Archive for June, 2013

Which way will you choose?

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

 

Text: Luke 9:57-57

As they went on their way, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.” He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But that man said, “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.” Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Someone else said, “I will follow you, sir; but first let me go and say good-bye to my family.” Jesus said to him, “Anyone who starts to plow and then keeps looking back is of no use for the Kingdom of God.”

At the crossroads.

I have read that an athlete has a training schedule of 20 hours a week in the pool and 3 hours a week in the gymnasium. That is his minimum amount of training per week. For one to have any chance against the world’s best one needs to have one focus, to make sacrifices, record there priorities and be single-minded, determined and committed to being the best in the world. Without that determination and perseverance they would soon tire of the routine and there ability to be the best would soon fade.

This is the extent to which people are prepared to go in pursuit of the glory of winning a contest of human strength and agility. It’s tough trying to be the best in the world – but if you want an Olympic medal then that’s the way it has to be.

Today gospel reading is also tough. In a nutshell Jesus is saying that if you want to be a disciple, if you want to respond to Jesus call to “follow” then be ready for some tough decisions and demanding actions.

A man comes up to Jesus and says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” That’s quite a promise. No matter where Jesus went he was prepared to be there right beside him. The answer that Jesus gave must have flawed not only the enthusiastic man but also those who had been quite impressed with this man eagerness to be a follower. Jesus throws a wet blanket on the enthusiasm of that first would-be disciple when he says: “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.” And that is right, we never hear of Jesus being “at home” during his ministry, or “going home” after a heavy day of miracles and teaching. He is always on the move, helping people in their needs, finding little rest, going from this place to the next.

Jesus tells the man who is dead keen on following Jesus that being a disciple is more important than personal security and comfort. It is true a basic human need is having a place to live – a place where we find support from those we love, where we find refuge and help, a place of security and safety where we can rest and relax and be ourselves. Jesus isn’t denying the fact that we all need a place to call home. He is pointing out that being a follower is not comfortable and easy. In fact, if we find discipleship cosy and easy then there is sure to be something wrong with our commitment and obedience. A part of the difficulty in following Jesus is this – there is nothing more important than following..

When Peter, James and John left the security of their jobs as fishermen and the comfort of their homes to follow Jesus, they risked everything to follow him,they took him at his word,they took the leap of faith and trusted Jesus to care for them as they followed him. Later they committed themselves to Jesus and went throughout the world preaching the good news of forgiveness, spending a good deal of time not in warm homes but in dark and damp dungeons. At the time Jesus called them, they had no idea of what was ahead of them. Their future, their security and their home was in the hands of the one who called them.

Like the athlete, the disciple must be ready to make personal sacrifices. It may mean giving up what we regard as comfortable and cosy in our lives or in the church in order to show the love of Christ and to proclaim the kingdom of God. To carry out the work of Christ, we are most likely to be challenged to do something that we have never done before,help people we have never considered helping in the past, tell about the love of Jesus to people whom we have always been afraid to tell, talk to someone even though we don’t have a clue who they are or what we will talk about, risk our reputation by sticking up for what is right or befriending someone whom everyone else think is a loser.The call to follow Jesus means take a risk, to step out boldly for the sake of the love of Jesus.

The second would-be disciple responds to the call of Jesus with: “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.” This request seems reasonable enough. This man has a sense of human responsibility. And not only that, he knows what the law requires of him – he is to care for his aging father and to see that he is given a proper funeral. Even the high priest was allowed to interrupt his duties to carry out his duties to his family.

Again Jesus is saying that to follow him is the most important priority that we have. The world’s athletes right now are focussed on only one thing – that is winning a medal – preferably a gold medal. Jesus told this would-be disciple “Let those who have no interest in following me bury the dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Jesus is telling this person that nothing on earth, no matter how sacred, must be allowed to stand between him and the person he calls to follow. Don’t put off following Jesus, being obedient to his call to serve him until another day. Don’t we use excuses like
“I’ll do more when I’m retired and have more time”,

“when the kids are off my hands”,

“when things slow down at work”,

“when I have a bit more spare time”,

“when we’ve paid off the house”.

