Archive for June, 2012

His story repeats

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Mark 5: 25-34

“His-story repeats”

In Fridays paper there was an article about home ownership and the difficulties of getting into the market for the first time. Its point was that it is still possible, but in the old fashion way-of saving first. In this day and age that would seem rather an interesting concept as highlighted by the journalist’s summary line of “Generation right now is going to have to wait and save”.

Here we are talking about consumerism in our society and whether the author is talking specifically of Gen. x, y or z I’m not sure, but I would suggest “generation right now” is not confined by birth date. I’m not really sure whether I’m a baby boomer or generation something because I don’t really care as it all sounds very impersonal and like reading from a physiatrist instructor’s manual.

But in truth, “generation right now” sneaks up on us all, certainly in consumerism I can see the benefits-my “need” to have the latest released big screen LED smart TV that has just come on the market. I know my darling wife is not here today but I’ll keep a copy of this sermon for her. But in “generation right now”, if not in our desire for things-we surely would have been at some time in relation to others. Where we see a person or their actions at a given time and make a judgment call based on what we see and know there and then. Or put more rightly on what we think we know.

I was reminded of this several months ago when talking to a taxi driver he remarked of the incredible stories he hears from customers of their life experiences. Stories where he saw a different person at the end of the journey to the one he saw at the start.

In a quick reading of today’s Gospel lesson it seems quite straight forward as we see Jesus healing people simply because of their faith. And that is the message. Jesus doesn’t interrogate them first to see if they are theologically sound-he simply sees their faith.

(and) that picture of simple saving faith is one we must always rely on for us and for others, because that is not part of the Gospel, that is the Gospel. That no matter how bad or how good we’ve been has no bearing on our worthiness of salvation. Salvation is only based, is only given through Christ. That In Jesus Christ our Saviour alone we are justified by faith, that we have eternal life.

They say fact is stranger than fiction, and that may well seem so when we consider that we are saved in Jesus Christ alone through faith. That’s it-that’s the simple truth. Yet that simplicity of the Gospel, because of our fallen human characteristics can make the belief in that truth the hardest of all truths to come to know. In “generation right now” we might see and admire a person of great faith. To even wish it was us, to even covet that faith. But I wonder if we would wish to covet that person’s story behind how they came to know and rely of that simple truth of salvation in Christ alone.

We all have our own story and our own faith journey that is unique to us. Paul said “I have been all things to all people that they may be saved” and throughout our lives: The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit have talked to us in the way we need to hear them on our journey to faith.

Martin Luther like Paul seemed to have this gift. He could converse, discuss and argue theology with the most profound minds, yet he could also explain the truth in the earthiest of ways. A favourite of mine, (I cannot remember his exact words) but is the time where he speaks of saving faith where he meets God in his day of reckoning and as his life is laid out before him things are not going so well. So he turns to Jesus and asks or reminds him, hey I trusted in you as you said-what’s all this judgment business-to which Jesus cannot but get him off the hook. The truth is we are saved in faith now but that still is a great picture for when we fear for of the indiscretions of our lives.

In today’s Gospel we see a lady who within seven short verses, through faith is healed.

“For she said, If I touch his garments, I shall be made whole. And straight away Jesus, perceiving in himself that the power proceeding from him had gone forth, turned him about in the crowd, and said, Who touched my garments? And his disciples said to him, You see the multitude thronging and yet ask Who touched me? And he looked round to see her that had done this thing. But the women in fearing and trembling, knowing what had been done to her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said to her, Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace, and be whole of your plague (or cured of your illness).”

This interaction, how long was it, a few minutes-half an hour maybe? How blessed to be this lady-this sounds like “generation right now” stuff. Until we see what’s really in play here. Certainly we see Jesus’ power and his compassion, but the central point is that somehow this lady has come to faith. Faith that sees her healed physically, but more importantly, by Jesus acknowledging her faith sees her knowing, being told that she receives his whole promise-eternal life.

We might covet her meeting with Jesus, in hearing those words until we ponder how she got there, of her journey to faith. Her story of haemorrhaging blood for twelve years. Twelve years of seeing doctors, spending all her money on various unsuccessful treatments, but all in vain as her condition grew worse. Her twelve years in which she could not attend worship because of her being deemed unclean. Twelve years that because of her “uncleanliness” was judged and shunned by people. Yet somehow in this hopeless situation, her wretched existence she has come to faith in Jesus.

We might not want to covet her journey to faith but we don’t need too-because we have our own. We might covert her interaction with Jesus, the wonderful experience of hearing his words to her of his blessing-but we don’t need to-for he has said the same to you individually and personally-in faith alone you are saved.

