Archive for November, 2008

Being Ready

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Mark 13:24-37 No one knows the day or hour

 

Who’s been fishing before?  And how did you go? Catch anything?  If there is one thing fishermen hate, it is missing a fish when it took the bait.  Perhaps we might have fallen asleep or gone to do something else, when all of a sudden BANG!  The fish strikes and takes the bait, but we are not there to hook the fish by jagging the line, and so it just swims off.  I think you would be a very popular person if you could tell fishermen when a fish was about to strike.

 

Because knowing when a fish will bite is an impossible task, we get so tired of waiting around that we often just walk off, and then to our horror, we miss the bite.  However, there are a number of things you can buy to help us not to miss the bite.  I have brought some along with me.  (explain the use of the reel drag; the bell, and the glow stick).

 

When you have this gear on, you can then go about doing the important things you need to like preparing food, setting up camp and talking with other fisherman, but you will also be able to keep watch, ready for a strike at any time.

 

We often feel the same way about Jesus return as we do of fishing.  We get sick of waiting around.  We begin to feel as if Jesus words, ‘Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come..’ And again ‘What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ are meant for another generation, not us.  After all how long has it been since Jesus first spoke these words?  2000 plus years! 

 

Yes, it is so easy to become tired and even apathetic about Jesus return.  We hear it every year and some Christians even talk about it as if it were to happen tomorrow; but it doesn’t.  Nothing happens and so we are not really sure what do with the ‘‘Be on guard! Be alert! 

 

Do we ignore Jesus’ words and go on with our lives believing the likely hood that he won’t return in our life time anyway?  This would be a feasible option except for one point.  If we believe, and I know we do, that Jesus words are truth and they are the way and the life, then he must return and will return, at any time.

 

The people in Noah’s day knew what the forecast was, knew Noah was building an ark and that he expected the imminent arrival of rain, yet they refused to believe his words; actually, they refused to believe the word of God.  They lived by sight not by faith.  They couldn’t see a cloud in sight and so rejected the word of Noah as a joke and went about their normal business without a thought to what might be coming. 

 

The question begs to be asked ‘is today any different?’  Do we also live by sight rather than by faith?  A fisherman who is not prepared with the right gear and the right knowledge, looks at the ocean and sees nothing, sees no change; no fish and so leaves his rod and attends to other things saying to himself ‘there is no urgency there are no fish coming today.’  Perhaps we all are thinking this way about the return of Jesus.  ‘He won’t come today, let us attend to other more pressing matters.’ 

 

We take a look around see the busyness of life, see yet another Christmas, yet another year coming to a close; we  see no changes, no evidence of Jesus return and act like the unprepared fisherman and go do other things.  We have convinced ourselves Jesus will never return in our lifetime, and so the urgency the early Christians felt, is no longer our urgency. 

 

Perhaps this loss of urgency about Christ’s return is reflected in our shrinking mission budgets and shrinking pool of people willing to become pastors, evangelists and lay leaders.  Perhaps this lack of mission urgency is also reflected in the declining numbers in Church.  Hard questions, but questions we as a church need to be reflecting on.

 

Jesus says ‘‘Be on guard! Be alert!.  Are you on your guard?  Are you like the fisherman with all the warning gear in readiness of the bite?  To be ready as a Christian is to have all the right gear; to be fully prepared for the inevitable return of Christ Jesus.  And the good news is that you already have the right gear.  There is nothing more you can do to be ready.  The right gear is given to you in baptism.  On that special day, when the water and the word of God poured down on you head, salvation became yours and you are readied by God himself for the return of Jesus.

 

Luther writes ‘Stated most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit and purpose of baptism is to save.  No one is baptised for the purpose of making them a prince, but as the words say, ‘he who is baptised and believes will be saved’.  To be saved is, as we know, nothing else than to be delivered form sins, from death, and from the devil, and to come into Christ’s kingdom and live with him forever’. 

 

You have the right gear; you have been saved and made ready by baptism. 

 

However, to remain ready for Jesus return, as he asks, is to make use of the salvation gear given to us.  A good fisherman doesn’t leave his gear in his tackle box, no, he puts on the bell, the drag and the light so that he is ready for the unknown time of the bite.  We can make ourselves ready for Jesus return by putting on our gear; baptism and Holy Communion. 

