“Back to Basics”

Luke 4:14-21


“Back to basics”


In today’s Gospel in Luke, Jesus gives us a sermon. Firstly he reads from the prophet Isaiah about the future coming of the Messiah then finishes with “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. That’s it and while the audience were receptive to him, we know that later things change and the people then aren’t so sure.
Last night’s much needed rain reminded me of a situation in a rural community that was in the grip of drought. The area was doing it tough, so unbeknown to the community; the local hotelier started putting away a percentage away from profits to give back to those who had supported his business. When he had accumulated enough, he wrote a cheque for the same amount of money to each of the families that frequented his business. While initially grateful for such a gesture, once the details became apparent that all received the identical gift, arguments started because some thought they deserved more than others due to their time in the district, size of the farm, amount of money they spent at the hotel and so forth to that in the end, the publican became despised by many because they had lost sight of the gift they had received.

Sometimes we all lose sight of the big picture and the real deal. Sometimes big words, ceremony and the “offshoots” become the focus. Sometimes less is more and in today’s Gospel Jesus says all that is needed in few words, that he is the one. He is the one and we know that in those words the fathers gift of life to us, is in Jesus. He is the one and though in Luke 4: 14-21 his words are few, they being all we need to know. For in those words we are brought back to basics.

That one Friday, an innocent man, a Holy man, deserted by even his closet followers, nailed to a cross like a criminal, alone and on a lonely hill died that others may have life. Three days later, this man was raised from the dead and brought life to the world.

In our risen Lord we rejoice, for Christ’s victory over death, is our victory over death. On his way to the cross, Jesus brought earthly and eternal sight to a blind man. Raised Lazarus from the dead and gave him and many others earthly life and the promise of eternal life. After his resurrection, Jesus met the two Mary’s, the sisters of Lazarus and said “Do not be afraid” and greeted the apostles that abandoned him and did not lecture them, but greeted them kindly. Today he says to us, don’t be afraid and welcomes us as family. Now, we receive our Risen Lord, and receive life- today and eternally, AND REJOICE, and never again need to be afraid. Today, storm clouds don’t threaten, they bring soothing shade. Today, there are no tears of sadness, only of joy. Today we don’t see the sun setting on our lives, but the rays of sunshine in the beautiful break of day, WE REJOICE that in our resurrected Lord, we live in the sure promise that will be fulfilled on our last day. That we too will be raised up, to meet our Lord and be welcomed home. And meet those that have gone before us, and see their smiling face’s again. We rejoice in the truth, that the Words of our Lord have been fulfilled, that in his death, we died to sin, and in his resurrection, so to will we be raised up.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has told the Jews present and to us, that the saviour has arrived, that the promises from Isaiah has been fulfilled in Him, he is the one that has been promised and later he will tell of the result, “believe in me and receive eternal life”. Yet there are those who conspire against this truth.

The genious of Bill Gates was to take a highly intellual process and make it simple and easy to understand and available to all. Yet, his vision of making computer technology accessable to the masses and not just the select few, caused many to conspire against him.

Jesus on a cross died for sinners, not for a chosen few, but for thieves, prostitutes, the poor and the rich, the lowly and the highly, and made forgiveness assessable too all. Was raised to life-and says here take it, says to us there’s no catches, believe in me-repent and follow me and receive forgiveness and life.

Forgiveness is in Christ alone-it is that simple, and it is assessable to all, that through no efforts of our own, Christ has won our battle over darkness and death- that is the Gospel. The battle has been won and the biggest conspirator of all, the devil knows it-that he was defeated on the cross yet though he knows his days are numbered, he still works against the truth. Beaten by Jesus on the cross, he now attacks the Word of God. Sometimes blatantly, and sometimes to subtly attacks the Church and its people-to make them doubt the truth, to hide the truth behind lies.

Jesus, the truth is the centre of our lives, the truth that others conspire against.

Like Judas was bought off to hand over Jesus to those who wanted to kill of the truth, after the resurrection, the same people bought off the guards in order to hide the truth. A blatant attempt to hide the truth-that we see clearly as a lie.

But the most deceitful lies are those that are partly based on truth. We are constantly reminded that we are sinners, and we cannot argue that-because even the Word of God confirms that. But the lie comes after. That in our sin, in our walking away from Jesus, in our weaknesses, and in constantly failing to live as we would wish, that we should doubt our forgiveness-that’s the lie.

