Archive for September, 2013

Need it or want it ?

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

Luke: 16:19-31

This Word of our Lord is to be understood with the message and setting of the Gospel we heard last week concerning the parable of the unjust Steward where Jesus was primarily talking to His disciples about a man who eventually saw the need to use his limited time not to gain worldly acceptance, but to prepare for the future, death and eternity by using wisely the temporal things they possess.

The Pharisees were listening to this and when Jesus said in verse 13 that “No servant can serve two masters; for he will either hate the one or love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” Jesus hit a raw nerve with the Pharisees who were listening because in verse 14 we are told that when “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, they scoffed at him”. Unperturbed Jesus went on and hit them with an inconvenient truth, that “You are those who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts”

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus addressing them and explaining to them his message, and he does this by holding up a mirror of themselves in the rich man as they are told that as the rich man enjoyed his wealth that they too, the Pharisees were lovers of money. But a significant connection is to as what they are actually doing wrong, -which both the rich man and the Pharisees don’t understand, and before we ridicule them, we need to take a step back-because the Pharisees did not break and enter houses or rage and pillage, just like we are not told of any such like activity of the rich man. For both of these, seen in the context of their world-what are they actually doing wrong?

So Jesus gives them a stark picture and shows the rich man and Lazarus as polar opposites in regards to their worldly situation, as far apart as east to west.The rich man is not struggling in the middle class, the scriptures description of his purple cloths of fine linen were the height of expensive fashion and the description of the gates that Lazarus lay at indicate his house was more like a palace, or at the least a mansion which stresses that this guy is loaded, just as we see Lazarus as homeless, destitute and with no social security back then, if he received some scraps from the rich man’s table he would consider himself fortunate and point of the dogs licking his sores is significant as this does not show sentiment towards Lazarus as dogs were considered unclean, so confirming that he was both in physical misery and an outcast. Lazarus is at the bottom of the heap.

But then the great leveler, death, and we see the roles reversed. Lazarus has been received in heaven and the rich man in hell and in his torment simply asks Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue from a single drop of water from Lazarus finger.

 But there is no drop of water for him, just as there had been no food for Lazarus before. The measure by which the rich man lived was now being measured to him, and the irony abounds, while in his earthly life, the rich man feasted and lived the high life and I note that the scriptures don’t say he actually gave the scraps to Lazarus, they only say Lazarus wanted them-in his earthly life it is like he doesn’t even notice Lazarus at his gate. Yet here he knows his name, suggesting he had seen Lazarus in his pain, actually knew him but had ignored him, looked the other way, or mainly only looked after number one-himself.

 Abraham’s response is not harsh, his address as son is tender, but gives a reasoned refusal to his request and points out that in his earthly life he could have spent time with the things of God and been enlightened in the Word of God, but he chose the “good things”-fine linen, daily merriment and feasting. He had chosen what he wanted and now he must abide by his decision, and now there’s a great chasm between him and Lazarus, as far from east to west-and it cannot be crossed.
The Rich man knows his situation and implies if he knew of all the information he needed, he would have acted differently, and now asks that Lazarus be sent back from the dead to warn his brothers. This guy is one serious wheeler and dealer, no wonder he was such a good accumulator of wealth in his time of earth.

 Again we see the contrast between Lazarus and the rich man, because while the rich man is still asking for, negotiating, wheeling and dealing Lazarus is silent like he has been throughout the parable. He neither complained about his time on earth, nor does he gloat to the rich man after death, and nor does he express any resentment of the rich man’s endeavors to have him sent on errands-Throughout, he accepts what God sends him.

 But Abraham denies his request and says you had all the information you required because in his response in referring to Moses and the prophets means he had the scriptures, he had the poor at his gate-but denied both. This all seems straight forward, so why was this so confronting to the Pharisees? To answer that we look at the charge against the rich man? Was he charged because he was rich, no? Was he told to sell all his belongings and become poor himself, no?

So what was it? It was his total lack of compassion, he put himself first and foremost, and after that had no place for others in need. He had the Word of God, it told him of how he should live, how to use God’s gifts in justice and support of others yet he chose not to.

 And in honesty that can be difficult, because like the rich man, I know what I should do-but it is difficult. Look at our society, people work extremely hard, come home exhausted, flop on the lounge, put on the T.V. only be blasted with advertisements imploring that they need this and this: then all of a sudden-we seem to need it, it goes from I would like to have to a I must have. But the Word of the Lord, says no, take a step back so you can see things clearly. And this reminds me of the reporter talking to one of the early Astronauts, who asked what was it like? And he responded, “I looked toward earth, a peaceful blue world shining in the darkness, it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, but then I could see my mind, wars, starvation, famine, arguments over insignificant “garbage”, and I asked, what are we doing down there? And I think to myself, what if I was showing an intergalactic visitor around earth who

remarks what a wonderful place, it’s so beautiful-look at the treasures you have. Your food, your friends, your technology-What a great place. But then he notices amongst my beautiful world, some homeless up the street, people downtrodden, no respect being given to the aged, injustice. Then on T.V. he sees a documentary on countries where scores of people are dying of starvation and where people endeavoring to escape such places, are jailed because, seemingly to him, the one’s with plenty, like myself seem to think they are a threat to my way of life. Right now I think I would be trying to change the subject.