 

In this salvation gear, are given the continuing forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith that make us constantly ready for Jesus.   When we confess our sins to God seeking his forgiveness, we make use of baptism’s power of forgiveness.  To come to communion for the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, is to dwell in him and he in us; continually making us pure and holy until that great day when we actually receive the glorious crown of life.

 

And part of being ready is to check up on each other, to ensure we are all using the right gear and ensuring we have it on in readiness.  When we see one of our brothers or sisters in Christ no longer making use of their gift; no longer confessing their sins, no longer receiving the forgiveness offered to them, perhaps we could go and visit them and remind them that the glorious day of the Lord will come;  And to encourage them to be ready for that day.

 

And if we see or know someone who has yet to be given the right gear of salvation; someone who is not baptised and doesn’t believe in Jesus, wouldn’t it be important to us, as a mater of urgency, to speak the good news of Jesus to them; to allow God the make them ready also. 

 

Yes, this is what Jesus means when he says ‘‘Be on guard! Be alert! Because you do not know on what day your Lord will come’.  When we do these things we are in deed ready and alert for his return.  We don’t need to fear this day, or get tired of waiting; rather, we can be ready with anticipation.  For we know that day will certainly come when our salvation gear will ring, squeal and light up at the sudden coming of Christ and we will alert to join our saviour in the glory of his kingdom.  

 

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Sheep with a Shepherd

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Ezekiel 34_11-16-20_24 Sheep with a Shepherd.

 

 

I have some wool here, what can you tell me about sheep?

 

Sheep are not that dumb!  In fact, they are quite smart.  They are very good at being sheep.  They are very good at looking after number 1…themselves.  Sheep are very self-centred.  A sheep spends countless hours finding new and inventive ways of getting to the other side of the fence to eat the green grass and fill their stomaches. They use all their craftiness and cunningness to elude the farmer and his barking dog. 

 

To leave them to their own devices, without any shepherding, would only mean disaster for the sheep.  Their natural instinct, to run from the shepherd and seek greener pastures, would ultimately lead them down a path of self destruction.  They could unwittingly wonder onto a road and be run over, be caught by a pack of dogs, become entangled in a fence or die of hunger and thirst lost in the wilderness.

 

The bible often describes us as sheep, Ezekiel says ‘the Lord himself will look after his flock, rescue his sheep; the people of Israel’.  And certainly, like sheep, we are not dumb!  In fact we are very good at being human beings.  We are very good at looking after number one…self!  Self-centeredness is the catch cry of our times.  This sheep ideology of self-importance comes at the expense of others, including our own family.  The results of our sheepish lifestyle are now beginning to bear fruit. 

 

Domestic violence is at an all time high as husbands and wives fight to gain dominance in their relationship.  Money and greed contribute to fights and family break-ups, with both parents under pressure to ‘make it’ on their own. 

 

In an article written in the Australian last Tuesday it has been revealed that Australian children are being removed from their homes at a staggering rate; there are today 28,000 children in care, double the number than in 1997…double…in 10 years.  According to the article, these children go into care at a very young age, ending up with attachment and trust issues.  By the time they are 10 years old, many of these children are so damaged they can no longer stay in foster homes.  They spend a few years bouncing around the system, from one foster carer to another, then bouncing from youth hostel to police station to the street, before ending up in jail.

 

Another report released by the white ribbon foundation; people against violence towards women, states these alarming statistics:

As a direct result of family breakdown and violence within the family home

  • One in three boys believe it’s no big deal to hit a girl.
  • Nearly one in three boys believe ‘most physical violence occurs because a partner provoked it.’
  • One in seven girls between the ages of 12-20 has experienced sexual assault or rape.

 

We are indeed sheep that have gone astray; gone our own way.  In some way or another, as members of society, we are all part of this.  We are all part of the problem, as St Paul says ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’  The results of sin are self evident.  Just as sure as a sheep straying from its shepherd, will ultimately come to a disastrous end, as the statistics are currently showing, we who stray from our shepherd, Jesus Christ, will ultimately come to a disastrous end. 

 

When we try and gain self-importance without God, instead of finding it, we end up bitter and angry.  We end in frustration, violence and oppression. Why?  Because our selfish desires always promise, but never deliver.  Like with sheep who are constantly unsatisfied, the grass will always be greener in the other paddock.  The more we chase worldly things for our selfish use, the more elusive they become.  Mike Foss in the DVD’s a number of us have been watching puts this very cleverly, ‘God has made the desires and hopes of this world like a block of ice in our hands.  The harder we try and hold onto them, the quicker they melt and seep through our fingers.’

