Archive for September, 2008

Who runs this show anyway?

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Matthew 21:23-32 who runs this show anyway

Anyone here had a car breakdown?
Today’s modern cars have a unique feature. If something goes wrong, like the engine overheats, the computer system goes into default mode. That means, the car’s computer goes into a mode that is preset by the factory, and will run like that until the error is fixed. In other words, under extreme pressures, the car automatically goes back into default.

We have a default mode. A mode of operating we go into automatically when confronted with an extreme situation; when we sense an error or hurt against us. Our default mode is ‘look after me at all costs’. If our buttons are pressed, we automatically run on self-importance mode, our default mode; we become selfish and protect our right to exist and have to justify ourselves, even if it means we hurt and destroy others. And we can be included in this, is going into default mode to protect itself from harm. There is a credit crisis which threatens our comfortable way of life, so ‘click’, we go into default mode; self-importance mode and spend $840 billion to prop up dodgy banks and faulty investors so we can keep our way of life. Yet we refuse to spend money to prop up and save the lives of millions of people in third world countries who are dying because they have nothing.

We even refuse to fix the housing crisis in our own country; where we now have the situation of people so desperate for a place to live, they physically fight with other prospective tenants, to get the only affordable home in Sydney. Perhaps this is a sign that our default mode has become our normal way of running. Self-importance is the new way of life…its all about me.

Self importance is the essence of sin. By nature, or our default mode is that we are sinful as Peter writes ‘if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ When the pressure is on, its so easy to go into default mode and run purely on self-importance; we all do it. Even as baptised children of God, we still fall into self-importance.Life is a race and the winner takes it all, at all cost! Take a look at a clip from the movie ‘cars’. (cht 1 7.07-9.58)

Perhaps we can see some of ourselves in that car ‘lightening McQueen’? When the pressure’s on, we go through life as if we own the race; as if we control everyone and everything.

Jesus came into a world full of people like Lightening McQueen, who, through sin, were one man shows; running on default mode and consumed with self-importance. A world, as John records ‘that was made through him, but did not recognize him, a world that was his own, but did not receive him.’

After entering Jerusalem, one of the first things Jesus did was to visit the temple, a place of prayer, healing and mercy. Yet what did he see? According to Matthew, a ‘den of robbers; people who were not praying for others, loving and serving as he created them, but instead were running on default mode, were one man shows, grabbing as much money as they could from the poor and needy. Angry at this, Jesus cleared the temple, up turned the tables of the money exchangers and made way for the needy to be healed. He drove out the self-important and opened the temple to the repentant; to those who were truly seeking God’s mercy.

When the religious leaders saw this, the pressure was on them to respond and ‘click’, they went into default mode and puffed themselves up with self-importance ‘by what authority do you do these things’, they asked. ‘Who gave you this authority?’ Instead of getting into a power struggle, going into a default mode of self-importance, Jesus told a parable, one that would hit at the core of the issue

What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard. “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” Can you answer Jesus’ question?

 

So could the religious leaders.  ‘The first’ they answered.  The son that was right with his father was the one that turned from his self-importance and went out and did what was asked of him. In answering that this son was the son that did the father’s will, by repenting and doing what he was asked, the religious leaders convicted themselves.  They were all ‘yes, yes’ to God, but never repented of their pride and self-importance, never changed from running on default and remained only concerned for themselves.  Oh, publicly they said they would, but as soon as the pressure was on ‘clack’, back into default mode.

 

We also answered Jesus’ question by saying the first son…have we convicted ourselves?

 

John the Baptist pointed to a fix for our default mode ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’.  Jesus also proclaimed the fix in the Sermon on the Mount ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’  Jesus is offering a way out from our default mode.  He is calling for repentance and a humble heart.  This is what it means to do the fathers will, as the first son in the parable did; to turn and recognise our sin and receive the forgiveness he is freely offering. 

 

Here today, once again, as he did in the temple, Jesus is offering a way out; a chance to get out of our default mode, a chance to break the code and enjoy the freedom of living as God intended.  He is truly present with us in Holy Communion, calling all of us who are tied of sticking up for ourselves to turn and receive forgiveness and mercy. 

