Bambi’s chains

“Bambi’s chains”

Romans 8:26-39

A few months ago there was a notable news item about herds of deer on the border of what used to be West Germany and Czechoslovakia. That border marked the line between the Warsaw Pact countries and the NATO alliance of the West. Not long after WW2 a fence was built by the Communists to stop ‘migration’ to the West. The ‘fence’ was actually three fences of high and vicious barbed wire, fully electrified. Armed guards constantly patrolled its entire length. Apparently more than 500 people died along that border as they sought freedom from that oppressive regime.

They were not the only casualties. For century upon century herds of deer had freely roamed the forests of Europe in that area. Once the death-dealing fence was in place the deer quickly learned to avoid it. Deer on the Czech side moved through the eastern forests up to the fence, along it on well worn tracks, and away again. On the German side the herds of deer learned to do the exact same thing. East was east, and west was west, and ne’er the herds did meet.

Now here’s the thing… The herds still don’t meet. It is now 25 years since the wall came down and the fence was removed. In the years since then observers were astonished to see that the deer adhered (!) to the tracks they had learned. Since scientists began micro-chipping the herds only two, both male, are known to have ‘crossed the line’, and one of those returned the same day and never ‘re-offended’. The herds are stuck in their learned patterns of behaviour in spite of the fact that not a single deer alive today was alive when the electric fence was doing its dirty work. As one report had it, ‘The wall is still in their heads!’ No other animals are limited in the same way. (Thanks to Pastor Fred Veerhuis for this article and his insights).

We belong to a church which prides itself on its convictions about Gospel freedom. We love Galatians 5:1. ‘For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast then, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ (RSV) Most certainly the Gospel bestows the gift of freedom through forgiveness, for Christ’s sake, by grace, through faith. With it comes that delightful and cherished confidence that there is now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Being placed ‘in Christ Jesus’ puts the children of the heavenly Father beyond any accusation that could ever be raised according to law. Nothing, repeat nothing… nothing in all creation, nothing… can ever separate us from the love of God the Father revealed in Jesus Messiah our Lord. Nothing!

And in that revelation, we are free to be the person we want to be, because Christ has set us free.

Nelson Mandela after apartheid was abolished said that the only thing that now remained keeping his people in bondage was the fear of freedom.

For us, born free in our country that may sound a little strange. But what if we think of those things that we are slaves to, regardless of our need not to be.

Excess wealth, status, keeping up with “Jones’” and all manner of things that shape our way of life that don’t necessarily enhance it, but restrict it.

If only I didn’t have to worry about……..imagine the freedom.

The Freedom that two rich, intelligent and wealthy stock brokers strived for.

Not a desire of freedom from their riches or work pressures, but the freedom that they desired so great but could not do either together or alone and so developed Alcoholics Anonymous in which the basic premise is that without help from a higher God, they cannot sustain the battle against alcohol.

We are free in Christ, yet in some ways, still trapped in ourselves.

If Christ was not Christ He might answer for us to have a look at ourselves and get our act together.

Thankfully Christ is Christ and instead of passing opinions of matters He does not understand, does understand and sees that things are not easy for even those that know the truth of the freedom they have in Him.

Michael Jordan, maybe the greatest basketball player in history after hearing people comment on his brilliance remarked that I wonder if they would think the same if they saw the amount of times I miss during my practicing over and over again for hours every day.

In our Jordan moments when we hit the target Christ sees His good and faithful servants at work. The same when He sees His good and faithful servants bowed down lying with an empty bottle on the street asking for forgiveness and begging for an end to the horror.

When Christ walked this earth He did miracles, raising people from the dead, healing lepers and so forth. Absolute miracles that if we were the recipient of one would never give short thrift to.

But for me, the miracle is that, again and again, are the spoken Gospel words that is Jesus Christ who comes to us amongst society and indeed our own opinions of ourselves, that whether at the both at the “top of our game” or at the bottom, comes to us with the exact same words “that nothing, nothing of this world nor in powers seen or unseen that we know little , not our failures to be that person we want and know we should be, not our failure in ourselves and nor our failure in serving Him as we should-nothing because of Christ can ever separate those who know who He is and what He came for can ever be separated from the love of God.