Or alternatively, Christ did die and was raised for sinners-but not sinners like you. You’re too far gone, beyond help or at the very least-you better get your act together and become that perfect person you have to be. That’s the lie and the deception. A lie that if we only saw an empty tomb would leave us guessing, but in faith don’t see just an empty tomb but the living presence of Jesus.

The legendry American Gridiron coach Vince Lombardi once said that a players greatest moment, is not winning or losing, but when you are broken and busted and have nothing left to give, and you look across and you see your team mates-and they are the same.

In our lives, we still take the bumps and the bruises, and we take them with our families, friends and loved ones. But sometimes, we look across and they are no longer there, just emptiness, except for Jesus, and as he lifts us up, we see he wears our bruises, and says I am with you, I have always been with you and will be to the end. Fear not, my victory is yours.

In Jesus selfless act on the cross, and in his desire that we accept in him our victory over death, accept in him undeserved forgiveness-the lie is dispelled and we see the truth. We see the love of God, shown to us through His Son Jesus, given to us-to save us.

Jesus backs up his Words with actions. Jesus said he was the one to carry out his Fathers plan to bring us salvation, and he did. Just as he said he would be raised, he was. Just as he said he brings forgiveness, he has. In the garden of gethsemane, Jesus needed the disciples most, they slept. When Jesus was on trial, Peter denied him, and when he had risen as he said he would, they are nowhere to be seen.Yet when Jesus meets them after his resurrection he does not call them his disciples-he calls them his brothers. Jesus could have said many negative things of his disciples-and all would have been true. But what IS Jesus response: he calls them his brothers and welcomes them into his family.

In todays Gospel, Jesus has brought us back to the basic truth and Jesus says what he means and means what he says. He was called to give his life for us and he did, Jesus said he will be raised, and he was, Jesus said he brings forgiveness, and he has. Jesus says he has fulfilled the law and the answer to our sins is him and not in ourselves and in him we are given eternally life-and we have been, and we rejoice. Amen.


Living with the cards we are dealt

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and John 2:1-11

I’m sure most gardeners would have experienced the situation of buying two identical plants from the same shop, planting them close together in the same plot, nurturing both the same yet one flourishes and for some reason the other struggles.

There would seem neither rhyme nor reason.

Two brothers born of the same parents, one taken young, the other not. Two sisters brought up in Christ, one accepts him joyously and for the other to be united with Christ will only come after a life time of emotional turmoil.


As we come together today as our neighbours in Coonabarabran deal with their losses from fearsome fires and ourselves still in unbelief at the sudden passing of our dear Belinda, taken from us too soon, why?

We hear of people born of great physical difficulties who do wondrous things. Inspirational people, seemingly given mountains to cling in life, yet do it joyously and in open praise of the Lord. Yet as a group of us students in our church studies where told by a church elder whose daughter was born of life long illnesses “I don’t want any pastor coming up to me and saying how this will make me strong, I don’t want to hear that crap”.

God did not make us as robots and we all deal with things differently and at Belinda’s house on Friday morning a wise man said of our lives in the hurting, “we live with the cards dealt to us” and if there are two things I have learnt in my life is to accept what is the hardest to accept.

That when”whys” come along, the things that seem so wrong and confusing, to know I have no answer. Just as when I see myself as I am and yet hear that I am saved in Christ, I have no answer to how that could possibly be. Both these situations to us, in our earthly love and wisdom make no sense what so ever.

In the hardships it can be confusing just where our Lord is in it all, yet it is just as confusing that in our sin, the Lord is right amongst it bringing forgiveness.

I was recently doing some reading about Abraham Lincoln that I found amazing. Far from just this stoic looking figure he was described as humorous and loved a good time with his mates. But I was amazed when I read of his severe depression to where the author wrote that Abe was a president that achieved so much, “but the real miracle is that in carrying such a burden, it was amazing he got anything achieved at all”. But she went on and said that he came not to fight it, but used his struggle as an education. An education that can’t be bought but was placed on him and gave him great empathy, understanding and courage to do good for his fellow human beings.

