A lot out of nothing.


Jesus makes much of our little

Sermon:  11th Sunday after Pentecost
Reading: Matthew 14:13-21

Some 500 years ago  in Germany,  an 11 year old boy was having organ lessons from his  music teacher. One of the things you have to learn how to do when you are  playing the organ, especially for church, is improvise – that is take a well  known hymn tune and, on the spot, embellish it, fancy it up, work it up into a  new piece of music. It’s a traditional skill that a lot of organists develop  over the years.

But this 11 year  old boy was finding it hard. “This is hopeless,” he said. “I’ll never be any  good at this. I just have not got it in me. I can’t make up music. I just can’t  do it.”

His name was Johann  Sebastian Bach.

Perhaps not all  that many of you are Bach fans, but I guarantee you, almost everyone  of you would know one of Bach’s tunes, which have been played and recorded and  pinched by pop musicians for the last 200 years. Today he is considered perhaps  the greatest composer to have ever lived.

His music is more  than good; it has a spiritual, some would say a heavenly, quality about it. And  it is actually no surprise that it does, since Bach’s music was not written to  show off his musical brilliance, but  as worship to God the Father. Almost all Bach’s music was written for church  services – it is sacred music, music for God. You see, Bach knew that his music  was not his own to profit from, but was indeed given to him by God himself, as  an instrument of praise. He felt so strongly about this that he made it a  custom to write on the bottom of every score from his hand three letters: SDG,  standing for Soli Deo Gloria, or in  English: “To God alone be glory.”

And so those words  he spoke during his tantrum at the keyboard at the age of 11 were in one way quite  true weren’t they – “I just have not got it in me. I can’t do it.” No, but God  could, through him. God it was who gave Bach his extraordinary gifts. To him be the glory.

How often doesn’t  God take what we have – what’s small and unimpressive and imperfect – and  perform miracles with it in order to nourish others.

In the Gospel  reading today, Jesus does just this.
In our church today  he is doing just this.
In your life he is  doing just this.

Let’s look at  Matthew 14 – especially verses 15-19:

When  it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place,  and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the  villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go  away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but  five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he  ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two  fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them  to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. (NRSV)

These verses are  often missed when people read this story, and not many people get the point  that Jesus makes here.

First of all,  contrary to popular belief, Jesus does not feed the crowd. He tells the disciples to feed the crowd.  “What?” they say.  “Jesus, what do you mean? We can’t do that. We do not have enough. All we have  between us is five loaves and two fish.”

No where near enough – it would barely be enough  for the disciples let alone a huge crowd like that. And what does Jesus reply? “Bring  them here to me.” I will take what you  have, meagre and inadequate and tiny as it is, and make it a feast, a banquet  to feed the hungry. To God alone be the glory.

What little have  you got to offer the world or to offer God? What little do we have in our  church to offer? Humanly speaking,  you and I have very little to offer, far too little to make any difference  anyway. Our faith is imperfect. Our leadership skills are imperfect. Our  ability to see others’ needs is often poor. Our compassion is not what it could  be.

And just look at  our hungry world! Look at the people in our own community who are desperate and  lost. Look at the generations of kids in our community who do not know Jesus  Christ and have not heard the Gospel!

These needs are  huge! We can’t cope with all this. We  can’t do it – we don’t have enough – enough time, enough courage, enough money,  enough energy, enough love. “It’s no good!” We say,  like Bach, “It’s just not in us. We can’t do it.”

But Jesus has  always specialised in doing miracles with our “not enough”. Just as he did with  the disciples, he tells us today, “Go and feed them. You do it.” and when we  protest that we can’t because we have so little, he says to us, “Bring it here  to me.” And in his hands it is multiplied. It is made something much greater  and much more beautiful and much more effective.

If we will only  give our little to Jesus instead of giving up, he will take what we bring and  make something from it to feed and nourish the hungry people around us – people  who are hungry not just for food, but friendship, compassion, understanding, care  and love.

