Archive for March, 2011

Come meet Jesus.

Thursday, March 31st, 2011


Come, Meet Jesus

John 4:5-26 (049)
27 March 2011

Can you remember where you were when you heard about the floods in Toowoomba this year?  Where were you when you first learnt of the earthquake in Japan or Christchurch?

      What about the September 11, 2001?  Can you remember what you were doing when you first heard about that?

      The car crash that claimed Princess Dianna’ life – can you recall where you were then?

      Those are more recent events – but for those of you who go back a few years, those older and wiser and more mature people here today – can you remember when the news broke about Prime Minister Harold Holt going missing from Portsea Beach, or when Pearl harbour was attacked?

      Why do we remember events like that?  Why do they have such an impact on our lives?

      Because we’re stopped in our tracks.  They come unexpected, out of the blue, they’re sudden and they bring an amount of shock and horror.  And as a result we can often remember where we were, who we were with, and what we may have been doing at the time.

      Now as shocking as some of those events were, my life wasn’t severely changed by any one of them.  No one I knew was killed or injured.  No tragedy had a significant detrimental effect on any of my family or friends.  And that may have been the case for most of you here today.

   Yes, we were saddened and shocked and moved by those events – but life has gone on for us, and probably not a lot has changed in our day to day living.

   But what if you did have a friend or family member die in an earthquake or flood or cyclone?  What if you yourself were seriously and permanently injured?  What if you lost your home or livelihood or any future security?  You may have been physically, emotionally, and maybe even spiritually stopped in your tracks and life would never be the same again.

     Having our lives turned around like that may not be something that we would ever wish for.  And we may pray that it would never happen to us.

   But today I want you to think about that possibility – you being stopped in your tracks – not because of a tragedy, but rather because of Jesus coming to you to get your attention, uncovering some things in your life that need changing, challenging you to think about what’s going on in your life, and then refreshing you, and drenching you with his Spirit, so that you are renewed and inspired and encouraged to be a more effective living witness in his kingdom.

      Jesus stopped a Samaritan woman in her tracks one day.  “Give me a drink” he said.  She was shocked, because Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans, didn’t associate with each other, and especially male Jews to female Samaritans.  It just wasn’t done.  It came as a bit of a surprise to her.

   And so did Jesus statement about him offering her water.  He didn’t have a bucket.  How on earth was he supposed to get water without a bucket?  And what did he mean by living water?

   Well, he explained but she didn’t quite catch on.  So Jesus asked her to do something to help her understand.  And that stopped her in her tracks too.  He asked her to call her husband, knowing full well that she was living with someone who wasn’t her husband.  When she acknowledged that, Jesus made it clear that he also knew that she’d had five husbands.

      Maybe things were getting a bit too personal, a bit too close for her at that point, because she tried to change the subject.  She was a clever woman – she asked a theological question.

      Nothing new about that.  If you want to keep Jesus at a distance, just debate some particular teaching or doctrine, talk about what’s happened in the church in the past, or make some suggestions about talk about how the church should be run.  By doing that all the time you can very easily avoid Jesus and his claim on your life.

      But Jesus answered her question without blinking an eyelid.

      Maybe the woman was getting out of her depth at this point, because she changed tack again.  Rather than taking Jesus at his word, she said that when the Messiah came, he would explain everything.

      Jesus surprised, shocked her, stopped her in her tracks again by saying “That’s me!”  Then this same woman who didn’t recognise her sin, closed to any offer of help, and hesitant to admit that God was a living, present reality – she raced back into the town, told people what had happened, and taking a step of faith, dared to ask the question: “Can this be the Christ?”

      Jesus saw that her life was like a dry place that needed watering.  He saw someone who was spiritually dead who needed the water of life.  He helped her to see the needs she had in her life.  He helped her to be able to say, to confess, that she wasn’t living a God pleasing life.  He helped her to acknowledge that the bucket of her life was empty, and that he was willing and able to fill it with “living water”.

      Instead of putting her down and just making her just feel guilty about her situation, Jesus showed that he cared about her.  He knew about her sins, but helped her to understand that he hadn’t come to condemn her, but to forgive her.  And so by the time she left the well, she was prepared to tell others about what Jesus had said to her and done for her.

      Jesus stopped her in her tracks – because he wanted to ease the burden of life that she carried, heal the hurts that she experienced, mend the bruises that she’d received, and bring grace into her life.

      Jesus stops us in our tracks too – for those same reasons.

      He comes to us in our worship.  You know at times when we come to worship we might expect that we’ll draw a little water from the well – you know hear a few words, sing a few songs, say a few prayers, and then go home again – without expecting to have anything really to change in our lives.

      Jesus isn’t satisfied with that.  He wants us to have more.  He doesn’t want us to have a sip of water when we really need a long refreshing drink.  He doesn’t want us to have a few drops of water when we’re covered with grit and grime.  It’s not enough.