 

He is calling all who of us who are tired of thinking we have to justify themselves and burdened from putting others down in self-importance, to repent and receive a fix for our problem.  If this is you, then the blood of Christ is for you, and this promise is for you ‘”Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. .For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’  Amen       

On our knees

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

On our knees Matthew 18  Kids club service in the park

 

I’ve just done the washing, and I didn’t have time to hang the clothes out to dry.  So if its alright with you, I’ll hang them up now while I talk with you. 

 

At kids club we have been talking and learning about faith changing people’s lives.  We’ve had a look at how faith changed the lives of people like Abraham, Noah, Jonah and also people like St Paul; whose life was dramatically changed when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.  Yes, faith changes lives alright.  Faith in Jesus has changed the life of each and every one of us.

 

As I hang these pants up, (can you please pass me the top pair of pants) it reminds us of all the different sorts of lives people lead.  The clothes reflect the work and life of the person. 

 

What sort of pants are these? What sort of person might where them?  Yes, perhaps someone who works with their hands; someone who is skilled with fixing cars or perhaps good at wood work or welding steel.  The pants are tuff and hard to withstand the tuff and hard conditions the person works in.

 

Look at these, who might wear these?  Yes, a student at school; a person who learns and grows in knowledge.  Someone who studies, so that they can understand things about the world they live in.  These are made of a softer material than the work pants, why?  So the person wearing them is comfortable during the long hours of learning; they are soft so that the student is not distracted from their learning.

 

Wow!  Check this pair out.  Who might wear these?  A sportsperson perhaps; someone who might run races or jump hurdles.  The Olympics have just been held and we have seen a lot of men and women wearing these sorts of pants.  They are called track suit pants.  Why?  Yes, they are made of light material so that the runner is not slowed down by their clothes.  These pants are specially designed for athletes.  To give them better agility, speed and endurance to run the race.

 

And these?  What sort of work would someone be doing with a pair of pants like these?  Perhaps an accountant or a business person.  Someone who works indoors and works mainly with their brain.  These people spend a lot of time planning and programming so that things can happen in the correct order and under budget.  They wear pants that are made of wool or cotton.  Why?  Yes, they need to reflect the importance of their job.  Their pants need to have pockets for money to pay for all the luncheons and coffees and also to fit their mobile phones and gadgets into.

 

O dear!  Look at this pair.  Wow, they didn’t clean up very well.  There are dirty patches and stains all over them and look, they are ripped.  The knees are all worn away.  What sort of person would wear these?  Why would the knees be worn out?  Perhaps these pants belong to a beggar, to someone who has nothing of their own, but owes a lot of money to a bank or a money lender.  Someone in this situation would have dirty clothes and ripped knees…why?  What do we do when we beg?  Yes, we get down on our knees and plead for mercy.  Perhaps this is why these pants have holes in the knees, perhaps this person has been begging for mercy.  Let’s hang them up and look at them as we talk about how faith changes lives and what it means to live a life that is ‘changed by faith.’

 

Jesus tells a parable about a servant who owed a lot of money to his king.  Perhaps he wore these pants (point to the accountant’s pants) and he was in charge of the king’s money.  His job might have been to invest millions and millions of dollars so that the king would get even more money.  However, it is obvious that this person was not doing his job very well and had lost lots of the king’s money. 

 

Jesus says ‘the king wanted everyone to pay back to him what they owed.’  The person that owed the most money came before the king first and was told ‘you owe me 10,000 talents, which in today’s money is millions of dollars’.  After hearing this, shocking amount, I’m sure the servant needed a new pair pants!

 

There would be no way that a worker could pay that sort of money back.  In fact he owed the king so much, that the figure may as well have been a billion dollars.  The king wants his money but the worker can’t pay, so he’s going to jail, along with his wife and family.  So what does the man do?  He begs for mercy ‘Lord have mercy on me, be patient and I will pay you back’. 

 

He takes off his expensive pants and puts on the beggar’s torn and dirty pants.  In faith he trusts that the king would be merciful, so he falls to his knees and seeks the mercy of the king.  He has nothing to offer except a sorry heart and trust.  He realizes his mistakes and cover ups and wants to appeal to the good and gracious heart of the king.