 

So are we totally lost, like sheep without a shepherd?  

 

The answer to this is yes.  Left to our own devices and effort, like sheep, we will continue to do what sinful humans do.  But we can thank God that the answer is also a resounding no, we are not totally lost, we do have a shepherd.  God himself saw our condition and like a good shepherd took it upon himself to rescue us.  The prophet Ezekiel foresaw God doing this when he said ‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.  As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

 

500 years after this prophecy, the Christ child was born in Bethlehem, with the name Jesus which means ‘he will save his people from their sins.’  God sent his Son Jesus into the world, our world, into your life, to bring you back into the safety of God’s pastures.  Jesus made this clear while he walked among the people of Israel, he said ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’

 

This is the message the church proclaims today to a world still lost and scattered ‘Jesus, the shepherd of our souls has died and risen again to give us a new life; a new way to live’.  A life we can live to the full as he has promised; a life that breaks the circle of bitterness, anger and violence.  By his death he has destroyed our deepest fears of isolation, insignificance and bitterness brought on by sin. 

 

Because Jesus gives us everything we need to fulfil our life, self-worth, forgiveness and love, we no longer need to be like lost sheep; people who desperately search for importance and value through selfish ambition.  We no longer need to find a purpose in life by asserting our rights upon others and dominating them.  

 

Jesus the good shepherd gives our life value and importance because we are his sheep.  Baptism is a clear symbol and action of God that shows us he values us and loves us.  It is the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning God ‘I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.’  Oliver will become a valued child of God.  The water and the word of God, ‘whoever is baptised and believes will be saved’, combine to give Oliver a new life in Christ and eternal life with him in heaven.

 

As Oliver grows up in faith, as we all grow up in our faith, given to us in baptism, our grace filled relationship with God, will transfer into our personal relationships with each other.  St Paul in Romans says ‘through baptism…just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may walk in newness of life.’  Forgiveness and understanding, love and concern for others will be our newness of life and the backbone of all our relationships.

 

Everyone dreams of having good and stable relationships and God uses his church, you and I, to make this dream become a reality.  As members of the church, we play a vital part in the dreams of those around us.  As stewards of Christ’s grace, we bring Jesus into the lives of struggling families.  A simple prayer, a quiet word of God, a caring act, all bring Jesus the good shepherd into people’s relationships and break the cycle of bitterness.  What grace we have received and what joy we bring.  Let’s celebrate what a wondrous shepherd we have as our King.  Amen       

 

 

Entrusted with Gods Wealth

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Matt 25_14-30  entrusted with God’s wealth- Pentecost -16_11_08

 

A Scotsman, Jock McTavish was a very careful with his money.  Once he took all his money out of the bank for a holiday.  After it rested in his pocket for a week he put it all back.  Jock McTavish was very prudent indeed, once he got down on his knees to propose to his girlfriend when a 50 cent piece dropped from his pocket and rolled under the sofa.  In the twenty minutes it took him to find it, she had lost interest.

 

If Jock McTavish thought he was wise about investing money, he was wrong.  Hiding money away in a cupboard will never bring great riches.  To lose a wonderful relationship with his girlfriend for the sake of 50 cents, will never make him rich…in money terms and in relational terms.

 

I have some money here.  I will give you some of it to hold and feel.  As you hold it, I want you to imagine how you might invest the money to bring more wealth.  Would you be someone like Jock McTavish and hide the money away or guard it with such passion that you lose many friends?  Or will you be like a wise investor, someone prepared to make the money work for them? 

 

Hold the money and imagine what lengths you might have to go to in order to get a great return. Imagine the people you would need to see.  How many different investors you would speak with.  Imagine the places you would visit and how well you would make yourself known in the financial industry in order to get the best deal.  

 

Hold the money and imagine what a privilege and honour it would be to be given such a great responsibility of investing someone else’s wealth.  And how great it is that they have entrusted you with doing whatever you think is right.  Wow!

 

Jesus, when he was speaking to the believers said ‘the kingdom of God is like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.  To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.  In the same way as this parable, the money you have in your hands, is symbolic to holding the treasures of the kingdom of God that you have been given. 

