Archive for February, 2009

Popper Prayers

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Ash Wednesday Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21  Prayer


I have with me the perfect example of prayer:  (pop a popper)  Can you tell me why it seems to us a popper represents our prayers?  Well, here are some reasons why poppers are our prayers:

  • We only use prayer on special occasions
  • We imagine our prayers need to be impacting, like the bang, in order to gain God’s attention.
  • Our thoughts are all bottled up in our minds and we let a barrage of requests shoot up to heaven, like the streamers.
  • Most importantly, just as the streamers came pouring down almost immediately after they were fired up, we want our prayers to be answered immediately and we want the answers from God to stream down upon us and shower us with goodness.

 

The popper prayer most accurately describes our prayer practices and expectations, and if we were honest to ourselves, the popper prayer is really the only way we know how to pray.  Perhaps this is why we struggle with prayer, struggle to pray each day.  The popper prayer may not be how God intended prayer to be.  Perhaps popper prayer is more closely aligned with our plans and expectations of prayer than God’s.  And as you are well aware, anything centred in us, is sinful and against God’s plans and is destined to failure.  When prayer is human centred, prayer is hard.  Its hard because we keep getting the same results, a perception that God is not listening and is not answering our prayers.

 

We try harder, more fervent prayer, or to use my example, we put more gun powder into prayer, hoping God will be awakened by the big commotion and rain down answers.  Jesus likens this sort of practice to the prayers of hypocrites.  Hypocritical prayers are designed to be seen not heard; to be showed off as a perfect word sculpture.  They are prayers that are to be seen by everyone in the church, bible group, or street corner and especially to be seen God…but not heard.  No wonder there is no answer to the popper prayer.  Like the popper, its self serving and designed to be a display, not a way of communicating.

 

Michael Foss, the author of many discipleship books says we are creatures of habit.  We constantly do things exactly the same, yet, for some unknown reason, expect different results.  Not so, the results will remain the same.  Human centred prayer will always return the same results, a sense of rejection by God because he didn’t answer the way we expected. 

 

The feeling of not being heard is the result of sin which is most evident in the difficulty we have with prayer. You would think as a Christian, prayer would come naturally, as natural as breathing, yet we all know this is not so.  Let me quote from John Kleinig’s book ‘Grace upon grace’, in which he gives us some insight into why God allows us to fail in prayer. ‘We know that we should pray.  We would like to pray more regularly, ardently, and spontaneously.  The harder we try, the more we seem to fail.  But that’s how its meant to be.  Christ lets us fail when we pray by ourselves so we rely on his intercession for us.  Oddly, our success in prayer comes from our personal failure and our willingness to carry on as he works for us and in us.’

 

Jesus allows us to fail in prayer, not to make us put more powder into our prayer, but to make us realize our inadequacies and hopelessness without him.  The power of prayer lay not in our success, but in our failures.  Answer to our prayer comes in and through failure and disappointment. 

 

This is why Jesus encourages us to drop the outward displays, let go of the popper prayer, and retreat to a quiet place, a lonely place and let him take over your prayer; let him use our prayer and make it acceptable to God.  I have a picture of what this sort of prayer looks like. (picture of Peter holding onto Jesus after walking on water: ask what Peter was doing just before this)

 

Here we have the perfect prayer.  Peter represents us, sinking into the sea of despair and rejection after failing in prayer, but then Jesus takes over where we fail and takes our hand as a brother and leads our prayers right into the heavenly Father’s ears.  And after lifting us and our prayers into the presence of the Father, Jesus then brings us back into the boat, back into his word, his gospel where we rely on his promises ‘I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

This Lenten season, I am encouraging you to be involved in this Lenten study on prayer.  It has been compiled by some of our members.  It is a nightly devotional series on prayer and it is designed to help you to discover new ways to pray.  We have taken snippets of advice from Jesus and the prayer he taught us.  From Luther, Hallesby, and others.  Can I commend this to you as a tool to assist you in your pray life over the next forty days of Lent.  To encourage you in prayer and to help you realize prayer is not about us, its about God and how he does indeed hear our prayer.

 

Prayer is certainly a wonderful gift.  Yet it would be wrong of me to say that after you have studied the booklet, everything would be fine.  Rather, let me finish on a sober warning from one of the desert fathers, a man called Agathon ‘The brethren also asked him ‘Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?’  He answered, ‘Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God.  For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey.  Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest.  But prayer is warfare to the last breath.’