And so we bring our  little offerings: Our skills. Our money. Our love. Our work. Our food. Our homes. Our hospitality. Our ears. Our hearts.

Never underestimate  what you can do in the church or in the community, when it is offered to Jesus.  It might be small but God can do miracles and he will do miracles in the lives of other people, if you are prepared  to hand over your little to his grace.

God does not ask us to be miracle workers. He only asks  us to be obedient. So do not under rate the packet of noodles you put in the  food basket, or the basket of ironing you did for the busy mother next door, or  the half hour you spent talking to the visitor over morning tea here at church,  or the devotion you gave at that committee meeting, or that Sunday School  lesson, or that meal where you hosted others and shared with them, or any other  small thing you do for others in Christ’s name. And do not draw back from  offering your little because you feel it is not enough or not good enough. Jesus  says “Bring them here to me.”

As  Luther once said: “In his hands these things are mighty and holy works that set  the angels singing and bring glory to Almighty God.”

Jesus can change  five loaves and two fish into a feast. What we give and do can, and often does,  have results and consequences far beyond what we imagine, because God has worked  it into a miracle of his love.

To Him alone be the glory.       

What about me!

Be a bit player

Romans 8:26-39


When you work with children, and you decide you’re going to put on a ‘play’,  something like that—and you’re getting organized and you ask, “Who wants to be  the Queen?” or “Who wants to be the father?” or “Who wants to be the lion?” or  whatever…there is usually a great rush of hands held high, and a lot of vying  for attention in order to get the key roles!   And we are thankful for the enthusiasm, and applaud the confidence, and even  somewhat dread the day when, as they grow older, they become more and more  self-conscious and inhibited.
Who gets to play the key role?  Adults  work with this idea a lot, too:  in  marriage and family, in the work place, in sporting clubs, and even in our  church community.  We may have mixed  feelings about it—sometimes it’s a great opportunity to serve; sometimes it’s  about control and power; sometimes it’s just plain scary; sometimes it means  recognition and affirmation; sometimes it means risk.  And whether we like the key role or not, we  are often very conscious of it.  “What  about me?” is a question that seems to hang around in our heads a lot, even if  we don’t often give voice to it.
Over the last three Sundays the Gospel readings have focused on a number of  parables.  And, as we’ve been quite  properly taught to do, and as we’ve learned to do, we immediately hear the  parables and think:  “How does this  parable, this story, apply to my life?   How do I fit into this parable?”
Now…that’s all well and good except for one possibility:  when we think about how to apply the parable  to our lives, and how we fit into the concepts of the parable, we run the risk  of giving ourselves the major role in the parable, in the story, in the  situation.
Who gets to play the key role?
Consider today’s Gospel, and these two very  short parables:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it,  he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that  field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is  like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he  went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

My first tendency, in hearing these parables,  is to think I am ‘the man’, or I am ‘the merchant’; therefore,  what do I have to give up in order to get ‘the treasure’, to get ‘the pearl’?  And I have no doubt that Jesus’ parable does  allow me to consider my relationship with God relative to other priorities in  my life.  It allows me think about the  cost of discipleship.  It allows me to consider  the joy in my own life of recognising and celebrating the grace of God which I  have repeatedly discovered as I’ve grown to new understandings through new  experiences of that grace.

And the same is true of the mustard seed,  the yeast, separating fish, separating wheat and weeds, planting good seed in  different kinds of soil—all parables that have got us thinking over the past  few weeks.

But when you take the lead role in a  parable, and the focus is on you, then you expose both strengths and weaknesses,  successes and failures.  And, indeed,  sometimes when you take the lead role you become so focussed on ‘you’ that you can feel quite isolated and alone, as if the whole thing depends on you,  revolves around you, and the whole action is for you to work  out.  And, from my own experience, I know  that sometimes that leaves me thinking I have to be my own judge, my own  saviour, my own comforter, my own encourager, my own guide.