Jesus is calling us now to obedience. Who knows, there may not be a tomorrow for us. He’s calling us to do the work he has given us as the church and members of the church right now. Discipleship is a matter of getting your priorities right.
There is no place for conflicting loyalties when we travel with Christ! This is what Jesus told the third would-be disciple who said: “I will follow you, sir; but first let me go and say goodbye to my family.” This third would-be disciple is making terms – “I will follow, but first….”

It’s a bit like Ian Thorpe saying to his coach, “Yes, I’ll be there at practice but let me first eat these 6 cream buns and the delicious chocolate cake that my mum made for me. Then I have a TV appearance to make and then model my designer swimwear. But be sure I am coming.” I’m sure his coach would not be impressed by this kind of commitment.
Jesus isn’t interested in half-hearted or undecided or conditional discipleship. Jesus is only interested in an unconditional acceptance of his call. It’s important to see that Jesus isn’t saying that we should neglect our families, spouses, or work and use our devotion to church activities as a substitute for being at home with our families. What Jesus is implying is that when you follow me as first priority then you will be a better father, mother, grandparent, son or daughter, or employee.

Ian Thorpe must have given priority to his training and follow his coach’s instructions with dedication and perseverance if he wants to win gold medals. But even more important than winning gold medals is the call to follow Jesus. When we are called to “follow” then we must be careful of our priorities.

It’s worth noting that the true conflict we face when called to follow Jesus is not a conflict between what we love and what we ought to hate. Rather the conflict that arises is between what we love. Giving priority to those things we love over against what we hate – that’s easy. What is tough about following Jesus is giving Jesus priority over the things and people we love.

When thinking about our discipleship and reordering our priorities, putting first things first, it is tempting for us to draw up a list of priorities with discipleship being the most important among a whole lot of other important priorities. But that is not what Jesus is saying here at all. The call to follow Jesus is the priority over all other priorities.

When discipleship is the only priority, when it is the only and the most important thing in our lives, then all the other things will fall into their right places. It is wonderfully true, that when we make the radical leap of faith and commit ourselves to a life of following Jesus, and I really mean, responding to his single-minded and unswerving love for us with a discipleship that is single minded and unswerving, then all the other important things in our lives find their right places.

At this point I wonder if you feel the same as I do when talking about this whole matter of following Jesus and giving that our first priority.

Do you get an uncomfortable feeling when Jesus is so straight to the point, so blunt, and talks about total and complete unconditional loyalty to him?

Do you squirm a bit when you hear Jesus talking about following because the question that inevitably follows is–

“how well have I followed Jesus?”

I have heard his call, what has been my response?

How often have I offered all kinds of excuses, rather than obediently following my master when he calls “follow me”?

Our sinful nature gets in the way of truly following Jesus with all our heart, soul and mind. It is just for those times when we get our priorities all mixed up and upside down that Jesus died on the cross. Daily we need to go to Jesus in repentance and own up to our failure when we offer so many excuses and put the most important things last. Daily we need to experience the cleansing that Jesus gives through forgiveness and reconciliation. Daily we need a fresh realisation of the never-ending love that Jesus has for us.

And as we are forgiven we are again called to “follow him” and offer the commitment and dedication that comes as a response to all that Jesus has done for us.

If an athlete can make personal sacrifices, reorder his priorities, and commit himself completely to winning a medal at the Olympics, then surely we can do the same as we run for a much greater prize – eternal life.

May we respond to his calling with confidence because of his faithfulness to help us in the tasks he calls us to carry out whether they be big or small, spectacular or mundane. He can use us in all kinds of ways to call others to follow Jesus. He has given his Spirit to work in and through those who answer his call to follow.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

The plans of mice & men

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

The plans of mice and men

1 kings 19:1-15a & Galatians 3:23-29

Sometimes it feels like the saying, that “The best laid plans of mice and men, often go amiss” should read “The best laid plans of mice and men, always go amiss”. A bit like in our human nature that sometimes “when all else has failed we’ll turn to prayer”, or as I have experienced, after having come to a dead end after hours, days or weeks of churning over something-in desperation I ask my wife Cathy, who nonchalantly gives me the answer I just couldn’t seem to see on my own.