Amen

If you would like a copy of this booklet please email Pastor at Brenton.fiedler@lca.org.au

 

The cost of Love

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

The cost of Love- Mark 9_ 2-9

I have some things here that were once an important and integral part of our congregation.  Some things that represented who we w
ere and what we believed in. (school banner).  As you look at this banner, perhaps it reminds you of the sounds of kids running through our church grounds; reminds you of the laughter and also of the part you, as members here, took in the nurture and growth of your children’s faith.  But now it is gone; it has been surpassed.
(use the hymn books over head and song)

The Hymn book of your Lutheran church.  The book your parents used to sing all the great Lutheran hymns, like ‘Almighty Fortress is our God’ and ‘The church’s one foundation’.  Perhaps as you now see this, it reminds you of the time your mum or dad held it in front of you to help you sing; or of the time at Christmas when there were not enough hymn books to go around because there was so many people here; even the balcony was full.  But now it is gone, it has been surpassed by the PowerPoint.  Same songs, only its up on a screen.

When we see these things again, we are reminded of how attached we are to our environment.  Attached to the things we see, experience and use as normal in our lives; normal parts of our worship life.  The things of our church become part of us, in fact they symbolise who we are and what we stand for.  For us, these are not just things, not just another school they are who we are…our very being. We are some how attached to what we are used to and as we use it we remember the people, the good times and the excitement of using it.

When changes come about or there is no longer any use for what we have, we mourn the loss.  We mourn that fact that part of who we are, part of our history, our world view and belief system has been taken away from us.  We long to remain the same; remain in what we know and what is certain; in the tried and tested.  Change brings uncertainty and so a desire to hang on to what we know.

Jesus brought uncertainty and change to the people of Israel.  He upset and challenged the way they saw God.  He spoke against the Scribes and Pharisees who many thought, had taught the truth about God.  He talked about God in a new way.  He was different from any other religious teachers.  He talked with and associated with sinners and outcasts.  Jesus even  claimed to be the messiah, the Son of God…which was OK except he said ‘The Son of man must suffer many things and that he must be killed and on the third day rise again.’  Radically new stuff!  With Jesus, change was in the air which meant many people felt uneasy and uncertain; felt that a part of them was dying.

The disciples were also uncertain and uncomfortable about the changes Jesus was bringing in.  Sure, most likely, when the disciples where first called to follow Jesus, it was sort of fun to pick on the Scribes, it was sort of funny to see the Pharisees fumble and fail to find an answer against Jesus’ teachings.  But then Jesus began to change their environment and started to make their life feel uncomfortable they started to pine and morn for the way it was; the normality of their Jewish faith.  Jesus said and commanded radically new things like ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ With new teachings like this, the disciples were probably having second thoughts.  We hear this in Peter’s confession after Jesus spoke of his death ‘surely this will not happen to you’; a good indicator that he was not prepared to let go of his old belief and old way of thinking.

Is it no wonder then, when they witnessed Jesus transfigured and glowing like lightning, Peter and the other disciples became afraid and shook with terror at this new development.  It is no wonder then, when they then saw Moses and Elijah standing there, Peter tried desperately to cling to the past; to what they knew and said ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters– one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’

Peter and the other disciples wanted to hold onto Moses and Elijah an anchor point, a stable part of their faith they knew and felt comfortable with.  ‘If we build a house or place of worship for you three guys, Peter thought, then we will have certainty and be back in our comfort zone because things will be like they were’.

Just then, while planing and hoping to keep things the same; just the way it had been before Jesus, in an instant it was all gone.  Moses and Elijah vanished from view; no longer needed.  And along with them, Peter’s hopes and plans, his security and certainty.  Moses and Elijah, the men of old have been replaced and surpassed by the only man remaining…Jesus.  Only Jesus the Son of God remains.  Only Jesus and his word will remain from now on, as he says ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’

Peter and the disciples had been given a graphic lesson in what it means to follow Jesus.  Their past faith, while important and essential, and as personal as it was to them, was going to change and move indirections they would not want to go.  Jesus would lead them into foreign lands, into dangerous places, to whipping and beatings and ultimately to their own death for his name’s sake.

The certainty that the past brought, will no longer be their anchor point.  Jesus had a mission and was on the move to save the world, to seek and to save the lost. Peter and the other disciples would soon understand what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus for the sake of saving others.

