Archive for May, 2010

Explaining the truth.

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Trinity Sunday John 16_12-15 Explaining the truth

Here’s a little survival trick (get water out of mud through a sock)

Now I learnt about this while watching Bear Grill on ‘Man verses Wild’…watched that show?  What’s Bear’s purpose?  He wants to demonstrate and pass on some survival trips in the case that you may become lost or marooned on an isolated island or remote area in foreign country.  With a few survival tips from Bear, we have a better than even chance of getting out of our situation alive; we have been equipped with the necessary knowledge, tools and skills to survive.

While survival training is on the extreme end of preparing for a holiday and I doubt anyone here intends to use this sort of skills.  Yet it would be foolhardy if we thought we could go off on a trip across Central Australia, or to the Kimberly region, or to Cape York without first making some inquires and seeking advice on making the trip.

What are some of the things you would do or ask to be prepared?  A good thing would be to talk with a local about what to expect, or at least converse with and seek tips from someone who has already made the trip; that’s what magazines and books are for.  Even better than this, would be what…?  To actually have a local guide with you; someone who let’s you take the trip, but who also guides and shows you all that is needed to ensure you make it safely.  Now to have such a companion would be something special, we would enjoy all the remote locations in the security and knowledge that we are in safe hands.  To do otherwise would be foolhardy.

What if I was to tell you that there are people among us who are taking a very dangerous journey without any preparation, having no skills or equipment or even considering the free offer of a guide for their journey…what would you say, they are foolhardy?  What if I were to say that perhaps some of these ‘foolhardy’ included me or you …what would you say?

Since our baptism, we are all on a journey of faith; a journey that started at the font with the in pouring of the Holy Spirit, as John the Baptist said ‘I baptize you with water, but [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’  And this journey of faith continues to this very day with the Spirit’s power, as Jesus promises ‘…the Spirit of truth will guide you…’

A journey in spirit and in truth that will take us to the greatest heights of human experience; pinnacles of joy and mountain top revelations of God’s love with vista’s of his grace spread out before us; where we echo out from the peaks, the words of today’s Psalm ‘O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!’  Then also, this journey of faith drags us down to the lowest of valleys, to the darkest of caverns where God’s presence has vanished, where it seems to be a place of devil’s; like howling hyenas, our troubles just wait to gobble us up and we can barely even stammer the words of Psalm 22 ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Foolhardily we often take this journey of faith without any thought, preparation or guide.  Each day, each rising of the sun, we step out into a dangerous journey without a thought, without a survival tool, skill or guide, and head off into the spiritual temptations and dangers, as if we were the Bear Grills of the spiritual world; as if we were lone survivors capable of enduring whatever comes before us.  It may seem a little dramatised, a little over the top, but sadly it is more often the case.

Our journey of faith is not visible, nor the dangers seen, and so we think we are safe and are able to journey alone without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, without reading the bible, without prayer or without going to church to receive the sacrament where the Holy Spirit is given, as Jesus promised, and without starting the day in the name of the Triune God; the name in which God claimed us as his own and so protects us.

We live in a safe country physically, without wars or terrorist, we can journey to the Top End knowing we are not going to step on a land mine or be shot by a sniper.  We convince ourselves then, that this safety transposes over to our spiritual journey.   However, this is certainly not the case and never has been, the journey of faith is dangerous, as Jesus warned the 72 followers ‘Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.’

And even said evil attacks would come upon all who believe ‘Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man’   We cannot presume that that we, our husbands or wives, our family members, our brothers and sisters in Christ here at church, will remain safe and immune to spiritual danger; will not be attacked and fall for the devil’s lies or fall away from the faith.

Foolhardiness is to journey through remote areas of Australia without preparation, without the survival skills and without a guide.  To journey in faith without the same sort of preparations, and having the Holy Spirit as our guide, is also foolhardiness and even more so as St Paul warns ‘fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.’  Jesus returned to the Father, not to leave us as shipwreck survivors, like lonely lost people in a wilderness, without hope or rescue, but in order that the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the Spirit of truth, would equip and prepare us for our journey.

In fact the Holy Spirit does more than just prepare us, he is our very own guide for our earthly journey of faith, who protects, leads, gathers and unites us to Jesus.  He speaks the truth to us, about Jesus, about sin, about the world and about salvation, as Jesus said ‘But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.’  Everything that we need for salvation is given through the Spirit, who together with Jesus and the Father announces the victory Jesus won for us over sin, death and the devil on the cross.