 

Moved to compassion, the king gives in to the man’s plea and does something incredibly gracious…he wipes the man’s dept clean; he now owes nothing.  It as if he never even owed the king any money and now the worker can go free.  The king pronounces the dept ridden worker free from dept; he is justified…put in the king’s good books. 

 

The worker believes the king’s announcement, trusts in his mercy a walks out a free man.  Faith changed his life.  He owed much, but paid nothing.  The only exchange, was that the king took the dept upon him self and gave the man his freedom.  What an exchange!

 

Faith changes lives. Are we not this man?  Aren’t we all beggars before God our king?  Our dept is not money, our dept is sin.  St Paul says ‘the wages of sin is death’ and God WILL make an account of what we have done’.  He WILL ask that we pay up in full.  Can we pay up?  What can we give?  Nothing!  So by faith in the mercy of God, we also put on these dirty and ripped pair of pants and fall to our knees and say ‘Lord have mercy on me, a poor sinner’.  By faith we appeal to God’s merciful heart.

 

The good news is that God has had mercy on us and has forgiven us our dept.  His Son Jesus has exchanged our dept to sin, which is death, and took it upon himself and died on the cross.  And in exchange he has given us his freedom and his new life.  Because Jesus paid off our dept, given to us as a gift in our baptism, God does something incredibly gracious…he announces us justified; put right with him…we are in the king’s good books; we owe him nothing.  Faith changes lives.  We owed much, but paid nothing!  By faith in the word of God, we walk free.

 

The ripped and dirty beggar’s pants are the pants of people who live by faith, who have had their life changed by God. The ripped and dirty beggar’s pants are the ideal work pants of a disciple of Jesus, of you and me. They remind us that we live and breathe every moment of our life on our knees, seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness.  The dirt and rips remind us of the great exchange that changed our lives.  And when someone sins against us, we are reminded to forgive the dept they owe us, because Jesus took our dept and gave us his freedom and life.  What a great pair of pants, wear them proudly…wear them every day!

 

Amen       

 

    

 

 

Rewards

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Matthew 20_1-16

 

I have a number of prizes here.  Who would like to win something?  All I am going to do is read out some questions about today’s gospel reading, and you can correctly answer them for me…who’s in?
In today’s gospel reading:

1) How many times did the land owner go out and hire workers? 5 times

2) What hour did the land owner hire the last of the workers?      11th hour.
 
 3) How much money was promised to the first worker?  A denarius

4) Who payed the wages to the workers?  The foreman

 Give those who didn’t answer the questions the prizes.  Explain that I never said I would give the prizes to the people who answered the questions.

 

Don’t you hate it when you are not rewarded for your efforts?  It just doesn’t seem fair to us that someone else gets what we deserve.  We put in the effort, but get nothing in return.  I have a collection of trophies here which recognise and reward the recipient for competing in an event or even winning it.  Perhaps you have a collection of trophies or medals which reward you for the effort you put in 

In fact, if you think about our whole upbringing, our childhood development, is all about being rewarded for our good effort.  ‘Because you did the dishes, you can have extra desert.’  Or, think about the words the song ‘Father Christmas is coming to town’ ‘he knows whether you have been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake’.  Even the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas is dependant on whether we have been good or not; we are only rewarded with Christmas presents if we have been good enough. 

 The story preceding today’s parable is a real life account of someone who wanted to be rewarded for his good efforts.  The story lays down the background or the context to the parable of the labourers in the vineyard.  A religious man who had done everything required of him, and was now looking for God to reward him for his efforts; he wanted a prize from God for answering the questions correctly. 

 

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.'” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

 

He had answered every question correctly, yet Jesus never rewarded him.  He was sent away empty handed and sad.  He never got what he thought his efforts deserved.  Why?  Because even his best efforts at answering God’s expectations were not good enough, as Isaiah prophesise ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags’.  This is the background to Jesus’ parable; the background to Jesus ministry, his coming to earth, his death and resurrection and the kingdom of God.  All our efforts to please God in the hope of gaining the reward of heaven are futile, totally useless like filthy rags, because our hearts are in the wrong place; they are sinful and rebellious towards God, even when we are doing our best, as the rich man found out.  Often, when we are doing our best, were doing our worse because we are doing things out of pride. 

