Archive for October, 2013

Here we stand

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

“Here we stand”

 

Today, like all days we come together in worship to receive from, praise to, thank and celebrate our Lord. That’s our focus today, next Sunday and every day in between. The focus of knowing that God the Father sent His only Son Jesus Christ to this earth to take our sins on himself and that in faith in Him and in His actions alone we are saved and given eternal life. We are saved in God’s gift to us in Christ: start, middle and end-that’s it. Yet amazingly God also works through the sinners that Christ came to save. Abraham, Moses, Noah, the 12 apostles, Mary, Paul and all the big “guys” of the bible. Notable messengers of the Word and united as great workers in God’s kingdom, yet also united in the knowledge of their sin.

The clothing of Adam and Eve after they fell to temptation, the release of Gods people from captivity in Egypt, the baby growing in a young virgin named Mary and all of scripture point to one person-Jesus Christ, the start, middle and end.

All scripture whether history, law or Gospel are to bring His saving Words into our hearts and minds. That’s the aim of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit-and all who have heard it and know it for themselves just like those chosen to be God’s mouthpieces during a time of change in the Church brought about by a Catholic monk called Martin Luther who had the audacity to nail 95 biblical truths to a local church door-the local messaging e-mail of the time and start a movement labelled the reformation.

They say that the pen is mightier than the sword and indeed when young Mister Luther made his observations regarding the truth of scripture in order to unleash the truth of Christ, so to he unleashed powers that wished to destroy him, and though Martin Luther and all the reformers that followed him could well stand alongside those great messengers chosen by God from earlier times, I’m sure they all would scowl in dis-belief that here 496 years later we are celebrating their works. But we do and we should. Not because they saved us, but because they responded to the call of God to bring our focus to one who did, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ said I am the way, the life and the truth and through the men and women of the reformation the knowledge and full words of scripture were brought in front of those who in the time had not the access to nor the educational skill to understand the Holy Scriptures and were being misguided and mislead to believe in means of salvation other than through faith in Christ alone.

Upon receiving his Academy award for his role in Gladiator, Russell Crowe born in New Zealand, raised in Australia and finding fame in America said:

“God protect New Zealand, God Bless America and thank God for Australia” and for the reformers and all messengers of the truth of Christ we thank God for protecting them, thank God for blessing them with the truth, and thank God for that truth, the way and the life that is Christ Jesus.

Salvation not of our works or piety, but in Jesus Christ alone who we know is our start, middle and end that we can line up with St. Paul and know that if we boast, we can only boast of Him our Lord and Saviour.

A simple yet revolutionary truth challenged some 496 years ago and though now the Word of God-the Holy Scriptures of the Bible is available to any of us fortunate to be living in a free country, that simple yet revolutionary truth of salvation in faith in Christ is still challenged to this day and seen only recently when I read in a publication placed in many Christian churches an article regarding John chapter 10 verse 10 of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Firstly, starting prior at verse 7 I read to you the word of God:

“So Jesus said again, ‘I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life-life in all its fullness. I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep.”

The clear Word of God: “Those who come in by me will be saved”, yet which evoked this commentary which not only brings into question the message of the reformers but the question of why Christ needed to die in the first place. The commentary:

“In John 10:10 Jesus promises the abundant life or life on a higher level. As we approach our spiritual destination on our lifelong journey towards spiritual man so the level on which we live our life climbs. I find it totally enlightening to have come to realise that the quality of my life here on earth is completely in my own hands and depends entirely on the effort that I make over time. (&) when I look at 1 Cor.3:13-15 I am pleasantly surprised to see that the quality of my life in heaven too, depends on my actions now that will result in having natural man born again. It’s all up to me!”

Words from a publication serving God in heartfelt service. Yet words that with its connation’s may unintentionally misguide and words that you will not again find within these four walls as we continue to preach and teach the truth of a message fought for 496 years ago and died for some 1500 years before then.