That simple but beautiful truth, so simple that it can take a lifetime to understand. Lifetime of our unique experiences to realise that our story is actually His story-Jesus. A lifetime of the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit-working with our errors and hardships, our fears and our pain that in spirit, in Christ and His promises we are actually “Generation right now”. That today, in faith in Christ ALONE-you are saved. And that knowing that faith, you know that through “many toils and snares you have already come, Tis grace that has brought you safe thus far, and grace that will lead you home. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Are you a man or a mouse?

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Mark 4:35-41

Are you a man or a mouse?

Coming out of ancient India there is a fable of a fearful mouse. Living in continual terror of the cat, the mouse asked a magician to change him. With a wave of his wand the magician turned the mouse into a cat. Unfortunately, the “cat” realised it was now afraid of the dog. The magician once again intervened, and the cat became a dog. Not more than a day had gone before the dog approached the magician and confessed to his newfound fear of tigers. With a sigh, the reluctant magician once again transformed the dog, this time into a tiger. Of course, now the tiger lived in dread of human hunters. The magician had had enough. His final words were “Be a mouse again. I cannot help you, for you have the heart of a mouse”.

In the Gospel lesson we see a boatload of men with fearful hearts. Many of them had been fishermen, but they left their boats to follow the all-powerful Lord of life, Jesus Christ. Since their call to be disciples, they have seen many great and mighty wonders and heard the message of love from the Messiah. Peter had witnessed the healing of his own mother-in-law, but is still seen here with a fearful heart. The disciples have seen Jesus heal lepers and cast out evil spirits, but are still here with fearful hearts. One after another, the sick sought out the Saviour. One after another, they were healed and sent home. By the power of God’s love, the sick were made sound, the troubled transformed and given peace. Yet the disciple’s having seen all this are still fearful when without warning, a storm sweeps down on them. Confronted by the whistling wind and waves they are fearful and floundering as they call out to a sleeping Saviour, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Note that they don’t cry out for help to the all-powerful Creator. They do not summons him with the title of a respectful “Lord” or “Master”, but as teacher-and a seemingly uncaring one at that.

Their words, “Teacher, don’t you care”, what a dagger that must have been in Jesus’ heart that night. Not care? Caring is what made Jesus tick. It was caring that caused his Father to offer a promise of salvation to sinful Adam and Eve in the Garden. It was caring that caused Jesus to be born in a Bethlehem stable. It was caring that called Jesus away from a comfortable life as a carpenter in Nazareth. It was caring that made him leave mother, brothers, and sisters. It was caring that made him heal the hurting. It was caring that led him to raise the dead. And it was God’s great caring that would someday have a beaten Jesus stand before a Roman governor. Unjustly accused by his own priest and people, forsaken by both government and justice, Jesus would lay down his life for helpless humanity. A caring Jesus lived, died, and rose for this frightened world. Jesus not care? Could anything be more from the truth?
You will remember the poem of the two sets of footsteps in the sand along the beach. A lady is talking to Jesus as the scenes of her life flashed before her eyes and in each scene she noticed that sometimes there were two sets of footprints and other times there were only one set of footprints. This bothered her because during the low periods of her life, when she was suffering in anguish, sorrow or defeat she could only see the one set of footprints. So she said to the Lord, “You promised me that if I followed you, you would walk with me always, yet when I needed you most there is only the one set of footprints. Why when I needed you most you were not there for me?” To which the Lord replied “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints is when I was carrying you”.

Our lives are real, we laugh and we cry, we know joy and we know pain and everything in the middle. Yet our earthly lives are held together by two great bookends. That before our lives, Christ walked to the cross and that in him we are given eternal life. Though our lives can seem like being on a rollercoaster that change and confuse, these two facts remain immovable.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing because it allows us to see more than snippets but whole events and in hindsight, when we look back at those times when the waves were crashing over the boat we can see our Lord present and caring. Present through His gift of faith to get through it, and present in those he sent before us, that they comfort us, be with us and help us grow in it and through it. We all have or will have these experiences in our lives-and when we do, they show the love of God then and give us strength in the knowledge of His love in the future.

Those bookends of forgiveness and eternal life and our Lord’s presence with us now don’t take away our live trials and tribulations, but let us face them and overcome them. That analogy about whether the glass is half full or half empty is about whether we see things as a pessimist or as an optimist. Being if you see the glass as half empty you are a pessimist and half full an optimist. While as a general statement that’s all well and good, but throughout our lives our perceptions can change due to circumstance. Where seeing the glass half empty of carrot juice is as an optimist but only half full of beer as a pessimist.