Sometimes our plans do go amiss but that does not mean we shouldn’t plan as I surely wouldn’t want to be heading into the blue yonder on a flying bomb, commonly called a spaceship without some planning having been put in place and the same for buying a house or running a business or most of the big ticket things in our lives. Planning’s a good thing to do, but no matter how intensely you’ve seemingly covered all the bases, we’ll find we haven’t and there’s nothing surer that sooner or later we’ll have to take a “leap of faith”, roll with the punches and see where it takes us.

For the past few weeks we have been talking about “salvation through faith in Christ alone” and in today’s epistle reading Paul gives us the confirming outcome:

Now that faith has come….(that) in Christ you are all sons and daughters of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”.

I bet you didn’t see that one coming when you got baptised as an infant. And that’s the point, with the God stuff; we’ve just got to let God be God as even today here in worship, what have we ourselves really done. I would suggest to you the only thing we have done is turn up and be present. Yes, we have heard the word of God, and we will join in Holy Communion shortly-gifts that the Lord has assured us are good for us, good for bringing us to faith and strengthening our faith and whether today you leave feeling as though you’ve been taken to the mountain top or not-those gifts work in us. But in all honesty, what have we done today-we’ve turned up, that’s it and while it doesn’t seem quite like the lofty efforts of the Elijah’s and Moses’ and what they got up to in serving God, in just presenting ourselves before the Lord today and letting God be God is mighty in his eyes.

To believe and know the truth of “Salvation through faith in Christ alone” is not of our rationale or logic, it has come from outside of us when we knew him not. Yet here you are today, living breathing vessels of the truth. Living breathing miracles blessed by The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit who I know are, and will be a blessing to others.

I have no doubt that each of you will do great things for the Lord, the same way as you are today-by simply presenting yourself as you are before the lord, to let God be God-and as a living vessel of the truth, you will do great things by just presenting yourself to the world, simply as who you are and Let God be God.

Stand before the world as vessels of the truth and in letting God be God creates miracles.

Miracles like the countless and unplanned ones that come from the seemingly simple and random efforts of the Gideon’s in placing a vessel of the truth, a bible in a motel room.

Like the one that started when a friend of mine, bored and with nothing to do found a bible in the motel room cupboard and started reading it. A journey seemingly started by chance that continues this day.

God has all the tools at his disposal. All consuming power yet he seems to work in ways that we would not, as seen in our reading of Elijah.

There is Elijah, hiding away in a cave after having putting it all on the line, yet for seemingly no result. Despondent and living in fear for his life. But worst of all it all seems for nought. So God comes to him and after asking Elijah what’s going on, Elijah responds:

“I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your alters, and killed every one of your prophets. I am left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

Then there is a mighty windstorm that ripped rocks and boulders free from the mountain, but the Lord was not in it. Then a mighty earthquake followed by fire and still the Lord was not in them. But then there was the sound of a gentle whisper, and it was the Lord.

Adam and Eve failed the test, yet God with all power, chose to cloth them after failing him. And God with all power, to a broken humanity sends a small child to grow amongst His failed creation, and walk in humility to his own death on a cross, that those that have failed him, may be clothed in his righteousness.

God has total power, yet he often chooses to work in the quiet, the small and seemingly insignificant. Yet most astonishing of all, he works through sinners. Through people, the same people who though they may have moments of genuine intent, still fail him. People like the great Elijah, or the many “bottom of the rung in society” that Jesus touched on his walk to the cross and all those in between. People like us.

Failed human beings yet like a vessel of the truth placed in a motel room drawer, who as Paul says to Timothy “are entrusted with the mystery of Christ.”

The mystery of Christ we carry in our lives as parents, children, mechanics, business owners, employers and employees. The mystery of Christ we carry in our lives and while sometimes it may seem of no avail like a bible sitting away quietly in that motel room, we still carry it and present it by being present and let God be God and know that somehow, someway-someone will see a dusty old vessel of the truth that continues to fail, yet perseveres. See us hurting, yet living in hope. Broken, yet restored.

