really proud.


It’s like a picture of a mini-church … a beautiful family.


As I read this tiny letter, I easily see four parts to it.  Let me walk you through these parts.  The first part I will make the longest, the other three we’ll cover more quickly.



Part One:  The love of Truth


To define truth in John’s mind, we are talking about true truth.  Absolute truth.  Reliable truth.  No ‘fake’ truth.


And John is delighted that his friend Gaius is committed to this.  He writes of Gaius’ “faithfulness to the truth” and of his“walking in the truth”.  And again, with passionate reflection, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth”


Truth is the very heartbeat of the letter!


Back in 1986, my old dad was dying.  The family was notified, and we came from several corners of the world to be with him.  Sister Betty walked into the ward.  Dad was asleep.  Betty took his hand.  He stirred.  Turned his head.  Closed his eyes.  Thought.  Then gripping Betty’s hand, and with halting voice … whispered, “Betty, ‘nothing gives me greater joy than seeing my children walking in the truth’.


So what is this truth that John is so passionate about?


There’s no question about it!  Truth is found in the perfect life, the death by crucifixion, and the inconceivable and incredible but real resurrection of the Lord Jesus.


And we know this, not just because of this tiny letter, but we have 31 chapters in John’s gospel, and letters one and two, before we arrive at letter three today.  And right in the centre of the 31 chapters of John’s gospel we have John recording this statement of Jesus, “I am Truth … nobody comes to the Father but by me!”


Now we need to see this in context.  John and his mates who stood by this truth had been with him in so many of life’s situations, including in that wild storm on the sea of Galilee.  You remember, John and his friends were petrified with fear.  Jesus was asleep.  “Wake up.  Don’t you care if we perish?”  So much for protocol!


I guess Jesus would have shaken his head a little as he came back to consciousness.  I guess he would have staggered to his feet.  Remember the boat is tossing wildly hither and thither.  But then he turns to nature and in effect says, “Hey, settle down!”  And we read, “there was a great calm”.


Of course John and his friends asked the very question that would have been instantly on our lips, “Who is this man that the winds and waves obey him?”


We can now give the answer, can’t we?  “Truth!”


But how can we call Him, “Truth”?


For these reasons: As we gaze at Him, Truth Personified … we immediately see what our problem is.  His very holy presence is an automatic diagnosis.  It comes to us as clearly as our GP telling us, “I’m sorry.  It is a melanoma.  You’ll need surgery!”


Truth proclaims, “Your problem is not to do with issues of changes in weather patterns.  Not in political party infighting in Canberra.  Not in economic stresses like deflation, fraudulent banking, the housing crises.  


NO, your problem is not outside yourselves.  It’s inside!


You’ve lost the purpose for which you were created, that is, a loving relationship with God!


You are creatures in need of forgiveness.


That’s your problem.  That’s your illness.  Your malady.  That’s the diagnosis.


All those things about you that bring deep grief to you yourselves, and great grief to the Holy Spirit of God … they are the things for which you need to search for a remedy.


And that’s the beauty of the gospel of Truth.  It doesn’t only give the diagnosis.  It provides the remedy.


This remedy is found in the grace, mercy and truth found in Jesus.  For the whole purpose of His death by crucifixion on that brutal cross, was to bear the punishment, instead of us, for the things found in us that bring grief to God.  Our Substitute.


John Newton got it.  He was reckoned to be such a ‘rotter’ that public whipping was deemed appropriate for him.  He himself stated, that “to look back on my previous life makes my heart shudder”.  But then in Jesus who stated with perfect conviction, “I am Truth”, John was able to write, “Amazing grace to save a wretch like me”!


So we have the diagnosis, and the remedy, but how about the result?


Of course, the result is restored relationship with God, and of course with ‘our neighbour’ which follows the course that we find stated in that wonderful direction of Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength … and your neighbour as yourself.”


Let’s see that again from that story Jesus told.  Those two men in the temple.  The first, a high profile society man, very religious.  Standing erect with head high he suggested strongly to God that he was a fine gentleman, generous to a fault, and surely worthy to be your friend, aren’t I God?




The second.  Hated by his own people as a traitor.  Head bowed.  “God, be merciful to me a sinner”  he intoned.  He went home “justified before God”.  Forgiven.  Reconciled to God.  At peace with both God and himself.  He slept like a baby!




No, profound.  And profoundly wonderful.


It was then, 2000 years ago.  And dear friends, that grace is available to you today!


That’s John’s truth!


Where else do you go for that?