 Even more sobering is what if that intergalactic visitor who I was talking to was God the Father? Our God who works in mysterious ways. With one of his most mysterious being his game plan of allowing humans to care for his people. And we do, Christians and non-Christian’s alike. Walt Disney’s only reason for building Disneyland was because when was young he could only look through the gates at the other children enjoying themselves- in theme parks: so as a young child, his dye was set in that he would build a park where all children could afford to visit. Bill gates gives enormous amounts of money to charities. And some may say, yes it must be hard because after giving he’s down to his last few billion. But the point is he doesn’t have to give, and significantly, he hasn’t only been charitable since acquiring his extreme wealth. Because, when he was about to marry, his mother only gave his wife to be one word of advice “our family thing is we give to the needy, way before we became so fortunate, that’s what we do, Bill will not change about that”.

And down to our level, we show compassion to those in need. Being rich is not the problem, and yes we are the rich man-but we do show compassion. But then, I think back to St. Paul’s words-I do what I do not want to do, and don’t do what I want to do. And this is the problem, with our world’s rampant consumerism, our sin; we give, have compassion, but sometimes fall asleep at the wheel. Ironically we know God is working through us and what an honour that is, but we also know our efforts are sometimes tainted, sometimes we’d rather not, and sometimes may look the other way. We have shown compassion as directed by the Word, yet no matter what we do, how much we give-we know we come up short. Our whole life seems like a battle. Now we see we are not only the rich person, we are Lazarus-we need and desire for compassion. Even when we seem to be doing the right thing, it can still seem like its three quarter time, we’re ten goals behind and kicking into the wind and we need a miracle. So what can we do?

 General Norman Swartzkof, the commanding general in Desert Storm one when the allied forces regained Kuwait was asked what do you do when in a battle situation and you are confused and are unsure of the direction to take. He responded and said, when in a situation as you have suggested, I return to rule 4 of the US forces handbook, which states make a decision, back it all the way and do not second guess yourself. Some where do we go when we need a miracle, so we don’t have to second guess ourselves about where we stand in relation to our life to what God desired of us. We turn to Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Who does not reject our request for a drop of water to sooth our lips in our torment, but gushes forward soothing water in our baptism. Gives us himself in Holy Communion and in His Word So that we no longer need to doubt, but to go forward to meet God the Father who no longer sees our ways and shortfalls, but sees us washed clean by the lamb his Son, and saved in faith in Christ alone your sins are taken from you as far apart as from east to west and welcomed home as His good and trustworthy servant. Amen.

 

Through a Pastor’s eyes

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

panthersCongratulations to the Gilgandra Panthers players and supporters as you celebrate hearing that final whistle for the year blow while being on the right side of the ledger. It is a great and sometimes rare moment that can bring exhilaration, often relief, and always-fair and just celebrations.

Having lived most of my life in South Australian I can join in saying the words of a well know advertisement on the T.V. in that while “I don’t know how they take those big hits, but…”. But back in the day having played and coached the Aussie Rules senior footy team in a country town similar in size to Gilgandra I well remember the feeling of admiration I had, in win or loss for those sitting next to me in the sheds that had gone the distance during the year and that last game. A significant “one off” type of moment like finding the love of your life, the birth of your children and the many blessings we receive to rejoice in, celebrate and talk of in the years to come. Moments that we remember as so we do to the loss of loved ones, the hardships and the cruelty that life can dish up.

Our lives are ever changing and others opinions of us and indeed ours of ourselves can be very subjective as we lurch from enjoying a few drinks celebrating and remembering the highest of highs, to unfortunately looking to forget the lowest of lows through the bottom of the same glass.

Based on ourselves and our abilities alone we may occasionally fly high in success and happiness and if that’s where you are at the moment, graciously enjoy them because sooner or later we all hit a downdraft of varying magnitude.