Those who know Christ and what He came for are saved.

Romans 10:9-13

“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

For there is no distinction between Jew or Greek-For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

No distinctions: Be it those in the concrete mountains of wall street or those wallowing in rags under a bridge in Dubbo/Gilgandra and should either have been freed of their invisible jail cells or not-everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Acts 13:38-39

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

In our lives here, our freedom within can feel both the journey and the destination. But in Christ-His journey to death on the cross was our arrival at our destiny of life in His resurrection because though we can be free today, the greater miracle is that Jesus the Christ got behind the real wall of the law, undermined it by his life of suffering glory, dismantled the accuser’s strongholds by delivering forgiveness through his own death, drove a stake through the dominating heart of the spirit of death by his resurrection, and proceeded to lead the redeemed through those shattered walls into the kingdom of his Father.

We are free today as we are, as we will be when our bodies are renewed on the last day.

And in that, we go with the peace that is not of us, but with the peace of Christ for we know, that should we lie in green pastures beside still waters, or walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we know He is with us, following us in goodness and mercy wherever our journey leads us-that nothing shall ever separate us from His promise that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. His house, and our house. Amen.

Religion has a lot to answer for

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43: Psalm 139

I want my life to be lived with you
There’s a way everybody say’s
To do each and every little thing
But what does it bring
If I ain’t got you,

You don’t know what it’s like
To love somebody
To love somebody
The way I love you

The words from a Bee Gees song that has the effect of being at the same time both of heartbreak and of triumphant.

And words that could be from Christ himself as a reminder to the to the church and words to each of us today reminding us that no matter how much we try, we will never truly understand a love that is untarnished by sin that is the love of Christ.

Religion has a lot to answer for.

We see in the Middle East what seems to be Muslim Brother against Muslim brother. Murder and bloodshed in the name of religion.

At the completion of the first Christian Crusade” in the middle ages, a chaplain and historian present wrote of the events immediately following the capture of Jerusalem.

“Wonderful sights were to be seen. Some of our men (the more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies; others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one’s way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services are normally chanted … in the temple and the porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies.”

And here, if our land of freedom-in our land flowing with milk and honey we hear of the religious leaders, Pastors and those of their flocks who have not welcomed the confused and anxious teenager carrying baby, but discarded her by way of judgment and lecture. And the church that welcomes back those lost to them, maybe that same girl with a smile, but really a smile that could be seen as a smirk as she notices the side way looks between the good and faithful.

The dictionary defines theology as “the systematic study of the existence and nature of the divine and its relationship to and influence upon other beings”, and in our own church theological discussions have been present since the reformation and hopefully will be to the end of time.

Theology-the study of the Word in history, and indeed both in our own times allows for us to hear the truth of God no matter what the winds of society otherwise suggest. The word that says yes, that thing is still a sin, and the word that says no, that no matter your condition that the present society has now labelled as unforgivable, no, that though others forgive you not- no sin is too great to separate those from the love of God who have turned to Christ.

Religion, the Church at times, some Pastors moments, you and me all have things to answer for. Retaliation of those of not the same beliefs and the judgment of others that doesn’t lift them from the shallows but pushes them into the depths. We all have something.

When young, a family stopped attending church for the very reasons I have mentioned and at the age of twelve, a boy in that family-unbeknown to anyone to this day for weeks struggled with what seemed a call to leave his mother and father and live with his still actively worshipping grandfather. The pull was immense and it seemed clearly a line in the sand had been drawn between following Christ or following self.

For the next 15 years his relationship or pull towards the Lord became dim only to be replaced with all manner of worldly ways.

A moment, and moments following that needed answering for-but was not sought for nor considered.

So Christ answered himself not in judgment and damnation, but through a seemingly chance encounter that would see him enter a church against his wishes only to be re-awakened and brought to tears that finally, he was home.

