Archive for June, 2008

A disciple’s reward

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

‘A young couple invited their elderly pastor for Sunday dinner. While they were in the kitchen preparing the meal, the minister asked their son what they were having. “Goat,” the little boy replied. “Goat?” replied the startled man of the cloth, “Are you sure about that?” “Yep,” said the youngster. “I heard Dad say to Mum, ‘Today is just as good as any to have the old goat for dinner.’

To put the best spin on the young couple’s actions, perhaps they are taking Jesus’ words from our today’s gospel reading very seriously. In verse 41 of Matthew 10 Jesus says ‘Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.’ They may well have been looking for a reward from the Pastor; some tips on reading the bible, or holy living, or how to stay awake during a sermon.

Or perhaps something far greater. Jesus promise of a reward is intriguing. What sort of reward? When is it given? Is Jesus talking about the reward of heaven and eternal life when we die, or is the reward now?

For the sake of a reward, most of us tolerate many things, or receive into our house, people we don’t normally like to invite; like a tottery great Aunt for the sake of remaining in her will! We are brought up from a young age to be polite and courteous to those who can give us something, even if we can’t stand them; Just sit there…and smile and wave, all in the hope of some reward. Jesus is emphasising that we are rewarded, somehow, when we welcome or are welcomed into each others homes and lives; when Christians continue to meet together.

However, to welcome a fellow believer, to continue to meet together, does not entitle us to a reward. The reward Jesus is speaking of is not something we earn, a repayment after we have worked, like a pay back. His “Reward,” is not something deserved either, like an “award. And Jesus’ “Reward” is not a bribe, a carrot to entice us into having pastor around for lunch! Though, I won’t mind if you think that! No, Jesus means the reward is in the act of welcoming and being welcomed by fellow believers; the reward flows out of believers meeting together.

The reward is Christ himself, present with you. Jesus says ‘He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.’ And in another place he says ‘where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them’. Hidden within Christian gatherings is Christ himself, present for us in the words and actions of fellow believers. Jesus promises to be with us…wow what a reward. Remember years ago when our parents used to set the dinner table and make a setting for Jesus? This is a good practice to remind us that Jesus is truly present as our reward when we meet together.

No wonder the writer of Hebrews says ‘Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ We meet together now, because Christ is truly present now, through his living and Spirit filled word, to bless us, guide us and protect us from falling into sin and trouble. This is a very practical and tangible reward, Christ being with us to give us his gifts of forgiveness and to lead us in our daily life.

Yet, has the Christian church lost sight of this wonderful reward? Michael Foss, Luther pastor and writer of such books as ‘Power Surge’ and ‘Real faith for real life’ made this comment ‘Christianity was the religion of the 20th century, Buddhism is the religion of the 21st . Why? Because Buddhism is about the now, its about practical religion; about getting results and pay offs; its about a real experience of god.’ Why has Christianity lost its appeal?

Perhaps for too long Christianity has proclaimed itself out of relevance as being so heavenly focused, it has no earthly good! Perhaps for too long we have been preaching a ‘future’ rewards theology; focused on heaven, on eternal life and how we are to long to be with Jesus in heaven, at the expense of what Christianity means in our life now

It is true of course that the goal of Christ’s death and resurrection was –‘to bring many sons to glory’; to win the victory over sin and death and give us eternal life. But have we lifted our eyes so high, that we fail to see Jesus in the person next to us; do we yearn for Jesus in heaven so dearly, that we miss his yearning for us in the friendship of a fellow believer? I remember a number of years ago I was walking past a beachside carnival, when a little girl come racing past me, her eyes focused only on the jumping castle. She had broken from her mother’s grip and was running to reach her goal, the jumping castle. But with her eyes focused only on the goal, and not on where she was going, she soon tripped and fell; she had lost sight of where she was because she was focused on where she wanted to be.

For the sake of our heavenly reward, have we as Christians, as Lutherans in Gilgandra, let go of the Father’s grip and lost sight of where we are, because we are so focused on where we want to be? Are we so heavenly focused, that we have tripped over our reward to make Christ real in our lives and real in the lives of those around us now? If we have, we have lost sight of the gospel…Christ with us, for us and in us. Christ, after making atonement for our sins, ascended into heave so that he may be with us in our daily lives, as he promised, ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

This is our reward now; Christ with us as we meet together and welcome each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us keep our eyes focused on the gospel, the good news, that Jesus came to save sinners and dwell among them; that’s us, and that now. Praise the Lord.