Some of us here today seemingly simply believed in the truth of Christ from the start without question while for some of us it was a long journey, but for both the Lord has been present. Maintaining the faith of the believer and bringing others to faith. With the believer as they suffered the hardship of loved one’s yet to find Christ, and with those yet to find Him as they suffered.

When Jesus arrived after the death of Lazarus, his sisters showed great faith in stating if only you were here, and Jesus wept.

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus in joy at the wedding, and when the wine at the wedding ran out Mary shows great faith when she hands the situation over to Jesus and tells the servants to simple do as he says.

One a time of pain and he came and wept with them. One in a time of Joy and he celebrated with them, and in both in his concern and love for those involved, he responded.

Our theology is of the cross and that’s how it should be, where we stand at the base of the cross in sin with no hope in ourselves and only in Christ and when we come to know that no amount of our failures can take away his love and his salvation, in him alone, we know the truth.

But to know that truth can come at a cost because we are in a battle. Just as Jesus was tempted by Satan to not follow his father wishes so are we tempted to not believe in the truth. We may not see it but there is a fierce battle going on and that is why the Lord sticks so close. When we weep he weeps with us and when we feel joy he smiles with us.

We live under the cross because we know the truth of ourselves and Jesus walks with us because he knows the truth of the battle. The battle that he has won for us, and the battle he fights in us to see that truth. The battle that he knows is fierce.

We live under the cross yet although he knows our sin, sticks close to bring faith-faith that as we are told in Isaiah 62:5 that “like a young man taking a virgin as his bride, He who formed you will marry you. As a groom is delighted with his bride, so your God will delight in you”.

That we live in sin and that we cannot believe on our own behalf, and then hear that the Lord delights in us-holds us up as something special, even great. That is unbelievable until we remember that scripture has told us the magnitude of what’s going on that “when one sinner comes to faith the whole heavenly’s and angels in song celebrate joyously.

In you before me I see greatness, maybe not greatness as the world sees it but as Christ sees it.

In Corinthian’s we are told each is given gifts to serve the Lord. If you believe that in Christ alone you are saved you have the greatest gift you will ever receive. If you are still on a journey to faith he will not fail you.

Before me I see greatness, the greatness of our Lord that in his journey a man like Abraham Lincoln used the cards dealt to him to help many. The greatness of our Lord that looks at you today like a new bride over his groom, the greatness of our Lord that celebrates your faith.

The greatness of our Lord that has welcomed home Belinda with a smiling face and the greatness of our Lord that weeps with us in our grief.

We see ourselves standing at the cross in our sin, the Lord sees us resurrected with him.

Like Abraham Lincoln we know our shortcomings and crosses to bear, Christ sees the greatness that he will bring through our shortcomings and the crosses we bear. That we do not know of these outcomes is not of concern, just that they are now are in his hands and just as he has never failed us in the past, he will in the future and when we weep he weeps, when we laugh he laughs and when unbeknown to us, if his gifts to us contribute to a fellow sinner somehow coming to see the truth, the heavenly’s again erupt in a joyous song.

Your faith, not earnt but given freely is great in the Lord’s eyes, if you mourn, mourn passionately, if you laugh, laugh passionately because your formation is a great gift, to you, your neighbour and to the Lord himself.


Are you feeling cold?

An act of God

Text: Isaiah 43:3 The Lord says, “I am the Lord your God, the holy God of Israel, who saves you”.

013On a cold winter’s day the congregation gathered at the river for the baptism of a young man. The preacher began by reminding those gathered that with baptism comes adoption as God’s child, the washing away of sin and the change that this brings to everyday life. After the man had been standing in the water for a while and the preacher had completely drenched him with the icy river water, he noticed the man turning blue and said to him, “Are you feeling cold?”

“Naa!” the man bravely replied not wanting to be disrespectful or spoil the moment.

Then a loud voice was heard from the congregation, “Dunk him again preacher, he’s still lying.”

We know that a voice was heard the day that Jesus was baptised but not from the crowd gathered at the River Jordan. It was the voice of God that came from the heavens saying, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you”. The gospel writers leave no doubt that Jesus was baptised by a man known as John the Baptist in the Jordan River. This happened as Jesus was about to begin his ministry of teaching about the Kingdom of God, and doing acts of love and mercy including suffering and dying on a cross.