They see us for what we are, yet in all off that God will be God and by us being present in him, somehow they may just hear Christ for themselves, and they too be entrusted with the mystery of faith, life and salvation. Amen.

Between Friends

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

“We are many, but we are one”

Luke 7:36-8:3

After having moved to a small country town, I remarked to my dad how thoughtful the president of the local football club was. He said he was not surprised. Unbeknown to me, my parents had lived in the same town for a short period early in their marriage. They were bottom of the food chain. People of very humble origin and means and new to the town. The father of the football president I mentioned was a large land holder and poultry producer, and local identity. And having heard that mums and dads half a dozen chooks weren’t laying eggs, one day he visited them, introduced himself and spent three to four hours with them trying to work out the problem with their six chooks. My dad told me this story thirty years after it had happened, and it still moved him that a man like that, would give a man like him, two to three hours of his time.

For all intentions purposes this man could have treated them like a charity case and gave them new chickens, or offered them his own eggs or even some financial assistance and Lord knows they could have used it. But this man gave something much, much more. He gave them his time and he gave himself and in him including them into his life, even if but for a short time: he gave them self-esteem, and the Lord knew they needed it.

Imagine the courage it took for the lady in today’s gospel to enter the house of the Pharisee. A “lady of the night” who has the audacity to enter the house of one of the religious elite. You’ve heard the story read and as always it’s easy to have a crack at the Pharisee. But’s let’s put this into perspective. Firstly he’s invited Jesus to his house. Yes, probably to check him out but he still did. This in itself would have been risky among his colleagues. Then uninvited, a notorious women invites herself to the table. It’s like a scene from happy Gilmour who attracts the scorn of his new noble golfing colleagues for the type of “uncouth “supporters he’s attracting to the game. Seriously, what do you think would be the response in the good “Lutheran heartland” if at the induction of the new Pastor with the local and state dignitaries present, his mates and others that had heard of him rock up: the local drunks, thieves, prostitutes and maybe throw in a few outlaw bikie members. To say the least, I would think that there might be some who would doubt of the new pastor or be embarrassed.

And as we know, the women offers Jesus everything that the Pharisee did not. After working the streets in her dangerous and degrading occupation she pours expensive ointment on his feet. Weeping, she uses what she has available-her tears to wipe his feet and dries them with her hair. Yet for all this going on, the reason Jesus says her sins are forgiven is because of her faith.

For all the differences of the people before Jesus that night, the difference that Jesus saw was that one of them was there to check him out, to see if he was O.K., and the other who came to be made O.K., to be released from the bondage of the sin that she knew of herself and that the community and Jesus knew of her.

For the previous weeks we have been talking about “forgiveness and salvation in faith in Jesus alone” and in today’s reading we have “seen” it.

A notorious sinner knowing who and what Jesus is approaches him. No doubt she has a sad and lonely story of how she found herself to be what she has become in the world. Yet she offers no excuses or reasons for her lifestyle. She does not offer one word during this whole story other than the words of her heart and faith as she throws herself at Jesus feet for healing and mercy. And Jesus response, no why’s or now get your act together, only “your faith has saved you, go in peace” and that IS the gospel of the Lord, praise be to God.”

Living in what some would call a “rough and tumble” opal mining town I had “all bases covered”. During the day I worked in the only bank in town and at night in the only pub in town. Mining opal is hit and miss and a person can have nothing one day, and extreme riches “the next”. There’s no guarantees of anything except for a lot of work and the need for a lot of luck and I still remember two miners both in their dirty mining gear, standing at the bar together-one still holding onto the dream and the other who had just found it. Two who were once brothers in arms in situation, now still brothers in arms in extremes. Though one had been blessed with riches and the other not, but both were still as one standing at the bar, the same as they had been the week before.

Standing before Christ are we not these two people. Those fortunate and those less fortunate, but as one before Christ. Those who have heard his call and those that haven’t-but both equally loved by the Lord.