Brooke and Joshua, you have been baptised, you have the Spirit, and Christ lives in you. God has been with you and cared for you and nurtured you from your birth till now, and will continue to do so. But today is special, today you stand before God, and among Christian friends and confess to us and the world; that you believe. That you believe God the Father created you, that his Son Jesus redeemed you, and has given you his spirit, the Spirit that made you his child.

In confessing this, and in promising your allegiance to him and in promising to follow Jesus, remember to regularly meet together with other believers, to receive your reward; Christ and his benefits. Brooke, your Confirmation text is Proverbs 3:5-6. This passage will remind you to trust in the Lord with all your heart and, as you continue to meet together and welcome believers, your reward is God will make your paths straight; your reward is Christ guiding your life and judgements as your read and study his words to you. Joshua, your confirmation text is Colossians 2:6-7.

This passage will remind you that you have received Christ, and to continue to welcome and be welcomed by believers, since you live in him. Your reward is that you will be strengthened in faith and be overflowing in thankfulness.

Brooke and Joshua, take a look at the baptismal font in which you became a child of God. Take a look and say, ‘yes, Christ died for me, I am his child, I am today committing to being welcomed into the church fellowship of Gilgandra as a follower of Jesus.’

Members, family and friends of Brooke and Joshua, as we have heard, when we welcome a believer because they are one of Christ’s followers, you are receiving Christ himself, let us encourage each other to welcome Brooke and Joshua into our worship, into our friendship so that each and every one of us will continue to receive our reward, Christ with us and for us’. Amen

A Cheap Fix

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

 I’m after a cheap fix! My clutch has gone in the car, does any own know a cheap way to keep it
going? How often has we heard that? We are always after a cheap fix. We want things fixed quickly, easily and with as little cost to us as possible. Why do something properly when you can do it cheap…that’s the catch cry of the CD and DVD pirates. They are in business because people want the real thing, but don’t want to pay the price.

A cheap fix is also what we are after in our own lives; we want the real thing, but for the sake of a cheap fix, we settle for an imitation. Rather than do the hard yards, we settle for the easy option. You and I are currently in the grip of a cultural movement called ‘hedonism’…aaah! Now before you turn off, let me explain this term, because I think it you will be amazed how influential this thinking is in our lives. Hedonism is all about the cheap fix; its about finding and achieving pleasure and happiness in our lives above anything else, including reality and truth.

In other words, our experiences of happiness and the satisfaction of pleasure this brings, is the rule and guide we use to justify our actions to quickly solve our deepest and most personal problems. If I’m happy, everything must be ok!

Think about this in your own life. Do you keep doing things, even if it doesn’t solve the actual problem, just because it makes you happy? …A cheap fix, because we’ve taken the easy road, with little cost and haven’t actually changed our situation; like dodging up the car repair, it works, but for how long?

For many years now, hedonism has been infiltrating our faith. Many of us now ask, ‘will being a Christian make me happy? Will I get pleasure out of following Jesus? And ‘will there be a cost?’ In other words, we want a cheap fix for our souls. This is a stark difference to Luther’s quest to fix his hurting soul when he ask ‘where can I find a gracious God?’

The centre or core of the questions about our faith has been reversed. Luther’s question is about God and how he justifies us, ours question is about ourselves and how we can justify our sin. We want the real thing; we want to be a Christian, we want to be right with God, but at the least cost to us. So long as we can be still feel happy and still keep our secret pleasures, yet trust we’re still forgiven, then we will follow Jesus …a cheap fix.

Its actually not a cheap fix, its cheap grace, its cheap grace because, if we keep living and doing things based on feeding our pleasures and seeking happiness apart from following God, we fail to recognise the cost to God for our justification. The cost of our forgiveness was the holy and perfect life of Jesus which was sacrificed for your sin and mine. Paul reminds us: You were bought for a price. You are not your own.