The Word of God, given for you in his mercy:

“You are justified by faith apart from works of law”, for “all fall short of the glory of God”. “For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it”, because “ through Jesus Christ is preached the forgiveness of sins, and everyone who believes in Him is set free”, as “Salvation is to be found through Him alone and in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can saves us” because God did not send his Son into the world to condemn you, but that through Him you are saved”.

The message of Jesus Christ -our start, our middle, our end. Our everything. Our Saviour. Amen.

 

Free to Sereve

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

“(Re) Born Free”

Luke 18:1-8a

Here today we come as one. The old and the young. All different in earthly wealth, occupations and interests. Yet we meet today in faith as one body knowing we are free in Christ and knowing that through that faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour, that the chains of our sin have been taken from us and given the promise of being the Sons and daughters of God the Father both here in this world and in the world to come, I ask what could there ever be to want for or worry of.

But then I remember a speech from Nelson Mandela after apartheid was turned over in South Africa where he said (I cannot remember exactly but the point meaning) “we are now free people, but before us we still have the great battle to realise what freedom is and what it is to live in it”.

Free in Christ that are just words on paper if we don’t know what they stand for. But words that become alive and part of us when we realise the gravity of what has gone before that we may hear them for ourselves.

I really did not want to go over old ground, but I feel I must. At six years old I announced to my Mother that “there is something God wants me to do but I just don’t know what”. Thirty seven years later and having been just accepted to study towards ordination in the church I was confronted by a man whose world had turned on him. A man whose immense courage and strength had been replaced with fear and weakness and for the next three months I essentially became his pastor as he came to understand our Lord who does not look to punish and take life from those who turn from him, but our Lord who looks to reward and give life to those who trust him and in his last months he truly came to that trust like that of a little child and those words that I said to my mum all those years ago, once forgotten came back to me and I said to Cathy that, that was the moment that God had prepared for me my whole life. But then, just into my studies came the inner fight “you’ve done what it was, so leave”. I sought advice from those close to me in the church and from those close to me outside the church and that all offered the same advice-to stay, it was of no comfort to me and after weeks of internal warfare, beaten and bruised one night I laid at the Lords feet in prayer and over and over for hours begged for an answer. I cannot actually remember falling to sleep but when I woke I had the clearest words implanted that I have ever known, the non-judging and even comforting words of “it didn’t have to end this way”, followed by “know my word” and that I still don’t know and understand them all, I do understand those that bring freedom in Christ.

The Words of God the Father, the creator who always was and always is who gave His only Son to be shackled, beaten, tortured and killed only to weep for those inflicting the pain and ask His Father “to forgive them for they know not what they do”.

Shackled, beaten, tortured and un-merciless killed on the cross that those shackled, beaten and tortured in their sin and lives can kneel at the foot of His cross and be given mercy in Him that they may be restored and rise and walk in His freedom.

You and me here today and all those who believe and trust in our Lord and Saviour, though we fail-His success is ours, and though we our sin lives in us-we live in his righteousness, washed clean in His blood and accepted spotless before a God of love. Our God, God the Father. You and me, we are free in Christ to walk without fear or anxiousness of how we stand before our Father in heaven. Yet a freedom that the powers of darkness who with any means possible look to confuse and deny. The powers of darkness who tell Christians the truth of our sin to take that freedom, but the powers of darkness who lie to Christians of the consequences and have us not know that “there is no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ” (Romans 8.1).

Like to those Mandela spoke, that we know “we are now free people”, we still have that daily battle before us to realise what freedom is and what it is to live in it”.

Free in Christ to say I don’t know how baptism works but I know it does because I know the cost of our Lords life behind the promise “That those who believe and are baptised will be saved”.

Free in Christ to know that though in ourselves we have no right to approach Our Lord, but knowing in Him who gave His Body and Blood for us we come to stand or kneel at the alter in Holy Communion knowing that in His sacrifice we restored to walk forgiven and given life and salvation.