Like Jesus stood amongst a respected Pharisee and a lowly prostitute and wanted nothing of either except for them to know him, he stands amongst all those in our world wanting the same. He loves both the attacker and the attacked, the ungodly and the godly and offers both the same-a new life in him. Some to be released from their harmful ways and some to be released from the pain of being harmed.

In this world we are all as one, as in sin all have fallen short and while God does not love our sin, he does love to release us from it.

In this world we have all fallen short and the Lord sees the chains we have placed on ourselves and the bondage in which we live-and offers himself in their place.

In the movie “Gran Torino” Clint Eastwood, a tarnished war veteran haunted by his past actions is told by a pastor that he can still find peace in the Lord as what he had done as a soldier is what he had to do. To which he responded: “It not what I had to do that condemns me, it’s what I didn’t have to do”. And we may never be able to accept people like Jesus did, or for that matter accept ourselves like Jesus does. That’s just how it is as both sinners in ourselves while being saints in Christ.

Unfortunately, in our human nature and original sin we will all depart this world still as part Pharisees. But fortunately, in knowing of that, we know our only answer is in Christ-the answer he gave with his life that even we will be fully restored on our last day. Because whether in circumstance or in heart, in sin we have all fallen short and stand as one. Yet to a Pharisee and a prostitute, to both a poor miner and a rich miner standing at a bar, to the abuser and the abused and to you and me, Jesus says it’s not what you have done that condemns you nor good works that will save you. For I don’t give you charity, I give you much more. I give you myself, that to me-you may give of yourself and know my peace.

Pray that in knowing the Lord’s peace in our lives and in knowing that in circumstance: “that there bar the grace of God we may have gone”, that to the less fortunate, the hurting and the lost “that in the grace of God, to them we may go,” that in standing alongside them, that as one-they may stand alongside us, in both this world, and in the world to come. Amen.

 

Your true North

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

“It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the truth”

Galatians 1:11-24

On Thursday I read an article in the news titled “10 tips from CEO’s to help you get ahead” and I took particular note of what Pip Marlow, the Managing director of Microsoft Australia wrote. She says:

“Be the real you. Think of the leaders you respect and understand why they evoke that response. For me, it’s about authenticity, but you can’t try to be authentic-you either are, or you’re not. What you can do is stay focussed on your true north. Know who you are and what you believe. Leaders who do this lead and speak from the heart. That is what I aspire to do every day.”

“Stay focussed on your true North. Know who you are and what you believe. Be authentic-Be yourself.” Good advice when we consider from Revelations the Lord’s assessment of the church of Laodicea against their Key performance indicators.

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either one or the other. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you from my mouth.”

“This spit you from my mouth” when looking at the Greek text is more like “spewing you out, throwing up”. A harsh assessment that the Lord says is the result of them not knowing their own wretchedness. Of not seeing the full extent of their sin and their desperate need for Christ because of it.

In the Galatians reading we heard of Paul, and of being lukewarm he was certainly not.

In verse 23 Pauls says that the churches of Judea that are in Christ were continually hearing reports of Paul the persecutor. And I might add, that as well they might because these churches were where they were because of having to flee Jerusalem for their lives after the stoning to death of Stephen, the first of those martyred for simply being a Christian and in Acts chapter 8 we are told that:

“Paul (then named Saul) approved of his execution and was ravaging the church and entering house after house, dragging off both men and women and committing them to prison.”

One thing Paul was not was lukewarm. As he said he was a Zealous person. Fanatical, passionate and enthusiastic in his work in which he believed. Then as we know, enter Jesus and the rest is history as after his conversion he would use those same gifts to unabashedly preach, preach and preach some more of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In verse 12 and 13 Paul states: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

Jesus had pulled off a masterstroke as this would be like the same happening today in our world to the most ardent and renowned of atheists (and pray that might happen).

Yet Paul was no “on a soapbox condemning hypocrite”. He had been shown his true North-Jesus. He had been shown what he was-the worst of sinners, and he had come you know what to believe-in the saving work of Jesus Christ.

He came to faith in Christ alone, a faith that Martin Luther states is:

“a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a person could stake there life on it a thousand times.”