Jesus paid the price to forgive you and reconcile you to God. When you are in Christ, you have died to sin, so you cannot delight in it any more. When you confess: “Jesus Christ is my Lord,” you are asserting that He calls the shots for your life.

Unfortunately, scripture’s revelation on grace by faith alone, through Christs suffering and death for us, has been twisted into “cheap grace” by our hedonistic thinking; a cheap fix instead of costly discipleship. St Paul is obviously facing the same issue when he says ‘What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?’…Shall we go on enjoying lustful thoughts and actions, after all, Jesus died on the cross for us, so God forgives us anyway.” “Shall we go on and gain pleasure in being blind drunk over the weekend, because we know that through Jesus our sins are forgiven.” Shall we go on… we all can fill in the blanks.

What has happened here? Justification of the sinner for the sake of Christ has been distorted into justification of the sin. This is the essence of hedonism…self justification of the things that make us happy and pleasure us, but make God unhappy; and yet we do them because we think God will forgive us anyway.

One of the most astute Lutheran theologians of the last century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was so alarmed by this cheap grace in the German Lutheran Church, he wrote a book addressing this issue called The Cost of Discipleship. His concerns are surprisingly modern:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. p.36 Bonhoeffer’s words clearly reflect what Jesus commanded of us in this mornings gospel ‘anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’

God justifies sinners for Christ’s sake; but God never justifies sin. Sin is rebellion against the good and perfect ways of God. It’s a condition of wanting things my own way -not God’s way. Sin is what Christ died for. ‘for while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’, Paul writes, but then he goes on ‘The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.’

There we have it, Grace is free, yet grace is costly; it cost God, and, it costs us. It cost God because Jesus suffered and died on the cross. It costs us because it may mean we need to face the reality of sin in our lives, and die to it; it costs us because we begin to realize when we are at our best, we are at our worst before God; it costs us because it may mean we let go of our secret pleasures or the things that currently make us happy…It costs because Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Jesus’.

Bonhoeffer, also wrote ‘Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy (for) which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, … it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. P.36 Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels [us] to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says:’ My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ P37.

Jesus’ burden is light because he has already carried the cross to Calvary for us; that heavy cross, laden with our sin. And he died on that cross, for your sins, once and for all. The hard work is done, that’s grace. To take up our cross and follow Jesus means to live by grace, St Paul encourages us with these words ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’

You and I are here today because grace has brought us here. We are here today because on the day of our baptism, ‘we died with Christ’, that is, we died to cheap fixes in our life. We are here today because Jesus is giving us a new start, a new life in him, when we are joined with him in his body and blood. And we follow Jesus, because this new life we now live is free from slavery to sin. Amen

A fishing mission paradigm

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

We begin today with a story about Jesus being a local. Hanging around locals and speaking with the locals. Matthew records ‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.’ What was Jesus doing? Why is he preaching to those who already know him? You would think Jesus, wanting to save the world, would head out to foreign countries, to foreign people; to those who don’t know him, to those he doesn’t know.

Yet Jesus remains a local boy, working his saving ministry in his own backyard.

I have a favourite fishing hole. It’s a place I know well and I go to every year. My fishing hole is, as you know, over on the West Coast of South Australia on Yalata beach. I have been there so many times, you could say I’m a local; I talk with the locals and share fishing stories with them. Its my favourite fishing hole because I know how to catch fish there. And I know how to catch fish there because I’ve studied the water. I know for instance, that there is a deep gutter close to shore 2km from the first sand dune. I know that I need to look for dark patches in the water because they are actually schools of salmon, and I know Mulloway chaise the salmon into the deep gutter where they become trapped. (show some details on a power point picture)

Local knowledge is important if you want to catch fish. This became clear to me when I first tried fishing in the Macquarie River, didn’t catch a thing, yet the bloke next to me caught two beautiful yellow belly; he knew where to fish, what bait to use and how to catch them…I didn’t.

Could it be that Jesus is doing the same thing? Using his local knowledge of the people, his people, to seek and to find the lost, in the same way as a fisherman uses his local knowledge to catch fish. Jesus, because he was local, could walk through the streets and talk with the people, listen to them, he knew where they congregated and he could also teach in the local synagogue.