What’s the alternative .. to seeing Jesus as TRUTH?


Well, that’s an easy answer for Australian society today.  It’s promoted powerfully, and ad infinitum!  


We call it relativism.  Which by definition is “the belief that there's no absolute truth, only the truths that a particular individual or culture happen to believe. If you believe in relativism, then you think different people can have different views about what's moral and immoral.”


There’s no room for absolutes, no objective universal set of moral principles.  Everything is optional.  


It is “what’s truth for you is not necessarily truth for me”.  It’s “to each his/her own”.  It’s “who am I to judge?”


The search for truth is elusive.   Today’s truth is not tomorrow’s truth!


The search for truth reminds me so much of the Scarlet Pimpernel:

“They seek him here, they seek him there
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That damned elusive Pimpernel”


Elusive.  Elusive.  Elusive!


Dear friends, the Bible tells us that we have “eternity in our hearts”.  


We long for truth to stake our lives on.


We yearn for a personal testimony like Luther’s, “Here I stand.”


For a conviction concerning truth like John’s, who was prepared to be exiled for truth.


Like Bonhoeffer, standing against the horror the Hitler, and was hanged for his trouble.  For Truth.


“Beware the god of open options”, I hear thundering above the multitude of relativistic guesswork!


I hear Elijah crying out across the ages: “How long will you halt between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18).  Make up your mind.  What is truth?


I see that great leader Joshua raising his voice so that he is so clearly heard: “Choose this day whom you will serve!  As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD”


“Beware the god of open options”.


I hear father: “nothing gives me greater joy than seeing my children walking in the truth”.


Or for today …  


Nothing gives me greater joy, than to see my husband/my wife beside me.  Our family around the table with an open Bible.  Our grandchildren choosing wonderful God-fearing partners.  Their chidren being brought up “in the nurture and disciplines of the Lord”.


Let’s turn that around for a moment.


Nothing gives me more agony of soul than to see my children walking in a fog of ideas.  


Or, to see our son or daughter utterly committed to accumulating wealth with all the saddening associated selfishness.  


Nothing gives me more agony of soul than to see my parents coming closer and closer to eternity, fearful of death, not knowing truth, and saying in their hopelessness, “and none of my family will talk to me about it!” 


Hear again, “nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in truth”



Part two:  The willing sacrifice that flows from commitment to truth 


Now remember, this tiny letter was written by John in Ephesus to Gaius, up country.


It seems that John had sent a team of helpers to “work together for the truth”.  He calls them “strangers”.  


The Ephesus church receives a report on what is happening in this community who understand absolute truth which is found in the Lord Jesus.  A good report.  “They have told the church about your love”.


Eventually they will need to move on.  Maybe get back to their day jobs … which possibility they have ‘sacrificed’ in order to lend a helping hand.


John suggests, So now “sent them on their way in a manner worthy of God”.  Godly, sacrificial generosity.


“They receive no help from the pagans,” John says.  


Well, no great surprise there.  Promoting absolute truth is not really listed in the KPIs of the contemporary equivalent of Crown Casino, Westpak or NAB!


The church, acting in “a manner worthy of God” is the key to sacrificial “hospitality” in all its forms.  The church then.  The church now.  Hunter Baillie Presbyterian Church.


The bottom line is this:  The church of Jesus’ Truth should be the best in sacrificial giving to help the widows, the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless … those who have lost loved ones and possessions due to fires and floods.  


The best in closing down computer and TV, and telling the old old story to grandchildren.  


The best in initiating that “word in season and out of season … gently”.



Part Three:  A challenge to truth and willing sacrifice 


His name is Diotrephes.  He’s a churchman.  And influential.


But we don’t see any of the beauty and loveliness, the attractive and winsomeness of truth and personal sacrifice in him.


I think words like arrogant, proud, pushy and nasty come to mind.  He, “loves to be first”, we read.


If he was a blogger, he wouldn’t belong to the “me too” movement.  He’d start his own! “Me first”!


But I’m glad he’s here.  In him we learn by contrast.  What not to be in Jesus’ church!  We see the difference between ugliness and loveliness … the difference between crafting your own relativistic truth, and living by true Truth.


There’s no surrender of life here to the Crucified One?  “He’ll have nothing to do with us”, that is the band of people who are “working together for the truth”.  Oh no, just “malicious gossiping” on his part.


And, if you’re not in his lobby group, he’ll get you removed, for he would “put you out of the church”!


He’s exactly what we don’t want at Hunter Baillie, isn’t he?


Imagine him on the welcome committee.  He’s at the door.  This is your first visit here.  