This is the gospel, the truth that the Spirit conveys to us, to empower us and guide us in our journey; the very truth of the Spirit that also spoke through Paul when he wrote in Romans 5 ‘since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

As our Holy guide, the Spirit gives us all that is needed for this life’s journey, like faith itself, like discernment over false teachings, like power to overcome temptation, like authority to say no to sin and evil, like protection from evil, and like fire, which ignites hope and endurance in the face of adversity and suffering.  Sometimes we may wonder why we should go to church, why we should regularly read the bible, receive the sacraments, be committed to daily devotions and pray, when after all, everything seems fine.  Well, seasoned explorers and travelers will always tell you, it is precisely because you are prepared and are equipped that you don’t meet disaster and everything goes fine.

In the same way, as we remain in the word of God, in devotion and in prayer, and continue to partake of the sacraments, we receive the promised guidance and protection of the Spirit. It is precisely because we remain in the Spirit that no spiritual disasters have overcome us, as Jesus said ‘…apart from me you can do nothing.’   We can never be over prepared for our faith journey; we can never have ‘too much’ of the Spirit’s guidance, too much of the truth of the gospel, too much of the Spirit’s protection from evil.  This is why the writer of the book of Hebrews warns ‘let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.’

Jesus, together with the Father, through the Spirit’s power has given us everything we need for our journey of faith, for life and for salvation.  Let us rejoice in this gift and continue to seek and to receive the Spirit of truth and of life.  For, as Jesus said ‘The Spirit will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.’

Show me.

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Pentecost john 14_7-18 Show me.

 

(in connection with a skit on trying to workout what a personalised number plate may mean)

 

For many people, perhaps even for you, the bible is like looking at a personalized number plate; you read the numbers and letters, but are left to work out what they really mean.  Like the HRT4GD plates on the car, where we have to unravel the letters to reveal ‘HaRT 4or GoD’, we read each book of the bible, each letter, gospel, each psalm and prophet and try to reveal its true meaning for today.  The message and purpose of the bible seems to be up for grabs.  Like the kids on the bus, is it true that all our different opinions are just as valid as anyone else’s?  Perhaps the bible’s message is depended upon our situation in life and therefore doesn’t have one central message, but rather a thread of relevant points to suit our felt needs.

The way the bible s quoted to validate so many different causes, it certainly appears that way;  its message is about rights, our rights, women’s rights, gay rights, human rights, for the rights of the unborn, for the rights of children, or for the elderly.  Others say it’s a message about morals and how to live the Christian life.  Its message dictates the role of women in society, men in the church, how children should look and act, how we are to love, to discipline, to guide even to the point of what we should wear.  Then others understand it to be a book of revolution; the world is evil and we must ‘win the world for Christ’.  We need Christian laws and leaders for our land to run the country with biblical principles, like Israel.  We need to use only Christian plumbers, electrician, lawyers and doctors so the jobs done better.

With all these voices, claiming to have the right answer to the bible, we get so confused…what is the bible’s message, will someone tell me!

There was a similar confusion over Jesus.  Though John the Baptist called out “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”, giving a definite answer, there was still great confusion over who Jesus was and what his message meant, particularly when it came to his interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.  Some, like the Pharisees heard him and took him as a threat to the Jewish faith and the laws of Moses.  Others, like the Romans, feared he was preparing an uprising against them.  Even the disciples struggled with his message.  John records Phillip questioning Jesus “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”  Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?”

We are certainly not the first to try and speculate or hold differing opinions and ideas about the central message of the bible.  Right from Jesus day until now, many falsely claim to hold the truth to the bible.  Jesus warned that this would be the case saying in Matthew 24 “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.  For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect– if that were possible.  See, I have told you ahead of time.”  So, ahead of time he also promised to send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth teach us the truth about the bible’s message.

Today we celebrate the birthday of the church, Pentecost; the coming of the promised Holy Spirit 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection.  So it should be no surprise to us then, that we should pay special attention to the Holy Spirit’s message spoke that day.  Peter speaks publically for the first time about Jesus and explains the message of the scriptures.  The Holy Spirit came with signs and wonders, with flames and with the disciples speaking in many languages, and prophesying, but that was not the central message from the Spirit; not the truth. 