(names) you are followers of Jesus and you also, like the disciple are taking up and carrying a heavy cross.  Following Jesus means there will be changes and uncertainty for the sake of the gospel; for the sake of Jesus’ mission.  We have now sold this church building, the very building which has seen you grow up in the faith and has played an important part in your life; a tried and true security point for you and the community of Gilgandra. This difficult time has, as it did for the disciples on the mountain, graphically demonstrated to us that nothing on earth will ultimately remain other than the man Jesus.

Yes, we can try to keep the past alive by talking and remembering and yes that is a valid and natural part of grieving, just as it was for Peter.  Yes, we can be sorry things turned out the way they did and try to find answers and focus on hindsight, all very important steps in mourning such a loss.  Yet as followers of Jesus, even in the midst of change we can join Paul and say ‘I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’

Today can be our transfiguration; a time when we are changed into people who only see Jesus.  A time when we are transfigured into people who leave what they dearly love and gladly take up our cross and follow Jesus, just as Peter, James and John did; just as the rest of the disciples.

Now is the time to be on the move with Jesus; now is the time to be joint missionaries with him in seeking and saving the lost.  Now is the time to be the salt and the light of all Australians driving the Newell Highway.  Now is the time to know that the Pastors of NWS are praying for us; praying that the cross we now carry for the sake of the gospel will not be too heavy; praying that it will bear fruit in the new church building on the highway.

To leave behind what we cherish for the sake of Jesus is no simple task; it takes courage and it takes faith.  Together we have made the right choice and the only choice, which is the call to follow Jesus.  Our Lutheran heritage has always put the gospel of Jesus before personal benefit.

So now hear and be encouraged by the words of our Lord ‘I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.’  Amen

An Athlete of Christ

Monday, February 16th, 2009

6th Sunday after epiphany 1 Corinthians 9:24-27  An athlete of Christ

In order to compete and be competitive, an athlete trains hard for his goal and sheds off anything that may hinder his chances of wining the prize.

What sort of athlete would have a diet like this? (fast food pac
kets, coke and beer).  Would these be a hindrance?  Would this diet help to win the prize?  Would an elite athlete wear this? (a heavy jacket, hold a suitcase and then a blindfold)?  Would he know where he is going in a race?  Would he be able to compete competitively carrying a sports bag?  No, all of these things need to be removed as part, of an athlete’s strict training.  Everything is seen as a loss in comparison to the final prize and crown of victory.

Being in Athens and Corinth, it is more than likely St Paul enjoyed sport and even attended sporting events in his free time.  He would have seen how hard athletes trained.  Living in Greece, he would have witnessed firsthand the determination of an athlete to finish the race.  He may have applauded with the crowds as they saw the joy on the faces of those who won the crown of victory.  Historical records found in the excavations of ancient Corinth show that around the exact dates of Paul’s mission work in Corinth, the Isthmian Games were held.

This prestigious event, second only to the Olympics in Athens, was run in Corinth every two years.  Ancient records show athletic events included racing, wrestling, jumping, boxing, hurling the javelin, and throwing the discus.  Paul, having lived in Corinth for many years, would have seen the athletes training in the streets; running, throwing and practicing for their events.  It was required by decree that all athletes devote 10 months to strict training.

As we know, this sort of dedication to winning requires an athlete with determination and commitment.  It meant that a competitor would voluntarily renounce not only unhealthy habits, like junk food, drinking and smoking, but also give up many things that are fine, like holidays or parties, in order to focus totally on the goal.

Perhaps St Paul wrote part of his Corinthian letter sitting in the stadium watching athletes striving for the crown of victory.  Perhaps he was sitting there thinking, why is it an athlete trains, strives and competes so hard to win a temporary crown made only of olive leaves, yet his converts in the new church of Jesus, the believers in the way, showed little sign of this enthusiasm; showed no real commitment to studying God’s word or striving for the sake of the gospel.

Perhaps Paul just finished watching a running race when he wrote, ‘members of the church in Corinth, Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.’

Paul had preached the good news of Christ crucified as he writes ‘For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’  It is in this good news that the believers in the new church in Corinth were awarded salvation and eternal life as a crown of victory.  This good news of salvation, a free gift from God, should have spur them on to holy living; to striving and renouncing things that would hinder them from winning the prize, like an athlete would do.  But Paul found very little of this.  The freedom of the gospel was for many, freedom to do nothing!