When Jesus tells a parable—when he says  “the kingdom of heaven” or “the kingdom of God” is like—and the two terms are  completely interchangeable; they are not referring to a ‘place’, they are  referring to living in relationship with God—the point is never to get you  thinking so intensely about you and certainly never solely about you.  He wants you to think about God’s kingdom,  about God as king, about God as your king.

God is the key player.

Let me read again from the Romans reading  we heard earlier:  “We know that in all  things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been  called according to his purpose.”  And  Paul follows that up by reminding us:   “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but  gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us  all things?”  And then, to underline and  emphasize:  “I am convinced that neither  death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor  the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all  creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ  Jesus our Lord.”

God is the key player.  There is nothing that can get between God,  with his love, and us.

Yeah, but what about when our faith is  weak, when we don’t keep trying, when we don’t keep trusting and praying and we  don’t even know anymore what to say or what to pray for or….?  Paul reminds us:  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do  not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us  with groans that words cannot express.  And he who searches our hearts knows  the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in  accordance with God’s will.”  When we  can’t, the Spirit steps in and carries out God’s will.

God is the key player.

I push this point because I have a  privileged position of hearing people talk about their faith, their spiritual  struggles, their goals, and their worries about family and friends.  And when we read the Bible, especially when we  are focussing on the life and teaching of Jesus in the New Testament, you and I  have repeatedly put before us teaching of how we should live as God’s children.  And what Jesus teaches is very demanding—so  demanding that more than once in the stories in the Gospel we see people  walking away in despair.  What they do  not do is follow the journey through all the way to the cross.  On the cross we see that every call to trust  and every call to obey is backed up absolutely by the God “who did not spare  his own Son, but gave him up for us all”, the God who is absolutely and  completely “for us”.

And I need to ask people sometimes, as I  ask you today:  Do you think that the God  who gives even his own Son, Jesus, to suffer and die for us—do you think that  he will then let your weakness, your doubt, your failed attempt to obey  completely, or to serve generously, or to witness consistently—do you think  that he will let your personality faults, your illness, your anxiety, your  hesitancy, your impatience, your fear—do you think that he is going to let  something less than perfect in you stop him from carrying out his loving plans  and purposes for you?  If “neither death  nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any  powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” can “  separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”—if none of  those things can get between God and you, do you really think he will let some  other human weakness or struggle stop him?

And, I’ll add, if our doubts, or our  failings, or our weaknesses were enough to bring down all of his plans, then we  are not saved by his grace, but by our works, our getting it right; not by  faith (trust in God), but by faithfulness on our part.

God is the  key player.

I remember a few years ago on an occasion  when I was so focussed on letting God work things out in my life that when I  read the parable of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price I  suddenly thought, “God found me!  God has  given everything to make me and keep me his own!”

Allow yourself, to be the ‘bit player’ in  God’s great drama, which is your life as his child.  Jesus has died to sin and risen to eternal  life, for you, with you, in you.  The  Spirit takes your needs straight to your loving Father, who has given and  always will give everything for you.   Take joy and comfort and confidence in knowing that God is the key  player in your life.


Hello Dad

Abba Father!

Sermon:  5th Sunday after Pentecost.
Reading: Romans 8:15-18
  She was 28. Tall and dark  haired. She stepped off the airplane and walked along the concourse that  led to the departure lounge. Waiting to meet her for the first time was her  Father. She had called him a week ago, after looking for  him for several months. She had never known him, nor even seen a photograph,  but knowing he was alive, her heart had been crying out to find him, for she  had a deep sense that in some way, until she did, she could never really know  who she herself was. This was the man  from whose body her own body, at least partly, had  come. This was the person whose own DNA had been passed on to her. This man had  fathered her, and yet had never seen her, his own flesh and blood.