Though many today believe speaking in tongues and having power to prophesy is what makes a Christian.  Perhaps you have heard, like I have, people tell you they know, by direct knowledge from the Spirit, who and who hasn’t got the spirit, what your role in the church will be and what future is install for our church.  Somehow God has singled out them alone to tell the truth.  Others demand only some have the Spirit, those who speak in tongues or perform some miracle or possess some power from on high.

Yet, is this the truth of the Holy Spirit? Is it true only some have a word of knowledge, only some of us have the Spirit to interpret scripture?  Does this mean the rest of us then, remain confused and unable to understand the bible?  No, in the confusion that followed the coming of the Holy Spirit, when many we perplex and asked “what does this mean”, and others thought that the disciples were drunk, Peter, filled with the Spirit, speaks clearly and he speaks to everyone, in their own language.  The Holy Spirit has something to say to all people, and by his power, the disciples speak in tongues, to announce that his message is the truth about God and it was for everyone to hear, know, receive and believe.

There was no confusing word or special directive for a selected few to understand and pass on.  The Holy Spirit did not prompt Peter to speak about human works or the gifts of the Spirit or any other human endeavor, even those given by the Spirit.  Peter, filled with the Spirit announces the truth and thus the true message of the scriptures; “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  The coming of the Holy Spirit is to show everyone the way to Jesus; to show everyone now has the knowledge of Christ and him crucified, as St Paul would say.  The Spirit’s truth is that the bible points us to Christ alone as Luther would say and explained in his Small Catechism:

‘I believe in the Holy Spirit; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins;

the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

 What does this mean?—Answer.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him;

but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in

the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth,

and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and

richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give

to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

The truth about the bible and its central message is to make known that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”   Peter continues to expand this in his speech.  I encourage you today, you and your children, to go home and read aloud Peter’s speech, and to know that through this gospel message, the promised Holy Spirit will enlighten your heart and give you faith to believe that there is no confusion, that in Christ alone “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  Amen

Relationships – The Passion of Christ

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Relationships – The Passion of Jesus

John 17:20-26 (010)

I would find it a very interesting exercise to ask each of you what you are passionate about.  What are the things that excite you and stir you up?  What do you like to get involved in and talk about?  What are you willing to devote time and money and energy to?

People can be passionate about all kinds of things – sport, politics, homes, families, work, hobbies, cars, helping others, cleanliness, health, clothes, the environment, music, movies, travel – just about anything.  And because we’re all very different people, with different interests, gifts, abilities, skills, feelings, life experiences and personalities – we can all have different passions.

That’s one reason why it can be difficult for us at times to work together as Christians and as Christian churches.  We’re very diverse people and we can have different passions and interests even within our ministries as God’s people.

So one of the really important things for us as God’s people is to focus on what we have in common – what makes us the “one holy Christian church” here on earth.  And then, rather than thinking about our passions, we can think about Jesus and his passions, because that just may have an influence on us and what we do and say as we serve wherever God has called us to.

So what was Jesus passion?  What was important for Jesus?  What was so critical for him that he was prepared to die for it?

The last few hours before his crucifixion give us a clue.  It had been a busy week, starting with a dramatic entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey.  There were big crowds, cheering, shouting, waving palm branches, and throwing their coats on the road for him to ride over.

There was an argument in the temple with the money changers.  The religious leaders demanded him to answer their questions.  There was a unique meal with his disciples in an upper room where he spoke intensely about what was to happen to him.  And then a quick exit into a garden to pray.

One moment he was talking, teaching, sharing – the next moment he was pouring out his heart to his Father.  It was a prayer of deep intimacy and great intensity.  An urgent and impassioned plea to God for his people.

Father, may they be one as we are one (v1).  Father, you are in me and I am in you, may they be in us so that the world will believe that you sent me (v21).  Father, may they be brought to complete unity (v.23).  Father, may the love you have for me be in them (v26).

            This is a prayer of passion.  This is what is on his heart.  This is why he’s been sent.  This is the goal he has before him.

            Jesus may well have been passionate about many things and many people – but this prayer highlights what he wants to see and have happen more than anything else.  It’s a passion for unity.  That’s what he wants – unity among his people.  Harmony in relationships is what is really on his heart.

            This prayer of Jesus breathes relationship, fellowship and intimacy.  It’s an intimacy first of all between the God the Father and Jesus.  It’s a special and unique relationship: Everything you have given me comes from you (v7).  All I have is yours and all you have is mine (v10).  You in me and I in you (v21).  Here we catch a glimpse of an astonishing relationship between Father and Son.  This prayer reflects the intimacy of the Trinity.