      So Jesus comes, and instead of careful rationing a limited amount of living water on us – he pours it all out, soaking us, drenching us with his love and forgiveness so that we can’t help but be renewed and refreshed.

      He intends that that water of life splash into every area of our lives – especially the most parched, the most empty, the most hidden, the most dead areas of our lives that we can try to keep God out of – as if it was none of his business.

      Jesus invites us to splash in the water of his grace.  When we acknowledge where there are hurts, and struggles, and mistakes in our lives – and admit we need help from outside of ourselves, he comes to cover us with the refreshing water of his grace.

      That’s what we need – being freed from the burden of guilt, being made new again, ready for a new start in life, and to be able to live this new life by the power of God’s Spirit within us.

      This is the new life we’ve been created for.  This is the reason for our existence.  For as we live as God’s forgiven people, the peace and the comfort and the joy that we have overflows into the lives of the people around us.

      That’s why Jesus came into the world; that’s why Jesus sat and talked with the Samaritan woman – so that she could receive his grace.  And that’s why we need to sit and talk, and listen and act, and share, and serve, and love the people around us – so that they too can experience his grace.

      We have the living water of Jesus’ presence flowing and bubbling in and through us, so that the people who are dying of thirst around us, can have a share of this water too.

 God wants to stop you in your tracks again today to remind you that you have some things in your life that need changing and some dry places in your life that need renewing.  He wants to stop you in your tracks so that you can receive again the living, refreshing water of his grace to ease your burdens, heal your hurts, and bring peace and hope and a desire to share what you have with others.  Amen.

Pastor Mark Leischke

Feeling used?

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Jesus loves the used and abused

Text: John 4:7,9
A Samaritan woman came to draw some water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water”. The woman answered, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan—so how can you ask me for a drink?”


Some of you may be familiar with George Orwell’s book ‘Animal Farm’. It’s a bit like a fairy tale but it’s really a comment about a certain political regime. It contains a story of how the animals on a farm oust Farmer Jones and his family and take over the farm. They want a better life and start off with the grand vision that all animals are equal and that all property is shared. Soon the pigs take control and one of them, Napoleon, becomes the leader of all the animals. He is tyrant. Equality amongst the animals is out, and the pigs use and abuse the rest of the animals on the farm. The pigs use the other animals for their own purposes and discard them if they are no longer useful.

Most of us know what it’s like to feel used and abused by others. We have the best intentions and try our best to be helpful but it is taken for granted and we are discarded like a used Kleenex.

It is a well known fact that when people feel they have been used and abused and their good nature exploited they become suspicious, bitter and cautious for fear of being hurt again. Barriers are erected, relationships shunned, because they never want to be used and abused again.

Today’s Gospel reading is the well known story of the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. Today I want to take a slightly different look at this story, especially the woman who comes to the well and Jesus’ reaction to her.

Usually we view this woman as a hardened sinner; a shameless marriage wrecker; a woman who goes from one marriage to the next; one man to another; the man she is with at the moment is not even her husband.

Sometimes it’s assumed that she is not even divorced from her last husband and has moved in with another man. A great deal has been made of her moral weakness and the lust and promiscuity in her life. I’m not going to make her out to be an angel but I believe there is another side to this woman.

I believe this woman has been mistreated and demeaned. She had been divorced at least five times, and was living with a sixth man. Remember that in Jesus’ day, it was the husband who divorced his wife and not the other way around. 

A man could divorce his wife on the smallest pretext. All he had to do was show that there was something “unseemly” about her. Maybe the husband didn’t like the way his wife looked first thing in the morning, or the fact that she burnt his toast, or she answered back when he criticised her. To make a divorce effective, all the husband had to do was to call in a male witness, and write out the dismissal notice. There was no advantage in a woman divorcing her husband in those times because where else would she go and how could she support herself. If she had children she would have to leave them with her husband.

A divorced woman lost all status and value in the community. She was seen as a rejected woman. She was a disgrace.  Her own family would not welcome her back. No one would employ a divorced woman. Women were wary of a divorced woman regarding her as a person of low moral values. And often the only way a divorced woman could escape starving to death was to become a prostitute and another man’s mistress.

The woman who came to the well that day was a shadow of what God created her to be. She had been used by men, abused by the women in the town. She wanted nothing to do with the righteous woman of the village who delighted in bruising her self esteem. That’s the reason she came to the well during the hottest part of the day when everyone else was sitting in the shade. She came alone to the well to avoid the scornful glances and the sharp words. She has had enough of that kind of pain being inflicted on her. Lugging a huge water jar to the well and then carrying it home full of water was hard work for the middle of the day, but that was preferred to the abuse she would receive from the villagers.