Life can be as subjective as a seven tackle play and if I didn’t know otherwise I might line up with those whose rallying cry is to that of the “Christian hypocrites”. But I don’t because only after properly understanding Christianity later in life, I found it is the same collection of individuals as those of the many sporting clubs I have been a part of. Those of strength and those feeble. Those of courage and those fragile. Those who make right decision in the pressure of the game and those who don’t, and most certainly those who do not profess to be above anyone else in regards to worthiness or importance and that is why we don’t say look at us, but say look at Him who goes by the name of Jesus Christ. Because whether you are in the prime of your sporting years and taking all before you or tiring in age and speed over the paddock, you’re still a football player. Whether you are opening the batting or 12th man, you’re still a cricketer and whether I’m an O.K. preacher or not, I’m still a preacher.

As the years pass we deal with the cards dealt to us and be it a full house or a hand full of junk, Jesus Christ is not subjective and win, lose or draw, He will go the distance with you.

God bless you and if you like me were not as fortunate as the Panthers this year, take heart as its only 369 days until Port Power win next year’s AFL flag.

Pastor Steve Hibbard of the Gilgandra/Dubbo Lutheran Parish.

 

 

 

Losing to gain

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

“Losing to gain”

Luke 16:1-13

In studying this text it was very clear that this is a tough piece of scripture to understand and some theologians differ in their viewpoints to some of its many parts.

In preaching and teaching, like in our Christian lives the topic is always the good news of Jesus and that is how it always must be. But like we don’t look from afar to those in need, nor did Christ to us as he came to us in the muck to bring us the truth.

Our muck that cost His life that we may for ourselves understand Him when he tells us “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”

This is a difficult text and I pray that “the words of my lips and the Meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you Lord”.

Everyone in this life has and will experience and live with pain. That’s just how it is and we all deal with it differently, or at least we think we do.

In the last year of studies at the Seminary/Australian Lutheran College the potential pastoral graduates take together a three month “physc.” type class that is not designed to understand others but to bring out our own stuff and help with understanding ourselves. It is a little like the “Better Blokes” concept where in a safe and non-judgemental environment the participants sometimes for the first time lay it all on the table.

For some, to re-live the un-liveable is too much and a horrific and harrowing experience. And that I would prepare for sleep knowing that my regular nightmares and thrashing of arms and legs awaited me in my sub-conscious state, it did not concern me and the lecturer made comment to the unusual, almost callous strength I had of carrying on without any wounds from the pain of life’s hardships.

Yet when I found out this week that our good friends and a colleague of mine is coping with the harrowing prospect of losing their 15 week old baby still in the womb, I realised I was wrong and for the first time, I think I understood Jesus’ words He has told us today because while Jesus sets this parable about mammon (money) it could be any of the multitude of “retail therapies” that we gravitate towards to hide our innermost fears of not being as successful or strong in our earthly dream as it was meant to be and try to deceive others and indeed ourselves like a photo shopped portrait on Facebook, and “stop me in my tracks” on a first reading of this passage of scripture Jesus seems to be impressed with the wisdom it takes to pull off such a charade. Jesus knows cunning when he sees it, yet the cleverness he acknowledges here is the type displayed in a guy I once worked with who had remarkable ways of avoiding work, yet ironically he spent more effort getting out of work than simply doing the work put before him in the first place.

Like to that man, Jesus warns us of spending a lot of effort focussing on hiding our shortcomings, our shame, our fears and our sin from others and ourselves to “fit in” and be accepted because eventually and ultimately our eyes will be drawn away of our relationship with God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We all like to be accepted by those around us but should our Facebook portrait be different to the one we see in the mirror each day we are building our self-worth on a house of cards that will sooner or later come tumbling down and that is the central point of this text found in verse 9 of the steward only wanting hospitality now, up and against Jesus pointing to His eternal welcome saying:

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into eternal wealth”.

An earthly rise before our fall to where we have to face those things hidden in the nether regions of our sub conscious minds and souls and throw the guilt, the shame and the pain at our Lord’s feet and understand the words “Lord have mercy” truly for the first time and line up alongside a slave trader and know for ourselves what he found in the depths that “we were once lost, but now are found. Was blind, but now see that it was grace that taught our hearts to fear and grace that relieved them”.

Jesus said “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” His truth and freedom that came in the darkness of His death and in the light of His resurrection. His truth and freedom that shines into the darkness of our souls that we too are raised up in our earthly lives and understand the words of Isaiah not from ourselves, but for ourselves from our Lord and Saviour who has accepted you as you are, forgiven your sins, and wherever you may go continues to travel with to lead you home. And “Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men and women stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” and in each of our hearts heed His words “That my grace is sufficient for thee, for most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me”. That together as one we can profess, that “The Lord is our strength and our song, and he has become our salvation; this is our God, and we will praise him our father’s God, and we will exalt him.

The other day while driving, I noticed a boy walking not to school, but away from school and later found out that he misses a lot of school because after he’s dropped off, he wanders the streets till classes finish and can then return home”.

