“The game changer”

“The game changer”

Matthew 5:38-48

Not long after getting a transfer in my banking employment from a small country town to the regional “city” of Port Augusta, I found myself waiting to play my first game with my new Central Augusta football team mates while watching the lead up game and as “luck” would have it I learnt something of what was in store for me when I saw one of the forwards take a mark in front of goal and then be punched flush in the face from an opposition player coming from the other direction.

Interesting style of football I thought but what “got” me was not that a fight followed, nor the comment of my team mate next to me who remarked that “the player involved was gutless and shouldn’t be allowed out there.” What got me was that after having agreed was what his assessment actually meant when he continued with “yes, if someone can’t take a punch without fighting back he is pathetic and a blight against the whole team”.

I thought he might have been pulling my leg until half an hour later as we got changed I saw one of the other teams players come in with a clearly broken arm seemingly bearing no pain and chatting merrily away to the guys in our team that he knew as if he’d only hurt a fingernail and in that 30 minutes of time I learnt more of the courage required than I had learnt in enduring the previous four months of preseason fitness and weights training.

It was a valuable lesson not unlike of what Jesus talk of today in the gospel where we after our “preseason training” of hearing and studying the Word are led by that strength not to retaliate against those who attack us, but the strength to absorb the hits and stay true to the game plan of what it means to be saved in Christ.

As with my Central Augusta team mate to me, Jesus in today’s gospel yet again challenges the Jewish people listening to him not by changing the game, but by changing how it’s played in hitting them with scripture that they all knew and for us to see what they came to hear we need not criticise and abuse, but firstly take a walk in the shoes of those hearing this radical message of Jesus for the first time.

“An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” is straight from the old testament and not designed by God for the outbreak of violence but to limit it by curbing our desire to give back more than what we got and even then, though this law allows one to get even within limits, it does not require one to get even and in that light we see the true purpose of this Old testament law not as savage and bloodthirsty, but of a beginning of mercy.

Enter the fulfilment of mercy in Jesus Christ who doesn’t render His audience as wrong but gives a fuller understanding and in saying “Do not resist the one who is evil” and knowing that in the word translated as resist in this context means “do not render evil for evil” we see that Jesus is not telling us to be weak and passive, but to have the courage of not being of a vindictive and revengeful mind set and return fire not with fire, but return fire with goodness and I would suggest to those present and indeed to ourselves that at the very least we ask ourselves how does this actually play out in our lives and so not to leave either of us wondering Jesus responds with four examples of which due to time constraints I will talk of one.

In understanding Jesus response of “But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” again we have to sit with those present at the time to understand. Firstly we see that is not about standing there like a punching bag because in knowing that the first blow mentioned is to the right cheek and in likewise knowing that by far the most natural hand used is the right hand we see that it’s virtually impossible when face to face to properly land a blow flush with right hand to the left cheek. So physically it cannot be a punch but a slap from the back of the hand and in the time of Jesus and still in parts of the world now, a slap to the face with the back of one’s hand is not designed to physically punish but to insult and to the Jews of the time it was considered a gross insult and one of the most demeaning acts one could inflict on another person, and so again, Jesus is saying to us not to return fire with fire with insults and rumour, but to avoid retaliation and personal revenge.

Those of my era may know the song that goes “O’ Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way” and if we as Christians did to that of how Jesus changes things around we would be singing “O’ Lord it’s easy to be humble when we are not perfect in anyway”.

Problem is that in our sin and in our world that that keeps showering us with our right to do this and our right to do that, as is it hard to always be humble so too is it not to return fire with fire. Because that’s our right, right? Well contrary to what society tells us in self- help groups designed to empower us to reach our potential and reign at the top of the heap in all our glory, as disciples of Christ we have actually given away those rights and signed up to die to self as said in John where we are told “He must become greater and we must become less”.

Unfortunately, this side of heaven we will never fulfil those words as most assuredly in ourselves we will never live up to the last words in today’s gospel that inform us that “therefore you must be prefect, as your heavenly Father is prefect”.

So what to do? Nothing and everything.

