Archive for May, 2009

Stop in silence for a while

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Pentecost sermon Acts 2:1-21

 

Stop in silence for a while.pentecost01
“Where do you fit into the story of Pentecost?”

Acts 2:38-39  gives the answer to that question. ‘Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

You are people of the promise of God.  You are the ones Peter, moved by the power of the Spirit, foretold would come to faith in Jesus.  You, me, my children, your children, WE and part of the Pentecost story.

 The tongues of fire were a visible manifestation of the Spirit of God, bringing faith and power in the promise of God.  Baptism, the water connected with the word is a visible manifestation of the Spirit of God.  It brings the promised grace of God foretold by the prophets long ago ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’  You and I are the people of Pentecost, the truth of the promise; the fulfillment of the prophesy ‘the gift of the Holy Spirit…is for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 

Holy Baptism is a foundational moment when the gospel message of forgiveness of sins was spoken to us and the gift of the Holy Spirit washed over our lives for the very first time.  For that day on, as it was for the disciples, we are invited to a life of daily repentance and remembrance of our baptism; this is to live in the Spirit of God. We are invited to a daily renewal of trust in the forgiving promise and the gift of the Spirit offered to us in this sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ.  We are invited by Jesus to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit each and every day. 

Peter gives this promise ‘Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’.  This invitation to salvation which we have touched on briefly is the call to repentance.  It is the universal call to all people to turn from their own ways and to turn to God in Jesus Christ, ‘who was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.’  God offers the Holy Spirit, new life, and forgiveness of sins to all who will receive, yet there are many who have not understood; have not headed the call of the gospel.

Was Pentecost only for pastors and missionaries so only they baptise?  The Spirit of power given only to paid church workers to reach all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.”?  We are all baptized, all people of the promise and have the Spirit; we are all part of the spread of the gospel.  I have three favorite quotations from theologians of a generation ago (Brooks, Fosdick and Spurgeon), and these three quotations penetrate the heart of Pentecost.  The first quotation is this:  “Nothing but fire kindles fire.”  The second:  “If you want to set someone on fire, you have to buuurn a little bit yourself.”  The third:  “A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.” 

 

What happened directly after Pentecost is that those Apostles first went to a village or town, planted a church, and then went to a second village or town, and planted a church. They went to a third village or town and planted another church.  They … No!  Go back to that first village or town and look more carefully.  We have to go back to that first village, because before the Apostles went onto the second village, they left a group of people in that village who were believers  to Jesus Christ.  The Greek word is “laos.” They were called the “laos”, which means,  “the laity,” “the people,”  “the people of God.” 

The Apostles always left common and ordinary towns people and villagers whose hearts were on fire, whose tongues were on fire, who hadn’t gone to the seminary, who hadn’t seen Jesus face to face, who hadn’t talked with him in the flesh.  These were not the Apostles.  These were not the twelve disciples.  These were the people of God in each village who spread the Gospel from house to house, and neighbor to neighbor and friend to friend and family to family.  That’s the way it always is.  That fundamental principle is always true; it is the laity, the people of God, who become inspired by the Holy Spirit.  They are the ones, not the twelve, not the Apostles, not the pastors.  It is the laity, the people of God, who go about proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ and nurturing those souls into maturity.  

How do the laity do this?  Do they do this by their own enthusiasm?  By their own intelligence?  By their own seminary training?  I kid you not.  Do you know why the laity are able to do this?  I’ll tell you why. “Nothing but fire…kindles fire.”  “If you want to set someone on fire…you have to buuurn a little bit yourself.”  “A burning heart will soon find for itself…a flaming tongue.”  

Amen.

Crossed Wires

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Crossed wires 1 John5:9-13 Easter 7wires1

Have you ever been talking on the telephone to a friend when all of a sudden, someone else is speaking over you and then you are cut off?  This is known as ‘crossed wires’; when a good line of communication is suddenly broken by a fault.  With the help of Bill, our phone expert, I have traced the source of our crossed wires and have taken some photos (show three slides).

You can see why it is inevitable that we get crossed wires when the lines are in such a mess; extra lines tacked on here there and everywhere.  I’m sure it makes us want to just rip it all down and start again.

Crossed wires that break down our connection with each other, don’t just happen over the phone line, crossed wires also happen in personal relationships; between family members, between friends, and also between church members, resulting in isolation, disharmony, hurt and anxiety.  A crossed wire brings a sudden and sharp separation.