Little did she know that the visit to the well would change her life. There she met a man – a man who was different to everyone else – someone who didn’t avoid her, ignore her or speak cruel words to her. He doesn’t treat her as someone who had some kind of disease. He is not a user and abuser.

He does something totally unexpected though.
He speaks to her even though it wasn’t culturally acceptable for a strange man to talk to a woman like this, let alone this was a Samaritan woman.
He asks her for a drink of water – a Jew would never accept a drink from a Samaritan. Samaritans were considered unclean and unholy and anything that they touched or even worse ate or drank from was considered a strict no-no.

But Jesus honours this used and abused woman by striking up a conversation with her rather than doing what other Jews would have done – pretended that she wasn’t even there. Jesus has a habit of giving dignity to those whom others have used and abused. At the dinner party of Simon the Pharisee a prostitute gate-crashed the meal, knelt at his feet, wash them with tears, and wipe them with her hair. People looked on aghast that Jesus would have anything to do with this kind of person.

She may be a nobody to everyone else but to Jesus she was a person loved by God but so badly abused by others.

The Samaritan woman feels the warmth in this man’s voice and this encourages her to respond by asking,
“I’m sorry did I hear right? You are a Jew and you are asking me to pour you a drink. Since you don’t have your own cup do you want to drink from a cup that has been used by a Samaritan? I don’t understand.”
Here is a person who wants to have an actual conversation with her and not shun her as the rest of the village has done.

Last week we heard about Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a good man, an upright and holy man, a man honoured in the community. So opposite to this woman. Nicodemus seeks out Jesus at night and in the end we aren’t too sure how he responded to what Jesus had to say about being “born again”. He finds it hard to understand Jesus and what he is offering. But here at the well is a person who is the subject of abuse because no one can see any good in her. Her goodness or lack of it doesn’t phase Jesus one bit. He initiates a conversation with her and her life will never be the same again.

He goes on to talk about “life-giving water”. “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again.  But no one who drinks the water I give will ever be thirsty again. The water I give is like a flowing fountain that gives eternal life” (John 4:13,14).What a moment! She doesn’t fully understand his words but she understands the heart of the man who is speaking to her. This abused and rejected woman feels the respect and love of the person speaking to her and offering her what no one else can give – eternal life. Everyone else had her damned to the fires of hell.

Even when he asks her to go and get her husband she feels comfortable enough to be able to say without any hedging and stumbling over her words that she doesn’t have a husband. She had come to the well looking only for water. She encountered the love of God that gives her – someone with low self-esteem and low standing in the community – “the living water of eternal life”

Jesus is providing a valuable lesson through this encounter at the well. He is teaching his disciples that even Samaritans can be saved and if Samaritans can be saved so can Romans, Greeks, tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves and all those they would normally avoid. No one is outside of the reach of God’s love. Jesus came for all people regardless of their standing in society or how bad other people think they are or how low their self esteem might be. Jesus came for all people even those who are confused and muddled about faith and God and his love for them.

Can you see what is happening here in this Gospel story? Jesus knew her all right – her religious attitudes, her nationality, the history of her marriages, her living with a man, her low self esteem, her feelings of being used and abused – he knew all this and yet he treats her as an equal, as if she was a person worthy of respect, worthy of affection, worthy of God’s highest gift – eternal life.

  • When guilt plagues us and we upset for falling for the same temptations again and again,
  • when we make choices that turn out to be all wrong,
  • when our relationships with others fall in a heap,
  • when we feel lonely, sick and tired of the way people are treating us,
  • when we are depressed and upset and can’t see anything good in ourselves,
  • when our faith is at rock bottom and we feel as if the church and religion aren’t doing anything for us,
  • when we beat ourselves up for lack of enthusiasm to be true disciples of Jesus ready to do anything for him, and for days that go by without a word of prayer
  • when all we feel is failure and defeat isn’t it great to read a story like this one about Jesus and his love and acceptance of the woman at the well.

We may not think much of ourselves, but Jesus thinks all the world of us.
We may not have anyone to turn to in this world, but rest assured that Jesus is there to warmly accept us and help us to see that he will give us the strength and the power we need to overcome whatever it is that is grieving us.
The good news is that he takes the first step, initiates conversation. He comes to us so that we might come to him.

This can be taken another step further as we look at the people in our community. The church exists here at this place for them. You might say they are the Samaritans in our story – Christ has died for them and he is offering them the living water of eternal life. They may not know much about this but that’s why the church exists. Sometimes we are too quick to judge rather than let the grace of God work through us to be accepting and caring.

It’s true – Jesus comes to us so that we might come to him.
But that’s not the end of it. Jesus comes to us so that we might go to others.

Amen

Looking for answers?