Nothing because in belief in Jesus Christ alone you have been saved and given the right to eternal life and from those most wonderful Words of Romans do we rest our doubts and rejoice in hearing again and again that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Yet in requiring nothing other than we trust in the Lord, he gives us the right to live a life of everything.

The right to live a full life. Not a life of always getting our own way or of harbouring anger and judgement towards others whether it is just or unjust or our right. But a life of peace free from such distractions that we see the beauty of Christ and the hurt of the world and strive in any small way we can to bring them together that as He is made greater, so too the hurt smaller.  Amen.

Facing the Truth

Matthew 5:21-37

Maybe it’s because our congregations are coming up to the times of their AGM’s, I’m not sure but during this week, without meaning to I came to considering my ministry in our parish and what I saw was not enjoyable and though I tried to find something, anything that I could hang my hat on and feel good about, every angle I took led me to the same place and so knowing my inadequacies, I came to TRULY understand the apostle Paul for first time when he says he has nothing to offer those before him other than the truth of Christ crucified.

In his letters Paul tells us time and time again not cling to one shred of self-righteousness because “there is none righteous, not even one”.

It is a message that can sit a little uncomfortable with us and it would seem with our world as we replace biblical words like sin, wretch, lies and iniquities with behavioural disorders, non-truths, unproductive personal habits and compulsive personality types.

Yes, some of these modern descriptive terms do describe medical conditions born in us and thankfully, with modern medicine can be treated. But we are also born in the affliction of sin. That’s reality, but a reality that not only does society not want to know, but worse, some of the holders of the mysteries-being the churches and the people of Christ don’t seem to want to preach, teach or talk about and indeed I’ve been in discussions where the advice I received was not to bring up the law in services where there will be those of in-frequent attendance.

Most certainly, we preach and base every ounce of our well-being on the gospel and the gospel alone, that’s how it should be and how it has to be but the problem is, that unless we have felt the law, we won’t feel, know and relish in the true freedom of the gospel.

Without the law there is no sin, without sin there is no need for forgiveness and without the need for forgiveness there is no need for Christ and so in our world where the only reality has become what we decide it to be, unless we as the church talk about the reality of our need for Christ into it, the reality of His atoning works don’t even get a chance to be heard never mind accepted or discarded.

The saying what we don’t know won’t hurt us does is not always the case and certainly does not cut it in relation to matters of salvation and just as un knowingly we carry around soft drinks going by the label of “Monster” which carry the Hebrew letters for the number 666 and urging us unleash the beast, so too without the knowledge of our sinful state we will find ways to overlook the need for Christ.

Thirteenth century Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev wrote that:

“I don’t know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like and it is terrible”.

Unfortunately, I would suggest we may have all felt that realisation and unfortunately without a remedy life can become a game of chasing the cure through self-medication and surrounding ourselves with the noise of the world to where we present ourselves to both the person looking in the mirror and those looking on like a photo shopped Facebook page.

Problem is the wolf won’t leave the door and far from fleeing from it, we draw even closer as we thirst to fill that internal hole that won’t be filled and continue on a merry go round that while once enjoyable, has now become the substance of our life as we go round and round and though we can see things outside flashing past, they are blurred and though there’s a feeling that’s what’s out there is good, we can’t stop to see it clearly because we can’t let go of the pole we are holding lest we fall and suffer greater injury.

God said he will write the law on our hearts and he has for the religious and atheist alike as we all chase that ever elusive desire of happiness and inner peace and should the Holy Spirit not show us that the cause is sin, we stay on the merry go round chasing our tail but never catching it.

So the Lord does us a favour and humbles us in the knowledge of ourselves up and against the heavy weight of the law and asks that we pass it on to those who don’t want to hear it, but like us most definitely need to.

Many have said that while under the grip of incurable illness they come to see the beauty and smell of a rose like they could never have imagined. So too, that when one comes to see their incurable sin in the law does come the sweet fragrance and taste of the gospel.

The Gospel of our Lord that doesn’t say don’t go on that overseas holiday, but says by all means do it; but do it not to search for happiness but to enjoy happiness.

The Gospel of our Lord that says yes, build your business, buy a house or learn the guitar. But do it not to hide yourself from yourself or because you have you, but because you want too.