They introduced themselves. They both were  tense, their hearts pounding. But they had prepared themselves emotionally for  this meeting. They were going to be mature and adult about this. No public  displays of emotion at the airport. No dramatics. No tears please…

And this plan to keep everything cool and  sensible and free of emotion worked; until this she looked him in the eye and spoke  the one word she had never and could never have spoken to any other man:  Father…

How deep is that bond: parent to child. Though separated by time and thousands of miles, and  in that case, by having never even known one another, there is deep attachment.

Many people, who have been adopted and raised by  parents other than their biological ones find that, at some point in their  lives, they feel the need to find their biological parents. Although they have  never met them, they nevertheless deeply connected to them and this is deeply  felt. It is part of their journey to find out who they are, what their origins  are, where their looks and abilities and nature comes from, in whose footsteps  they are following, where they belong in the world. And so people begin to  search.

And as is so often the case, what happens here  on the human level, with children and parents, happens also at the even deeper spiritual  level of our lives. Part of being human, created by the eternal Father, is that,  whether people realise it or not, they are in many ways constantly searching  for home, constantly looking for the one who has Fathered them. People are trying to connect with their origin and their  identity. Searching…

The famous Christian Theologian and Bishop of  the Early Church,  St Augustine,  lived most of his life deeply feeling this. He felt something fundamental  missing in his life and went searching. He tried everything to satisfy that  search – booze, sexual promiscuity, academic fame and fortune, until finally  one day he sat down under a tree exhausted and empty and cried out to God. He  later wrote one of the oldest and best known prayers of the Christian Church: Lord, you have made us for yourself and we  are restless until we rest in thee.

To rest in him is to find peace in being beloved  children of our heavenly Father. He is our Dad. He has Fathered us, in baptism  – brought us to birth as new people, holy people, through the work of the Holy  Spirit. His bond with us reaches right to our core, our spirit. As Paul says  here in verse 15, when we call out to God: “Abba – Father” (as he wants us to),  his Spirit bears witness with, locks together with and embraces our spirit – and  that bond between our spirit and God’s Holy Spirit is made stronger.

God wants us to know him and love him and relate  to him as our loving Father, because he has made us his own children through  his own son, Jesus, by the power of the Spirit. He wants us to live in that  deep loving bond of his Spirit to ours.

And Paul wants to tell us some important things  about this bond and what it means for our lives, to encourage us and uplift us.

Abba Father

We can cry out to God: Abba,  Father

“Daddy!” One thing I know I share with every other Dad in this church today is  what happens to your heart when your child calls out for you in distress,  “Daddy!” In that cry is that beautiful, deep and unashamed trust of a child for  its father. They cry out without thinking – they flee to the safest place they  know – Dad’s arms. They know you will not turn them away.

And that is what our Father invites us to do –  cry out to him in our pain, or when we are afraid. Ask him for what we need,  speak to him with complete confidence and trust, because we live in that bond  with him.

Joint heirs

If we are children of the Father, then we are also heirs, and – just  think of this if you can – joint heirs with Christ.

God has lifted us up to be Jesus’ brothers and  sisters. That deep bond we share with God the Father, as his Spirit draws us,  is the same bond that Jesus Christ shares with him. Paul is using as his  analogy here the practice of adoption in the Roman world – it was common for  Romans to adopt children and the rules for adoption were that you had to treat  your adopted children just as if they were your natural children – they had to  take your name, and they had to inherit an equal share of the parent’s estate.  They had to truly become your child.

Paul is saying that we have been adopted in the  same way – the Father treats us exactly as he treats Christ. We are made part  of the intimate family circle, drawn into the very heart of God, loved not just like sons and daughters, but as sons and daughters.

And so, along with Jesus, we are heirs to God’s  riches, and his kingdom. As God’s inheritors, we get the great treasures God  has prepared for his children: forgiveness of our sins, a new and eternal life,  and we get to share in God’s glory. We are rich beyond our wildest dreams.

Sharing glory

We share Jesus’ suffering and his glory.