And being local and having local knowledge, found something out that a foreigner wouldn’t realize…his people were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He could not have known this if he wasn’t a local; if he wasn’t one of them? Jesus, working in his own backyard, with a local knowledge was able to pinpoint the unseen problem. He was able to find the key which would open the door to people’s hearts, open the way for the good news of the kingdom.

With the skill of a local fisherman, Jesus studies the sea, the sea of people, ascertains where the needs are, focuses on one issue and BANG…he has a strike, an opening the gospel. They are sheep without a shepherd; He is the good shepherd. He is the one who lays down his life for the sheep and knows them by name. Jesus is the good news they so desperately need. With local knowledge, Jesus knows where the harvest is; where he is needed most; he knows where the mission field is.

Perhaps then, it is not just a little ironic who Jesus chooses to be his first disciples. What sort of people are they? Matthew records in chapter 4, ‘As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men “At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.’

These first disciples are fisherman. They know how to catch fish; they know you have to study the sea. They know you have to work the local waters. They know, if you are going to catch fish, you need local knowledge. Jesus uses this inbuilt trait of fishermen to reach the lost for the kingdom. They are going to be fishers of men. They are going to use their fishing skills, their local knowledge to study people, look for where they congregate, target their needs and find openings for the gospel; to catch men and women for the kingdom. They are locals and a local knows their community best.

Jesus doesn’t sent them to the other side of the world, he sends them directly into the harvest; to the lost sheep of Israel; he sends them to the locals. He sends them to the people the disciples grew up with, to the places they themselves hangout. To people who have the same issues and concerns as they do. Why? Because Jesus knows the best way to catch fish, is to be local; the best way to reach the lost, is to use a local. The disciples will know how best to reach the lost, to touch their hearts with the good news of Jesus and to bring them into faith; they already have a relationship with the people, they are already known…half the battle is won.

Think back over your faith, why do you still have a relationship with Jesus? Why is it you are not like a sheep without a shepherd, but someone who has Jesus and is in the church? Did some foreign missionary from a far away country pray over you and convert you to faith in Jesus? Not likely. You have a relationship with Jesus because someone you knew taught you the faith, a local, like a family member, a neighbour or a friend; someone who knew what you needed, knew your hurts and concerns; someone who heeded the call of Jesus and went into their local community, into your life and brought you the good news of Jesus.

Pastor Rob Edwards of Jindera Lutheran church challenges us as, saying ‘The big question is; ‘where is our fishing pond?’ Where are the people we are called to reach? Only we can answer this, only we who are locals know the answer to that question. Rick Warren in ‘Purpose Driven Church’ says ‘Too many congregations are naive in their thinking about evangelism. If you ask the members, “Who is your church trying to reach for Christ?” the response will likely be, “Everybody! We’re trying to reach the entire world for Jesus Christ.” Of course this is the goal of the Great Commission, and it should be the prayer of every church, but in practice there is not a local church anywhere that can reach everybody.

For your church to be most effective in evangelism you must decide on a target. Discover what types of people live in your area, decide which of those groups your church is best equipped to reach, and then discover which styles of evangelism best match your [local community]. While your church may never be able to reach everyone, it is especially suited to reaching certain types of people. Knowing who you’re trying to reach makes evangelism much easier.’

Let’s be encouraged by these words. Let’s be encouraged by the way Jesus worked his ministry to reach the lost; by the way he come to us through our family or a friend, found us, just as we were, lost and condemned sinners and carried us into his kingdom. We are not people lost and harassed without a shepherd! Let’s us then, recognise Jesus call to us, to be local fishers of men and work with the people God has already brought before us –maybe that person is your spouse, a family member, someone just down the street, our neighbour. Jesus calls locals us to fish the local waters.

We know the people around us better than anyone else, and broadly speaking, the people around us have a great need. They are lost and harassed like sheep without a shepherd; they need Jesus. Amen

Matt 9:9-13, 18_26

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

We are very good at separating, classifying, and highlighting dangerous and toxic things.  We live in a hyper clean world where everything is super clean and hygienic.  Anything that is not, is clearly labelled ‘unsafe for human contact – its toxic.  I have a bio-hazards container here. Everything that is deemed toxic and dangerous to us is placed in this container and disposed of.  Why?  If we touch it, we would become what we touch; toxic and dangerous.  Then we too, would need to be clearly labelled and segregated until we either die from the contamination, or, some sort of treatment cleanses us of our toxicity.