And the Gospel of the Lord that came to a Pastor that he not be free of his inadequacies, but that his inadequacies bring him the freedom to serve God and His people in the strength of the Lord and not of his own, and that is the freedom of what John talks of in his gospel where he tells us that: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”.

We all here today fall short, yet in knowing and acknowledging it, in Christ we have never been in a better place.  For in falling short we have come to know that in salvation, peace and happiness there is only one way that fulfils that aching hole within us and that is to trust in Jesus Christ and in what He done on the cross for us.

So today we stand before God the Father not content in our sin, but content that we know of them and of joyful hearts that though in sin we fall short, we know that in Christ our weakness brings strength, our failures success and though once trapped in ourselves, like our Lord’s body was broken on the cross that He may rise in victory, so to from a crushed spirit have we risen to see to that His victory is ours and know for ourselves how sweet and precious is that grace which we have received. His grace to you that brings eternal life, and His grace to you that he pleads that you know today, to walk in it, to revel in it and most certainly, to find peace in it. Amen.

Back to the Future

“Back to the future”

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 & Matthew 5:13-20

In his autobiography, one of the greatest AFL footballers of all time, revered not only by his own teams supporters, but by all remarked that often his dislike for playing was so great that before the game he would sometimes hide in the toilet cubicle in tears just wishing he could be anywhere but to where he was about to be, being in front of up to 100,000 football fans both admiring and in disbelief of what this man was capable of doing on the footy field.

A man revered by all, yet a man torn within himself who remarked that if it wasn’t for his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, would most certainly not have “made it out alive”.

This is the wisdom of God that Paul talks about in today’s reading from 1st Corinthians. The wisdom of God up and against the wisdom of the world. The wisdom that Paul, then still known as Saul had the full authority to preach and teach, because it was the wisdom he had felt and knew first hand when as a man of high esteem and power and as Acts tells us, “was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples (and so) went to the high priest  and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem…yet  as he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him and he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

A terrifying moment, but even more so, that when struck down with blindness by the Lord became like a little child who had to rely on others to lead him, fend for him and care for him. Three days later, after who knows what would have gone through his head his sight was restored that again he could see the majesty of a new day. A physical miracle, yet a miracle that pales into insignificance compared to that which had brought him to see the truth of the shining light of Christ.

The light and truth of Christ followed by this man Paul, who once revered by his Jewish colleagues, now stands before the Corinthian church while both being violently opposed by those once were admirers, and regard of him as weak, foolish and powerless.

From riches to rags and under the constant threat of, and often realisation of being beaten, bashed, and insulted, here stands Paul professing his testimony to any that will listen. His testimony of God proclaimed not with lofty speech or of earthly wisdom, but proclaimed by the gift of the Holy Spirit his testimony of knowing nothing other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. His message for others that they too not rest in the wisdom of the world, but in the power of God.

And though Paul who in his own words is “in weakness, fear and much trembling”, and “the greatest of sinners”, ironically has found peace. Not the worldly peace which is merely the absence of trouble, but biblical peace. The peace of Christ that is not related to circumstances, but His peace that be we be in the midst of great trials and hardships is still there up holding and sustaining us.

This is the peace of Christ in which we live and the peace of that in today’s Gospel that Christ tells us to take to the world and let shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Two years ago after being ordained as a pastor, I had a terrifying realisation, I was a pastor. That, though in itself was nothing short of a miracle, I knew it to be true because I had the certificate. The greater miracle was that on that day, the 4th of December 2011 I became a man of virtue, goodness and love. Problem was that as they didn’t give me a certificate of that, I found myself facing up to the fact that far from shining my light into the world of good deeds and great character, I may indeed need to hide my deeds and inner self under the very basket that the Lord says not to, and so confused I rang a fellow pastor who I knew very well and asked of how to handle this predicament I found myself. Too which he responded and to whom you can now blame for the predicament you have now found yourself placed, was “to just be myself”.

That can be an interesting light to show.

Tonight on T.V. there is a show “documenting” the life and times of Inxs and their lead singer Michael Hutchence and from what I’ve seen and read, Michaels light of charisma, talent and kindness shone bright, as to did the light of his substance abuse, sex and self-disregard.