 

You and I, as believers in Jesus have been given every treasure of heaven; All that makes the kingdom of God until Jesus’ return; you have, in Christ Jesus, been given the treasures of his mercies, grace, forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  You and I are rich in God’s treasure, as St Paul says ‘Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!’

 

You and I have been entrusted with God’s wealth until Christ’s return and we are free to handle God’s wealth in whatever way we seem appropriate.  We can invest his wealth or we can hide it.  We can be reckless with it or we can be reverent.  

 

That sounds just too great a responsibility to be true, too great an honour to be given to people like us, to a church as small as us.  Yet hear the words of Jesus again ‘the kingdom of God is like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them’.  And St Paul also states ‘In Christ Jesus we have all the riches of God’s grace that he has lavished on us all’

 

Every one of us who are baptised and believe in Jesus, have personally been entrusted with and lavished with the wealth of God’s kingdom.  And as members of St Mark’s (St John’s) we have been given the treasure of Jesus’ words and the treasures of his sacraments which bring grace and forgiveness, to invest in those around us; we are investors for God’s kingdom.

 

Imagine, as in the parable, the money you have in your hands represents all the riches of God’s kingdom, his word and his sacraments, given to you until Christ’s return.  Note how not every one of us has been given the same amount, not everyone has been given the same abilities and gifts to invest his riches.  Each one of us is a unique investor of God’s wealth. 

 

Some of us may only have a little to invest.  Some of us have a great amount.  Yet each of us is equally important before God; each of us are significant investors for God, because it is his wealth we are investing.

 

As you hold God’s treasure, think how might you invest it?  Should we be like Jock McTavish and guard this treasure and let no one know about it? Should we hide it in our church and only take out once or twice a year for a holiday, at Christmas and Easter? Or for the sake of keeping right doctrine, should we break off a relationship with someone who wants to Jesus, because we fear they might misuse or not rightly understand these riches? 

 

Hold God’s treasures in your hand and ask yourself, ‘can I afford to risk this treasure by investing it in someone?’  ‘Can I afford not to?’ Do I play it safe as in the past practices of the church and hide it away like the third servant did, or do I just go and invest like the first two servants in the parable?

 

The good news is, this question is not ours to ask.  Jesus has not given us rules about how to invest or who to invest his riches with.  He has not demanded a doubling or tripling of his treasure.  He hasn’t even asked that we be careful about how we handle his treasures. The good news is that we are free to just go and invest, even the littlest amount, wherever God has put us in our daily life, to even be reckless and take risks, because God himself is reckless with his grace. 

 

God has never withheld his mercies from sinners ‘for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.“,   God was so reckless with his treasure in order to bring salvation to us, that it cost him the death of his Son.  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

 

Yes, we have been given all things, faith, life and salvation because God was reckless with his treasure and did not keep it to himself.  As the third servant’s words confess ‘God is a hard man, harvesting where he has not sown and gathering where he has not scattered seed.’ 

 

If God is a hard investor, harvesting and gathering rewards from where he has not scattered, without fear or favour, investing recklessly, what do we have to worry about!  With a king like that, we have nothing to fear when we invest his treasure, whether large or small. 

 

Like a money investor who is always on the lookout for investment opportunities, as we go about out daily life, at work or among friends, always be ready to invest some of God’s treasure into the lives of people we meet.  Every time you handle some money this week, hold it in your hand for a moment and remember the treasures you have been given in Christ Jesus. 

 

Begin to imagine the lengths you might go to, in order to get a great return for God. Imagine the people you might see, how many different opportunities for investment you’ll have.  Imagine the places you could visit and how well you would make yourself known in order to get the best deal for God. 

 

Don’t worry whether it is the right time or place, the right person or investment opportunity, God will harvest even where he doesn’t sow and he will not hold you accountable for losses.  For the only loss he is concerned for are those who are lost to the devil, as St Paul says ‘God our Saviour wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’  Amen

 

  

The good oil

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

The good oil! Matt 25-1-13

 

I don’t know if any of you are aware or not, but I’ve decided to play professional NRL.  I’ve got all the gear.  Here’s my jersey, let me put it on.  Here are my socks and boots, let me put them on.  Now, most importantly, the Dencor rub…got to have the locker room smell.  Now I am ready to play a professional game of NRL. 