Martin Luther found this same problem in his new church of the reformation, in a sermon preached on 9th March 1522, he made these scathing remarks ‘We must have love and through love we must do to one another as God has done to us through faith.  For without love faith is nothing…And here dear friends, have you not grievously failed?  I see no signs of love among you, and I observe very well that you have not been grateful to God for his rich gifts and treasures.

I notice that you have a great deal to say of the doctrine of faith and love which is preached to you, and this is no wonder; an ass can almost intone the lessons…Dear friends, the kingdom of God, and we are the kingdom, does not consist in talk or words, but in activity, in deeds, in works and exercises.  God does not want hearers and repeaters of words, but followers and doers and this occurs in faith through love.’

Certainly perhaps, we are not in the same league as those in Wittenberg, or even Corinth.  I do indeed see that everyone here is thankful to God for the gift of salvation and do indeed love and live lives worthy of the gospel.  Yet Paul’s words, like a coach speaking to his players at half time, can spur us on to greater appreciation for the crown of eternal life and a renewed determination to train our bodies, our minds and our spirits in the word of God.  Paul encourages us not to ‘run our race like an athlete running aimlessly or fight like a boxer hitting the air.’  Rather, we are to be like great athletes, making our bodies slaves to Christ so that we do not miss out on the prize’.

The prize, the crown of victory is the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life because of Jesus death for our sins on the cross.  You have already been crowned with this victory when Jesus declared you forgiven; justified you or put you in a right relationship with God in and through you baptism.

Just like Naaman, by the power of God’s word and the washing of water, he was cleansed from leprosy, in the washing of baptism, you have been cleansed from sin and given new life, as written in Titus 3 ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.’

Yet, as we know, this crown is only received fully, in death.  We are still running our race, still enduring hardships and disappointments like any athlete running a race.  However, God has not left us alone in this event, in his compassion he has graciously given as all the training equipment needed for our faith, so we don’t lose the race and the crown of victory.

We train our bodies by reading God’s word and as we do, his Spirit makes us holy and cleanses us of sin.  The Spirit in the word trains our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, so we can recognise the sins that are hindering our race for the prize and leads us to put off the devil and all his works and ways.

Our training as Athletes for Christ consists in eating the right spiritual foods, and that too, has be provided by God himself.  Jesus body and blood are given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  His body is truly present in the bread and wine to strengthen our faith for the race.  Jesus said ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

We don’t need to run our race aimlessly, like a blindfolded runner.  We know where to go to receive refreshment and renewal for our tired souls.  We know where to go for strength to love and serve even our enemies; we go straight to the power of God’s word and sacraments, just like an athlete goes straight for the Gaidorade.

We don’t box the air like a shadow boxer, not knowing how to defeat our opponent, we know the target, the devil and we know how to knock him out cold, for one little word of Jesus can fell him.  Yes, an athlete of Jesus trains and remains in the word of God, for it is in this power that the victory will be won, as in the final verse of ‘A mighty fortress is our God’

‘The word shall stand despite all foes-No thanks they for it merit- For God is with us, and bestows his gifts and Holy Spirit.  And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife: Though these all be gone, yet have our foes not won; the kingdom ours remaineth.’

Amen

God 4 Me

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Epiphany 5 Isaiah-40:21-31 and Mark 1:29-39   God4me

I have on me, a good pair of walking shoes, a hat, a walking stick, a back pack with food and water.  Also, if I am really going to get up close and personal with nature, I am going to need these; binoculars.   Most people love to go bushwalking and get close to nature; to get away from it all and find rest and even themselves, in the beauty and grandeur of creation.

When I picked up my Subaru in Wollongong, I got talking with the previous owner about my job and how my role is to bring God’s word and grace to people; I work to bring people closer to God.  The young man replied saying ‘When I surf, I am close to God; the beach is my church and while I am riding the waves, I am closest to God; in nature and in the waves is where I find peace for my soul.’

When we go sight seeing, it is so easy to lose ourselves to its beauty and wonder.  The next slides explain what I mean (slides of nature).  The beauty of creation relates to us in some spiritual way and makes us feel close to God, or for many, like the surfer, closer to some spiritual force.  This is not uncommon and even biblical.  St Paul says ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’

St Paul is right, for Christians, a walk through nature can make us feel closer to God and as we look through the binoculars at the view, or look through them into the heavens, and we try to grasp the awesomeness and glory of God, we might want to recite the words of Isaiah ‘God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.’