And we hear Jesus’ greatest desire – that his followers enjoy the same kind of relationship – that they can be in a close and intimate relationship with him and with each other.  That’s his passion and the central focus of his prayer.  That’s what he wants to see more than anything else.

            The relationship between the Father and the Son is the example for all Christian relationships.  It’s the standard that we have before us.  It’s the model for marriages and families.  It’s the model for small groups and meetings and committees and teams within churches.  It’s the model for relationships within and between local congregations.  It’s the example for the world-wide body of Christ.

            That’s Jesus passion.  His desire is that the respect, the cooperation and the depth of relationship enjoyed by him and his Father, might be what we experience in our relationship with him and other people.

            That was God’s purpose in creating people – so that we could live in peace and harmony, and have good relationships with others.  Imagine then how God felt when sin came into the world.  His dream was destroyed.  Relationships were broken, intimacy was smashed, trust was annihilated and unity was wrecked.

            Where are you? God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden.  What have you done?  And he asked the same of Cain after he’d killed his brother Abel.  His children, whom he’d given everything that they’d needed, had hurt him.  He didn’t create them for brokenness and division.  He created them, and us, so that we could have fellowship, security and joy in our relationships with him and others.

            That’s not how things worked out.  So Jesus, knowing the ache and pain in his Father’s heart, left his Father’s side to walk the dusty paths of Palestine that led him to the cross.  He came to make it possible for relationships to be restored, restored between God and people, and between people themselves.

That’s the core of the Gospel message.  That’s what Jesus agonised over in the garden of Gethsemane.  That’s why he was so prepared to face all that he did.  That’s why he was so passionate about doing something.  All so that healing could take place in our relationships.

            The price we pay for something gives us an idea of its value.  The price that Jesus paid so that there might be healing and health and security in our relationships, gives us a pretty clear idea of how much he values us as people united in love and fellowship.

            That’s where his passion lies.  That’s what’s important for him.  And that says something vitally significant about how we can grow and develop our passions.

In his passion for restored relationships, Jesus spent time with people – especially those people who were rejected by society at large.  He argued against the traditions of his day – especially when it meant people’s needs were disregarded as a result.  He had no desire to build an organisation – but he felt strongly about people being part of a family, about them being welcomed and made to feel at home.  He didn’t come to put a program of ministry in place or give us seven or twelve steps to follow to be a healthy church, but to show mercy and give forgiveness to sinners.

            That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with traditions or organisations or programmes or working through steps to better life and growth in the church.  It just means that what’s more important than all of them put together is us having healthy relationships.  Father may they be one as we are one.  That’s Jesus’ passion.

            So what does that say about what’s important for us.  We may have or develop interests or passions in lots of different kinds of ministries or service in our churches.  They are a variety of things that we can do as we use our gifts and as we meet the needs in our churches and community.

            But if in the process we ignore or take for granted what Jesus’ greatest passion is, and not take that on board as the basis for our thinking, praying and planning – then whatever we do won’t be too effective.  We might get a job done, we might meet a deadline or a budget, we might even achieve all our objectives and meet all our goals – but if we’re content to let our relationships with others take second place, then we’re spoiling God’s plan for his people here.

            As hard as we work, we’re never going to have perfect relationships here.  Our churches, our congregation, our families, will always have struggles and challenges, and we’ll all make mistakes and make a mess of things at times.  But the same Jesus, who cried in the garden and prayed for our unity, also gives us what we need to work at our relationships so that we can continue to be effective.  He provides us with his help, his patience, his wisdom, and his grace and forgiveness – especially when we run low on ours.

            He not only had this passion for healing relationships when he walked this earth.  He still has it now.  And so he gives us all we need so that we can be working on building our relationships every day.  We’re not left to our own devises and strength, but can receive power to do what may seem at times the impossible.

            Jesus committed himself to us so that we can grow our relationships with others.  That’s his passion.  That’s his desire.  That’s what he wants to see happen more and more in his church.

            And as we explore our particular passions and work out our individual commitments, we can have that as the basis for our ministry and service.  We can grow in having quality relationships with others, because that’s what Jesus empowers us to do.  Amen.

Pastor Mark Leischke

Change of focus.

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

John 5_1-9 Change of focus.