Our perceptions change. When a certain well known footballer won the Brownlow medal and a couple of premierships playing Aussie Rules Football for his club. He had plenty of talent but the thing that elevated him to a place of awe was his physical work ethic-it seemed unending. Then his public fall to drug addiction and the resultant sacking by his club and even banning from playing in the AFL. To some from hero to zero. How our perceptions can change in an instant. From media reports it seems that he is still struggling in this area, and because so, on talk back radio he is regularly admonished. That he should have learnt his lesson, that he’s selfish and so on. Then there’s reality, his perception where when going through rehabilitation he proudly stated that without the need and shield of any substance abuse, he had posted a letter at the post office.

Our perception of others, of ourselves and even of God can change due to circumstance-but His of us doesn’t. In moments of great happiness Jesus walks with us, and in moments of great sorrow he carries us.

Nineteen years ago I heard this poem read out at the Catacomb church in Coober Pedy. It was written by Nadine Stair, an 85 year old lady from Louisville in Kentucky U.S.A. She talks in the in the past tense, but in Knowing of the Love of our Lord, whether we have one year or many years to live, in knowing our Lord we see the freedom and beautifulness of our lives with and in Christ.

“If I had my life to live over, I’d dare to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax. I’d limber up. I’d be sillier than I have this time. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and eat less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones. You see, I am one of those people who live sensibly and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh I’ve had my moments and if I had to do it all over again I’d have more of them. In fact I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had to live my life over, I would stand bare-foot earlier in the Spring, and I would stay that way later in Autumn. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry go rounds, I would pick more daisies”.

Jesus once said to a group of people listening to him, that “the truth will set you free”.

Whether old or young-the time we have on earth is a gift from God. Times to work and times to play, times to grieve and times to laugh-live in every moment of your life, live it knowing that he is there, and knowing that in His every moment, you are His beloved child, because the truth, His love has indeed set you free Amen.

 

 

 

“Its a present”

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Mark 4:26-34

“It’s a present, so be present”

Today’s Gospel reminds me of the trip we went on to pick up Josh’s puppy Kobe. Taking a detour along a dirt road due to the floods we came upon a train crossing and as I was looking along the track to see if it was all clear, Cathy remarked that “I think we’ll be fine”, and as I turned my head I saw four sheep standing under the shade of full size tree, growing right in the middle of the railway tracks.

But as we sat there I laughed at what this would look like to a local who knew and used this road regularly. From the perspective of the locals, who knew, that whether it be day time, raining or at night, knew that without even looking they could cross safely-because that tree, which started as a seed that somehow lodged where it did, now not only shows that they are safe from destruction from an oncoming train, but now grown-gives shade to their sheep.

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God, will grow, is growing in and amongst all the nations of the earth-that they nest, that they live their lives in the kingdom of God. It is a wonderful picture of today and of the end. Living in God’s growing kingdom today and knowing of what awaits us at its earthly fruition.

Like at that railway crossing-one side the tree giving shelter to the sheep who we will join forever on our last day and on the other, potential peril, but peril we can cross in the knowledge that we are both on our way and already are part of his kingdom.

John Lennon in singing of his then young son Shaun sang “I can hardly wait for you to come of age, but we’ve got a long way to go and for now I guess we’ll both just have to be patient” evokes imagery of our sure promise, united with those gone before us in glorified body’s-no fear and no pain-the full realisation of the promise that the Lord has given you.

But John Lennon goes on and sings of the beauty that he is experiencing with his young boy-the beauty of his life while he is still growing but then also the contrast “but we’ve got a long way to go, a hard road to flow”

We too suffer those contrasts in our lives on our road to the joy of what awaits. Contrasts, that given what life can dish up can start us to doubt. It would seem, and indeed we are told by some climate people that we are living in a time of unprecedented disasters. Whether it is true or not, it would seem that in the Western world the Church is in times of unprecedented decline.

Where we as individuals continually seem to get it wrong, self-serving instead of serving others, seeing the stick in others eyes but not the log in our own. Spiritual attacks reminding us of our sinful disposition and constantly pushing in thoughts to make us doubt where we sit in God’s kingdom. It’s like a one two punch in boxing, first we hit with the truth, you’re a sinner-and then the knockout blow-to either make us believe we’re beyond help, or to make us think that it relies on us in the way of our deeds, our works. It’s a smart trick because if not for the Word of God telling us the truth, in our human disposition we prefer to live in the profit side of the margin-where in the short term we get confused with the big picture.