The apostle Paul through the knowledge of his own situation has told us that “But by His doing are you in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boast, boast (only) in the Lord”.

I have walked in many directions not made of the Lord, and yet even in the most wayward it was He who opened up a door. Opened door after door that in my unknowing state would see me stumble unawares to a place he prepared that once again I would come to weep in the knowledge of a love so great.

We all deserve to answer to God for our wayward ways, but as we could not, God sent us His son to answer for us.

I want my life to be lived with you
There’s a way everybody say
To do each and every little thing
But what does it bring
If I ain’t got you,

You don’t know what it’s like
To love somebody
To love somebody
The way I love you.

God answered our inability to save ourselves by sending us His Son.

Jesus Christ who though we turn from Him, does not turn from us.

The parable of the sower: “The servants said to him, do you want us to gather up the weeds. But he said to them, No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.”

Christ here gives voice to our theology, to His churches and to us. A sin is a sin and so it will be till the end of time. But though we see sins in others and in ourselves-we are not to judge prematurely by assuming we can tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat for that is not the realm of us, but of God. The realm of our God who separates the two not of what we discern, but in knowing of those who come before him with empty hands clinging to forgiveness and life eternal through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

We may have doubts of ourselves from past, present or future that cause us to pray in anxiety or even distress as to our fate on our last day. Pray yes, but fear not for we have a God, God the Father that knows you.

Our God that is aware of our sins and of our times of bodily and spiritual weaknesses. But a God that has not forsaken us, or closed his eyes and ears to us but comes to us in the midst of our storms with the assurance that: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

We all have family and friends not of the visible church which may give us reason to pray. And pray we should, but not in fear but in comfort that God, our God is not a God far off, but God our Father who is near and hear these Words from today’s Psalm 139 for them, and as they most assuredly are for you.

“”                 1 You have searched us, Lord,
and you know us.
2 You know when we sit and when we rise;
you perceive our thoughts from afar.
3 You discern our going out and our lying down;
you are familiar with all our ways.
4 Before a word is on our tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem us in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon us.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for us,
too lofty for us to attain.

7 Where can we go from your Spirit?
Where can we flee from your presence?
8 If we go up to the heavens, you are there;
if we make our bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If we rise on the wings of the dawn,
if we settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide us,
and your right hand will hold us fast….    and lead us in the way everlasting life. Amen.

A labour of Love

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Prior to today’s Gospel lesson Jesus had told His disciples: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few” and here in this parable He gives encouragement that they continue to faithfully sow the seed. To continue to sow the seed though some goes to waste and though it would seem they are reaping little success.

Like those disciples past, we too are asked to sow the seed because in us has the seed, the Word of God landed on fertile land. The fertile land that Jesus talks of in the joining verses between today’s Gospel were He tells us that “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears for they hear. For truly I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

Blessed are we to know Christ the Saviour who has come to us. The Saviour who the prophets and righteous of past were foretold of but did not know. And Christ the Saviour who has come to us as He did some 2,000 years ago to those in Jerusalem as a thirty three year old only to be misunderstood and judged in His ways that He be killed on a cross in the name of religion as a fraud and blasphemer.

Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God who brought the truth of His forgiveness to the chosen race of God-the Israelites. Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God who brought His truth of forgiveness to their enemies the Samaritans. To their captors the Romans. To adulterers, thieves, prostitutes, the judged and the forgotten.

Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God. The long  awaited Messiah who having arrived brought a message so radical in its nature, that the nature of those present refused Him and tried to destroy the freedom He brought by placing both on a cross.

Yet in the seemingly victory of Sin and the defeat of Christ, those blessed of fertile ground have come to know that on that harrowing Cross was not the defeat of Christ and what he stood for.  But the victory of Christ and the deliverance of freedom from eternal death in sin, to eternal life in Christ in spite of sin.

This Thursday just gone some of us attended Wilf’s funeral in Gilgandra we heard these words from his Eulogy:

“Born in 1919 and at the start of his earthly journey he was declared a sickly baby and Doctors were sure he wouldn’t survive, but he proved them wrong”, (and went on to live a full and fruitful life).