Dangerous and toxic goods must be identified, segregated, clearly labelled and deemed definitely ‘off limits’ to all.   There are other dangers too, which we are obsessed at trying to label as ‘off limits’.  We are all familiar with this sort of stuff; ‘bunting’, safety vests and warning lights.  All equipment designed with bright colours and fluorescent stickers to warn us of danger and to clearly label and segregate us from dangerous things; like holes in the ground, or a church hall that is falling down.

Toxic and dangerous things, we fear them and stay well clear.  We simply don’t want to become what they are –dangerous and toxic, or worse still, we don’t want to die from contacting toxins or falling into a hole or by being hit on the head by a brick.  Its all about self preservation.

However, have we taken these precautions one step further…in our quest for self preservation…in our infatuation with cleanliness and safety, have we labelled as ‘toxic’ and ‘dangerous’ even people?  People who are different to us, people who, because they act differently and don’t have ‘Christian morals’, have we segregated them from us and label them as dangerous?  Have we, because we know what is right and good, know what God expects of us, and know we can’t allow ourselves to be ‘toxified’ by these people, place them in a ‘toxic’ waste container to be disposed of; incinerated in hell? Out of sight and out of mind, in places like West Dubbo, or even here in North, or Wilcannia, Burke and other ‘out of the way places’?

Its very easy for us, who, because of the Holy Spirit, because we love Jesus, because we know what sin is, to become labellers and segregators; defining people…the toxic from the harmless; bunting off the good from the bad.  It is very easy for us to always claim the high moral ground, and exclude from Christian fellowship, those who don’t make the grade.  Very easy indeed!

Knowing this helps us to understand why Jesus offended so many people when he mixed with sinners; the unclean.  Helps us understand why he angered the Pharisees and caused them to say ‘”Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”  The Pharisees and ‘good, well meaning’ people, people like you and I, are prone to uphold God’s laws and Christian morals at the expense of mercy and forgiveness.  Its as if we need to protect ourselves from their toxins.  We  bunting off the bad from the good;  We  classify the ‘sinners and tax collectors’ as toxic people and place ‘no go’ zones around them…they are dangerous.  Like the Pharisees thought, to come into contact with these ‘sorts’ would mean becoming what they were; unclean; you would become, God forbid, a sinner like them!

However, nothing is ever black and white, or as we label and it mark it off.  It would be different, Alex Solzenitsyn notes, if there were ‘evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being’…or as an article in Time magazine states ‘Evil is a word we use when we come to the limit of human comprehension.  But we sometimes suspect that it is the core of our true selves’.

The reality is, the same toxic waste, the same dangerous goods, the same germ of sin we find in others we have separated from ourselves, even in the most diabolical homicidal manic, is present in our own self; in you and me.  As the scriptures say ‘all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  There is none righteous, no not one.’

If anyone is to make a dividing line between good and evil, if it is anyone has the right to classify and segregate the toxic from the clean, it should be Jesus.  It is Jesus, the Son of God, who knew sin better than any of us.  It is Jesus who actually lived a holy life, who was without fault; it is Jesus who said ‘”If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at the adulterous woman.”.   Yet does Jesus, holy and perfect in every respect and has the right to do so, put up the bunting and place ‘no go’ zones around sinners; around us?

Certainly not, he did the opposite.  He not only ignored barriers, he tore them down.  Jesus entered into our sinful world to destroy the barriers which separated sinners from God.  Jesus crossed the bunting, pulled down the hazard lights and entered into the houses and the lives of toxic people; the lives of sinners…our lives, to forgive and to heal.  He entered the house of Matthew the tax collector and ate with him.

And while he was eating many where attracted to the spectacle…some to join in with Jesus and enjoy his fellowship, receiving forgiveness and healing, they are the sinners.  The others came to scoff and complain.  “How can a godly man mix with such toxic people?”  They are the righteous –the ones holding the high moral ground.