Part of the life we now live as God the Father’s  children, is sharing his son’s cross. There is no crown without the cross. The  English translation at this point almost makes it sound like suffering with  Jesus is a condition of our sharing in His glory – you will inherit Christ’s  glory if you suffer too. The sense of  Paul’s words in the original text here is rather that since we share in  Christ’s suffering, we also will share in his glory.

Suffering in this life is a fact. We have to  live with the reality of the old broken world we still live in: broken  relationships, sickness, pain, trouble and conflict. As Paul says, we groan  along with all creation under the weight of this.

This suffering can seem to us (when it’s us  right in the thick of it) like it is completely filling up our whole world. We  can feel that it’s all-encompassing, blotting out everything else. But, Paul  says, it’s not. The cross leads to Easter morning. This suffering we are  putting up with is leading to a new day – to God’s kingdom being fully realised  and revealed in its glory. And so Paul goes on to say: “I consider that our  present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed  in us.” That glory will be revealed in you too.

I often wonder what would happen in the church  if we really understood who we were – if we could fully grasp the wonderful  things we have been given and the amazing grace of God poured out into and onto  us each day. To God, you are the child for whom he has searched and the one for  whom he gave Christ’s life. You are bonded to him by love so deep that no words  can express it. And so in joy and hope we cry: Abba Father!
This is the word of the Lord.        

Peace Brother!