Perhaps we may even begin to sing the words of popular Christian songs which focus on God’s power and glory ‘Our God is an awesome God, he reigns on heaven and earth, yes, God is an awesome God.’  Or ‘Proclaim your awesome power, declare your mighty deeds and my eyes always look to you and I am captured by your majesty’.

Yes, God is indeed awesome as he says ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? Yet, is this how God wants us to know him, in his power and majesty, and is this the way God assures us that he loves us.  Perhaps the surfboarder is right?  Perhaps creation is the church of God; nature is where we are closest to God and in his glory and majesty is where can come to know him best?”  Perhaps our focus on sin and the cross, suffering and servant hood, word and sacrament is not authentic Christianity; its not how God would want to be known?

If the surfboarder is right, and God is to be known best by his power and glory in nature, what sort of God would we have when we see this (pictures of destruction).  When we try and come close to God only in his majesty and power, only in his creation, we are going to get burnt like a moth to a flame.  One moment the flame of creation and God’s majesty is beautiful, the next, it can destroy us and our faith that God is love.   One moment we can be praising God as awesome, the next moment, we can hate him because he destroyed all we have, like Job experienced.

God is indeed awesome and glorious, as shown by his creation, but to only know God in his glory is to have an uncertain God; a God of contradictions.  A God who is two faced; a God of beauty and destruction, of glory and anguish, of life and death, of love and hate.  We don’t know for sure if God loves us or hates us. To trust God because he is an awesome God, will only leave us uncertain and in doubt when suffering or when we fall into sin and constant temptation.  The unanswerable and age old question stunts our faith ‘how can a loving God allow suffering?’

Yes, we believe God is awesome, as we say in our, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth”.  But the true awesomeness and wonder of God is not that he is sovereign over us, not that he created heaven and earth, not that we cannot compare him? Or that no one is his equal?  For us, the real miracle of God is that he came to us in his Son Jesus.  He made his heart and love known to us in Jesus, ‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.’

The uncertainty and contradictions we have of God are totally dismissed when we place our trust in Jesus.  In him we truly know God and his will for us sinners.  In today’s gospel Jesus clearly demonstrates God’s love and his willingness to heal and restore human life, even in the midst of suffering.

Simon’s mother-in law was suffering a bad fever when Jesus healed her, clearly demonstration God’s love.  Yet he didn’t stop there, Jesus, as a way of showing the will of God towards us, heals many with sicknesses and demons, as Mark records ‘the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.’

Jesus showed the love God has for us throughout his whole earthly ministry, not in glory and signs and wonders, but by healing, cleansing and restoring people caught in suffering; people like you and I.  (slide) Yet even more than this, we have a graphic and compelling demonstration of God’s love for us, when Jesus suffered and died for our sins on the cross.  At this point, with his hands and feet pierced, his blood that run down the cross, cleansed and healed us from all guilt and sin.  Hidden under suffering and death, Jesus brings healing and shows the Father’s love.

For St Paul, the cross was central to faith and the only way we have certainty of salvation, as he says in Romans 5:8 ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’  Knowing God in suffering is to have certainty of faith that he loves us and forgives us, even in the midst of our sinfulness and messed up lives.  Luther called this sort of faith a ‘theology of the cross’.

A theology of the cross is for us, better understood as a ‘faith of the cross’.   A faith of the cross does not try and know God in his glory and majesty.  A faith of the cross does not look for signs and miracles in our life.  A faith of the cross looks for God hidden in suffering and ordinary things.

That same healing power of God and the same love for us that Jesus demonstrated is to be found for us in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Jesus is hidden, present and available for us in the bread and wine to give us the forgiveness and healing he won for us on the cross.  A faith of the cross, your faith, believes this is true because it does not attempt to find God in his glory, but where he has promised to be found; in his word the bible and in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

We really are in the true church of God; this is authentic Christianity.  So instead of wearing all this sight seeing gear and walking around to find God in his glory and power, we who have a faith of the cross carry around with us the bible, and look, not into binoculars, but into the waters of our baptism to find God.  And we, who have a faith of the cross, don’t drink and eat plain food and water on our journey with God, we have stomachs filled with Jesus body and lips moistened by his blood.  These are the things of God we wear on our earthy journey and wear to give us certainty of salvation.  Amen