Having arrived here only a few years ago, I have only known Wilf at the end of his earthly journey in which was in sickness as much as it started and far from proving things wrong, to me he proved things right because in Wilf, though aging and frail was a man of upbeat hope no matter the situation and I will never forget our only theological discussion when after a sermon on saved in faith in Christ alone up and against what the world and both we throw at ourselves remarked, that “I too believe that in Christ and in Christ alone are we saved.”

I do not know the details of Wilf’s life, like I don’t know all of yours or even some of my own that my mind has chosen to blot out. Yet though I do not know the details, I know the substance and for us all it is of the same manner.

For we all live in this complicated world where life is experienced through the painful tension between love and hate, joy and sorrow, justice and injustice, good and evil, hope and meaninglessness, life and death, the present and the future.

And amid all of this, we live a double life as Paul writes in Romans 8:18-23.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God. For the creation was subject to futility, not willingly, but because to him who subjected it, in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth….and we too grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons and daughters in the redemption of our bodies”

Creation itself, our home planet scarred, battered used and abused awaits the day when it will be replenished in the splendour it once was and was to remain. Our planet, our earthly planet that we have used and abused-yet it still endures to flourish to maintain that we have shelter, food and life.

Creation itself, those created in God’s own image-we ourselves, scarred, battered used and abused await the day when we too will be replenished to the splendour we once where in the garden of Eden and where we could have remained had not we fell to sin.

Oh to be in that day when cliffs are covered again in soil and clover and we walk without aging bodies free of pain and tears alongside those we love who have gone before us and those that we too will one day leave behind.

This is not our worldly hope, but our Hope in Christ which is not a maybe, but a certainty. A day that awaits us as certain as Christ himself and should we march, stride, walk and crawl toward that day is of no consequence because the words the apostle Paul told the Ephesians he tells us, that:

“God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. “

You are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared beforehand. His workmanship that has brought “Blessing to your eyes, for they see, and your ears for they hear. For truly He says to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

But we have heard it, the final Word of God to us regarding our salvation and that of Jesus Christ. And though we may crawl with the weight of sin and hurt on our back, we can march bold and upright towards our heavenly reality because of Christ’s sure promise to us.

And though in doubt of our self-worth and fear of rejection we desire to retreat from those to who He places before us who have rejected Him or yet to know Him, as one we can march together with Christ and stand firm in the faith that the Word of God does not return empty.

Because in you I see the Word was not empty for the seed of His Word continues to grow in you, and will continue to do so until we not just trust in, but see, feel and touch the Glory that is to be fully revealed to us on our last day and see that these present days are not worth of compare.

You here today need no longer need search for forgiveness and salvation in a future time because it is yours today because in trust in Christ alone and in faith that He died on the cross for your sin the heavens have been opened so that you will most assuredly enter and reside with all in Christ.

The deal was done for the world on a lonely hill in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, and the deal was done for you the moment you understood that as you are, rich or poor, young or old, of good cheer or downtrodden, that no matter your sins and mistakes of past and just so your sins and mistakes that await you in the remainder of your earthly journey, that in faith in Christ the door to heaven is now closed to you. Closed not to keep you out, but to keep you in: because 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 In our mortal bodies though we still walk this earth, we March together with Christ and the Word of God to those to which Christ came for. We march as one to let those held captive to sin. To those on the streets, to adulterers, thieves, prostitutes, the forgotten and bring His truth to them as we do to the worldly elite.

We march to them as we are and meet them as they are, for we are blessed people who know both the way of the world’s deceptions and lies, and the way of Christ’s faithfulness, love and acceptance.

God gave us the gift of Jesus and eternal life. And Jesus has given us as a gift to those at whose door he still knocks, that when they open it-they too will enter and see the door close behind. Not to keep them out, but keep them in as they too see, feel and touch in faith the Glory of God in this life of hardships and struggles, while they too await His full revelation on their last day which is not of compare. Amen