As our offerings to the Lord are accepted, I would like to play two songs in the same order as John Schumann has placed them on his “Behind the lines album”. The first of a young nurse named “Rachel” broken by the reality of war and life, followed by his singing of “Wings of an eagle” because I was wrong, the pain can hurt and I beg and pray to Christ that he “will mount that school boy and others like him up with wings like eagles. That they too will run and not get tired and that they will walk and not become weary” and that though through many dangers, toils and snares they still travel, that the grace that has kept them safe so far will become known to them, that they too may follow it home.

Amen, let it be so.

 

Signed…. The Flock

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Peace and grace to you. Amen.

Text: Luke 15:4-6

Jesus said, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them—what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbours together and say to them, “I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!”

As you may or not know, Cathy and Josh took me to Sydney over the last 3 days.

A few things stick out, the beauty of the harbour, how the architecture is so mixed up-bran new next to old, how friendly all bar 2 or three people were and how the car drivers see a gap a few feet wide when changing lanes and go for it-those drivers would be great NRL/Aussies rules players.

It was a wonderful 74 hours from departure to return home with memories that will never leave me. All of them, and not the least when on my why back to the motel in middle Sydney, a young man of about 25 years old, well dressed in a suite bought a muffin from the deli or a

Billy Baxter’s type of place knelt down and gave it to a homeless man on a bench with his bottle of cheap wine and after, as he walked away, looked back with an obvious heartfelt compassion.

Who knows the homeless mans story, and who knows the story of the well dressed professional. Maybe underneath they are the same-and maybe this is, or was their story.

As the sun slowly peeked over the horizon, the sheep one by one opened their eyes to greet the new day. Their shepherd had herded them into the sheep pen last night and they felt safe and secure because they knew that the shepherd was watching over them and protecting them.

Suddenly there was a panicky bleating that started with one voice and then the whole flock joined in. The shepherd was not sleeping in the gateway to the pen as he did every night. Where was he and why would he leave us?

They thought “He’s abandoned us. The shepherd has abandoned us!” The flock was in blind panic and they all joined in the cry condemning him as an irresponsible and reckless shepherd. They would all die. A bear or a wolf would soon see that the shepherd was not there and what would follow was too horrible to think about.

The frenzy carried on until after sunup, when one of them saw the shepherd coming over a distant hill. The sheep rejoiced. They jumped and frolicked and bleated with joy but their celebration didn’t last long. There, on the shepherd’s shoulders – was a sheep! One of their own who was always getting into trouble, always the last to do as told, losing the way and sending everyone into a panic. Just different and didn’t really fit in with the other sheep. Truth was No-one had even missed one of their own that morning.

The sheep were dumbstruck. What was the big idea? The shepherd had left all the good, cooperative, and well-meaning sheep to go rescue an uncooperative and silly one.

The sheep held a meeting and appointed the ram to take the flock’s complaint to the shepherd. They had it all written out and their complaint read like this:

Whereas, some days ago, we, the sheep were left alone to fend for ourselves, and

whereas, we were given no indication that the shepherd intended to return and

whereas, the uncertainty over the shepherd’s return caused serious distress amongst us, and

whereas all this distress was caused over a sheep that nobody really likes very much in the first place,

therefore be it resolved:

that we, the sheep, do strongly protest our abandonment on the night in question,

that we demanding a full explanation of the reasons for said abandonment, and

that we demand an apology for such thoughtless and irresponsible action on the part of the shepherd.

We demand better care and consideration.

Signed … The Flock

When the shepherd received the message, he called a meeting of all the sheep, and responded to each of the items in turn.

“Yes, it’s true I left the flock a few nights ago, and you were left to fend for yourselves for a while, but one of your own was in danger and goodness knows where she might have ended up. Nobody objected those other times I went out to look for one of your lost lambs.”

“Yeah but it’s different – that was a lamb,” answered one of the sheep,

“As to the part about not knowing whether I’d come back,

Haven’t I always come back and never abandoned you before? Haven’t I always protected you from wolves and taken you to fresh pastures and streams of clear water? I have never abandoned you before, why would I start now?”

“And as to this part about it being unfair, what was unfair about it? Wouldn’t I have done the same for any of you?”

“Well,” said the ram, “going out and saving all the rest of us, that’s one thing. But, you put all the rest of us in jeopardy for her.” He pointed to the once lost sheep who, true to form, was already starting to nibble her way some distance from the rest of the flock and would most likely need the shepherd to get her back again.

“That’s what really bothers us”, said the ram, “Why didn’t you just let her take her chances? She didn’t deserve to get saved. She doesn’t deserve so many chances. When will you go off again to look for that ditsy sheep and leave us alone?”

And for once, though he probably didn’t know it, the ram had told the truth. The lost sheep didn’t deserve to get saved but neither did any of the others deserve the care and protection the shepherd gave them.