It all starts with one wrongly chosen word, a hurtful action against us, a lie, a knee jerk reaction, even an honest word of truth that was mistaken for an attack upon the other’s character.  What was once a loving relationship, a crossed wire turns into a breakdown.  For you, the crossed wire may be between your husband or wife, or a brother or sister, a friend.  All of us have experienced crossed wires in communicating with someone which ended in a sudden separation. 

As people we usually react in one of two ways.  We either become submissive and for the sake of keeping the relationship open, forfeit ourselves, and have our course in life chosen by the other person.  We become what we think others picture as loveable.  Or on the other hand, we become aggressive and live in fear, loss of control, guilt and become lonely and isolated from love.  Whichever way we go, not only are we cut off from the person, we lose our own life as well.  This is not how we were created to live as Jesus says ‘I have come that you may have life and joy to the fullest’.

Our relationship with someone can look like the wires all mixed up, as shown here, (slide).  As one line of communication is crossed, another is connected, after a time that is crossed, so another is connected and so on and so on until the whole relationship is a mess and no one is talking with anyone.  We don’t even know why we have a crossed wire and we can’t even put out finger on the source because it is hidden under years of ‘re-wiring’ which has left feelings of bitterness, resentment, anxiety and a sense of hopelessness. 

Why?  Because all other lines of communication are still in some way connected to the first crossed wire.  The actual breakdown in the relationship has not been repaired, only by passed. 

What we see and experience in our relationships, are a direct result of an original crossed wire and are a reflection of our broken connection with God.  It happened when Adam and Eve trusted the word of the devil rather than the word of God; they crossed the wires from the truth to a lie, as Paul states ‘They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator– who is forever praised. Amen.’ 

That one choice broke the perfect relationship we had with God, and from that time on, every one of us have had no ability to connect with God by our own efforts.  We are disconnected from his family, from eternal life and have no way of making a repair. 

Genesis records ‘After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.’

So what do we do?  We try and bypass the problem and attempt to connect using another line by pleasing God with our good deeds, but we fail there too, as our broken relationships show.  Jesus says ‘everyone who sins is a slave to sin and a slave has no permanent place in the family.’  We try to repair one line onto another, only to find we have to continually build a new one to God as the old ones fail and all for nothing because as long as we are a slave to sin, we cannot be a child of God; cannot receive eternal life.  The reading from 1 John enforces this ‘he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.’  Our connection to God looks like these wires (slide).

Now God didn’t just sit up there in heaven going, “hello, hello are you there.” If he had done that, we would never have a relationship with him; never be connected again. God took the initiative and acted in history.  This is how God reconnected us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 

He sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Paul says the same thing: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’  While we were disconnected, God made us his children again by sending his Son to reconnect us. 

He did not wait until we had untangled the mess in our lives and apologized, until we had repented, until we’d cleaned up our act, or until we could take some steps towards him.  While we were still sinners, disconnected from God – Christ died for us.  This is not a repair.  This is a whole new way of connecting with God. 

Jesus Christ is God shredding off all the old wires and making a new one-way only connection to him, and that connection is made by faith in Jesus, as John writes ‘Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.  And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life;’

Baptism, as we will witness this morning with Madalyn, begins the new one-way connection to God that brings life.  It is where God comes to her (us) and joins her to himself and forgives her the original sin, that crossed wire, and gives her eternal life, as Jesus promised ‘whoever is baptised and believes will be saved’. 

And at another time ‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.’  In the same way as a new phone line connects separated people, baptism connects us to God; it is the conduit that delivers grace, eternal life, the Holy Spirit and faith.  It delivers the testimony of Jesus that ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

That’s God’s assurance for each of us whenever we are despairing and troubled. Jesus has made you right with God through his dying for your sins; and by rising from death to guarantee your relationship with God will never be cut off. 

What does this new connection with God do for our relationships with each other now?  Cross Daman in Outsider said ‘I wish I had some way to make a bridge from man to man…man is all we’ve got’.  Man is not all we have got.  We have the power of God’s grace in Jesus to build bridges to each other.    As we soak in God’s love for us in Jesus, his grace gets into our “wounded places” and “insecure places”.  Healing happens. He brings us peace.  Instead of feeling condemned about out past, we discover our place of refuge in God.  With Jesus as our confidence, we can ask the Father for the Holy Spirit to keep working positive change in our lives.  We can reconnect to those we are cut off from and offer the hand of reconciliation because we know we are forgiven. 