Though it seems his life was a contradiction of both light and darkness, and though I do not know his spiritual standing, in co-writing these lyrics it would seem that he knew of the true light of which our Lord tells us to let shine:

“This is the power
Since time began
Every single hour
That we have known….

Shine like it does
Into every heart
Shine like it does
And if you’re looking
You will find it…

This is the story
Since time began
There will come a day
When we will know”

Michael was a man of rare musical genius but to judge his light to the world would be like judging mine to our parish and maybe even your good works to and for society. A mixed bag that I would suggest would leave us in a precarious position should they be the defining factor in bringing others to give glory to the Father who is in heaven.

The power since time began, every single hour that we have known that shines as it does into every heart is not that of us, but of Christ and most certainly, as Christ himself did when he walked this earth, we are show charity, kindness and love.

But the true and perfect light and the good works of today’s gospel that we are to show to the world that they to come to know God is that of Christ.

Our light and good deeds that we take to others is our confession of the truth of what we like Paul, have come to know for ourselves.

The truth of not what we think or argue over in our minds, not the truth of our human logic, but the clear and un movable truth of Christ and His message of the Gospel that is not part of, but the entirety of the power to bring those placed before us to know the Lord and His peace.

Our good works and deeds are our testimony to the truth that though born of worldly sin and falling constantly to its charms and its persuasive ways, it does not condemn. For when we knew Him not, the Lord came to us that as He was to die on a cross, so too our sins so that as He was raised to life eternal, so too in Him are we. And that we still fall to sin and hear those condemning judgments from the devil and our own logic of being not good enough and needing to earn our salvation, we discard them for the lies they are and listen not to ourselves, but to Christ himself who has told us, that though you still fall to sin you need not despair. For on the cross I gave my life you. And in faith in Christ alone as the one who has brought the gifts of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life, those gifts are now yours.

The truth of Christ is our peace in this world and our light to the world, for in him the scriptures tells us not to wonder of our last day, but to know that this day, that today in faith, belief and trust in Christ you have received eternal life, and that having accepted Christ, He has promised:

“that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And though be we in weakness, fear and much trembling, or of power and authority”, our true peace is not of that which is merely the absence of trouble, but in the presence of our Lord who though we see Him not, walks with us, holding and sustaining us in faith that though like the thief on the cross we see His paradise not, we hear His words for ourselves and know them to be true in the present as much as they are in the future, that “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”. Amen.

Colours of my life

“Famous for being famous”

Matthew 5: 1-12

In today’s landscape of reality T.V. there are some very wealthy and well-known people and families that seem to be famous for being famous and are viewed by many as living the dream. And maybe they are or are not living but that’s their business and not for us to guess. Yet when reading of their “followers”, many see these peoples fame as something to aspire to that will bring happiness and make them something in the world.

Fame, irrespective even if only being famous for being famous equates to a blessed life and happiness.

An equation that I wonder what the likes of those of unending fame would comment.

Vincent Van Gogh, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and some of the funniest and finest comedians through the years. Famous names not just etched in a few years or a decade, but famous names in the journals of history that our children’s children will still be reading about. Unimaginable fame, yet fame that did not quell for them what Winston Churchill called “The black dog”.

“The black dog”, a metaphor for depression: an-ever companion lurking in the shadows just out of sight, growling, vaguely menacing, always on the alert, sinister and unpredictable and capable of overwhelming you at any moment.

Famous yes, happy-maybe not so.

Martin Luther was noted to suffer melancholy, the word for depression of that time and “His name sake so to speak”, the great civil rights activist Martin Luther King Junior, so named because his father, A Baptist priest after travelling Germany changed his name by deed poll from Michael to Martin is said by most of his auto biographers as an “intensely guilt-ridden” and “depressed man.”

When asked if his fame, money and possessions had brought him happiness,  the very rich and powerful Rene Rivkin several years before his suicide answered, “no, just a better level of misery”.

Many of these people where blessed with things the world applauds, money, fame, courage, power and great minds. Yet it seems the equation of those things equalling a blessed and happy life as the world sees it may not have eventuated to the extent that some would imagine.