 

Would I be a fool to go out onto a field of pro football players and tackle (name)?   How long do you think I would last after the starting siren?  You would call me a fool for trying.  Any one who plays football or follows it, knows that being a pro football player is not about the gear and the smells, its about having talent.  To make the A grade you need to develop talent, you need to train, be in a team, be professionally coached, have weights training and be fit; you need to take the game seriously.  No one in their right mind would go out onto a football field and grapple tackle…just because they are wearing the right gear; that is stupidity.

 

For the five virgins to go out into the night to eagerly wait for a bride groom without any oil in their lamps is just as foolish.  Who in their right mind would not first check their lamps to see if they have oil in them before they go into the dark, yet these five did.  For me to go out onto a football field without having the talent shows that I am foolish and I don’t take football seriously.  For the five virgins to go out into the night without oil shows they were foolish and didn’t take their duties seriously.

 

Perhaps in their excitement to meet the groom they just forgot to fill their lamps.  Or perhaps they didn’t think it would be so dark.  No, how dump!  There is no excuse for not having oil, they are just fools, and that is what Jesus wants us to hear as the point to this parable; only a foolish person would dress to impress; only a foolish person waits for God without oil.

 

Before the groom arrives, by all outward accounts, all 10 virgins act and look the same.  All have lamps, all are waiting, all are virgins and all 10 don’t know the time of hour of the groom’s arrival.  Only when the call comes ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him‘, are the true welcomers of the groom revealed.  Only then are the foolish virgins separated from the wise.

 

 The wise, with oil and lamps ablaze, go and meet the groom and enter the celebrations. The fools, those dressed only to impress, those who never had the oil, never met the groom and never entered the wedding feast.  In fact, the groom says ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

 

Jesus is warning us that he will return as a bridegroom returns for his wife; Jesus will return for his bride the church, as St Paul says in his great passage on marriage ‘”For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery– but I am talking about Christ and the church.’  At the end of time Christ will come to take his wife the church to be with him forever in heaven, where the two will become one.  You and I are part of the church, we are disciples of Jesus, his children and we are waiting for the day Jesus comes to bring us into heaven. 

 

Since this is the case and since St Paul says ‘It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'” So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.’ Can we afford to be fools and be dressed to impress Christ, yet be without oil? 

 

Can we afford to be like me, all dressed up but not actually the real thing?  Can we afford to look like Christians, act like Christians, go to church like Christians and yet all along be like lamps without oil?  Can we be a church that looks like a church, is friendly to everyone and welcoming to all, yet fails to have the good oil and give this oil to members?

 

A lamp burns bright and lights a path through the darkness because it has oil to burn.  A wick that is not soaked in oil only flickers and then goes out, it cannot burn on its own.  Oil is the essential ingredient to a blazing lamp.  The essential oil for you and I to be ablaze for Christ and be ready for his return is his word of grace.  The good news of Jesus himself who said ‘whoever is baptised and believes will be saved’, and again ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

 

God’s word of good news is the word of life and gives us life like oil does to a lamp.  The word sustains and nurtures us and enables us to believe and gives us the Holy Spirit.  Like the five wise virgins, who never worried about the time or the hour of the groom’s return because they had oil in their lamps, in the same way, we don’t have to worry about whether Jesus is coming today or tomorrow or in our life time.

 

 For as long as we have the oil of God’s word in our hearts, we know that we will always be ready; we know we will always be welcomed into the final wedding feast with the Lamb of God and his church.

 

Oil is the hidden force that ignites and sustains a lighted lamp; it is the hidden power that made five virgins wise and its absence that made five virgins foolish.  God’s word of grace, his forgiveness and word of mercy is our hidden force that ignites faith in us and makes us ablaze for Christ.

 

It is the hidden power in us that makes us wise unto salvation, as St Paul says ‘But as for you, continue in what you have learned …known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’.   

 

This is our oil…the good oil…the oil of God’s word.  This is why we as a church are working towards starting the faith five every night in every home, as from next year.  Faith five is a practical way of bringing God oil, his word, into your life; to keep you soaked in his word.  1. By sharing your highs and lows, 2. Reading from a devotion book.  3. Talking about the text and relating it to your day 4. Praying for one another and 5. Blessing each other. 

 

By proactively being soaked in God’s word in this way, everyday in every home, we will continue to be wise; God’s word will dwell within us and will be the hidden power to make us ablaze for Christ and the words of the psalmist will ring true for us ‘your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path’.