This story would have had a movie type happy ending if it concluded with “the lost sheep never wandered off again, the flock never complained again and they all lived happily ever after”. But In real life at some time the shepherd had to carry every one of the sheep on his shoulders even when they were uncooperative, unwilling and complaining.

The ram and the rest of the sheep were right when they said that the lost and wandering sheep didn’t deserve to be loved by the shepherd the way she was. Jesus had the same problem because people were saying that the people he mixed with and shared dinner with didn’t deserve to be sitting at the same table as this distinguished teacher. They complained, “This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!”

They didn’t understand the kind of love that Jesus has. It’s a love that looks past the ugliness of disease and sin.

He reaches out to social outcasts, and touches the oh so shabby and contaminated lepers.

He didn’t shy away from the demon possessed.

He had no problem with the Samaritans even though they were despised by everyone else,

and when he spoke about the Good Samaritan, and talked with the Samaritan woman at the well and the Samaritan leper, the love of God was shown in even brighter colours. Jesus had no problem with the tax collectors or with those who openly showed their hatred toward him.

Even the Pharisees were not beyond the reach of his love. We call it “grace”. Jesus loves sinners and even dies for them even though his love is completely undeserved.

We know it makes more sense logically for the shepherd to forget about the wilful disobedient sheep and look after only those who were willing to trust him and really appreciate everything he does for them. That’s how we operate mostly.

If someone does something nice for us we respond with a similar nicety and when someone hurts us we respond with equal and even greater hurt.

Rarely would we respond to unkindness with extra generous kindness or reply to rude words with gentle and tender words. It just goes against the grain to respond in this way.

And this is the point that Jesus is making to those who criticised him for mixing with social outcasts, open sinners, the helpless, the marginalised, the dispossessed and the oppressed. He doesn’t treat them with the scorn and disgust expected from a holy man. He does the opposite. He welcomes them and even eats dinner with them – a sign of acceptance as people whom God loves and wants them to be a part of the Kingdom of God as much as anyone else. Jesus is making a statement through his eating with these people that they are valuable and treasured by God as much as, and perhaps even more so, than those who think they are righteous and well-connected when it comes to sitting at table with Jesus.

In Jesus’ parable it made more sense to look after the ninety-nine sheep who had stayed near the shepherd Jesus and not been tempted by greener grass elsewhere, rather than go tramping all over the wilderness looking for one silly sheep who will repeatedly wander away from its caring shepherd because it thinks it can take care of itself in a hostile world.

To the shepherd every sheep is a treasure; every sheep is valuable; no sheep will be lost if he can help it even if that sheep is obstinate and rebellious. That’s the kind of love that Jesus has for us.

It’s the kind of love that led God’s Son to leave the safety of heaven and became one of us, he suffered and died for us, he risked everything for us, because of his love for the lost. He is passionate about the lost and did everything possible to make sure that the lost don’t stay that way and are safe by his side. He wants none of his sheep to face God’s judgement for rejecting the love that is shown to them in such a generous and unrelenting way.

Jesus concludes his parable with the shepherd saying, “I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!” Each of Jesus’ stories about seeking the lost ends with a party.

In the kingdom of God, when the lost are found there is great rejoicing. When one sinner repents and responds to the love and care of the shepherd there is great rejoicing in heaven. You can imagine the angels happy and celebrating every time someone who is lost is found and welcomed home by our heavenly Father. Each time Jesus talks about the lost being found you can sense something of the passion he has for making sure that no-one stays lost. His passion for the lost even extended to the cross where he gave his life for those who had lost the way and nailed the Son of God to a wooden beam.

A question that needs to be asked in view of this parable is this – how passionate are we about seeking out the lost and returning them to the safety and grace of their shepherd? It’s easy to deflect that kind of question to others or to the congregation as a whole and in that way let ourselves off the hook. It’s easy to hear this Word of God and say, “When will the congregation take God’s passion for the lost seriously” or “When will this person or that committee or council take seriously the seeking and saving of the lost?”

Rather than looking around at others first of all we need to ask ourselves that question, “Do I have the passion of the shepherd to leave all else behind and seek out the lost?” “What have I done to seek out and carry on our shoulders those who are lost – lost not only in the sense of missing from the side of the shepherd but also those lost in trouble, or sickness, or sin, or whatever else causes them to be separated from the One who truly values and loves them? Have I had reason to join the angels in heaven and rejoice over one person who is lost but has now been found?

God’s grace is to be shared. It comforts, soothes, forgives, reassures, values each of us as individuals and it also drives us to ensure that everyone gets to know and appreciate how much God loves them and wants every single person who is in some way lost to return to their heavenly Father.