Paul in his previous beliefs was confronted by Christ, and in turn he confronted those in Galatia and elsewhere of who they are to listen to in their spiritual lives, of who determines the truth for them: God or man? And this is as important a question today as it was for the people of Paul’s day. For there are many today who are proclaiming a different gospel, and leading people to place greater importance on human ideas and actions, above that which God has given and done for us. We are even being encouraged to accept things which go against and change what Scripture itself has to say

So also today, we face ridicule and denigration when we make a stand for the true Gospel and God’s Word. We are branded as fundamentalist and conservative. We are told; ‘How do you know that you are right?’ or ‘What right have you got to impose your views on us, or say that we are wrong?’ We are encouraged to be more open, flexible and tolerant; and I could go on. But the point is that we face many pressures which are trying to pervert the Gospel and take our focus away from Jesus Christ and the importance of his death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. So we need to be wary of these forces and know what it is that is truly important for us.

In light of all of this we need to keep in mind what Paul has to say here. The true Gospel does not come from any human sources. It is God’s revealed truth to us; and we need to be prepared to stand by this revelation. Salvation by grace through faith; Christ alone; Scripture alone, faith alone; are basic truths of the Gospel that cannot be compromised. These truths and the Good News that underlies it are God’s revelation to us; that is Paul’s big point here. God has given and revealed this Good News to his Church, and we must not walk away from it or place the emphasis anywhere else.

In this reading, Paul tells us that he had studied the Old Testament Scriptures and the traditions of the Jewish faith for years; that he was a master of them; and yet, till Christ revealed himself to him, he was in the dark and worked against the Gospel. It was only after Christ had confronted him that all the Scriptures that he had read and studied, finally made sense. The Good News had then been made known to him.

So are we reminded, that we do not receive the truth through research alone; Although God can certainly do his work in us when we do. And the more time we spend in God’s Word allowing him to speak to us, the more he reveals his truth. But just because a person has done extensive theological study, that doesn’t mean they know the truth – that the Gospel has touched and changed their lives. The devil knows the Bible better than any of us; yet he does not know the Gospel. If we simply study the word to legitimise our own point of view and actions and try to use the Bible for our own purposes, it places ‘me’ in the centre and not God Almighty himself. Human logic cannot comprehend the Gospel; for as the Scriptures say it is foolishness to reason and a stumbling block to those who are seeking miracles.

The Gospel comes only by revelation from God himself: a gift from above. That is Paul’s big point here. He hasn’t simply been listening to others in order to know the Gospel – popular opinion played no part in his theology. Even though he had been devoted to the traditions of the Jewish faith and prided himself on his understanding of and practice of that faith; he was brought to see that it was all for nought. It was not the Good News of salvation. Instead, he was brought to see that it was God’s grace that had chosen and saved him and which now called him to serve. This same grace revealed Jesus Christ and the fullness of what God had done through him and his death and resurrection. This Good News transformed Paul from a murdering zealot to a faithful, suffering servant and preacher of the faith.

So also do we, today, need to look to God to reveal to us what we need to know when it comes to our spiritual lives. The true Gospel and the truth only come from him, through the means that he gives; and that is primarily through his Word, the bible. This undeserved love of God that came to Paul, has also chosen us all and seeks to reveal to us that Jesus died for our forgiveness and made it possible for us to be in his family.

He wants us all to know that he loves us and has made it possible for us to be with him in eternity. He makes it quite clear that all who simple believe: that is trust in what Jesus has done through his death and resurrection have the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of life and salvation. This is the only Good News for us all that there is. There is no other salvation; no other real life; and no other way to God.

Anyone or anything that seeks to add to this Gospel or take away from it, is a perversion. Any human work that is seen as necessary for salvation does not come from God. At a time when so much emphasis is placed on the ‘self’ and the importance of what we do [both outside the church as well as within] we need to be ever vigilant that we do not get slowly led astray. Christ alone; Grace alone; Scripture alone; faith alone, are key understandings of the revealed truth of the Gospel.