Like in our world, we catch the train to work and make money from which we pay taxes. The taxes of which are partly used to subsidise the train fare. A cost centre to bring a greater profit but in another area. But know, every aspect should be running in profit-so the train ticket prices go up and guess what-less people travel by train and back to square. So sell it off to private investors who to make it profitable need to reduce costs-slash the wages, meaning less tax paid, less money to spend-less tax collected from retailers.

I know this is VERY simplistic, but my point is in our lives-sometimes there are times, short term costs that bring profit, bring growth-spiritual growth.

For the Kingdom to grow, for our growth in it, sometimes there has to be a cost centre. Testing times, hard times-but times that bring fruit that allow Christ in-to form us, to grow in us.

A Jewish legend tells that King Solomon once approached a jeweller and asked him to design a ring on which would be inscribed words that would be true and appropriate at all times and in all situations. The jeweller brought the king a ring on which was inscribed: “This too shall pass” In times of pain the king looked at the ring and was reassured. In times of joy and exultation the king looked at the ring, and felt sobered.

We too on our road know of those joys and pains-situations where we wonder where God is in it all, and times where we would like to see some action, to see a response to our works, to see His kingdom grow-in the world, and in us.

When this happens, don’t be too hard on yourself-Jesus knows the gig down here, he knows the distractions and the confusion they cause. That’s why he walked to the cross-because he understood. He told his apostles what he was doing and it confused them. Yet through Christ on the cross and his raising the kingdom of God has spread. Yet through normal people, first the apostles and the ones that followed-through telling of Jesus and announcing the Word of God the kingdom has grown.

And now, just like the apostles, now it’s our time-our time to plant the seed in the world and to let the seed grow in us.

How will that happen? I do not know, but I do know what tools we have available-and that is the Word of God. A powerful tool as Isaiah 55:11 tells us “That the Word will not return empty to me, but will accomplish what I desire”, and we are comforted by 1 Corinthians 15:58 “Labour in the Lord is not in vain”.

The Lord says the kingdom of God is Growing and when, where and how he does it is his concern. What is our concern is planting the seed-the tool he has given us-the Word-to ourselves and others.

So how does that look, for us-for me and you-present ourselves before the Word, read it, study it-let it work in you. You may not feel it working, but I can tell you it is-because Christ said it is.

How does it look, we present ourselves before the world, in our workplaces, homes, sporting clubs-wherever you are-and live life now knowing that that tree is on the train tracks, that in Christ-no matter how things appear he is there with you, just like we will be with him at end.

Do we stand on a soapbox-we don’t need too-God has placed us exactly where he wants us at this moment-we live life but loiter with intent knowing that he will bring before us someone that will want too or need to hear his Word.

Tour the world like Billy Graham preaching the Gospel-if that’s your calling, go for it.

But generally, it can be just being who you are in Christ: A world renowned theologian and teacher at the sem. Is an absolute book of knowledge-it is incredible the amount of in depth information he retains in his mind.

Yet from his classes there were two seemingly insignificant things that did and still do speak to me.

I had only completed one week of study when I was given some time studies after my brother tragically died. I was confused but I did return and after I entered my first class back, he clasped his like in prayer and looked to the heavens in thanks. That one small thing, helped sustain me for the next five years.

And the other, in class we were discussing what it means to grow as a Christian and after all our discussions, he said you are growing as a Christian is when you understand more and more those Words “Christ have mercy”.

The task of the church is not to usher in the kingdom, but rather to make ready the way, and we are growing in it and with it.

We stand before the Word of God and in the Word of God, and we present ourselves to the world in the Word of God and with the Word of God.

Amen.

 

” Believe it or not! “

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

” The answer my friend is blowing in the wind “

 

Poor old Nicodemus, he is a ruler of the Jews and somehow he has been “touched” by the Words of Jesus. So under the cover of darkness so that his colleagues would not know, he has gone to talk to Jesus. This is a big deal for him because here he is, an elite person in his society-that has been taught and taught the accepted ways-the only commonly accepted ways and he goes to consult Jesus.

We can almost hear him thinking, I wonder if what he says is true-and one part of him hoping to hear the truth and the other part, almost scared that he may hear the truth, the truth that will not sit comfortably with his current lifestyle. Where he would have to say to others-I was wrong-or just as hard, or harder to be prepared to go from respected rabbi and the associated society backslapping to….well, quite probably just the opposite.

His question of “how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Given the situation I would suggest is more than appropriate.