 

Volunteering in community groups, attending bible studies, donating blood, giving money to the poor, even going to church, while all good and important things, will never be works worthy enough of our heavenly Father’s reward.  They will never open the way to heaven.  The tragic fact is that we will all go away sad as long as we think God will reward us and give us a place in heaven with him because of what we have done.

 

The first workers to be employed in the vineyard worked for the landowner from dawn to dusk.  The second wave of workers toiled from morning tea until dusk, the third and forth group worked from lunch on.  The final workers employed, worked for only an hour; a huge difference in effort put in between the first employed in the vineyard and the last. 

 

Yet what happened when payment time came?  Yes, every worker was payed the same wage.  There was no extra reward for effort. No special trophies or medals for those who endured the heat of the day.  In fact, those who were employed last and worked the least hours where paid first.  The first were last and the last first.  Totally unfair in our eyes because we are so accustomed to being rewarded for our effort. Yet, this is how God works.  This is how the kingdom of God is. As one Christian said “Grace is always amazing grace. Grace that can be calculated and ‘expected’ is no longer grace.

 

God’s grace is that he saves all people by faith in the efforts of his Son Jesus Christ, not in our efforts, as Paul writes ‘God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.’  Whether we are seasoned campaigners for Christ and have lifted high the cross all our lives as the famous hymn says, or are converted on our death bed after 90 years of living a sinful life, all who come to faith in Jesus are treated the same by God our Father who judges each man’s work impartially.  

 

The only works worthy of salvation have been accomplished by Jesus Christ, whose work was that he gave himself as a ransom for us.  God’s grace, his salvation, is given to us as a gift through faith in Christ and by the power of our baptism.  In the kingdom of God there is no hierarchy of Christians.  What great news this is for us who believe and are baptised, we have already been given our reward; all of us, from the longest service member, to the newest.  Yet, as the workers in the vineyard found out, they still needed to work for the reward, still had to endure challenges and difficulties as part of the owners demands. 

 

But they did this because of the promise they had received.  They worked because they believed in the love and faithfulness of their boss.

St Paul also encourages us to do the same ‘Therefore, I urge you, friends, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship.’  We work for our Father in heaven, not to receive our reward, but because we have already received it.

 

Can I tell you a story that happened earlier this year? I think it sums up the parable well.  (story of the man in hospital)

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

The Father speaks

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

The Father speaks Exodus 12:1-14

 

Today is Father’s Day; a special day to remember fathers and their role in our lives.  While many of us have fond memories of our father from childhood, of course, we need to be realistic that some of us may not have good memories of our father.  We live in a fallen world, where sin and the devil causes broken relationship, hurt and anger. However, Father’s day gives us an opportunity to reflect upon the role of fatherhood and how God provides fathers for us to have a relationship with; to nurture us and bring us up in the world.

 I have a birth certificate here and it says ‘Cameron Joel Fiedler, born 20th December 1997; father: Brenton Fiedler:

 

There you go…this certificate makes me a father, there is nothing more to it; it says here ‘father…Brenton Fiedler’.  Cool!  Now I have this certificate, there is nothing more to fatherhood.  Nothing more for me to do.  Is this right?  Does a certificate make me a father?  Does having a child make me a father? (act this part out with Cameron)  If I were to show Cameron this certificate, will he know I love him?  Will he know what I expect from him, will he know that I would like him to respond to my love with love and trust?

 

No, of course not!  Being a father is more than having a piece of paper, its about having a relationship with your child.  Its about talking with him, caring for him, training and guiding him as he grows up in the world.  Providing boundaries and handing out consequences and discipline when he strays outside the boundaries.  Fatherhood is not a noun, it’s a verb…a doing word; it’s a relationship based on communication, on words and on trust.  And the words of a father do things, they convey intention and purpose; they covey what they say.   