Friday, March 18th, 2011
Text: John 3:5
Jesus answered (Nicodemus), “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”  
 

There are some very confusing things in our world. For example,
Why is it that people say they “slept like a baby” when a baby wakes up every three or four hours?
If olive oil is made from olives, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from?
Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog’s face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride; he sticks his head out the window and enjoys the breeze?
 Nicodemus was a man looking for answers. He was a good man. He was an extremely good man. He was a Pharisee and Pharisees were very enthusiastic about being good. Nicodemus was a very religious man and spent a great deal of time trying to do the right thing.

Nicodemus was not only a good man but was also a confused man. He was confused about Jesus, who he was, how he could do miracles and why people like John the Baptist called him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.So one night Nicodemus went to visit Jesus.
Why did he go to see Jesus at night? Remember there was no street lighting or bright lights shining from house windows. So when night fell it could be very, very dark and all kinds of things could happen to an elderly man in the dark.
Did he go at night because he couldn’t sleep? The questions he had about Jesus kept rolling around in his head and he couldn’t settle until he did something about them.
Was he afraid that his fellow Pharisees would not think highly of him for meeting with such a troublemaker as Jesus of Nazareth?
To be honest, we don’t know why he went at night?

Maybe there is some symbolism in the fact that he came in the dark. We could say that here is man who is caught up in the darkness and he comes to the one who is light in the darkness of this world. John the Baptist said this of Jesus just a couple of chapters before, “This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all people” (John 1:9) and the Gospel writer adds, “The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people” (John 1:4). The darkness of night might be seen as a symbol of the darkness that was in the heart of Nicodemus.

Nicodemus is fascinated in Jesus and begins his conversation with Jesus in this way, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God” and we know that “no one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.” You might not think much of us Pharisees but we aren’t stupid. “We know…” There is a smugness here. He and his Pharisee colleagues know all there is to know about God and how to live a godly life.
They go to Bible study everyday and worship every week.
They fast,
they give more than a tenth of their income to the church,
they spend hour after hour in prayer.

Before Nicodemus is able to say anything else, Jesus says, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”No mention of being good or religious. No one gets into the Kingdom of God by being a “good person”! Nicodemus had devoted his life to being good, committed to being faithful to God, devout in his worship and prayer. The Pharisees had something like 10,633 rules they had to keep to live a truly godly life. No doubt Nicodemus was a good Pharisee and a good man but Jesus blows a hole in this idea of goodness. No amount of goodness is good enough to establish a relationship with God or to get us into the kingdom of heaven!

Let’s look at it this way. Eight year old Peter went to Dreamworld with his two older brothers and mum and dad. He wanted to be able to ride all the rides that his older brothers could ride. But there’s only one problem: he’s too short. He is about 5 cm too short, only a mere 5 cm. At the entrance to the rides there is a sign with a line drawn across at a certain height from the ground indicating that only those so high or above could get on the ride.

Now Peter was tall for an 8-year-old, he was taller than 95% of all eight years olds, but he was still 5 cm too short to ride those rides. And no matter how he strained and tried to “act taller” he just couldn’t measure up!

He tried begging the ride operator. But he would not let Peter get on to that ride.
The operator didn’t say, “Well, because you are taller than 95% of all the other 8 year olds in your class at school, you can ride”.
He didn’t say, “You are almost tall enough, I’ll let you on to the ride.” The plain and simple truth is that if you don’t measure up, you don’t get on to the ride.

No matter how hard we stretch and act “good”, our goodness is never good enough to get into the Kingdom of God. That’s quite a blow. Like Nicodemus we’re good people!
We think of ourselves as upright, moral, decent kind of people.
We worship on Sundays, we pray, we give generously to the offering, we support the church’s programs.
We aren’t unfaithful to our spouse.
We treat our kids well.
We pay our taxes.
We don’t lie… very often.
We don’t steal from our employers… much.
We try to be kind, gentle and caring people … most of the time.
We try not to hurt people … as best as we can.

And all of that may be true – up to a point. But no matter how much we strain and try to “act taller” we just can’t measure up! As I said before – no amount of goodness is good enough to establish a relationship with God or to get us into the kingdom of heaven! The goodness that God is looking for is not just our best efforts, but perfection. When measured against God’s absolute perfect standard, not one of us measures up. We all fall short. And not just by a few centimetres, we fall short by miles and miles. And deep down we all know it. Paul gives this diagnosis of our human condition from God’s perspective:

“There is no one who is righteous. … No one does what is right, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).   

Like the operator of the rides at Dreamworld there can be no compromising of the rules. No one can get to heaven by being good because no one can ever be good enough! You are going to have to go about it another way! And there is another way!