Ex gambling addicts say that the worst thing that could happen to a first time gambler is to have a win.  Why?  What worked once, surely will work again.

The win seemed so easy.  Go to the pub, just put in a few dollars and jackpot!  No more worries about money, you’re a winner!  It is just a matter of playing at the right machine at the right time… when it hits the jackpot.  Sadly however, the jackpot is hit very rarely hit.  You never know just when it will happen.  The slight chance that you will be playing the machine when it jackpots causes despair and anxiety, because you can’t afford to leave the machine; the next dollar you put in might bring the jackpot.  Despair and anxiety drive a false hope.  You have to win now, as its cost everything, there is nothing to lose, money, home, family and even quality of life itself are gone, and so they play on in desperate hope.

Being on ‘that’ machine, playing for ‘that jackpot’ becomes the sole purpose and focus in life.  Nothing else matters, nothing could be more important than being on the machine; being there when it jackpots.  The machine has become a false god, as Luther explains a god, ‘A god is whatever a person looks for all good things and runs to for help in trouble.’  There are halls full of people gathered around machines, despair driving a false hope.  It worked once, surely it will work again.

There is a man, a crippled man ,waiting by a poor of water called Bethesda, Jesus sees him.  In fact he sees a great number of paralysed, blind, lame and sick people, all gathered around a pool of water; a pool of water that supposedly has healing powers when it is stirred.  It may have worked once, perhaps someone was healed when the water stirred and this one ‘jackpot’ drives those in despair to false hope that this same jackpot will happen to them; they too will be healed.  The catch is they need to be present when the water stirs and they need to be the first into the water.  And so they wait, driven by anxiety and a false hope…perhaps it will be their turn next.  The water had become their sole purpose and focus in life.  The supposed healing properties of the water had become their false god; the giver of all things good. 

So many sick and desperate people gathered around this ‘water god’, that colonnades were built over the pools to protect the sick and lame from the elements of the weather.  Jesus, walking under the colonnades, asks the cripple “do you want to be healed?”  An obvious and somewhat silly question.  Of course he wants to be healed!  Yet, does he answer “yes I do”?  No, his focus is still on the water.  He has invested so much time and effort on his attempts to be cured, he can’t afford to look away or consider what Jesus might be offering, the water may stir, and so answers “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 

Jesus’ question was not silly at all.  Knowing this man was still waiting to be healed after 38 years, Jesus had identified the stirring water to be this man’s false god.   The question, “do you want to be healed.” deliberately changes the focus off the water, off the false god, and onto him, the true God, Son of the Father, as God said at his baptism “This is my Son, whom I am well pleased, listen to him.”  The paralysed man’s answer, the “yes but…” only confirmed his false god.  Yes, I want to be healed but I need to get into the water’; he did not recognise that Jesus was not offering help, he was offering a healing.

Perhaps you have something similar in your life?   A worry of some sort, in which you have invested so much time and effort to cure, that it has become your sole purpose and focus?  Something so important to you, like having enough money, earning a good reputation,  or even wanting to be healed of some sickness or addiction that the means to the cure has now become your sole focus.  Perhaps your ‘cure’, has become like the paralysed man’s water, occupying all you thoughts, hopes and plans?  Even to the exclusion of everything else?  If so, perhaps you also are relying on a false god. 

When we hear Jesus words “do you want to be healed”, perhaps we also answer “yes but…”:  Yes but…I just need to work first to earn the necessary money:  Yes but…I just need to improve by behaviour:  Yes but…I just need to have more faith first:  yes but… tells us we have a false god.  We, like the paralysed man are so focused on what we have to do to cure ourselves that we fail to recognise that that Jesus never offers help, he offering total healing. 

Before another ‘yes but’ came from the paralysed man’s mouth, Jesus destroys the false god with a simple command ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.  Did the man have to enter the water to be healed, as he thought?  No!  Did he have to first have faith?  No!  In fact this man didn’t even know Jesus name, as verse 13 reveals ‘The man who was healed had no idea who it was.’  Did he have to stop sinning before Jesus healed him?  No, Verse 14 dismisses that when Jesus says to the healed man, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’ 

Jesus’ word has the power and authority to heal, to forgive, to bring back to life with no help from us, destroying our false gods and false hopes; freeing us from the bondage and despair of having to try and heal ourselves by our own efforts, as he indicates in Matthew 9 ‘Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

St Paul says in Romans 5 ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’  While we were still placing hope in false gods, Jesus healed us.  In our baptism, God brought the healing waters to us, he brought righteousness, forgiveness, and eternal life to us, while we are still dead in sin and did not even know Jesus.  This is the good news of Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension.  By his blood he has already healed us and has given us life.  This grace comes to us anew each day and simply speaks a non-threatening word of healing.  He says to you, even though you may say ‘yes but…’ “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk”  Walk in the forgiveness I offer.  And as sure as the paralysed man got up and walked, you also walk in newness of life.