We can forgive ourselves and we can forgive those who have hurt us.  Sure, they may not respond, just as we can’t force someone to pick up the phone when we ring, but that’s OK because our life is not found in their acceptance of us, our real life is found in Christ who always accepts us.  And when we have Christ we have life.  Amen


wires2 

 

 

 

It’s all over bar the shouting

Monday, May 18th, 2009

 

It’s all over bar the shouting 1 John 5_1-6 Easter 6mask2

Winter is nearly upon us and winter means the inevitable attack from colds and flues.  However, this year I have decided to combat and overcome this enemy virus.  For victory in this battle I need to be aware and prepared, be ready to take on the gems when I see them.  I have a mask, cloves, disinfectant, glasses, and I am eating heaps and heaps of garlic…like to smell my breath!  Of course this is a battle that I am probably going to lose, why?  We cannot see germs, they are microscopic, so unless I walk around with this protection gear on all the time, or wear microscopes for glasses, it is just a matter of time, or luck as to whether or not I get infected by the dreaded flu or I overcome this hidden enemy.

While we can’t see the germs, we know they exist by the effects they cause on our health.  And when we do get the flu an antidote is available for us to take, to control and kill off the virus within us.  We can actually overcome the gems, not though our being vigilant, but through the power of the antidote.  We will still feel the effects of the flu, but because of the antidote, it is already beaten…overcome; its just a matter of time.  The Swine flu was scary wasn’t it!  No one really quite knew how it spread, where it originated from and how bad it was going to get.   There was no certainty either, that an antidote would work against this super bug.  The world was not sure it could overcome this hidden power.

St Paul in Ephesians warns us as Christian we are in a battle against a hidden power, a bit like the flu virus.  He says ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’  The devil is the unseen prince of this world and his angels of darkness have been thrown out of heaven and now ‘prowl around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’. 

The devil cannot accuse us and attack us before God in heaven, so he now rampages the earth in a last ditched attempt to infect and destroy us. The gospel writer John had a vision of this and recorded it in the book of Revelation ‘And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.  But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down– that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

We can’t see him but we can certainly experience the effects of his attacks.  Like the swine flu, no one knows where he originates in our life, what effect he will have and how bad it will get for us.  How we battle and overcome Satan and sin in this world is currently a hot topic, especially if you are an NRL fan or player.  Matthew Johns has no doubt been caught out being involved in a horrible incident and now must pay the price.  So what do we do, how do we overcome this evil?  Sure, Channel 9 can and has fired him.  Yet aren’t they just as much to blame?  How many shows do they air in the evenings which not only promote such sex acts, but encourage it by airing explicit scenes.  And what about the adverts they get millions of dollars from, which entice men or women into promiscuity by texting ‘no strings attached’ partners?  Are not Johns and many others, even Christian just children of the media, a tool of the devil’s virus call the ‘sexual revolution’? 

How do we as Christians overcome such offences against fellow humans, ourselves and others?  How do we overcome the hidden powers which infect us all and are harmful and destructive to us, our families and people we don’t even know; like gambling, wealth accumulation, domestic violence, racism?  We all by nature are just as sinful, just as inclined to follow through with the promptings of society and fall just as heavily as Johns has. 

The scriptures remind us of this ‘anyone who claims to be without sin is a liar, and the truth is not in them’. Is there an antidote against this hidden virus, the devil?  Use the law…scream for tougher penalties?  Call for a ban on NRL players socializing?  Stop all human interaction, all contact, shut down our society and become a state under marshal law?  Perhaps we can overcome the powers of this world like Mexico did against the swine flu and shut everyone in and isolate anyone we think is infected.  Wouldn’t life be fun then?  It would be like me having to wear all this protective gear all the time.  Not only that, the law has no power to save, its no antidote against sin, as Paul writes ‘no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.’

John’s letter shows us a better way of dealing with this raging lion.  He reveals to us the perfect antidote ‘everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.’  Sadly, the law was no antidote for the sin we all contracted.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t fix a cure.  We can’t work our ways into God’s good books.  Instead God has provided the antidote for us all, by faith in Jesus who was crucified for our sin.