God’s grace seeks us out and through the blood of his Son restores us to his flock again and it challenges us to be like Jesus to seek and to save the lost. Amen. Adaptation of message from Pastor Vince Gerhardy.

 

The day before the day after

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

“The day before the day after”

Luke 14:25-33

I was writing this the day before our national election and as I write, considering the battle of wits that we’ve seen over the past months I’m not sure if I’ll be happy or sad that this real life political version of master chef, the apprentice or big brothers is finally over with. Cloak and dagger, miss-placed loyalties, school yard bullying and half-truths-if it were the newly released T.V mini-series it may attract quite an audience. Problem is this is not a fictional sit com in the 7.30 time slot to be applauded for its drama; it has real outcomes that effect real people and that being the case, wouldn’t it be nice-that whether we like it or not that we could just be told how it is in clear non jargon and non-drip feeding brutal truth and honesty so that we really know just where we stand. The hindrance of such truth though is the truth itself because if a politician did tell us, they may lose the election because of it. Winston Churchill once said that “Democracy is the worst form of government (except from the other that have been tried) apart from the alternatives” and he’s right and that’s why millions over time have given their lives for freedom and democracy. Yet as he said it has it’s shortfalls like in our political system here where today on day one, that the new Prime Minister has only been given three years till the next makes it hard for him to tell and bring in hard core change. I honestly feel for politicians because I believe most are true believers, or at least went in as true believers, but it must be hard to keep on track and not get lost in the whims of the day and govern to a long term goal without the surety of making it there in the first place. But that’s life and the same could be said of our own personal plans of employment, health and worldly well-being. Plans that are good and plans to work towards. Yet plans that may have to be adapted or even given up on as the world and our lives and priorities change over the shifting sands of time as seen in incidents such as what’s going on in the Middle East at the moment.

We live in an ever changing and sometimes confusing world. Yet as Christians we live knowing of the sure outcome of eternal life. Two polar opposites yet joined together in the faith of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in which Martin Luther described “as a living daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a person could stake their life on it a thousand times”. Faith in Jesus Christ is knowing you are forgiven and saved, and forgiven and saved in faith is knowing that when you are called from this earth it is not the end but the start of the eternal where “never again will you suffer from grief, death, crying or pain.”

At the Synod in Adelaide in regards to the sometimes intense discussions over women’s ordination our previous bishop stated “that scripture is not unclear on the subject as some have suggested, rather it is our ears that are unclear to scripture” and indeed in our mortal human lives on this earth there is much of God’s ways that seem to make no sense or confuse us and that’s O.K. But let not the powers of darkness lead you away from the one truth that all their forms of deception are directed to. ” That in faith in Jesus Christ alone you are truly saved, forgiven and given eternal life.

If that is the only thing you will ever know for sure it is enough, because that is the only truth that sustains in times such as spoken of, or even warned of in Jesus’ seemingly hard words heard today in the Gospel.

When about twenty five years old I was coaching a country football team and having made the Grand final I asked that for that week if they could look after themselves with their diet of what they ate and drank and if only for that week alone to put preparing for the weekend as the number one thing on their list. They agreed, except for the vice caption who took me aside and said “sorry but Jesus is always at the top of my list regardless of the situation”. I was stopped in my tracks-a little like in hearing Jesus words today in the gospel where he forewarns those listening of what just may come from following him.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

Heavy words not designed to create a rift in families, but designed to prepare us for what may come from following Christ, up and against when the powers of darkness entice us to give excuses to put ourselves and other worldly things, including earthly life itself ahead of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

This message from Christ as seen through the context of those in reasonable health and living in the comfort of a free country like ours stop us in your tracks similar to how much of the book of revelations does. Yet in the context of imminent death, be it on a hospital bed, on a battlefield or through religious persecution as was the case for Christians when Jesus said this, and as indeed is the case in many parts of the world still to this day, these words like the last words in the bible prior to the benediction of “come Lord Jesus!” bring life out of death in that we will know for ourselves like that of our Lord Saviour himself who on the cross and after having accomplished His work of salvation gave up his spirit not in despair, but in the sure knowledge of what awaited him with his final Words “It is finished”.

Jesus Christ our Saviour does not lie and just as eternal death was finished in him, so too has eternal life arisen in him and though parts of scripture may be unclear through our ears, let it be clear that in faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of how far you may fall or to the heights you may climb that in faith in Jesus Christ alone you are saved and given eternal life.

The truth of our Lord and Saviour for both the end of our journeys and in our journeys of today. His Words that we heed and take with us as we carry our crosses in this world and as we work and live amongst the people and situations he has placed us, and that our crosses of sadness and hurt may be heavy, they are made light in the knowledge of what our Saviour has brought us. And though we may befriend and help those who repay us with scorn, abuse or by taking advantage of us, it is of no consequence because you know his truth, and his truth has set you free from the failings of yourself and from the failings of this world and given a new perspective where win lose or draw, you have already won. That in abuse from others or in thanks, we give ourselves to them because he has given himself to us and should the cross we bear be heavy, we carry it with us knowing of the cross that he carried for us. His cross that he bore for us, heavy with the weight of the sin of the world has freed us to rejoice in all things and all times.