Jesus. . . Our Peace

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

The parable of the Sower is one of the gardening parables that Jesus told. I thought that maybe a good way to introduce it would be to share some gardening tips with you.  They’re called “Top Ten Things I Have Learned from Gardening”. As you listen to them, just think about how they relate to your life.
10.We really do “reap what we sow”.  Good seeds bear good fruit.
9. Without rains and storms there is no growth – no fruit is produced.
8. When weeding, be careful! Some of us can’t always tell the difference between a nasty weed and a beautiful flower.
7. Deep roots are a good thing. Without them, we’ll wither and die.
6. Pruning and trimming, as painful as it seems, actually works to our advantage.
5. In gardening, as in life, cheating doesn’t work.  Short-cuts, slipshod efforts, and neglect always show up in the quality of our garden.
4. Like anything worthwhile, beautiful gardens require attention, hard work, and commitment.
3. We can’t rush the harvest. Bearing fruit takes time and patience. Premature fruit is almost always sour.
2. Gardening and growing is a lifetime experience.  We can experience growth and beauty until the day we die.
1. Fertilizer happens!  In fact, nothing much grows without it.
Some food for thought there.  But Jesus has much more for us in his parables than just tips for our lives. He has some food for our souls and good news for our lives.  He sows his word in our hearts.  And when we have this word we can have security and have good reason to believe that life is worthwhile.
So this morning thinkof the seed of his word as being Jesus’ word of peace to us.  Jesus came into the world to personally bringthat peace to us.  The whole purpose of his preaching and teaching, his life, death and resurrectionwas to bring peace to troubled hearts, minds and bodies.
We can picture him as the Sower in the field. The seed that he sows is his Word – the word of peace.  We need that word, because it gives us forgiveness for the past, comfort for the present, and confidence for the future.
The sower sows his seed.  Jesus comes to us and sows his word of peace in our hearts. He says to us today: Peace be with you.  But Satan intervenes and tries to get us to doubt it.
“Peace isn’t for you” he says.  “God doesn’t mean you.  You don’t deserve it.  Your sins are too great.  You’re not the kind of person that can have that peace.  You’ve got to try a bit harder in your life, pray a bit more, do a lot more, help more people.  Maybe someday you’ll be able to have peace.  But not now.  Not the way you are now.  You’ve got to make a lot of changes in your life before you can have peace with God.”
And so the peace of God can be stolen from us, just like seed is snatched up from the hard ground by birds.  Satan can put so many doubts and questions into our minds, and try to make us believe that we’re not worthy of receiving God’s peace. He tries to snatche that word of peace away from us – and when he does, we have no peace.
The sower sows the seed.  Jesus speaks his Word to us.  Peace be with you, he says.  We know we need it and so we take hold of it.  But we don’t always let it penetrate deep down.  We keep God and his Word from taking over our lives completely. We add his peace to our lives but only like the latest coat of paint on an old wall.  It covers, but it’s only superficial.
And when this is the case God’s peace doesn’t take root.  It doesn’t really change us.  It may soothe and pacify us at times, but it never really gets to the heart of the problem – which is the problem of the heart.
It’s like a pat on the back or a supportive smile from someone – good and needed, but not enough to bring real and lasting relief from the problems we face.  It might look okay on the surface, but underneath there’s nothing to support it – there’s no solid foundation.  It’s like seed that falls on rocky ground.  It grows quickly for a start, but when there’s real pressure put on it, it withers, because it has no deep roots.  And when this is the case, there is no peace.
The sower sows the seed.  Jesus speaks his Word to us.  Peace be with you, he says.  We want to have this peace, but we take it and throw it into the pot of our lives together with everything else that we believe is important and significant for us.  And in the process the special quality of peace is diluted and looses its unique flavour.
We want to believe that Christ’s peace is vital for us, but then, lots of other things are important too – like our families, our homes, our jobs, our property, time, promises we make, obligations we have, responsibilities we’ve committed ourselves to.  There’s just so much else in life that we find that can crowd out God’s peace.  We become so engrossed with wishes, wants, and hopes of what we would like to have, that we push God’s Word of peace further and further into the background.
The desire, and the pressure we have on us, to get and to have other things, chokes out God’s peace, just like a plant is choked out when it grows among weeds and thorns.  And when this is the case, there is no peace.
The sower sows the seed.  Jesus speaks his Word to us.  Peace be with you, he says.  He continues to sow it in our hearts, because he knows we need it.  He doesn’t give up on us.  He comes again and again.  We need this peace if we want to be able to survive in this world, and to have any confidence about living and dying.
Our faith isn’t always as strong as it could or should be, but we can still have peace.  We can have it because Jesus was planted for us into the tomb.  He got to the very bottom, the very core, of the problem of our sin and weeded it out, roots and all.  Now we have a solid foundation on which to build our lives, because he’s provided it for us.  We’re planted securely in him who is Lord over life and death, who’s won the victory over sin, Satan and hell for us.  Because of him there is peace.
In him we have a sure hope and confidence both for the present and the future, because he’s put to death the power of the weeds and the thorns in this world.  And when we live and grow in him, we can be sure that we won’t be choked out by them.  He guarantees and preserves our growth, because we belong to him.  He is our peace.
This peace doesn’t take away all the concerns and worries and temptations that we have.  In fact there may be times when the conflict in our lives is even increased because of our belief in Jesus.  But having Jesus as our Saviour enables us to face our problems and to be confident that we have the strength to cope with them and battle against them.
This peace enables us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and share his peace with others.  It enables us to share whatever we have with those in need.  It enables us to follow him, even to death.  It enables us to call to him constantly in prayer, and to know that God will not and cannot abandon us.
He puts us at peace with him even in a world full of strife.  He comes to us and stays with us.  He says “Don’t be afraid, I am with you always”.
Jesus is our peace, and he gives us peace. He’s overcome sin, Satan and death, and has risen from the grave to live within us forever.  And because of his presence within us, we have the assurance that we’re acceptable to him, and we can go forward confidently in our day to day living, giving a vital witness to others of the peace that we have in him. Peace be with you.  Amen.
Pastor Mark

Good intentions?

Romans 7:18
I know that good does not live in me-that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do goodis in me , I am not able to do it.