His question reminds me of the many times I have been asked why I decided to leave my previous occupation of 25 years in the finance industry and become a pastor. Often, people are dumbfounded by it and when I answer their question I tell them the truth. Being that essentially I do not know-I can point to several incidences and times that give me confidence that maybe it was a good thing, a correct thing to do-but the how it came about-that I honestly cannot really answer-it just seemed to happen.

Any of us here today, do we really know when we came to believe, for most-I would suggest that over time it just seemed to happen.

In a world that’s mantra is be masters of our own destiny, it seems an absolute mystery that a person who has seemingly mastered this world, a person of extreme wealth and prestige will bow down next to a beggar from the slums and both stretch out their hands, humbly in hope and faith to receive the body and blood of Christ.

Of being born again in the spirit. Jesus tells Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”.

What a great answer to us here today. Did we decide to be filled with the spirit of faith-no, it just seemed to happen, are we to judge or believe that we can control who, how, when others will come to faith-no.

It would seem we are helpless, and in ourselves we are because no amount of logical discussion, no amount of tearful and joyous testimonials can bring a person to faith. They can get a person inquisitive or want to know more-but can cannot bring them the spirit of faith.

Prior to leaving Adelaide, one of the removalists asked the “why a pastor?” question and during our discussion it became apparent that he was well versed, very well versed in fact in the contents of the bible but also said, “I would like to believe, but I just can’t”.

Born again in the Spirit. Was this guy Baptised? I do not know. He wants to believe but can’t-how’s that work-I do not know.

But what we do know, is that God wants this young man to be of his kingdom-and how the Holy Spirit will do that-is in God’s wisdom and ways.

God works in mysterious ways-isn’t that the truth. We can but marvel of his wisdom.

Born again of the spirit-like Nicodemus we can ask how does this work. Of course we are talking Baptism-but how does that work. How does Holy Communion work, how is it that the Words of God are not just letters on paper-but work like a living and growing organism.

We could hit the theology books and come up with a majestic answer-but in truthfulness, all those answers could still get back to a follow up question like our kid’s ask us-how, and another how, and another.

There are so many things we do not know-“God is and always was”. Try that one on for size.

A lecturer at the sem. asked us-why doesn’t the bible tells us these things-and I think this was about the only answer I got right in my whole first year when I nervously responded “because we don’t need to know” to which he added, it might even be negative for us to know.

Studying the scriptures-that is an honourable thing for all Christians to do. To study how God has saved us, why he needed to save us by sending his Son, to be inspired to act on his love to us by loving others-absolutely-But we don’t read them so that we can become God like. Those big questions-God doesn’t tell us because we don’t need to know.

Those big questions like how and where the spirit does its business.

We are told what we need to know.

Today’s verse: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

That, God tells us-because we need to know it-it is important.

That Holy Baptism, Holy Communion and the Word of God brings and builds faith-so that we believe in His son-we know these work because God has told us they do-he has told us because they are important.

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes, so it is with everyone born of the Spirit”.

How did we come to faith, to believe and trust in those Words of John 3:16-we know the ways God has told us-through Holy Baptism-The Sacraments-the Word of God.

How they work, I do not know and don’t need to know except that they do work.

If you have ever doubted your standing before God-just remember that the spirit has blown your way-come to you, that now you believe. And if you ever doubt the future-remember the past-that in our sin-in our shunning of God-he chased us down-would not give up until he had us, that against our natural wishes, he put it all on the line so that you are here today.

Jesus said “treat others like you like to be treated” and “love others like you love yourself”. Well what if your love for yourself is not so great, what if you know that you don’t deserve to be treated with any respect or kindness?

If you have ever wondered of those two statements from Jesus, like I have. Think of your standing before God-how he wanted you so much in His kingdom that the spirit blew your way-You are Important to him.

So treat others like we like to be treated, love others like we love ourselves-I do not know how that pans out because that can change with circumstances.

But what has panned out is that we, you have been given faith. How we like, or feel like we should be treated, how we love ourselves sometimes may not be so useful.

From how we have been treated, how we have been loved by God to bring us here-we know that he will continue to do so. The rich man next to the poor, with the gift of faith holding out their feeble hands at Holy Communion, today, with the gift of faith when we hold out our feeble hands-rejoice in the gift of the Body and Blood of our Saviour, and rejoice that you believe-and rejoice in the proof of how important, how highly God thinks of you-given as proof to you by you being here.

And pray-that the Holy Spirit will be heard by those that have not joined us yet-that they too will bow before the Father, alongside their Saviour Jesus and marvel of his love for them. Amen.