Out of love for us, God came to earth in Jesus Christ to put a cure into effect.  Jesus did this by taking the full force of the hidden virus that we’d all contracted.  That’s what happened on the cross: Jesus the innocent Son of God died the consequential death and experienced the separation from God that we deserved.  In rising to life, Jesus offers the antidote to everyone: forgiveness and life with God forever.  Receiving the cure is as simple as coming to be washed in the waters of baptism and believing in Jesus and what he has done for you!  This is what St John means when he said ‘our faith in Jesus the Son of God has overcome this world.’  And Jesus enacts these words to you saying ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.’ And he also says to you today ‘”In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Luther wrote about faith and baptism as the antidote to overcome the powers of evil ‘The only way to drive away the devil is by believing in Christ and saying ‘I am baptised, I am a Christian’.  Once the antidote of faith has taken effect, the war has been won, instantly.  Now only the battle remains.  The presence of the Spirit empowers us to love God more dearly each day and to love and serve each other and look out for each others rights and needs.  By faith in Jesus we overcome the devil.  

Instead of being children of the world and hurting each other and ourselves by acting upon the devil’s attacks, out of love for God we act upon his commandments which promote love instead.  John says ‘This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.’

The antidote against the devil won for us in Christ, given in the sacraments, now continues in and through us.  The antidote of faith in Jesus slowly kills off the devil’s hold in our lives, as we repent of our sins and seek his forgiveness, and then going out to serve and love others.  Just as a virus is stopped in its tracks with an antidote, the devil is also.  He cannot infect when love is present.  The victory is ours and then the worlds, when we conquer sinful acts not by accusing and condemning but by loving and inviting a faith relationship in Jesus.

 Let us now sing about this victory in Christ.  ‘Yours is the glory’.

 

 

 

The fruit in love

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

The fruit in love John 15:1-8 Easter 5vine

I really enjoy a good bottle of red wine, how about you!  In moderation of course.  In fact I enjoy my red wine so much, that I have brought with me part of a vine and some grapes from one of the best vineyards, one of the oldest and best producing vines in the Barossa; Don’t tell Peter Lehmann!  Well, I suppose he won’t mind being a Lutheran himself.

Yes, I enjoy a nice red so much I want others also to share in my joy, so in a few weeks I plan to squash these grapes to make wine and meanwhile I’ll put this vine branch in the sun and wait for it to produce even more grapes for my wine, just like the vine in Peter’s vineyard.

Think I’ve got a hope?  Why?

These grapes are not going to last more than a few days.  Once picked, very quickly they will end up like these (sultanas), what hope have I got to make fine wine out of shrivelled, dead grapes?  And the vine branch?  Is it going to bear any more fruit now that it has been cut off from the vine?  No, not at all.  The vine branch and the fruit lived and produced because they were part of the vine.  Even though it looks like the branches and the grapes are the most important part of producing good wine, in actual fact, it’s the vine that is the life and source that brings forth the fruit.  Without the vine we have only this (sultanas). Who would like to try my wine then?

Using the vine as an image Jesus said ‘”I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’  Jesus is the vine, the way, the truth, the life.  Jesus is the resurrection, the bread of life, the gate through which we enter heaven, the light of the world and the word of God in human flesh, the word that created the heavens and the earth, the word that is Spirit and life.  Jesus describes himself in all these ways throughout his earthly ministry and clinches it with this statement ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’

Why would Jesus say such a thing?  I mean, what does this do to our ego!  Apart from him, we can do nothing.  Sound’s a bit harsh. Let’s look again at this branch and grapes.  They are indeed fine now, why?  Because they have recently been connected to the vine, but give it a few days and they will be shrivelled and dead.  Their life is not in them selves, but in what they are attached to.  As believers and disciples of Jesus, we are these branches and our fruit of the Spirit are the grapes, but we have life only through the vine…Jesus. 

Separate ourselves from Jesus, and we begin to die, and so do our fruits of the spirit, love, hope, peace, joy etc, as Jesus warns ‘you are the branches…No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine’.  Jesus doesn’t say this to hurt our fillings or belittle us, but says it out of love, knowing we constantly feel the need to go it alone; be in control of our own destiny.

Now you might be thinking how is that possible?  He must be talking about the heathens, the non-believers, those who have separated themselves from the vine by rejecting Jesus.  They are the ones in danger of dying. 

Yes that’s true, and Jesus acknowledges this saying ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  You are not going to die in your sin.  You are already clean and ready for heaven because of Jesus’ word to you in your baptism ‘your sins are forgiven’. 