You find yourself being looked up and down.  You see his look of disapproval.  You’re not dressed as he thinks you should be.  You somehow don’t feel welcome.  And as you receive this rather cool, “Here’s the church bulletin”, and as you move on, you think you hear whispering as you make your way into church.


I guess my question would be, “Would you be back next week?


John says sternly:  “I’ll speak to him when I come!”



Part Four: the solution to truth in action


His name is Demetrius.  I’m very glad he’s there.  I’m learning what to be in this church.


John writes of him, “Demetrius is spoken well of by everyone, even by the truth itself, and we speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.”


The very heartbeat of this whole tiny letter is manifest in this man … at every point!


I think if you were at church door for the first time this morning, and Demetrius was at the door to welcome you, you’d be back next week, wouldn’t you?


For Demetrius is just so much like his Master concerning whom we read, “The common people heard him gladly”.


Aah, I love that story of Jesus told by John (John’s gospel chapter 8).  His love.  His care.  His understanding.  His grace.


Remember, the high profile community and religious leaders brought to him that lady who had been “caught in adultery”.  (How often I have asked, “where was the fellow?”).


These leaders were salivating … baying for blood!  They insisted, “Moses said, “She has to be stoned.  What do you think?”

Now this was not the age of internet pornography.  But like all ages, these men were very aware of men.  Themselves.  Men were men.  Hormones were hormones.  They knew the realities of the ‘lusts of the flesh”.  The temptations.  The failings.  The affairs.  Themselves.


Jesus looked them in the eye and presented this proposition to them, “If any of you have not sinned in this matter .. you throw the first stone”.  Then he bent down and wrote on the ground … or was he simply doodling, and waiting?


All that was heard was the shuffling of feet as these men (if we still want to call them ‘men’?) moved away.


Then Jesus turned to the lady.  Notice “the lady”.  And that was the way he treated her.  A lady.  Not a commodity!“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”


Now stop for a moment.  This lady had been on the very threshold of death by stoning!  


No doubt, with uncontrollable trembling of voice she whispered with a fearful shudder, “No, Lord!” 


And Jesus, full of truth and compassion and grace said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”


And there I see Demetrius reflected.  And I love it.  And I want to see this grace in His church.  Every time we meet.  Seen in all of us.  Magnetically.


Oh how I hate to hear, “I don’t go to church anymore.  I’m sick of feeling condemned!”



Conclusion: “Back to the sources” as we enter year 132


Well now, where have we been?  We’ve been “Ad fontes” … “Back to the sources”.  To a newly birthed church.  A model.  A source document that points us to what we are to continue to be.


We’ve gazed at Crucified One.  We’ve talked of Truth.  True truth.  In the Lord Jesus.


We’ve seen is spoiled in selfish Diotrephes.


We’ve seen it attractively and winsomely modelled in Demetrius.


For our church we yearn for the characteristics that flow from truth and sacrifice.


We long to be that church that “guides people home”.


Today, as we stand on the threshold of this new chapter, we commit to this testimony.  A testimony appropriate for us all.  


A testimony of each elder, each teacher, each mum and dad, each grandparent, each friend within this congregation.  


A testimony graciously owned in word, attitude and action.


Indeed, the testimony of each last word, applied within the family and the church: “I have no greater joy than to see my children walking in the truth”.


Rev Robert Benn

Rev David Tsai Sermon Sunday 9th February 2020

Blessed are the pure in heart .



“Blessed are the pure in Heart ,for they will see God.”


Jesus commends the pure in heart not the quick of mind, nor those who are religious, nor the pious.

The heart is the centre of the personality


Purity Now


Purity of heart is indispensible for company  with God, for "seeing God”.


Ps 24:3  ¶ Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?

 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.


Ps 73:1 ¶ [A psalm of Asaph.] Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart


Purity not just conformity.


Purity of heart must not be confused with outward conformity. We may begrudgingly obey some rules. It is the motivation, the world within - of schemes and plans. 


The awkward questions of this beatitude


What do we think about when our minds slip into neutral?


Do we use deception as a last resort or even an early choice to get out of trouble?


Do we enjoy humour which is at someone else’s expense?


What do you want more than anything else?


What and whom do we  love?


To what extent are our words and action a true reflection of what is in our hearts?

To what extent do our words and actions form a coverup for what is in our heart?


Blaise Pascal said -  ‘ If everyone knew what others said about him , there would not be four friends in the world.’ 


We all need to draw near to The Lord God asking for PURITY with a future view.