Jesus replies ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”’  In eating with the labelled, the sinners, in saying this, Jesus is demonstrating the gospel- the good news…Jesus mixes with sinners and heals them.  (go through bunting to toxic box)

Jesus goes beyond the barriers goes where no man has gone before and opens the toxic waste box of people’s hearts, of our hearts; to reveal the brokenness, the regrets, the hostility and anger, the resentment, the shame and then he neutralizes it; sterilizes it by saying ‘its ok, I know what you have done, what you are, I forgive you, I give you a new start; and chance to right what you have wronged’.

The toxins of sin no longer have power when revealed and forgiven; toxin is not toxic, not deadly when neutralized.  This is why St Paul boasts ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. The power of sin no longer controls us when Jesus comes to have a meal.  And he comes today, calling you to share a meal with him. Where he opens the lid on the toxins in your heart and neutralizes them by forgiving them with his blood.

The Lord’s Supper is our time to be detoxified; to be free to make another new start.  To be made aware that before God, there is no bunting separating the good from the bad, no hazard lights indicating who might be dangerous…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

So as we leave Jesus’, let’s leave behind all the ‘safety gear we use to protect ourselves, to divide, to segregate, to ostracize others from ourselves.  Let us leave behind the bunting and the moral high ground and remember Jesus words ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  That means Jesus has come to call you and me and it that means he has come to call everyone.
Amen

Sermon: 4th Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

We are very good at separating, classifying, and highlighting dangerous and toxic things. We live in a hyper clean world where everything is super clean and hygienic. Anything that is not, is clearly labelled ‘unsafe for human contact – its toxic. I have a bio-hazards container here. Everything that is deemed toxic and dangerous to us is placed in this container and disposed of. Why? If we touch it, we would become what we touch; toxic and dangerous. Then we too, would need to be clearly labelled and segregated until we either die from the contamination, or, some sort of treatment cleanses us of our toxicity.

Dangerous and toxic goods must be identified, segregated, clearly labelled and deemed definitely ‘off limits’ to all. There are other dangers too, which we are obsessed at trying to label as ‘off limits’. We are all familiar with this sort of stuff; ‘bunting’, safety vests and warning lights. All equipment designed with bright colours and fluorescent stickers to warn us of danger and to clearly label and segregate us from dangerous things; like holes in the ground, or a church hall that is falling down.

Toxic and dangerous things, we fear them and stay well clear. We simply don’t want to become what they are –dangerous and toxic, or worse still, we don’t want to die from contacting toxins or falling into a hole or by being hit on the head by a brick. Its all about self preservation.

However, have we taken these precautions one step further…in our quest for self preservation…in our infatuation with cleanliness and safety, have we labelled as ‘toxic’ and ‘dangerous’ even people? People who are different to us, people who, because they act differently and don’t have ‘Christian morals’, have we segregated them from us and label them as dangerous? Have we, because we know what is right and good, know what God expects of us, and know we can’t allow ourselves to be ‘toxified’ by these people, place them in a ‘toxic’ waste container to be disposed of; incinerated in hell? Out of sight and out of mind, in places like West Dubbo, or even here in North, or Wilcannia, Burke and other ‘out of the way places’?

Its very easy for us, who, because of the Holy Spirit, because we love Jesus, because we know what sin is, to become labellers and segregators; defining people…the toxic from the harmless; bunting off the good from the bad. It is very easy for us to always claim the high moral ground, and exclude from Christian fellowship, those who don’t make the grade. Very easy indeed!

Knowing this helps us to understand why Jesus offended so many people when he mixed with sinners; the unclean. Helps us understand why he angered the Pharisees and caused them to say ‘”Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” The Pharisees and ‘good, well meaning’ people, people like you and I, are prone to uphold God’s laws and Christian morals at the expense of mercy and forgiveness. Its as if we need to protect ourselves from their toxins. We bunting off the bad from the good; We classify the ‘sinners and tax collectors’ as toxic people and place ‘no go’ zones around them…they are dangerous. Like the Pharisees thought, to come into contact with these ‘sorts’ would mean becoming what they were; unclean; you would become, God forbid, a sinner like them!

However, nothing is ever black and white, or as we label and it mark it off. It would be different, Alex Solzenitsyn notes, if there were ‘evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being’…or as an article in Time magazine states ‘Evil is a word we use when we come to the limit of human comprehension. But we sometimes suspect that it is the core of our true selves’.