Back in the dim dark past during my secondary schooling the only team sport for boys was football – Aussie rules to be precise. I enjoyed watching football but couldn’t play myself. I did give it a go but replacing my glasses was getting too expensive. Reluctantly the headmaster allowed us to form a basketball team. One of the guys knew something about basketball but the rest of us didn’t have a clue. We went to the local basketball stadium to watch a game and get a bit of an idea how it was played. We didn’t have a coach at the beginning, however, one the boys had played before and became our coach (sort of).

We didn’t have proper goals to practice goal shooting, we knew barely anything about the rules and techniques of the game, but the team was all fired up, and with new uniforms were ready to whip all opposition.

Our first game was against one of the oldest and biggest schools in Adelaide, Pulteney Grammar. The score was easy to remember – Pulteney Grammar 66, Immanuel College 6. We had loads of enthusiasm and good intentions, but that wasn’t enough to score goals. When the sports results were read out after Monday morning chapel you could see the headmaster cringe when he heard the basketball scores.

Can this be said about the way we live our Christian lives?

We have loads of good intentions, excellent plans and even enthusiasm but somehow never get around to carrying out those good intentions?

As we read our Bibles and hear God speaking to us at worship we learn what God’s love has done for us through Jesus. We hear how Jesus has made us his new people through the forgiveness of our sin and how we have been adopted as his own dear children and made members of his family. The Bible tells us that faith in Jesus is a very practical thing and should affect our everyday lives. Listen to Paul, “You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. … Forgive one another …. To all these qualities add love … Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. … Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:12-15).

Paul is describing a new lifestyle. He is telling us that Christ in our lives makes a big difference to everything we say and do, to the attitudes and values that we have. Christ in our lives gives us a whole new perspective on how we can serve others and work together with our fellow members in the church.

But still in spite of all of this, I know I have to confess, and I suppose I’m not alone in this, that too often there is a gap between what we know we ought to do, and what we actually do as followers of Jesus.

Perhaps most of us live our Christianity like poor old Grandma Schultz hanging out the washing. She goes to the laundry to fetch the pegs, notices a mouse, and runs inside to find a trap. She sees a grimy spot on the kitchen floor, rummages through the cupboard for a cleaning rag, and comes across an old letter from cousin Hilda who lives in the Barossa Valley. She reads it and finds a recipe for streusel kuchen. She goes to the kitchen and seeing the jam boiling over on the stove, opens the window and sees Grandpa in the garden. She remembers that she needs some tomatoes for lunch …… somehow the washing just never seems to get hung out! Grandma Schultz had good intentions but she was a busy person but never got around to doing anything properly. She was always sidetracked by something that seemed to be more urgent.

Likewise, when we hear the Scriptures and are encouraged to let our light shine and make a difference in the lives of the people around us we happily say “Amen” and resolve to let our faith really shine. There are things we want to change in our lives – get rid of some old habits and attitudes. We want to be more considerate, and helpful and co-operative, to be more open, to be less critical, to be more tolerant of others with different opinions, to be more patient. We want to let our Christian faith show by being more understanding toward our husband or wife, being around more for our kids. We really want to try our hardest to get on with that person who really gets under our skin. We want to worship more regularly, pray more often, be more helpful, and contribute to the congregation more regularly.

Maybe after hearing a sermon or attending a Bible study we make ourselves a promise that from now on things are going to be different. But too often all of our good intentions remain just good intentions. Somehow it’s all much harder than we thought and it’s much easier to fall back into our old pattern of doing things.

The Apostle Paul struggled with this, “I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it” (Rom 7.18). Paul here says that he knows what he should do; he knows what God wants him to do; he knows that he has been brought close to God and made holy through Christ’s suffering and death but he keeps on doing what he knows he is not supposed to be doing. I think we can all relate to that.

In the gospel reading today we hear Jesus say to us, “Come to me”. What could be clearer that that – straight from the mouth of Jesus himself. When life is getting too much to handle and you feel the weight of trouble, sickness, and worry falling heavily on your shoulders, Jesus says, “Come to me”.