Jesus says that it’s not a matter of being “good”, it’s a matter of “being born anew”, or perhaps better “being born from above” (both meanings are possible). Jesus said that means “being born of water and the Spirit.” Just as Nicodemus contributed nothing to his own birth into the world, likewise he contributes nothing to his birth into the Kingdom of God. Life is a pure gift in each case! But the new birth into the kingdom of God is a gift by God’s power.

In other words, Jesus is saying, “You can’t do it, Nicodemus, but God can! He can transform you from the inside out and make you good enough!”

It’s as though you are lying on a hospital bed in the final stages of a terminal disease and Jesus walks into the room.
You look at him and say, “Jesus, am I good enough to make it out of here?”
And Jesus says, “No, you’re not good enough! But I will do something for you. I will take out of your body the disease that is killing you, and I will put it into my own body. I will make the swap at no cost to you but at great cost to me. The result will be: I will die… you will live!”

What a gift! Jesus, God of the universe, says to us, “I will give you my goodness as a gift and take your badness into myself. I’ll take your sin and in its place I’ll give you my righteousness. I’ll die on the cross and you will live forever.” At the end of today’s reading from John’s Gospel we heard, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Out of love for us, God gave us his Son. He is God’s gift to each of us. Forgiveness and eternal life are ours through his Son’s death and resurrection.

When a person is baptised we hear what is about to happen through those drops of water, and the Spirit working through that water,

“God washes us clean in the waters of baptism, and we are born again as his children. Through baptism our heavenly forgives us our sins and unites us with our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we share in his resurrection”
(From the baptismal service of the LCA). Or to use the words of Jesus, we have been “born again through the water and the Spirit”, “born from above” and made holy, fresh and clean.
Forgiveness for all sin,
promised a place in heaven,
made members of his church, given a fresh start.
He has promised to be our refuge and strength, our comforter and helper, our friend and saviour even when we are led astray into a far country (as in the Lost Son parable) fall into all kinds of evil and trouble, even when we feel as if life has taken us down a rough road, the covenant that God established with us at baptism assures us that Jesus’ love and forgiveness is certain and sure. We have been new and holy with another person’s holiness.
  

Born again – born from above – new life in Christ – a new relationship with God and the people in our lives – this is the way the New Testament talks about what Christ has achieved for us through his death and resurrection. But the New Testament doesn’t stop there. We hear the apostle Paul say, “Get rid of your old self. … Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, and you must put on the new self, which is created in God’s likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

We have been given a new life; making this new life a reality in our everyday interaction with other people is the challenge that is ahead of us. The New Testament often says, “You have been made new through Christ so then every day you must put off the old self and put on the new life in Christ”. This newness that you have received from God should impact on everything we do and say –
the way we love and serve others,
the way we put God and his will first in our lives.

This is not just about being religious – this is about a new life that arises out of our relationship with God – this is about reconciliation, in fact, daily reconciliation with God as we repent of the wrong we have done and ask God to forgive us, and then strive to live as God’s holy people who with the help of the Holy Spirit, want to be the light of Christ in the lives of the people around them..

Nicodemus was confused and asked, “How can this be?” Simply, this is God at his most mysterious and amazing best. This is grace! This is God’s gift to you through Jesus. Celebrate it and live it!
Amen.

Are youTempted?

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Text: Matthew 4:1
Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the Devil.
A young man, who worked for a travel agent, was sent to a Pacific island. Even though it meant being separated from his girl friend, he accepted the job because it would enable him to earn enough to marry her.

As the lonely weeks went by, she began to have doubts that he was being true to her. After all, the holiday resort where he was working attracted beautiful women from all over the world. The young man declared that he was paying absolutely no attention to them. But he did write this in one of his letters, “I admit that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I am waiting for the day when I can be with you again.”

Not long after he had sent that letter, the young man received a parcel. Inside there was a note and a harmonica. The note said, “I’m sending this to you so you can have something to take your mind off those girls.” Dutifully the young man wrote back to his girl friend and told her that he was practising the harmonica every night and thinking only of her.

Eventually the young man’s work on the island finished and he flew home. His girl friend was waiting at the airport. As he rushed to embrace her, she held up her hand to stop him and said sternly, “Just hold on there a minute. First I want to hear you play that harmonica!”

Every year at the beginning of the Lenten season we hear the account of Jesus temptation in the wilderness. And again this year we are faced with the subject of temptation, Satan’s power and cunning lies and our response to temptation.

When we pause and look into our hearts, we are alarmed that we give in to temptation so often and so easily. We are disturbed by these temptations because we think of ourselves as good people, honest, hardworking, caring people with high morals – yet there – lurking inside some of us is anger, jealousy, envy, worry, pride, bitterness, sexual weakness or an addiction of some kind. There are desires of every sort within us that Satan will use against us and cause all kinds of havoc in our relationship with God and other people.