Is it a sin to be blessed with a talent that exceeds others and brings the fruits of worldly life-absolutely not?  Just as it is most certainly not a sin to want to be happy. In fact I would think it more the opposite that if a person purposely set out to be unhappy I’d reckon Jesus might be a little miffed.

The problem is not happiness, but what we equate happiness to be and if it’s only based on our circumstances and environment, or on fun and laughter, doing our own thing while being free from suffering, sorrow and hardship then happiness will most certainly be a never ending quest and this is Jesus point as He makes His famous sermon on the mount called “The beatitudes”. His sermon to help those, help us to not find fleeting happiness, but real true happiness that brings peace and as normal, Jesus ways of truth are, seem to come from “back to front land”.

Blessed are the poor in spirit are those
that are aware of how much their sinfulness is out of control; those desiring a greater faith and struggling cope with upsets in life.

Blessed are those who mourn.

Those living with loss those upset by the injustices in our world and grieve for the starving, the homeless, refugees and those suffering wars and those who know of and are distressed over their own stupidity and sinfulness.

Blessed are the humble

Those helping others at cost to themselves. Gentle with others and refusing to do anything for their own personal gain at the expense of others; People who don’t push themselves forward because they are satisfied helping others.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Those with a deep sense of what is right; they are passionate about justice for the underdog and won’t rest until something is done while also struggling in their own lives because of their want to live more as God intended.

Blessed are the persecuted.

Persecution because you are a peacemaker, or because you have shown mercy and compassion on someone whom everyone else thinks doesn’t deserve it, or being pure in heart you know what is the right thing to do and stick to it even though  no one else sees it that way and they retaliate.

The blessings of the beatitudes present to us a very different and somewhat challenging form of happiness to what the world and our head may suggest will bring happiness because he cuts out “the stuff” that promises yet never fulfils and gets to the core that at the end of the day, the only thing that will not perish or need to be updated is to know God and be accepted into his kingdom and ironically, just as those I listed earlier with their “cross to bear” of depression and doubts of self- worth help lead them to great things, so to in our moments where we are laid bare in the knowledge of our own sins and shortcomings and see that only in Christ can we be given rest from the “monkey on our back.”

Abraham Lincoln, a man very much fuelled to do the right thing for people because of knowing of his own pain in, 1812 made a speech proposing to advance his quest to end slavery and re-unite a country half free and half not and quoted Mark 3:25 in stating that a “house divided against itself cannot stand”.

We in our lives in Christ are totally free and yet we are still continually drawn to find other ways we need not. And if blessed by God with many things, be it employer of people or being employed, be it be a gift of certain ability or indeed the gift of insight through suffering, we like Abraham Lincoln can use our “gifts” as a blessing to serve our country, communities, families and neighbours and the Lord Himself.

All of us here are blessed with something that’s unique to us and it may or may not be something that brings overly fond feelings because any gift we have can subjective to the weather, the economy, youthful or aged bodies or a never ending array of “hits and misses” that we encounter over our journey.

In worldly terms a blessing can easily become a curse and vice versa and we ride those ways as best we can and that’s part of life. A part of life though that can only fulfil, only bring true happiness and true peace under the knowledge of our life in Christ.

Because outside of Christ, though we may be strong in mind and body we have to see we are weak and feeble. Yet though weak and feeble, He has come to us and gives us strength and though rich and gifted or of humble means and ways He has come that we who accept Him as He is, are accepted as we are. And that as we are, struggling in and with our own sin and indeed laid bare in our own shortfalls of living a life in Christ, we are given peace, hope and happiness when we accept Him as He is, the messiah, the Son of God who came into this world not to condemn but to save.

Jesus Christ the Saviour who gave His life for you that you need not fear or worry of things passing, for in accepting His underserved grace you know the truth of what awaits you at the end of your journey, and that while on the journey we may be given mountains to climb and tears to shed, we go forward not in fleeting happiness but rejoicing in all things and in all ways because of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who today, as He will most certainly on our last day says welcome home my dear brother, welcome home my dear sister and that we can still accept and acquire the perishable, our happiness thought often cloaked in hardship is in Christ.

That’s the truth of God in scripted in stone, a promise to us Christ will not break, and our joy and happiness that no other can take. Amen.