There’s a great poetic lyric from a song on the airwaves at the moment (from passenger)

“I know a woman with kids around her ankles and a baby on her lap

She said one day her husband went to get a paper and …….. never came back

Mortgage to pay and four kids to raise, keeping the wolf from the door

She said the wolf’s just a puppy and the door’s double locked so why you gotta worry me for

Now he left a in hole in my heart a hole in a promise a hole on the side of my bed

Oh now that he’s gone well life carries on and I miss him like a hole in the head

Well sometimes you can’t change and you can’t choose

And sometimes it seems you gain less than you lose

Now we’ve got holes in our hearts, yeah we’ve got holes in our lives

Where we’ve got holes, we’ve got holes but we carry on”

And carry on we do. Not hiding our light but letting it shine and though your own song may have a tough chorus, it is your song that has brought you to where you are in the knowledge of his love.

It is true that we may be but beggars, but in Christ we are his and that is all that matters

So sing your song, for your song is his song. Sing it loud and live it proud knowing that in you he has painted a masterpiece that opens others eyes that they may too see the master painter. The master painter of life: The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who said “it is done” and who now waits to welcome home “his good and trusted servants”. Your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who waits to welcome you home and our Lord and Savior who wills to welcome all home. We rejoice in that truth, and rejoice as we serve him and those he places before us, no matter to us the earthly consequence. Amen.

 

Fair Crack of the whip

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Sermon: John 2:13-22

“Fair Crack of the whip”

 