And free in Christ to evoke His name before God the Father and take it to him in prayer and know the words of 1 John 5:14-15 for ourselves, that “this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him”, and so “rejoice always; pray without ceasing. And in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Free in Christ to live in His freeing truth that some of us heard so well said in bible study on Thursday.

“A little boy brought a fistful of dandelions to his florist father who made beautiful arrangements from exquisitely lovely flowers. The boy came into the florist shop with a fistful of wilted dandelions that he had picked in a field. Without a word, he looked up to his father and shyly handed the dandelions to him. The father gladly accepted the fistful of dandelions. He told his son that they were beautiful. He took a vase, filled it with water, put the flowers into the vase, and placed it onto the middle of the counter so that everybody who came into the store that day could see the beautiful gift that his little boy had brought him”.

We are free in Christ to know His word for ourselves and free to honor Him by bringing our lives of wilted dandelions before him and calling upon Him in our day of trouble, that He may rescue us. Amen.

 

Simple maths

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

Luke 17:11-19

The maths seems simple. Ten lepers cry for mercy and are cured but only one returns to praise God and thank Jesus. The maths seems simple as so it can be when we see and make an opinion of people based on what they do and have done before us in our societies. It can seem very straightforward and uncomplicated, but it almost never is.

In my previous job in a bank we were undertaking a training session about the importance of “checks and balances” within the workplace to reduce the risk of embezzlement and the instructor said that on the law of averages if you have ten people, no matter what the situation one will always be honest, one will always be dishonest and for the other eight it will depend on their situations. Eight out of the ten that want to do the right thing but given the wrong situation, be it to feed an addiction, make the payments on a house they can’t afford or to just put food on the table are susceptible to fall into doing something they otherwise would not. It seems a damning statistic until I see Abraham and Isaac on a mountain top or God the Father giving His Son Jesus Christ to be nailed to a cross on a lonely hill in Jerusalem and realise that given the wrong situation or one of such gravity I am one of those eight, or in today’s Gospel-one of the nine.

Ten lepers. Nine Jewish and considered the people of God and one a Samaritan despised by the people of God. Two types from either side of the tracks normally separated by racial and religious differences but here united as outcasts by their societies because off their carrying a highly contagious and incurable disease that most certainly would result in premature death.

The diseased, dis-enfranchised and rejected hidden from society and living in those parts where only the odd passer-by may unwillingly stumble upon and hear their warning cries of “unclean” before taking a wide birth around them. All except Jesus who as we’ve heard heals all ten and in the commentaries I’ve read many summarise that nine of the ten in not returning took their physical healing for granted and as such did not accept His spiritual healing as evidenced in the returning and grateful Samaritan. They may be right and certainly Jesus commends the returning Samaritan but before we get on board with such judgements let’s have a closer look at these ten people and especially the nine.

Firstly, not just these lepers but with all lepers is it not a mark of high character that living under the bondage of a disease that they did not earn or deserve that they actually warned away those not inflicted from themselves. Then with these lepers, nine Jewish and one Samaritan “enemy” could they not have simply turned away from the one and had a tidy Jewish leper colony of their own. Then when Jesus approaches, as one they cry out to Him for mercy only to hear a most puzzling response “to go and show yourselves to the priests” and remarkably without hesitation or reasoned follow up questions, they do just that and in discovering on the way that they have been cured, only one returns to thank Jesus while the nine continue on their way. Which I might add is what Jesus actually asked of them never mind the thought of being able to hug loved ones for the first time in years and most importantly, to be able to once again worship in the temple to which due to their unclean illness were not able. An outcome that cannot be understated as even to this day, that the temple has been destroyed in war and cannot be rebuilt and worshipped in due to the Muslim dome on the rock being built in its place is considered by the Jewish a tragedy much greater than that of the World War II holocaust. So how could we place any judgement what so ever on these nine who for all we know gave a great witness to what Jesus did for them. Yet Jesus without condemning them, does make a favourable statement towards the Samaritan who did return and I wonder if he knew more of what was taking place than seems to be placed before us in this short piece of scripture. I’m sure he did but what He was placed before us clearly shows that at the heart of our lives should be Christ, but it still leaves me wondering of the nine what if this? And what if that?