 

This is God our heavenly Father in a nutshell.  He created and therefore defines true fatherhood; what it means to be a father and what it means to have a father who wants to have a relationship with us.  When God created Adam and Eve, he became a Father to humanity; a father to us; he created a relationship with us.

 

It means that God took it upon himself to look after us and nurture us as we grow up in his world.  He took it upon himself to communicate with us, to initiate conversation; to convey his will and to enact his love for us.  He took it upon himself to set boundaries and give us work to do and opportunities to respond to his love through prayer and worship.

 

Genesis records God acting as a father by communicating with Adam and Eve.  Speaking with them and by this word, giving them roles to play as his children and teaching them about responsibility and the consequences they will face if they go outside the boundaries he has set.  Genesis records ‘The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;  but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die. 

And God would speak his word of love to Adam and Eve, when, in the cool of the evening, he would seek them out and talk with them, to keep the relationship going.

However, as we are all aware, Adam and Eve, and so the whole of humanity, fell into sin by failing to trust in God’s Fatherhood.  They failed to trust in his word and in his relationship with them and chose instead a new father; the father of lies…the devil. 

 

Adam and Eve were tricked by this false father into believing they no longer needed God to be their father; they could do it alone.  How often have we continued in this thinking?  Can you remember a time when you rebelled against your father and chose not to listen to his word, and chose instead to listen to the father of lies and try and go your own way? Nothing has changed has it!

 

Yet, does our rebellion of fatherhood, mean that our father is no longer our father?  Does it mean that he no longer wants to speak with us, to convey his will and love for us; no longer wants to have a relationship with us?  No, fatherhood is not a piece of paper, something that can be negated because we reject our father.  Fatherhood is a relationship built on speaking and trust, built on fathers initiating communication and so conveying love and trust.  I am sure many of us can say with assurance that, even when we rejected them, our fathers always remained our fathers and initiated communication with us, tried to restart the relationship.

 

God, our father in heaven, even when humanity rejected his fatherhood, never stopped being our father, never stopped communicating with us, speaking his word to us which convey his love and will for us.  This morning’s Old Testament lesson records God as the true Father, initiating conversation with his children who are in trouble.  He chooses to initiate a new relationship by speaking his word of promise and hope to them, even when they have rejected him.

 

‘The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt…take some of the blood of the lamb and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs…The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.’  God speaks his fatherhood into the lives of the Israelites.  His words are rebuilding the relationship he once had with humanity.

 

He is saying to the people ‘I am your Father in heaven who wants to care for you and rescue you from slavery.’   His words bring about action because he IS their Father, he HAS the responsibility to act by the power of his word, because being a father is a relationship, and relationships are built on conversation.

 

The Lord God of Moses and Aaron, who rescued the Israelites from slavery through the blood of the lamb on the doors posts, is the same God and Father of our saviour Jesus Christ.  Who through his blood poured out on the cross, rescued us from slavery to sin and death.  We have a Father in heaven who took it upon himself to speak his word into our lives; to speak his words of action to save us.  His word is Jesus Christ, as St John reminds ‘the word of God became flesh, in the man Jesus Christ.’  And his word was crucified and rose again on the third day so that we may have a new relationship with God our Father in heaven.

 

And our Father in heaven continues to speak to us, continues to save us and express his love for us.  And he does this through his word, both in the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism, and in the bible. 

 

The bible is not a ‘certificate’ to tell us we have a Father in heaven.  It is not just a document or statement.  Like just Cameron only having the birth certificate but no relationship, what good would it be to him?  In the same way, what good would it be to us if the bible was nothing more than words on paper, with no relationship with our Father in heaven?  No, the bible is more than a certificate, the words are God’s words and they are living and active; they convey what they say.  God’s conversation with us, his relationship with us, the way he guides, calls and redeems us, as our Father, come to us through the words of the bible.

 

Even more than this, when we read the bible, his Spirit breaths the relationship of Fatherhood into our lives and we actually become part of a two way conversation; he speaks and we respond in the spirit through prayer and worship.  What a privilege!  What a joy we have.  Believe what you hear and become a part of God’s redeeming conversation with us.  He never stops speaking and he never stops wanting to have a Fatherly relationship with you.    Amen