As healed and restored people, with our false gods destroyed, and with the words of Jesus on our lips, we have the healing of Jesus to offer to others.  So many people’s lives are being wasted, desperately relying on false hopes; desperately trying everything to heal their hurts and cover their guilt from sin.  Many of these people used to know and believe in Jesus as the only one who can heal.  But slowly, the ‘means to be healed’  have became more important, and now they too have joined the multitudes ‘hanging around the pool false healing’, desperately hoping to enter into its healing waters, not knowing for sure if they are really going to be healed.

 

Dubbo

Let’s not wait around for them to be disappointed, to fall into total despair because they never get to the healing they so desire.  Let’s make plans like Jesus did, to visit where they hang out; to speak a healing word from Jesus.  Let’s make an effort to reconnect them to Jesus, the true source of healing.  I am praying that we may find a way of bringing healing and reconnection to the multitudes who gather at the Dubbo North School every weekday.  ‘Reconnect’ is a great word and would make a great mission enabling statement; to reconnect people to God, to healing and to life.  Our church is perfectly sized and positioned to make today’s gospel a reality in the lives of those who frequent the school.

 

Gilgandra

Let’s not wait around for them to be disappointed, to fall into total despair because they never get to the healing they so desire.  Let’s make plans like Jesus did, to visit where they hang out; to speak a healing word from Jesus.  Let’s make an effort to reconnect them to Jesus, the true source of healing.  I am praying that we may find a way of bringing healing and reconnection to the multitudes that travel the highway each day.  Our church is perfectly sized and positioned to make today’s gospel a reality in the lives of those who frequent the road out front.

Let’s pray that God would make a gate for us to open, like the sheep gate, that leads us into the midst of desperate people, people who don’t even know they need Jesus!  Now that’s a radical prayer.  But then again, God works in radical ways, after all, despite our inaction, our false god’s, our continual sin, he still loves and forgives and still heals us saying ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk’.

Beyond human love.

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Acts 11_1-18 beyond human love Easter 5

I have a gift here to give to you, but I want to ask the following question:  Don’t answer aloud, just put up your hand if you know the answer…How many days did it rain on the earth while Moses and his family were in the ark?  Who says 40 days and 40 nights?  Who says none?  The correct answer is none of course, Moses never built the ark.  Go and hand out the prize of chocolates to those who got the answer wrong.  The people who got the answer correct miss out!

That didn’t seem fair did it?  How is it right that undeserving people get the prize?  Shouldn’t those with the right answer be given all the rewards and accolades?  Deserving people deserve a reward.  That’s why we love to watch the reality TV shows like backyard bitz, that help deserving people who have had a hard time get some normality back to their lives.  We like the shows because they do a good turn for someone who has had a hard go, and they give us a warm feeling, knowing someone deserved has been helped and loved.

Who likes it when someone undeserving get’s an award, like I just gave?  When we see someone who knowingly or deliberately gets themselves into trouble, and yet is given support, help and love, we think its unfair.  Think about someone you know, a family member or friend who has got themselves into a bind, financially or relationally, a friend who has an addiction or caught up in public and deliberate sin…what do we naturally think?  “They made their bed, let them lay in it; let them suffer the consequences of their actions.’  Sure, we may give them lip service, say a few words like ‘I’m sorry, how sad, or better luck next time’.  But ask us to actually do something to improve their situation or outlook and we judge them unworthy, undeserving of our love and attention. 

Yes, there needs to be consequences for bad behaviour, but can we allow the consequences to overshadow love and the total radical grace of the gospel?  Can we allow our sense of unfairness to rule our responses? Perhaps we are afraid of what others might say about us if we do?  Or afraid that loving someone undeserving and speaking to them about Jesus might cause some ramifications within our church community; cause infighting and unrest?   