We are left wondering and maybe that’s a good thing because that’s God’s business. Yet paradoxically, in knowing that it’s God’s business we aren’t left wondering because we know that if in fact they still haven’t fully grasped the situation we know he won’t give up on them. We know it because we’ve been there in the wilderness separated from the kingdom of God by the stain of our own illness called sin. Sin, that like leprosy for those in this scripture had no human remedy and no matter how much we could try and scrub ourselves clean with good works and pious living still could not be cleansed.

To ten lepers 2,000 years ago Christ came and gave them the simplest of instructions, to “go and show your selves to the priest”. No question and answers just seven simple words that followed in faith cured their disease. To you, me and all those in the world today Christ comes with a message akin to that of the ten. No questions, no catches. Just believe in me and you shall be saved.

So I ask you, do you believe that Jesus Christ the Son of God died on the cross for your sins. If you have answered yes-then like to a Samaritan leper He now says to you “Your faith has made you well, so rise and go your way” and tell of me to the other nine that like you, they may be cleansed of sin and stand alongside yourselves before God, clean and pure through my blood.

Through the blood of Jesus Christ who gave himself on the cross you have been given eternal life and life in this world. So fall at His feet giving Him thanks and praising God with a loud voice-that those still lost, will follow His voice and receive His peace. Amen.

 

How will you run your race?

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Sermon Hebrews 11:29-12:2

How will you run your race?

 

The atmosphere is electric. Excitement and anticipation is all around. People leaning forward in their seats, just to get a better look. Children standing on seats unable to contain themselves. Hearts beginning to beat faster. There are others too whose hearts are beating faster, excitement building, unable to stop the anticipation, as they look ahead and focus on one point. The dream to be the best and to do their best has now begun. The athlete in this Olympic race stands at the starting line with now only one goal. To reach the end.

It started four years earlier for this athlete. She had missed out on a chance to run in the last Olympic Games. The next day she returned to her training plan. The early morning starts, the repeated efforts, the weights sessions. How many times had she wanted to give up? How many times did this training regime feel like a treadmill?

You know the routine, you know how it is. Wake up, eat a carefully selected breakfast, train for two hours, home for more carefully selected nutrition, weighed and analysed, short rest, some study only to return to the track again that afternoon for another training session. Recovery that evening in an ice-bath, stretching, more study, food and then bed. Only to be repeated again and again. Now all of this hard work, the set backs, the muscle strain, the early mornings has been worth it as she stands ready for the starter’s gun.

In the Olympics and in many races in life the athlete tries to win, to be the best, but what would you do if after all of that training it came undone? On youtube you can see a clip of the Olympic Games in Mexico City where in 1968 a man from Tanzania ran in the marathon. Soon after starting the race he cramped up due to the altitude and fell heavily. His wounds were hurriedly dressed and although he was in pain with a dislocated shoulder as well as his knee injury he was determined to finish the race. After the sun had set, he entered the stadium to cheers from the remaining small crowd and finished the race over an hour after the rest of the athletes. When asked why he hadn’t withdrawn from the race, he simply replied ‘My country did not send me 5000 miles to start the race, they sent me 5000 miles to finish the race.’ This man’s name was John Stephen Akhwari.

Have you ever been in a race? Perhaps not an Olympic race but a race where there was a start and a finish. How did you feel? Did you prepare your body and mind for the big event? Did you analyse your food and it’s nutritional value to assist you? Did you think about tactics or a plan for how to run your race? Perhaps you decided to go out hard and then fall over the line or hold back a bit and save some energy? What about perseverance? Would you continue even if like the Tanzanian runner you fell?

There are many ways to run a race. Our text today encourages us to, ‘run the race with perseverance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’ Yet unlike an Olympic race, this is the Christian race in life. The race that God has set before us.