Blessed are the pure in heart 


Heb 10:22 

let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.


The purity of Jesus.


(1) He took time with people and never seemed too preoccupied to help or to encourage. He didn’t have an agenda promote himself.


(2) The whole of his life - not just his religious part - was open to view.


Matt 8:24 There was a storm when Jesus and his disciples were on a boat and he was asleep until a storm came up suddenly and they woke Jesus up. Jesus calmed the storm.


Matt 26:38   37 And taking with him nPeter andothe two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them,p“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and qwatch4 with me.” 

That he was fully God and fully man yet pure of heart and humble of Spirit.


One of the clear examples of the purity of heart of Jesus is from  


John 4:7 

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?”


It was about the sixth hour. Twelve noon midday .

Jesus was on a journey from the north, Galilee towards Jerusalem, travelling by  the most direct route which goes through Samaria.  Most Jews do not take this route they go around Samaria and the reasons are captured in His conversation with a woman.  His disciples were at the market and assumed he would be resting. He is thirsty and goes to the local well, celebrated as Jacob’s well.

She was shocked by this request

John 4 Verse 9  9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, 

ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”

 (gFor Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 

They carry carona virus.

She was speaking from her head from the fact of the discord between Jews and Samaritans. 

Jesus replied from his heart.  Let’s not begin with prejudices but with God’s gifts from his heart to us all.

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who 

it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked  him and he would have given you ,hliving water.” 

The Samaritan woman’s mind was in a whirl.

Her mind is in overload.


Jesus is not speaking to her from a mind governed by the conventions of human divisions.  By any religious and social standard of a Jew he should not be making conversation with a Samaritan man or woman.  As a teacher, a Rabbi, he would have distanced himself from this woman 

  1. The Samaritans only regarded the first five books of the bible of the OT .

  2. Jerusalem is not mentioned in the first five and is therefore not The Holy City to the Samaritans. Mt Gerizim is mentioned in Deut.11 and is blessed and so the Samaritans worship there. 


Jacob is of course is mentioned in the first book of the Bible the ‘father of the nation’ and his well right there where Jesus encounters this woman is at least common ground to Jew and Samaritan. 


It is right there that Jesus departs from his head which would have said 

         “Don’t go there with a Samaritan”.


However He speaks from the depth of His heart and says -  

         “I am able to give you living water” more than just H2O .


Vs 11 She answered with her mind again - 

         “you don’t even have a bucket to reach that deep ..”


She was still thinking of H2O, she thought that living water  which bubbles with freshness is the water from  the deepest part of the well, from where the underground stream feeds the well. 

No wonder her mind was in a whirl. She replies . Sir “ you don’t even have a bucket to get the surface water .How will you reach the bottom to the source of the well?

Now Jesus dives deeper. He is tugging at her heart strings. Jesus comes to the heart of the matter .

    I am not talking about water H2O 

vs 13 Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but kwhoever drinks of the water that I will give him lwill never be thirsty again. 2 The water that I will give him will become min him a spring 

of water welling up to eternal life.”


Vs 15 . Finally with that Jesus reaches her heart 


The woman was thirsty not from H2O but from realities in her life which made her heart thirsty .She needed an eternal dimension to her life , which does not stop bubbling and goes into the life to come. 

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, ngive me this water, so that I will not be

thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”


All the women of the town came early in the cool of early morning or in the evening to draw water. It was the ladies coffee and chat time . 

She came at midday. She was rejected ?. Why in verse 16 ;J esus  held the mirror up to her . “ may I meet your husband. “there was  quick reply ‘ I don’t have a husband. Jesus replied with 


v. 17 “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;18 for you have 

had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. 

What you have said is true.”


The woman was concerned. 

Is this a deal breaker Jesus when you said? “Ask and I will give you living water ?”

What if my life does not measure up .

 And by the way,  vs 20 the fact that where we worship is not in Jerusalem? 


Jesus said “ vs 24 It does not matter where you worship? In Spirit and in truth. From ones heart ‘in Spirit and in truth’ .


One last question from her. Something which Samaritans and Jews alike believed . The Messiah , the saviour who is to come who will declare and live the truth to save His people . 

25 The woman said to him, “I know that fMessiah is coming 

(he who is called Christ). When he comes, ghe will tell us all things.”

 26 Jesus said to her, h“I who speak to you am he.”


39 Many Samaritans wfrom that town believed in him xbecause of ythe woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 4

0 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And  many more believedzbecause of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer  because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, aand we know that this is indeed bthe Savior cof the world.”