The reality is, the same toxic waste, the same dangerous goods, the same germ of sin we find in others we have separated from ourselves, even in the most diabolical homicidal manic, is present in our own self; in you and me. As the scriptures say ‘all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one.’

If anyone is to make a dividing line between good and evil, if it is anyone has the right to classify and segregate the toxic from the clean, it should be Jesus. It is Jesus, the Son of God, who knew sin better than any of us. It is Jesus who actually lived a holy life, who was without fault; it is Jesus who said ‘”If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at the adulterous woman.“. Yet does Jesus, holy and perfect in every respect and has the right to do so, put up the bunting and place ‘no go’ zones around sinners; around us?

Certainly not, he did the opposite. He not only ignored barriers, he tore them down. Jesus entered into our sinful world to destroy the barriers which separated sinners from God. Jesus crossed the bunting, pulled down the hazard lights and entered into the houses and the lives of toxic people; the lives of sinners…our lives, to forgive and to heal. He entered the house of Matthew the tax collector and ate with him.

And while he was eating many where attracted to the spectacle…some to join in with Jesus and enjoy his fellowship, receiving forgiveness and healing, they are the sinners. The others came to scoff and complain. “How can a godly man mix with such toxic people?” They are the righteous –the ones holding the high moral ground.

Jesus replies ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”’ In eating with the labelled, the sinners, in saying this, Jesus is demonstrating the gospel- the good news…Jesus mixes with sinners and heals them. (go through bunting to toxic box)

Jesus goes beyond the barriers goes where no man has gone before and opens the toxic waste box of people’s hearts, of our hearts; to reveal the brokenness, the regrets, the hostility and anger, the resentment, the shame and then he neutralizes it; sterilizes it by saying ‘its ok, I know what you have done, what you are, I forgive you, I give you a new start; and chance to right what you have wronged’.

The toxins of sin no longer have power when revealed and forgiven; toxin is not toxic, not deadly when neutralized. This is why St Paul boasts ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. The power of sin no longer controls us when Jesus comes to have a meal. And he comes today, calling you to share a meal with him. Where he opens the lid on the toxins in your heart and neutralizes them by forgiving them with his blood.

The Lord’s Supper is our time to be detoxified; to be free to make another new start. To be made aware that before God, there is no bunting separating the good from the bad, no hazard lights indicating who might be dangerous…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

So as we leave Jesus’, let’s leave behind all the ‘safety gear we use to protect ourselves, to divide, to segregate, to ostracize others from ourselves. Let us leave behind the bunting and the moral high ground and remember Jesus words ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” That means Jesus has come to call you and me and it that means he has come to call everyone.

Amen



Matt 7:21-29

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

(open by standing there reading the paper)
I have read some pretty scary stuff in the papers over the years that affect us personally; threats of terrorism, droughts, murderers on the loose, global warming, fuel prices and interest rates set to rise again; scary stuff.  (read story from paper)

Let me read something even scarier, not from the newspapers, but from the bible ‘”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Now that is scary news, if it isn’t…well perhaps should be.  How confident are you?  How certain are you, that if the Lord Jesus walked in here, right at this very moment and said ‘not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of God’, that Jesus is not speaking about you? Or are you uncertain that perhaps you may be the one left standing alone as Jesus says to you ‘I tell you plainly, away from me you evil doer’.  Scary stuff!

Are we one of those Jesus doesn’t know?  Who among us, are one of those to be counted as evil doers, excluded from the kingdom of God?  This is stuff nightmares are made of, being thrown into a fiery hell, while all along, we thought we doing the right thing.  Is Jesus speaking about me, even though I say ‘Lord, Lord’ and do things in his name?

It’s hard for us to imagine someone being able to chase out demons and do miracles and yet being rejected by Christ. But Scripture is full of these examples. Take Judas. He chased out demons in his time. Jesus sent him out with the others to teach, yet he remains condemned. The Bible also mentions Caiaphas, the high priest. He denied Jesus as the Saviour; yet he made a prediction concerning Jesus to be the Saviour saying, “it is better for one to die for the whole nation.” Then there’s Simon the sorcerer who was baptised and believed but yet the disciples said to him ‘You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God!’