Today focuses on the baptism of Jesus and gives us an excellent opportunity to centre our attention on the meaning of baptism. It’s a real shame that the sacrament of baptism, like Holy Communion, has created division among Christians over the centuries. What constitutes a “valid” baptism has been a point of contention. Fortunately a number of the churches have agreed on what baptism is but there are still disagreements amongst certain section of the Christian community.

The disagreement sometimes focuses on whether the Bible allows children to be baptised. The argument might go something like this, “Show me solid evidence in the New Testament that the early Christians baptised infants. When whole households of adults were baptised, children are not specifically mentioned”. The counter reply to this goes like this, “Show me undeniable proof that the people of the New Testament didn’t baptise infants. Are there any passages that specifically forbid the baptism of infants or state that children must reach a certain age in order to be baptised?”

You see, we can argue over this till the cows come home but it won’t bring us any closer to an understanding of who is or who is not allowed to be baptised according to the New Testament.

Another disagreement focuses on the way the water is applied. Some argue that the New Testament word for baptism means to immerse and that’s undeniable. In fact, there is great symbolism in baptism by immersion. It visibly demonstrates the drowning of sin, Satan and death as the person is immersed under the water, and the rising of the new person, the new creation, the new child of God as the person emerges from the water. Luther draws on this image in his catechism when he says that baptism is a drowning of the old nature in us, everything that is sinful and selfish dies and a new nature arises that seeks to do what is right and good – a new life that will extend beyond the grave into eternity.

On the other hand there are those who say quite correctly that baptism also means to wash, like washing dishes, washing our bodies, the washing of a baby, and the ritual washing of hands before performing sacred rites where only a very small amount of water is used. There is plenty of evidence in ancient writings that supports the ‘washing clean’ aspect of baptism. When a baby has water poured over him or her in baptism, this is a visible sign of the power of God’s grace. The baby has nothing to offer God, no self-righteousness, vows of commitment, or promises of loyalty and yet God is there for that child giving his grace and bountiful love.

You can see whether we talk about the age a person can be baptised or whether baptism is by immersion or by washing or by pouring we can get all uptight and say that one form is more “valid” than another and argue about words and their meaning but in actual fact not get any closer to understanding what baptism really is.

What makes the matter even more complicated is when we look at some of the attitudes toward baptism.

When it comes to baptism of an adult whether by immersion in a river or creek, or by pouring at a baptismal font, I get really uncomfortable when the emphasis is placed on the repentance or the commitment or the discipleship or promises of loyalty and dedication of the person being baptised. It’s as if the person in some way has earned the right to be baptised and made a child of God through some kind of righteousness and holiness that has been achieved through the person’s own repentance and rightness before God.

The grace of Christ which seeks us, calls us, heals us, claims us should always be the primary focus. The sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion celebrate God’s free generous grace that loves us and accepts us even though we are stained through and through with sin and evil. We are accepted in baptism not because of some kind of “worthy” repentance or correct understanding of faith or somehow feeling especially close to God.

We fall into the same trap when it comes to Communion and what makes a person ready to receive the body and blood of Christ. We can easily focus on our worthiness or the commitment to discipleship of the person being baptised that we lose sight of what baptism is all about. It is not a human act but an act of God and all that counts is the grace of God. Paul writes, “God’s love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved… It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift (Ephesians 2:4,8).

When it comes to the baptism of an infant, whether by immersion or by pouring, we get somewhat uncomfortable with some of the attitudes that people have towards this sacrament. Parents casually fulfil some kind of family or social expectation to “have the child done” and when they say they will bring up their child to know Jesus and his love for them, bring him/her to worship, and teach them about God, how to pray and what their baptism means we wince with disbelief thinking that they don’t have any intention of carrying out what they are promising.

Over the years members of congregations have expressed their concern that this wonderful sacrament has been degraded by the attitudes of parents and godparents to baptism. Some parents have considered the lack of understanding that a child has about what is happening in baptism and so have opted for a dedication of their children and “let them decide for themselves when they are older”.

This is a very real concern. What do we do with this kind of uneasiness?