It’s like he wants to give us a good shake and bring us to our sense as he says “Come to me” because he knows that we are not able to keep our heads above water in our sea of trouble. He reminds us that we don’t have to carry all this alone. He is there to help us. “Trust me, rely on me, believe me when I say to you, ‘Come to me’”. But do we take this invitation seriously? Most times that invitation becomes real only after we have sunk into depression and made ourselves sick with worry.

God tells us through the scriptures to let love rule our lives. “Put on love” we are told, and yes, that’s a good idea we say. But no sooner have we stated our intention to do just this than some low flying temptation comes our way and we end up doing exactly the opposite.

We are a lot like Grandma Schultz, dithering here and there, with every good intention but never getting around to doing what we had originally intended. Sin is very real in our lives. We are tempted to make our religion something separate from our everyday world, and we leave our faith in Christ at home when we go to work, or we forget we are members of God’s family when we are out on the sport’s field or having a great time with mates and friends. We know what we ought to do and we might have every good intention, but the circumstances influence us to do otherwise.

Have I told you about the bloke nicknamed “gunner”? I was intrigued by his nickname and thought he must have got the name “gunner” because he had been in the military. Anyway, one day I asked one of his mates why this bloke had the nickname “gunner”. He laughed as he explained, “Don’t get me wrong now, Gunner’s a great bloke, but as long as I’ve known him he’s always gonna do this and gonna do that, but never gets around to it”.

The apostle Paul is admitting that he is a good candidate for the nickname “gonna”. In fact, we are all “gonnas”. We can know all about Jesus and what our faith means for our everyday life and one day we’re “gonna” get around to making a few changes in our lives. One day we’re gonna get around to caring for the needy neighbour. One day we’re gonna do something about spending more time with the family. One day we’re gonna do more for the church, be more regular in our church attendance. But the truth of the matter is that somehow we never get around to it. We have every good intention, but we never do anything about it. To put it bluntly, our faith is good in theory but putting it into practice is quite another thing. It seems we can never change!

Paul expresses his frustration when he says, “I don’t do the good I want to do; instead I do the evil that I don’t want to do. … What an unhappy man I am”. But he doesn’t remain locked in this feeling of helplessness. He thanks God for Jesus who is able to forgive even someone who knows what he ought to do, has every good intention, but doesn’t follow this through. Jesus is good news for everyone. He died because of our distractions. He died a bloody, brutal death to free us from the curse of our sin. He died for saying that one day we’re gonna get around to being a better follower of Jesus. We have a new hope. We don’t need to be afraid of every inadequacy, every doubt, every threat of failure. We are forgiven.

In Christ there is a new beginning. There is a change. In Christ we can break out of the old mould where we replace God’s will simply with good intentions that never amount to anything. With Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit our faith becomes more than something theoretical. It becomes an integral part of our lives. The living Christ becomes a powerful force in changing our attitudes towards other people and how we see our role in the life of the church. The living Christ fills every part of our lives and when burdens and troubles preoccupy our minds and lives, our theology tells us that we have a God who loves and cares for us. This is not just an interesting theological fact; it is the living truth for our lives.

Luther talks about faith in this way: Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good…. Without any coercion a person is willing and desirous to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything for the love of God and to his glory…. Faith is not simply knowing about Jesus and saying that one day we’re gonna be more active in our Christianity. Our faith is very practical everyday thing. You learn to be caring and concerned about people. You serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. You are patient in times of trouble, praying at all times. You do everything possible to live in peace with everyone. You are willing to do whatever you can to support the mission of God’s church. You gladly do these things and more because your faith in Jesus has become a busy active, living thing, giving an effective living witness to the world.

No doubt there will be times when all these become good intentions that are never fulfilled and we express our disappointment as Paul did. “I know what I ought to do, but I don’t do it”. We join Paul in expressing our thanks to God for the forgiveness we have through our Lord Jesus Christ. He forgives and renews us and sends us out from here today to live our faith as we go about our daily tasks. Amen.