In this race the vital thing is to keep our eyes on Jesus. The focus is not to run faster as in the Christian race speed is not important, rather perseverance and keeping our eyes on Jesus. Prayer, reading the bible and coming to worship are ways to help just that – to keep your eyes on Jesus.

There is only one tactic needed to run the race before you-and that is faith. Faith in Jesus Christ, the one who has run his race and now sits God’s right hand. Faith that is not earned, rather it is a gift. Faith that is so vital to us, faith that is already given in our baptism and it’s something that we grow into as we live our life in Jesus. Faith that is gift from God, strengthened by the Holy Spirit through hearing God’s word and receiving the lord’s supper.

We need to live our lives as best we can and be careful not to fall into sin, or return to sin when we have been made free from it. This sin that clings so closely to us and holds us back. When we are not sure if sin is holding us back, think about the commandments. Is there sin holding me back or clinging to me as I run my race?

When an athlete runs, he or she only wears the clothing they need for the race. They only carry what they need and no more that may weigh them down. So look at the clothes you put on. Not only the garments that cover our bodies but those other items we put on. Perhaps putting on more material things to make us feel more successful in life and to even give us more status in the race. Our texts encourages us to lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely and let us run. What is holding you back or weighing you down? Lighten your load by giving this all to God and run, not so much to win as you already share the victory in Jesus. Rather run as one who is free to run in faith with Jesus.

As John Stephen Akhwari said his country didn’t lay the race out for him to start but to finish the race. God lays this race out for you to not only in Jesus start it, but to finish it in Jesus. You have the victory in the one who has won the victory on the cross. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has won the victory over sin, death and the devil. This victory is offered to all who believe, who have faith in the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, as we have heard in the one who has run His race and finished.
Yet while you run your race, there are a great cloud of witnesses who will cheer you on. All of the faithful who have gone before, who have run their race with perseverance, now encouraging you to persevere and run with determination pointing you to Jesus. Imagine running along a road with the path lined with those who have completed the race in faith and now stand there waving and cheering. Imagine the great cloud of witnesses such as David, Samson and all the prophets. Alongside are all the faithful from this congregation who have lived and died in Jesus, who have kept their eyes on Christ and who now cheer us on in our race.

As you look at the people will you see some from your community who are pointing you to Jesus along your journey when you become tired or despondent? Will you point others to Jesus as a witness along their race? Will you pray for those who are burdened? How will the world see you and how will you treat your fellow runners? Just as some had given up on John Stephen Akhwari finishing, you too may have friends, family, team mates or colleagues who will also give up, unlike the faithful, the great cloud of witnesses that remain there until you have finished. They have died and now wait for you and all Christians until we all finally received our inheritance in heaven.

Let’s not forget that you are not running alone? Christ ran the race that God set before him – humbling himself as he ran the race, a path that lead to humiliation, suffering, scourging, and finally to the cross. Christ persevered with this even though he asked his Father if his race could be changed but not my will, not my race Father but yours. No one could run the race for Jesus and no one can run your race that God has called you to run.

It might be time to ask you how your race is going? How is your nutrition going for your race? What if you run out of puff and can’t complete the journey? Be nourished and strengthened to keep running by the power of the Holy Spirit as you gather around God’s word and participating in the foretaste of heaven in Holy Communion. In faith then run, run as a free person by receiving forgiveness of sin and living under the grace bestowed upon you by God. Unlike the Olympic Games where the athlete runs alone, relying on his/her strength and preparation to finish, placing all their faith in themselves, the Christian race has something special about it. Let me re-emphasise the runner never runs alone and the runner places faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus runs with you, he walks with you and binds up your wounds when you stumble and dusts you off, yet also Jesus runs ahead clearing the way for you too. He removes stumbling blocks and carries you when you no longer can move. He is the pioneer and perfecter of your faith. He begins your faith and perfects it along the way. He is the beginning and the end of the race, so live in him and finish your race in him to finally receive, as you have now but fully then your eternal salvation.

Amen

Mark Gierus