When this happens the Bible uses the word ‘sin’. It lives in us and is very much a part of us. It is Satan’s delight to awaken the evil that lies beneath the surface of our lives with temptation. He knows our weak spots and manipulates our sense of what is right and wrong. He uses those weaknesses to ignore God’s way and follow the path that leads to pain and broken relationships.

The Bible says he is prowling around seeking someone to devour. In our case, he doesn’t have to do too much prowling. We leave ourselves wide open to following his temptations again and again when we are led to believe that wrong is right.  Sometimes we don’t even realise what we have done until we see the devastation our wrong has caused in someone else’s life or someone points out to us how we have been led astray.

Today’s text tells us that even Jesus wasn’t exempt from temptation. He has just been baptised in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The voice of God spoke from heaven, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased.” And wham! The next thing you know, not only is the Son of God tempted, he is tempted three times. And when the Devil finally leaves he does so “for a while” or more accurately, “he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). In other words, this wasn’t the end of Jesus’ temptations.

The point I’m making is this. Jesus is the most spiritually and morally perfect person that ever walked this earth, yet he experienced the power of the devil. Temptation will come to anyone regardless of how close they believe they are to God or how focussed they are on being God’s people in everything they do. We are powerless to stop temptation but it’s what we do when temptation comes that really matters.

But let’s be clear. Satan is very sneaky. He doesn’t tempt you with anything that is so way out that you can quite easily see that it’s wrong. Temptation often is very logical and appears to be good. It seems to be the most natural thing to do.

In the Garden of Eden Eve wasn’t tempted with something that was seemingly sinister and evil. She saw some fruit and it looked very inviting. Surely eating a piece of fruit can’t be all that bad. And besides that serpent had some pretty convincing arguments why satisfying her hunger was all right and how good it would be to have that special kind of wisdom that came with eating the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden.

Satan is so sneaky that we don’t even recognise them as temptations because they seem the most normal and natural things to do.
His temptations are so appealing. It might even be argued that he really does seem to have our best interests at heart. That is a lie! He didn’t really care about making life better for Adam or Eve or even Jesus. He just wanted them to abandon God.

He does that to us. Satan sidles up to someone whose marriage is floundering and he says, “You deserve more! You ought to be getting more attention, more affection, more spark in your life. And if your spouse isn’t going to give it to you, well, you’ll just have to find it elsewhere. So go for it!” It’s all so logical and attractive. But remember Satan is a deceiver. He is not interested in your happiness.

The temptations that Jesus experienced in the wilderness were quite logical. He had been without food and or drink for 40 days. Turning stones to bread was the most natural thing to do. Who would be hurt by this? After all, it would be ridiculous for God’s Son to starve when he could have food with a simple command. He had the power to do it, so why not?

Jesus is taken to the roof of the temple. Satan tempts Jesus to throw himself down onto the courtyard below. Things would be a lot easier if he dramatically landed in the courtyard below to the wonder of everyone crowded below. With such a spectacular display the crowd would flock to him. What better way to promote the kingdom of God? He could even avoid the whole Good Friday ordeal.

Then Jesus is shown all the kingdoms and countries of the world. He could have them all if he would bow down and worship Satan. Look at all the good he could do. There are so many who are sick and dying and with all wealth of the kingdoms set before him, this is his chance to do some good.
Think of the hospitals that could be built,
the research that could be funded to find a cure for cancer;
the starving that could be fed;
and the wars that could be halted.
Jesus was always compassionate and loving and Satan knew just how to use those good qualities to his advantage.

There is good logic behind each of these temptations. In themselves there is nothing sinister about them. There are some very good ideas here. They offer an easy way out for Jesus to calm his grumbling stomach, to win instant acclaim, and to do so much good and gain the whole world for his kingdom without any suffering and dying.

Temptation appeals to our natural instincts. Temptation is often not simply choosing between good and evil, but choosing what is easy and what is hard. And it is Satan who provides the simple and easy answers.

That’s why we find ourselves disheartened so often. We are tempted and we fall for it hook, line and sinker. And often it is only after when we are experiencing the consequences of our choice that we realise that once again we have obeyed Satan rather than God.

Satan doesn’t give up. We know all too well how we fall for the same temptation again and again.
What hope have we got? We know God doesn’t take sin lightly. Our failure to resist can bring severe consequences.

It is Satan’s joy and delight to see us turn against God’s ways, to fill us with guilt and step on our self esteem and in the end draws us away from God into damnation. When we become disheartened and upset because we fail, remember the cross of Jesus. It was there on the cross of Calvary that Satan’s power over us was defeated. His power to condemn us has been broken forever. Jesus died for us. He has won for us forgiveness for all of our failure to live as God’s children, for all the times when we have chosen one of Satan’s easy solutions. With Christ’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit to point us back to God and his love, Satan has no power over us.