On the surface, these men appeared to be very godly with huge amounts of faith. But yet Jesus wants no part with them; ‘Away from me you evil doers’.  Why?…I think we can be certain why; they substituted faith in the Messiah for faith in themselves. They substituted themselves for Christ; substituted sand in the place of rock; building their whole life and ministry on the shifting sands of self promotion; on a self gratifying lifestyle and on quick fixes, rather than building their life and ministry on the rock that is Christ; on his word and his works.  They thought they knew better!

When the German Lutherans first arrived at Pt Adelaide South Australia in the early 1800’s, to start a new life of religious freedom, they soon found there was better farming land to the north of Adelaide.  We now know this land as the famous Barossa Valley.  We admire the expertise and foresight these early settlers had in developing such land, particularly the vineyards.  However, what is not so well known or admired, and for good reason, is what happened when they first settled in the Barossa.  The group, high on self confidence because things had been going so well, found a place to set up a town.  Nestled among rolling hills, was some perfectly flat land.  The soil was soft yet stable, easy to dig for foundations and roads.

They quickly agreed ‘this would be the place for the first settlement in the Barossa’ and called it Hoffnungsthal.  However, when the local Aborigines saw what was happening they were baffled.  Why they were building their town in such a spot.  The new settlers where building in a dry lake bed.  The new town would be under water if it were to rain heavily.  The aborigines pleaded with them, but the settles, confident in their own expertise and knowledge, didn’t heed the warning.  ‘What would these primitive people know, where are their houses, what makes them experts?’ were probably some of the thoughts going through the minds of the settlers.

Yet, when the rains came down, the floods came up, and wouldn’t you know…the water washed the town away.  What was thought to be a solid foundation for building their houses, turned out to be dangerous land; they built their house on the wrong foundation.  Their arrogance and hope in their own expertise became their down fall.

This story highlights what Jesus is saying to us; though outwardly we may be doing all the right things; all the things Christian do; visiting the sick, pastorally caring for the poor, even worshipping in Jesus name saying ‘Lord, Lord’.  All this will be flawed and futile, like the work of the settlers who failed to listen to the Aborigines, if we do all our ‘Christian duties’ without faith in Jesus and listen to his word; if with work without the love of Christ in our hearts; if we speak about Jesus but fail to live according to our own words, we are building our faith and ministry on the wrong foundation, on our own arrogance, like the settlers.

So what is this foundation on which we build?  How can I be certain I know the Lord?  What things must I do to have a relationship with him, so he doesn’t say ‘away from me you evil doer?’ To find the answer, perhaps we need to ask the question differently, turn it around.  Perhaps the question is not, “Do I know the Lord?” and ‘am I doing the right things’ but “Does the Lord know me?” Does the Lord have a relationship with me? And ‘what has the Lord done for me?’

The solid foundation on which we build is that God knows us.  Yes, God in Christ Jesus first loved us before we ever knew him.  In 1 John 4 is written ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’

To be certain you are not the one Jesus says ‘depart from me’, hear these words and take them to heart.  Trust in them, write them on the wall, on the palm of your hand, and memorize them. Like the Aboriginals who could have saved the settlers, if they had a first listen to them, …before you build your ministry, first listen to the Lord; hear his word and promise to you ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.’  The Lord does know you by name through your baptism.  By the washing of the water and the giving of the Holy Spirit, he made a relationship with you and made you part of God’s family.  And in this, he makes it clear what he has done for you. The scriptures say ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you,

These words are for you, to assure you that God does know you and love you; that we already have an inheritance in heaven.  This is the foundational promise for you, to give you certainty that, as you trust in these words, you can confidently build on this relationship, by serving and loving God and serving and loving other people.  Jesus will not say to you ‘I never new you!’  He can’t, because the work that we do is built on and flows out of Christ’s relationship to us.

So if we read this passage again, should we be afraid?  Is it scary stuff?  No, certainly not.  We don’t do live our Christian life by our own arrogance our boasting, we do it because God first loved us.  You can have every confidence that as we serve one another here in our community in Nyngan (Gilgandra), as we seek God’s forgiveness and mercy as we love and forgive those in need, our sure and solid on rock, Jesus Christ, from which all good works flow, will say to you ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’  Amen