So it is this revelation of God that we need to keep in mind when we face all kinds of issues in the church and in life. No matter whether we are thinking of what it is that constitutes the Gospel; or worship issues; outreach to others; moral and ethical issues; or whatever, we need to look firstly to what God has already revealed to us. We do not merely follow the teaching of our world around us; social opinion, a bit of this religion and a bit of that; or anything else. God determines truth for us, not mankind.

That continually leads us then to a focus that is centered very much on Christ and the importance of his death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. So again, we will be wary when we hear a lot of talk about ‘christianty’ without a focus on Christ and him crucified. There is so much talk about ‘living the Christian life’ but often with little reference to Christ and the cross. Thereby our sinful human nature will grab hold of that and get us to place our trust and focus on ‘me and what I must do.’ But always, God would have us focus on Christ and what he has done for us and what wants to do in our lives.

So as we go forward, let us not be confused or led astray to ‘another gospel’ which is no Gospel at all. Let us be sure that we seek to listen, understand and follow God’s Word and not some hollow human philosophy or ideas. We must base our souls’ eternal welfare on the teachings of our Lord, rather than additions and subtractions. Remember the Gospel that comes from God is all about Jesus Christ and grace: it is all a free gift. Whereas the gospel of humanity adds what we have to do; and that is a perversion.

Christ is not lukewarm. He is authentic. There are no maybes, ifs or buts-he categorically states that in faith in me alone you are saved. That is, in faith in Christ alone you are saved.

Listen to God and what he has to say in the Bible and you will not go wrong. Look first and foremost to Christ and the cross and you will find the help and life that we desperately need. With that, God will continue to reveal his truth to us as we go forward as his Church. Then through it all not only will we be blessed but we will also be a blessing to others. But most importantly then all glory and honour will go to where it belongs; to our gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Part of this message referenced with thanks from Pastor Roger Atze.

Martin’s light globe moment

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Luke 7:1-10

On Monday, a lady I know who worships at the Seventh Day Adventist Church gave me this magazine that she thought I might find interesting. It is their monthly publication and there is an article discussing the church from the fourteen century. It goes through many of the servants of God who during those times made a stand against the manipulation and errors of interpretation of the scriptures. Those who risked and even gave their life for the truth to be brought back into the light. People who risked and gave it all on a long and seemingly unwinnable fight, and then this:

“Then like a brilliant sunrise chasing away the darkness, Martin Luther burst onto the scene. His desire was not to form a separate church, but to have the church stay true to Scripture and be more like the early church. His efforts were neither accepted nor appreciated by church leaders. Excommunicated, he made his historic stand alone for the truth, that salvation is by faith alone in Jesus and not by what a person does. And his famous words echo through history: ‘Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God.’ (and) his followers became the great Lutheran church”.

An American psychologist defined arrogance as the expectation of special treatment. A person who thinks that he or she is not bound by the same rules that apply to everyone else. Because of money, position, success or something else-the arrogant person wants to have the best seat, get special honors, arrive late, leave early, go to the head of the line. To be treated like a VIP”.

The last words Martin Luther wrote were hardly an anthem of his achievements. Just six “simple” words scribbled on a piece of scrap paper: “We are beggars. This is true”.

St. Paul said that “If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD.” And those words from Luther are more than the musings from a dying man. They describe whom we are in the light of God’s grace shone on us in Jesus Christ. They point our focus away from ourselves-and to the truth, to the One who has died and been raised from death for us as the only foundation and source of our life and ministry together.

Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Calvin, Mother Teresa, Abraham, Moses, Noah, King David, Mary the mother of God, Joseph and the angels that visited them and many, many others. Great servants of God and though their lives and works are the stuff of legend, they still did not get ahead of themselves.

The centurion in today’s Gospel is yet another such person.

In the original Greek New Testament Jesus is amazed by only two people. The first those in his home town who “amazed” him by their lack of belief, and this centurion who amazed Jesus with his faith.

And when we look at this guy and his behaviors in those times we too see that he was a very special fellow that we could all learn from and indeed do well to model our own lives on.