These were the sort of questions that would have haunted Peter as he come to terms with the gospel message of Jesus. Peter was a strong and committed Jew and of course one of Jesus’ disciples.  He was an apostle of the Lord called by him to spread the good news of Jesus death and resurrection for the salvation of the world.  He was sent by Jesus to love the world as he himself had loved the world. 

At that time, even though Peter had experienced Jesus mixing with sinners and outcasts and witnessed his death and the resurrection for the atonement of sins, he never comprehended the radical call of the gospel…that ‘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.’  For Peter, the WORLD Jesus died for was his world, the Jewish nation, those who had the law and promise of God; the chosen nation and so deserved the right to have Jesus as saviour.  Peter’s understanding of the gospel was constrained by cultural and religious pressures to conform to ‘the way things are.’  His love and compassion, like ours often is, was limited by personal boundaries and constraints; limited by fear of causing an affront to other godly people and so limiting the gospel to only those who deserve to be loved. 

When God caused Peter to fall into a trance, he asks him to eat religiously forbidden food.  Peter answers ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’  In the vision, God is showing Peter the radical nature of the gospel and says ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’  The vision showed Peter that the forgiveness of sins and salvation is for the WHOLE WORLD, for all people, not just the Jews, as the prophet Ezekiel foretold ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.’ 

Peter, acting in the power of the Spirit, comes to the joyous realization that salvation is for the undeserving.  When he witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the gentile household of Cornelius, he responded ‘So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

As we look around our empty churches, it reminds us that perhaps things are not as they should be or could be.  Our broken relationships, our lack of love for undeserving people, our limited efforts to announce the gospel of Jesus, all remind us that somehow, perhaps, we are a little like Peter was.  That inadvertently we have only loved and spoke the gospel to those we felt deserve our gift and attention; those we think are worthy.  Perhaps deep down we feel guilty of conforming to cultural and even church pressure to keep ‘things the way they are.’, lest there be arguments and disunity over allowing such undeserving people to enter into fellowship with us and hear the message of salvation…all while still living in sin. 

Today, hear the Easter gospel message…that there is no one who deserves to be saved.  No one is guilt or shame free.  No one can claim to deserve God’s love or be undeserving of it, simply because of what they do, how they love or what they say; not Peter, not Paul, not you, not me.  All of us, by the pure grace of God, are forgiven and loved by God.  Grace, by its very meaning is ‘undeserved love.’ 

It is God’s choice and action to send his Son Jesus to the cross to pay for our sin and to raise him from the grave to make us into sons of God, as St John announces ‘to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-‘   You have been given this gift, you have the gospel word from the bible, you have the Spirit, you are rich in glory and have all that God offers…he has kept nothing from you. 

Though once we were like the forbidden food, outside of salvation, now, by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been grafted into God’s family and this is the message we have been commissioned to proclaim.  The other day, my wife Julie went shopping with my youngest son Kyle.  He was lucky enough to be given a chocolate bar by Julie, who bought one each for the other children, which he promptly and joyfully ate.  He was so excited about his gift, that the moment he got home, he burst in through the door and announced ‘look what I got and mum has bought you one too!’  The joy of the gift could not be contained, it had to be announced.  Even when the others weren’t as excited over the gift and seemed undeserving of such a gift, out of his joy he handed the chocolates to them anyway.

We have this gift of salvation and we have the commission of Jesus to go and tell others, as Matthew records ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’, but often, the joy like my son Kyle, does not accompany the proclamation of the gift.  Old judgmental habits escort our mission efforts and taint our message and stunt the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church, like it was with Peter.  We fear we will cause arguments and conflict in the church because we might become uncomfortable with new and different ‘undeserving’ people sitting in the pew with us and this fear drives us to choose between the deserving and undeserving.

God released Peter from this fear as he prayed.  Just as he has released Peter, God will release you from this fear also.  Pray as Peter did.  Pray for joy.  Pray that God would give you his Spirit.  Pray that love, passion and joy will accompany your gospel message; a joy so great that you see that things do not have to be the way they are.  God is ready to give you and the church here a vision and purpose, pray as Peter did that the Spirit would reveal those he is calling.  Jesus encourages us to do this very thing and promises that when we pray, not only will he give us immeasurably more than we ask for, he will also give us his Spirit, as Jesus said ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’  Then perhaps we too might be like Peter, surprised by the working of God in town and announce with joy ‘who was I to think that I could oppose God?”  Amen