Some churches have laid down some rules like – parents need to attend worship 4 Sundays in a row before their child can be baptised. Others have decided that parents need to attend 6 weeks of preparation classes. Others have ruled that only people above a certain age can be baptised. Others have decided that only children of active members of the congregation can be baptised. The trouble with making rules is that there needs to be other rules to define the rule; like, what is an active member of the congregation?

I can understand why this line of thinking is followed and sympathise with those who want to protect the sacrament of holy baptism.

But all of this leads us into the trap of self-righteousness again. We focus on the lack of commitment and faith of the parents. We only see the flaws in the beliefs and the casual attitude of the parents to the Christian faith. We fail to see the magnificent and complete grace of God that is being celebrated in baptism. We fail to see that the grace of God doesn’t need human assistance to be effective. We fail to see that sin doesn’t neutralise the grace of God – it’s the other way around.

I struggle with all this when I baptise a child whose parents I know from our pre-baptismal chat that their understanding of baptism is flawed and their commitment to following through on what they promise is quite shallow. However, I have decided that I can live with the inadequacies of parents just as God and you as a congregation have to deal with my inadequacies. If the effectiveness of baptism depended on the worthiness of the candidate or the parents then who indeed would have the right to claim the grace of God?

The grace of God is not claimed it is given. And in baptism we focus on what God is able to do regardless of human effort. Let’s not sell God short on what he can do in the lives of people either in the immediate future or way down the track.

In the Old Testament God makes a covenant with his people. Yes, they are disobedient, proud, self-righteous, eager to follow the path of evil rather than God’s ways and yet God promises, “I am the Lord your God, the holy God of Israel who saves you. … You are precious to me. Do not be afraid – I am with you!” “I have called you by name – you are mine” (Isaiah 43:3-5, 1). That’s what I want to focus on when I conduct a baptism or witness water being poured on a person’s head in holy baptism. This is an act of God who loves us dearly even though we are imperfect, blemished, disobedient, uncommitted and often far too slack when it comes to acknowledging God as the Lord of our lives.

God knows all that and yet he calls us and claims us with his grace. In baptism, as in Holy Communion, the focus is on God and what he does for us. In the times when we give up on God, despair about our own sinfulness, are frustrated by the turn of events, we remember God’s baptismal promise to us that remains firm and sure regardless of how unworthy we may feel. His promise is certain, “I have called you by name – you are mine”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Your Epiphany

Reading: Ephesians 3:5-6

Tell me,  what is the difference between  Christmas and Epiphany?

Say to any  Christian: “It’s Christmas next week!” and they will know exactly what you  mean. Say to most other Christians: “It’s Epiphany next week!” and they will  mostly look blankly at you.

Funny thing  is that the festival of Epiphany was celebrated long before Christmas was ever  thought of. Historically speaking, Christmas – at least as we know it – is  actually quite a recent development.

We might  have assumed Christmas was one of the oldest Christian festivals there was, but  actually all of the great traditions we associate with Christmas only came  along in the mid 1800s. The singing of Christmas carols was only revived around  then. The Christmas tree only became popular in the British Empire after it was  introduced to England by Prince Albert – the German born consort of Queen Victoria. Sending  Christmas cards and giving gifts has only gradually become popular from around  the turn of last century. And Father Christmas – the fat happy man in the red  and white suit – only became highly popular in his present form in the 1950s.

Christmas as  a festival was first celebrated only towards the end of the period of the early  church, when a Christian Roman Emperor wanted to Christianise a pagan Roman  festival called Saturnalia. Because this festival happened in the calendar  fairly close to Epiphany, it was nominated as a festival specifically celebrating  the birth of Jesus. And it grew from there and has gradually taken over from  Epiphany ever since.

But  Epiphany started as a festival of the Christian Church. The word Epiphany means  “disclosure or revelation or unveiling”, and the purpose of the festival was to  celebrate not just the event of Jesus’ birth, but what it actually means for  the world; what its significance and importance is.

And this is  exactly what Paul was on about in this reading from Ephesians 3 – the  revelation or unveiling of God’s great plan for the redemption of the whole  world. This is more than just the Bethlehem  story. This is more than shepherds and angels and the manger and the star in  the East. Epiphany is the whole unfolding of God’s wonderful through Jesus,  including the baptism of Jesus (that we will celebrate next Sunday), his  miracles, his healings, his teaching, his cross and his resurrection, and  importantly, his ascension.