Here we see a man of great power. A high ranking Roman officer in charge of hundreds of troops who in Capernaum had both the power and authority to rule the area as if he were a local emperor. Yet with this great power and though the Romans and the Jews were arch enemies of the highest order, he respected them and they him, and one can only wonder of the back chat and silent accusations of being a “brown noser” that would have come from within his own society when they found out that from his own funds he had a church built for the Jewish people. Or the skepticism and suspicion of the officers and soldiers under him, who used to ruling by force and fear start wondering if their leader has gone soft when they heard of him worrying about his servants health, when the normal practice would be too just throw him out and let him gradually die in the street. We see this guy is truly special, yet for all this, what is the only thing amongst it that is said to have amazed Jesus-simply his faith. This man amongst his world of the anti-Jewish, this man amongst the people of God-the Jews who had seen and heard Jesus preach for themselves, amazed Jesus because somehow he had come to see and know the truth amongst of all that was before him: “And when Jesus was not far from his house, the centurion sent friends saying to him’ Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But say the word, and let my servant be healed’”.

For all the riches and power this centurion had, for all the reasons that should have got in the way this man had still come to know the truth, that: “We are beggars. This is true” That for all the goodness he displayed in a goodless society, he came to know the truth, that: “salvation is by faith in Jesus alone and not by what a person does,” or is.

In my first year of studies during a class barbeque a bedraggled man approached and asked if he could have some food. While eating he professed that he was an alcoholic and though it had destroyed his life, he just couldn’t beat it, his days of denial were over and he was a broken man who said he had come to realize that this was his lot in life and finished with “the only thing I have is Jesus’ forgiveness.”

Two men at opposite ends of the spectrum who had every reason to believe in anything but in the truth of Christ. One with power, riches, respect and good works towards society and God, and the other: powerless, living on welfare and peoples scraps, lacking respect from self or others and with seemingly nothing to offer society or God alike. Two people with nothing in common, but the truth of Christ in their lives.

We look at these two people playing in the sand pit with their brothers and sisters and wonder whether one would have thought he would become a person of such esteem, wealth and power and the other of being a homeless alcoholic.

In this life we are what we are. Some rich and some not so. Some builders, bankers and politicians. Some students, unemployed and even pastors. All are different, yet all are the same. In his song “I am, I said” American musician Neil Diamond after having achieved fame and fortune likens himself with the story of a “frog that became a king”, yet follows with:

“But I’ve got an emptiness deep inside

And I’ve tried but it won’t let me go

And I’m not a man who likes to swear

But I’ve never cared for the sound of being alone

I am, I said

To no one there

And no one heard at all

Not even the chair

I am, I cried

I am, said I

And I am lost, and I can’t even say why”

When leaving my previous job in the finance industry my colleagues gave me a card in which they had written all the usual nice things, except for one who simply wrote: “I pray you find peace”.

Being rich or a pastor does not ensure peace and happiness like being poor or homeless does not ensure despair and hopelessness, because what we have or do is not the cause or the cure.

The cause is sin and the cure is Christ, and only in them do we answer to God.

The sin of a powerful yet kind and good natured centurion and the sin of a person given up on himself and living on the streets. The sin of a pastor and the sin of a banker. We are what we are. We all look different-some seen as good and some seen as not so good. Some judged harshly by society and some not so. Yet all are the same in sin.

What we have become or will become, or how we feel and act may be different from what we imagined playing in the sandpit with our brothers and sisters.

We may have everything in this world, but have nothing without knowing the truth

We may have nothing in the world, but have everything when we know the truth.

Our circumstances may have changed but sin hasn’t and nor has the answer, that of faith in Jesus Christ alone. The faith that sees both a Roman soldier and a homeless alcoholic standing as one before the throne of God, covered in the glory of Christ.

Our roads today may be different, but the road to salvation is not and that is what brings peace.

The peace of knowing the truth. That whether we celebrate or despair in our situation, that whether we feel some affection of ourselves or not, that whether our lives seem one of happiness or not, that whether we feel blessed or not: that to know that “We are all beggars”, is to know the truth of Christ and the work he has completed for us. His work that has ensured that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone. And while in our lives on this earth, should the only peace we truly know be that of Christ-that is enough, because that is everything. Amen.