By this word, the same word the brought heaven and earth into being, declares you ‘justified’, put right with God, a member of God’s family, or as St Paul describes it ‘you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root’, that is, Jesus.  By being baptised and believing, you are in Christ Jesus and will not die or be cut off from the vine.  You have Jesus word on that! 

This is the danger for us however, in our eagerness to experience, use and explore the gifts of the Spirit, given to us in baptism and through the word, especially ‘mature’ Christians, is we think we are strong and can go it alone.  We think we have the ability to overcome evil, control our sinful desires, and have the spiritual ability to know what God wants for every situation.  We even have the expectation of ourselves, that if we can’t depend on our ‘strong faith’ in every situation, and don’t show our spiritual strength in every issue we face, then we are guilty of not really being a disciple of Jesus, not really worthy of being called a Christian.

To feel ashamed and guilty that you are not the ‘life’ of the church, the strong or wise Christian with all the biblical answers, is a false guilt, is harmful, wrong and has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus; that’s still operating under the law, under condemnation. 

You are a branch trying to be the vine, which St Paul warns us about ‘do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.’  Jesus also says ‘do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’  Rejoice that you belong to the vine.

In the same way, if you or I expect others to never fail, never fall into sin or be ‘as committed’ as we might be’, showing all the gifts of the spirit and making all the right choices, is also wrong.  It is harmful to each other and does not build up, but rather puffs up, as St Paul warns ‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.’  We are expecting them to be the vine and not to just a branch that depends on the vine for its life and fruit.  Again, if we do this to one another, we are working under law and not love.

Jesus is the vine who nourishes us and feeds us with his life giving Spirit, through our ears as we read and listen to his word.  He pours his Spirit into our veins, like the vine feeds the branches, as we partake in the Lord’s Supper, so that we can humble love and serve one another.  This is authentic Christianity: That we remain in Christ the vine by feeding on him each day, like a baby suckles for their mother’s milk, through reading his word and by prayer and regular devotions and as we do, Jesus promise always stands ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you.’ 

Out of this flows the freedom to love; love ourselves for who we are and the freedom to love one another.  We are free because as we live in him and he in us, Jesus liberates us from the captivity of constant anxiety about not being good enough, of trying to ‘go it alone’ against the devil and sin, of having to judge one another, of having to be the ‘strong’ ones; the lone ranger Christian.  This is the real good news, which is echoed in John’s other letter ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ 

A baby totally trusts in the love of their mother by relying on them for every feed, for every need to strength them and to keep them alive.  They are weak, but in being weak, they are made strong.   In the same way, in our weakness we are made strong because of the love of Christ who dwells in us.

Let’s say together the first verse of Jesus loves me ‘Jesus loves me this I know.  For the bible tells me so; Little one to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.

Amen

The Good Shepherd

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

The good shepherd John 10:11-18good-shepherd

Headline grabbers.  Let me list some for you. ‘Bikies united!.  Weapons of mass destruction!  The recession we had to have!  These are some famous headlines.  Headlines are designed to grab our attention, to turn our head and stop us in our tracks.  But have you noticed they say very little?  Have you realized that nothing becomes of a headline?  There’s no facts or substantiated claims.  That’s because a headline is just that; a headline…attention seeking statements meant to sell newspapers.

We could see Jesus statement ‘I am the good shepherd, I lay down my life for my sheep’ as just a headline grabber; a bold but empty statement to get our attention.  We could say that nothing has come of it, but the facts about Jesus being the ‘good shepherd’ are too great to ignore.  Yes, we could say Jesus claim was just a headline, except he acted on his word, went to the cross and died.  We could say Jesus’ words ‘The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life– only to take it up again,’ was an empty boast, but historical fact and substantiated human statements from 500 who saw him, state that he had risen from the grave.

Jesus was crucified, dead and buried and on the third day and rose again from the dead.  We say this each week in the creed.  This is not just an empty saying, a cold and stale statement of history; a headline grabber.  This is what we believe and know is true.  What you and I say in this creed is that Jesus ‘is’ who he said he was.   He is our good shepherd and the good shepherd of every person on earth, whether they know his voice or not.  He is the good shepherd because he lays his life down for the sheep and takes it up again on his own accord.  Just like we might deliberately lay down for a nanny nap knowing we will get up again whenever we want.