Finally, it’s worth noting how Jesus confronted the temptations that were put in front of him. Temptation involves making choices – following the ways of the world, Satan and our own desires or following the ways of God. It always seems that one choice is easier to follow than the other and inevitably it is Satan who presents the most attractive choices. How are we going to know what the right choices are?

If we want to make good choices – ones that are in keeping with our status as children of God – then we have to know what God wants us to do. The Bible is God’s Word for us to help us make the right choices. It’s true not every modern temptation and problem is mentioned specifically in the Bible, but you can bet the Bible has something to say about every choice that confronts us. For instance, the Bible may not mention drugs specifically but it does have a lot to say about the Creator who made us, gave us our bodies, saved us body and soul, and how he expects us to take good care of this special gift from God.

Too often we flounder when faced with choices because we don’t know our Bibles well enough. When we are at a crossroad and have to make a choice we are confused and easily led astray because we don’t know the directions that God gives us through the scriptures.

The Bible also tells us that when we do make bad choices our heavenly Father reaches out to us, he calls to us, he seeks to guide and help us and above all he is ready to forgives us and assure is that his love for us is as strong as ever.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be confronted with temptation. He knows that we give in too easily and make choices that are comfortable rather than make right choices. Even more importantly we know that Christ has already triumphed over Satan. He’s got no way to hurt us eternally. Thanks to Jesus, we’re forgiven, restored, and bound for heaven. Jesus has won the victory for us.
Amen

Super strength

Friday, March 4th, 2011

The Transfiguration of our Lord

Text: Matthew 17:1-3
Jesus took with him Peter and the brothers James and John and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. As they looked on, a change came over Jesus: his face was shining like the sun, and his clothes were dazzling white. Then the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Super strength

 

 


Everyone here, I am sure, has heard of Superman. Maybe you don’t know too much about him and have never been a fan of this comic book character but you know that he has super human strength, is “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able leap tall buildings in a single bound” – to use the opening words of the old TV series. There are some very interesting facts behind this comic book character.

The character was first created in 1933 by a shy, spectacled Jewish teenager who fretted about his lack of popularity. Convinced that some miracle could transform him from a nerd to a hunk, he vented his frustration by writing comic strip scenarios. He showed them to his best friend, who drew characters and scenes to accompany the story line. The two boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, created a superhuman extraterrestrial disguised as a clumsy reporter named Clark Kent. In June 1938 the first Superman comic book appeared.

Whether this was deliberate or not there are strong biblical overtones in the Superman story. Like the way Superman comes to earth from another planet as a baby, is rescued from the capsule that brought him here, is adopted by strangers and grows up to confront evil and rescue those in distress. That is so much like the stories of Moses we find in the Bible.

There are also messianic overtones. Kal-El (Superman’s real name), the only son of Jor-El, is sent to a world in need of salvation. (El is Hebrew word for God). Superman’s father says, “Even though you’ve been raised as a human being you’re not one of them. … They lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all … I have sent them you . . . my only son (From Superman Returns). He arrives on a farm in a star-shaped container. People tell him they don’t need a saviour, but he knows full well that they really do.

Superman is, of course, not real. He is an imaginary character but one that isn’t totally irrelevant to this day and age. Kids pretend to be able to fly like Superman and run around the house with hands above their heads making a whooshing sound. Even as adults we would all like to have the strength and courage of the Man of Steel for those times when things get out of control. When our problems are bigger than our ability to handle them, it would be great if we could have the strength and power to over come them.

What are some of the things that throw us off balance?
Disappointment, disagreement, discontent,
disillusionment, distress, disunity,
discouragement, discomfort, disenchantment,
disability, disgruntlement, disloyalty,
dissatisfaction, disapproval, disquiet,
disharmony, disobedience, discrimination,
disasters, disorientation, disputes,
dissent, distrust, distraction,
disingenuousness (there’s one to look up) and whatever other word that starts with “d” that describes what causes you to be “down in the dumps”.
What can be done when we are just worn out and tired from life’s hassles?
What can be done when the pressures and the worries get the better of us and there is no joy any more?

This week we will enter the Lenten season but before we head for Jerusalem for the events of Good Friday and Easter we travel with Jesus to the top of a mountain. Jesus withdraws from the noise and busyness of every day life before heading off into the events that would lead to his death.

Jesus knows that the days that lay ahead will be filled with every trial known to a human being. Put yourself in the same situation as Jesus, knowing full well what horrors are soon to happen. Knowing what terrible pain and suffering is to come would weaken the bravest heart. It is true Jesus is a special person; nevertheless he experienced all the emotions and misgivings that we experience.

And so Jesus goes to the top of a mountain to be with his heavenly Father. He spends the time in prayer. It is interesting to note that every time Jesus is confronted with a difficulty or personal struggle he first goes to God in prayer. And here again he goes to God for strength for his mission.