This  unfolding plan does not just take place in New Testament times, but also  throughout the whole Old Testament. Jesus Christ is not just the last phase of  God’s plan. He is the key to the whole thing. The arrival of God’s Son in the  world as a human being is the key that unlocks and reveals and makes clear and  explains the whole mystery of God’s plan that has been unfolding ever since the  dawn of creation. The birth of Jesus is the great epiphany – the last piece in  the jigsaw that suddenly makes the other pieces fall into place, the final  drawing away of the veil that reveals at last what you could only see vague  hints of before.

Paul says  “in former generations this mystery has not been made known to humanity, as it  has now been revealed to His holy prophets and apostles by the Spirit”.

Jesus is  the key that unlocks what God has been doing for all these millennia: the Son  of God in human form. He is the only and the perfect redeemer for the world.  The human race has been lost in sin, and its ultimate result, which is death.  The only answer to this plague is one who can deal with our sin and with death  and conquer them finally through his own death and resurrection for the  forgiveness of our sins. The only answer is in the one who shares God’s divine  nature and power to break the death-grip of sin, and who also truly shares our  human nature in order to truly take on himself our sin and our death and  release us for eternal life.

This is the  final opening up, the final epiphany of what God is doing – hidden and secret  from past ages, but made clear now in Christ. Read the Gospel readings for the  rest of the Epiphany season and you see how Jesus progressively throughout his  ministry unfolds the reality of who he is and what he is doing, through  miracles and signs and teaching, and finally of course through the ultimate climax  of the eternal plan; his passion, death and resurrection.

Here at  last is the fulfilment of everything the prophets have been saying in ages  past, the completion of the Old Testament’s story, the salvation and restoration not just of Israel, but (as Paul  says in verse 6) of all the nations (the Gentiles) as well, including us of  course. This is the Gospel – the good news for the whole planet.

And this  season of Epiphany is a great time to read the Bible and learn and grow in your  understanding of this amazing Gospel and how it unfolds through time. And I  would like to invite you to do just that – look ahead and read the Bible  readings listed for this season. It will open up your understanding.

Christmas  is wonderful, but one of the things that becomes a problem for us in the church  at Christmas time is that we tend to lose our focus a bit – it’s all become very cuddly and cosy in the  stable. And we tend to get stuck at Bethlehem.  We see the babe lying in a manger. We hear the story of the journey to Bethlehem and the shepherds visited by angels and told to  go to Bethlehem and the wise men coming to Bethlehem. And so at Christmas  time we too go to Bethlehem,  and sadly many Christians stay there and never leave. This story warms us and  tugs at our heart strings. But there’s more isn’t there. We need to leave the  stable and move on to Epiphany.

Why was Jesus born? As one carol puts it,  Jesus was “born that man no more may die,  born to raise the sons of earth: born to give them second birth”.

Epiphany  takes us further than Bethlehem.  It does not leave us at the manger; it takes us also to the cross, where our  sins were paid for once and for all. It takes us to the empty tomb where Jesus  Christ rose to give eternal life to all people. It takes us – each of us – to  the place of our “second birth”, to the baptismal font, where we Jesus makes  his forgiveness and salvation ours.

And this is  where Epiphany happens in each of our individual lives. This is where the  manger and the cross and the empty tomb all converge to change our individual  personal destinies. This is where we meet Jesus. This is where he reveals his  plan for our lives, His plan to forgive and renew and recreate us for this life  and the next

And Jesus  reveals God’s plan for us every time we return to our baptism by confessing our  sins and receiving His forgiveness, every time we come to receive His body and  blood, every time we open and read and hear His Word.

Jesus is at  work in our life everyday. Your life is in fact a mini-Epiphany, because His  grand plan for us is unfolding in our life minute by minute. Jesus is calling us to grow in our knowledge  of him and in our relationship with him, calling us to grow and to move and to serve, and more and more reveal  his light to others around us, his we become more like him, as our lives reveal  and unveil him to the eyes of others.

And so it’s  time to leave Bethlehem.  It’s time for Epiphany. Because Jesus Christ wants to reveal his plan for  saving the world not only to us, but through us to the whole world.       

Pastor Stephen Pietsch