Jesus said his is not like a hired shepherd, a false shepherd.  You can imagine the biblical scene of a hired shepherd guarding the sheep grazing the pastures.  A wolf comes, who as we know, can kill both the shepherd and the sheep.  For the sake of his own life, the hired shepherd runs from danger, leaving the sheep to fend for them selves.  The sheep have trusted in a false shepherd and have no hope against such a foe and will certainly be killed.  This sort of shepherd is a headline grabber; a shepherd by name but not by action.

Without Jesus as our shepherd, we are those sheep trusting in a headline grabber, a hired shepherd, as Isaiah says ‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.  All of us have turned our own way and hired our own shepherd for our souls.  Which means when the devil attacks, either by tempting us to sin, or by making us fear God’s anger and condemnation, our trust for protection and deliverance is in another shepherd. 

If its not in Jesus, we had better find out where our confidence lay for overcoming temptation and the accusations of the devil and get rid of it before it gets rid of us.  Do we trust in our willpower to say ‘no’ or our moral upbringing to stand up to the devil’s attack?  When alone by the computer or TV with easy access to explicit sexual scenes, are we able to withstand temptation to watch by our own hired shepherd of willpower?  Or when tempted to gossip or lie, cheat someone of money or to seek revenge, can we rely on our favourite psychologist to stop us or change our desires?

What hired shepherd do we have to protect us when the devil reminds us of God’s anger against us when we sin? Will our self-justification stand up to God’s judgment? Did Adam’s ‘she made me do it?’  Or our previous good deeds, or upright life ‘I go to church’.  ‘I worked hard to support the ministry of our church!’ be enough to excuse us?

These and any shepherd other than Jesus is a hired shepherd and will desert us to be devoured by the devil and God’s wrath, just like the hired shepherd run when he saw the wolf.  Our headline grabbing shepherds, the ones we have hired, will leave us in an instant.  They have no power to stop us from sinning and no power to save us from the anger of God wrath. 

I heard on the radio news with sadness the other day, of a policeman who was caught in the devil’s attack of sexual attraction to teenage boys.  He tried to get help for his sexual desires by seeing a psychologist and a number mental health nurses.  No one could help him overcome his sin.  Finally, he was caught with pornographic photos of boys and was subsequently jailed; his life and those closest to him now ruined because he sought help from hired shepherds.  All of us have experienced a time when our false shepherd left us all alone to fall into sin; to be attacked by the devil.

St Peter warns us ‘Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith’.  How do we resist the devil, sin and temptation and even death?    Standing firm in the faith; faith in the good shepherd of our souls, Jesus Christ.  The true shepherd has overcome the devil by allowing the roaring lion to devour him instead of us, his sheep.  Instead of us paying for the consequences of sin, Jesus took our sin upon himself, voluntarily, and died on the cross, as Isaiah foretold ‘the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  

The sheep are safe as long as the shepherd is being devoured.  You and I are safe from eternal death because Jesus has died in our place, as St Paul states ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’  But what happens when the wolf is finished with the shepherd?  Are the sheep left to defend for themselves?  Are we all alone?  Has Jesus died and left us to fend for ourselves against the devil’s continuing attacks?  If so, what was the point of Jesus death in our place?

Jesus is the good shepherd because he is the resurrection and the life.  Not only did he lay down his life for us his sheep, but he took it up again and now he lives to eternally protect us in all places and at all times.  Jesus laid down his life on his own accord to pay the dept of sin, knowing he will rise again to defeat the power of the devil.  I have authority to lay my life down and authority to take it up again.’   Jesus takes up his life to continue to be a shepherd of our souls, only now through his death, resurrection and ascension, he can be with us and protect us every single hour of the day, as he promised ‘Lo, I will be with you always, even to the very end of the age.’

When Peter said ‘resist the devil, stand firm in the faith’, he means to trust that Jesus has paid our dept to sin; for his sake God no longer condemns us.  He means to stand firm, despite the devil and the world attacking us.  To trust that Jesus is alive to be our personal shepherd, available to call on any time for deliverance from evil.  We can be certain Jesus will protect and deliver us because he said

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ And what is even more radical is to trust that he is bodily present in and with the bread and wine to give us the forgiveness we need each day, and to trust that we are actually communing with the good shepherd.  Stand firm then and receive from your good shepherd the peace of God that passes all understanding because even though the devil still attacks us, he cannot steal you away from him, for Jesus is our good shepherd and he is always on guard.