And while Jesus is there on the mountaintop, away from the noise and hubbub of the rest of the world, he meets with Moses and Elijah. This meeting has on its agenda what will happen to Jesus when he goes to Jerusalem. They talked of his dying and rising (Luke 9:31). They encourage Jesus, reminding him of God’s plan of salvation and how the events about to take place are a fulfilment of all that is spoken about in the Law and the Prophets. Maybe this was God’s way of keeping in perspective the suffering Jesus was about to endure – yes, it will be horrible but it will bring untold blessing to sinners all over the planet.

Then comes the cloud, a sign of God’s presence. And from the cloud a voice speaks, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen”. “This is my Son whom I love and whom I have sent to be the saviour of the world”. With this reassurance of love and the encouragement of Moses and Elijah, Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem.

For Jesus, Jerusalem meant suffering.
Maybe you have your own personal “Jerusalem”. Those times when the events and upsets, the pressures and spiritual struggles that leave you wondering how you will ever cope.
Your Jerusalem might include a doctor’s comment, “There’s something I need to tell you about the results of your tests”.
Your Jerusalem might be that phone call that announces the sudden death of someone close.
Your Jerusalem might be a troubled relationship. You want things to be different between you and that other person but it just isn’t happening.
Your Jerusalem might be the disappointment you feel when your dreams and plans fall into a heap.
Your Jerusalem might be difficult people that you have to deal with. You do your best but in the end there is someone who finds fault and cuts away any confidence that you had.

Your own personal Jerusalem may be your discipleship. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. This is a call by Jesus to be disciples who are willing to make sacrifices when it comes to
following Jesus or
reaching to help and get alongside of someone in need or
giving of our best in our workplace.

Sacrifice is not a popular concept these days. We are so used to asserting our rights and getting what we want that sacrifice is a really difficult thing?
We struggle to sacrifice just a little of our time to worship God with our fellow Christians or talk with him daily.
We know that God calls us to show love, patience, forgiveness and understanding but we find it hard to sacrifice our own needs and wants for the sake of the benefit of someone else.
We know that discipleship calls us to put Christ first in our lives and be committed to him just as he is committed to us but somehow we manage to get sidetracked by all kinds of trivia.
We want to be true disciples but we feel so inadequate. This is our
Jerusalem.When it came to facing Jerusalem, what did Jesus do? He withdrew for a while into the presence of God and was reassured and strengthened for his mission. That’s where we will find forgiveness, strength and assurance – in the presence of God.
Maybe you have resisted getting close to God and kept him at an arm’s length.
Maybe you know about the death and resurrection of Jesus as interesting facts but never taken in that he did it for you and really trusted his love for you.
Maybe you have never really thought of God as right here, right now, available, ready to help, willing to strengthen and support you.
Maybe you have floundered under the weight of trouble but have never taken seriously the promises of God, promises like –
“Do not be afraid—I am with you! I am your God—let nothing terrify you! I will make you strong and help you; I will protect you and save you” (Isaiah 41:10). The almighty and all powerful God of the universe is making that promise to you personally. That’s fantastic!!

Our God is a God who stands by his people and gives them the strength to cope with whatever crops up along life’s journey.
Our God is a God who has demonstrated his love for us on the cross and he is not about to abandon us now or any time in the future. Jesus died a horrible death because of his love for each of us. That’s how much God cares for us. It is confidence in God’s love for us that led the psalmist to say,
“Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me” (Psalm 23:4).
And again,
“I am surrounded by many troubles— too many to count! Your love and loyalty will always keep me safe” (Psalm 40:11,12).It’s amazing how positive the apostle Paul could be in the face of trouble. He explains it like this, “I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:12,13). We too know that come what may God’s presence and power enables us to rise above whatever it is that is getting us down.

When everything dictates that you “call it quits”, “give up” “throw in the towel” you are able to say with the psalmist, “I trust your love” (Psalm 13:4 CEV). The cross is a symbol of the love that God has for you.
From under the shadow of the cross you are certain that your sins are forgiven and death has been defeated. Even if the worst should happen, you are at peace certain of God’s loving hands that surround you.
In the shade of cross you receive life giving food and drink, the body and blood of Jesus that encourages and sustains you through every trial to the point where you are able to say, “With God on my side, what trouble can really hurt me? Nothing in all creation is able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39).
In the shade of the cross you can take timeout and take to God what it is that is bugging you and be reassured and strengthened.
In the shade of the cross you go about your work and relationships ready to boldly share the love that Christ has shown to you in whatever way you can.

Superman is just make believe but you have super powers at your disposal. You are supermen and super women because you can say, “Christ gives me the strength to face anything” (Phil 4:13 CEV).
Amen