Have you ever been part of breaking the protocols or rules of the day? That’s a bit of a silly question because we are Australians and that’s part of our DNA.
But what if breaking these protocols, or these ways of doing things need changing? When you are the few against the majority it can be very difficult, if not downright dangerous.
In the American civil war, a complex war but essentially characterized about North Vs. South. The North that did not have slavery against the South that did. The General of the south Robert E. Lee was attending church. Upon getting up from his pew to take Holy Communion, he noticed that a slave who had started to get up, noticed him and sat back down. On his way past him, he put his hand on his shoulder and said “come up with me, before God we are all equal”.
That may not sound that daunting until we reflect that segregation based on the color of a person’s skin was still a problem for President John F Kennedy in the 60’s.
These two men took enormous risks, both politically and physically-because they challenged and broke the rules of the day.In our Gospel today, we see Jesus breaking a cultural, religious and social way of doing things in his times.
Last week I mentioned a quote from the movie Jerry Maguire. This week another one from it comes to mind (I have actually watched more than one movie in my life). Jerry is working for this organization and in a moment of “inspiration”, writes a memo to the bosses and every employee stating everything that’s wrong in their workplace.
The next day, everyone’s slapping his back saying ÿer Jerry, great stuff”, then as he walks off they say to each other “gone by Friday”.
Jesus in his words and actions in today’s Gospel puts it all on the line. Seen later when the authorities use these actions and words against him in his trial to be sentenced to crucifixion.
Starting at verse 13: “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables”.
Jesus is brandishing a whip. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane when the guards come to arrest Jesus, Peter cuts off one of their ears with a sword to protect Jesus, in which Jesus tells him “to put his sword away”.But here, Jesus has the whip out-he is not a happy man, (and) to our ears, animals, doves and money changers-it seems a bit of a rabble-so it seems fair enough that Jesus has taken exception to all this-apart for one small matter-celebrating the Passover is, as recorded in Leviticus, as per God’s command.
Leviticus 23:4 “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy celebrations which you shall proclaim..On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover…and you shall bring offerings..”
To understand why the Passover is such a big deal to the Jews, Jesus and indeed God himself we need to know the background. To do so we go back to the book of Exodus. God has enlisted Moses to be the middle man- to bring about the release of the Israelites who are captives-slaves in Egypt.
In short, Moses’ request for their release is declined by the Pharaoh. Then, in an effort to have the Pharaoh change his mind-God brings plaques upon the Egyptians. Our modern equivalent would be like our trade sanctions against rebel countries that won’t toe the line. Firstly the rivers are turned to blood, so that it cannot be drank and the fish die. Then the place is overrun with frogs, then lice, flies, the livestock die, everyone gets painful boils, huge hail stones that kill everything not under cover, locusts and then pitch darkness for three days.
But after these nine plaques, the Pharaoh remains resolute. So God unleashes His piece of résistance. God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that on the first month of the year on the tenth day, each household shall take an unblemished lamb and keep it until the fourteenth day, then they will kill and eat all of it with unleavened bread and put its blood on the doorposts of their houses. Because that night: and let’s hear it from God himself: Exodus chapter 12, verse 12 “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both person and beast; and against all the God’s of Egypt I will execute judgment. Now the blood on your door frames shall be a sign. And when I see the blood, I will Passover you; and the plague shall not be on you”. God continues, “This day shall be to you a memorial: and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance”. As God had predicted, after a tragedy of these proportions for the Egyptians-every family losing their firstborn-including the Pharaoh-the Israelites were not just released-the Pharaoh drove them out-enough was enough-no more.The Israelites were released-free, and as commanded by God-every year in the temple the Passover was commemorated. That’s why it was such a big deal. So important that from all over Israel the people would journey to the temple in Jerusalem to make sacrifice’s like in the initial Passover.Again, we have to understand the times; Israel in comparison to Australia is a small country, but not small when your Landcruiser is a donkey or just your two feet. Just getting to Jerusalem was a huge feat, or at least their feet probably were time they got there. So, they didn’t bring their animal sacrifices with them, they bought them when they got there.
What of the money changers? Again we must consider the times. These people from different locations traded in different currencies. So they would go to the money changers and exchange their currencies for the local currency, so they could purchase their sacrifices.  Just like if we went to England, we trade our Aussie Dollars for pounds.
So there’s a 101 of the Passover history, and the goings on all seem to make sense. Yet Jesus brings out the whip.
In Australian, when we get told off for what we think is not wrong-we may use the term “fair crack of the whip”. But we see, indeed literally-it was a fair crack of the whip. Because upon Jesus entering the house of God, not outside it, but in it he sees a market place. People not just undertaking commercial enterprises-which is bad enough, but also profiteering-ripping off people who come to worship. He sees people and their actions getting in the way of true devotional worship-getting in the way between God and His people.
Fast forward two thousand years-to today’s times. As yet, thankfully I have never attended a church full of sheep, goats or doves about to be sacrificed.
Thankfully because they are no longer needed. Our unblemished lamb of sacrifice is Jesus himself. Jesus is our Passover. In Jesus-our sins are passed over and we are free of them-released from their captivity.We don’t come to church to bring-we come to church to receive. We don’t take to worship, we take from worship.There’s a lovely article in this month’s Lutheran, and I quote:
“One morning I was all hot and bothered because the old people at the church had trampled all over my brilliant idea. Why are they so boring? Why aren’t they passionate about their faith? I railed at Miss Perry. Why don’t they ever do anything? Why do they think that being a Christian is just warming a pew on Sunday mornings? Ever so quietly, Miss Perry said, Linda, are you sure you will still be warming a pew when you’re their age? By then you’ll have experienced much heartache and disappointment, with people and with God. Are you sure you’ll be as strong in your faith then as you are now”. Miss Perry has nailed it. Not because she told this young girl that enthusiasm is not good, because she didn’t. Of course we should always look at ways to connect with each other and the people around us. Always look at ways that might help bring and strengthen people’s, and our relationship with God. It’s an absolute yes to that.But she has nailed two things-One: How our lives can be tough-it’s not just all smooth sailing, and our faith will be tested, and Two: to get through these times with our faith and trust in God intact can be quite a miracle. The miracle’s we receive in worship. Hearing the Word of God, absolution and forgiveness, Baptism and Holy Communion. Word and Sacrament is where God gives his life strengthening miracles to us.
Word and Sacrament-To the world, what these bring seem ridiculous. Even parts of the Christian church ridicule the truth by questioning and denying scripture and its teachings and promises. These assaults on the Word of God and divine worship are from the same brush that Jesus encountered at the Passover. As I said, the church must always look at ways of connecting, of connecting so people will come to know God. But the Church must also stand up for the truth. Stand for something or stand for nothing at all.
In the book of Revelations we are given an account of seven churches-their positives and their negatives, except for the one titled the lukewarm church. Chapter 3, verse 15: Ï know of your works, that are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth”. Harsh words. Lukewarm, could this be like receiving the grace of God, his gifts we receive in worship in a “maybe they’ll help” manner.
In worship we hear and receive the Gospel. In Word and Sacrament we are given strength to believe, to be given faith and for our faith to be strengthened. Faith like that of General Robert E Lee, essentially fighting for slavery and a slave-that both approached our Lord and Savior as equals. Equals that deserve crumbs yet receive a banquet.
Today, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has forgiven your sins and strengthened your faith. It’s a gift and a miracle beyond our understanding. In Christ alone, we are saved.
Martin Luther was prepared to die for that belief, Jesus Christ died for it to be truth. And we live because it is the truth. Amen.