More than good intentions

Reading: Matthew 11:28-30

I spoke to an old acquaintance a few weeks ago who has had a change of job and with it a change of life. He had been the principle of a school, carrying a lot of stress and pressure and problems, but recently had taken a different job.

He went back into being a classroom teacher in a smaller school, where he had his class of kids to teach and that was it. I asked him if he was working less and he said: No, I may even be working more, but I no longer have to worry about every little thing in the school. That’s somebody else’s job. I am free of all that. Somebody else is in charge. I have a new life, and I’m loving it.

When I read this week’s gospel and began to study it, I remembered that conversation, and I thought now this is exactly what Jesus is talking about.

How heavy is your yoke? Most, if not all of us, would say that our yoke is anything but light – we struggle under its weight, so much gets loaded onto our plate. Our souls are often burdened and we are stressed and anxious.

Wouldn’t we all love to be able to live in these wonderful words of Jesus? To exchange all our worries and concerns for Jesus easy yoke – his light burden, and find rest for our souls?

Oh, to be free of all the pressure, to let go of it all for a while, to not have to, to not need to, to have nobody depending on you, to have time to think and relax and not carry a heavy burden on our shoulders. An easy yoke? Yes, please.

But the reality is that this fantastic offer of Jesus, this promise of rest and relief, is not one many of us take up. Here it is, on offer from the Lord but on the whole, as I look at my life and your lives, I see a lot of “burden carrying” and a lot of weighed down shoulders, bearing heavy yokes.

What is our problem? The problem is that we do not really understand what Jesus is saying to us. We think that what he is offering us is a rest – that is, a chance to hand over to him the burdens that we want to get rid of. We think that he is saying:Come on, swap yokes for a while – mine is light and you can have a break from carrying your heavy one.

We think that Jesus is offering us the opportunity to visit his spiritual rest station, and then get up and take up our burden again and go on.

But this offer from Jesus is much more than that. He is not offering us a rest fromour hectic lifestyle, but rest as a lifestyle.

He is not offering us a break from our worries and burdens, but offering us a new way of life, free from our heavy burdens. He is telling us to take his yoke – to lay down ours and take up his. It’s a call to a different way of living.

He is inviting us to learn from him what it means to be his – to live life in his kingdom, to lay all our burdens on him and to trust him – as a real alternative to trusting ourselves and our efforts and our work and our ability to cope and hold it all “together”.

When he offers us rest for our souls, this is not just a nice peaceful spiritual retreat, but a life of rest in Jesus, in which we let go of our heavy yoke and take on his light and easy one.

And this offer is maybe not so attractive to us – because if we lay down our heavy yoke it also means laying down control. It means seeking our security not in our ability to control our world, but in Christ’s ability to control our world.

Jesus’ invitation is then actually an invitation to repent of and turn away from our human desire to control our lives and, sometimes, the lives of others; laying down our need to do it ourselves, to have it our way, to make things work out as we want them, to be in charge. And that prospect is not so appealing. Because at least if we carry our own yoke and plough our own field, we know it will be done right – the way we want!

But Jesus doesn’t offer to be our saviour on our terms. He doesn’t offer to fill in the gaps in our lives, where we run out of puff and need a break.

He offers us a completely new life – a life in which he is Lord and where we trust him with all the things that make us worried and anxious, a life in which we allow him to work out our future and to find the way ahead for us, in which we let go and let him…

Jesus invites us to learn from him, for he is humble and gentle in heart. He invites us, in other words, to become his students – his disciples, and grow, like those twelve who lived with him during his earthly ministry, into being humble and ready to allow God to be in charge of our lives, open to his leadership. He wants to teach us to be gentle in heart, instead of needing to control our world and our future, or those around us.

He says take my yoke – be mine, and you will never have to carry a heavy burden again. Because when we belong to Jesus, he carries our burdens – our guilt, our sin, our anxiety and promises to lift these from us.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t be working – the Lord will still have work for us to do. Jesus doesn’t say: “Here take that yoke off your shoulders”, but “Take myyoke.” The difference is that we are free from being in charge, of being “Lord”. We no longer have to be Lord, because our life is under new management – Jesus Christ is Lord, through his death and resurrection and his claiming us in baptism.

We belong to him. All we have to do is the work we are given to do. The rest we leave in his hands.

Like the man I mentioned at the beginning – he is working still, maybe harder than before. But he is carrying a much lighter yoke, because he does not have to be in charge and be responsible for everything.

So Jesus invites us to a change of job and a change of life – from carrying the burdens of being the “Lord” of our life, to being his disciple and letting him carry our burdens.

He is Lord, and he holds the whole universe in his hands. He holds your life and the lives of all your loved ones in his hands too. In believing this, let us find rest for our souls.

This is the word of the Lord.

A different kind of justice

“A different kind of justice”

Romans 11:1, 2a, 29-32, Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28

I obviously never knew Robin Williams. I did know closely, a young man who after dousing himself and the car in which he sat reach for a packet of matches. A middle aged man on a lonely road, place the bible he was reading on the seat next to him and feel the cold steel of a gun barrel and an elderly gentleman drift off to sleep in the garage of the family home as his lungs were filled with carbon monoxide.

Superannuation, government pensions, unemployment benefits and opportunities in our country, that wether at the top of the tree or near the bottom sees us living a standard of life that others in war torn or famine riddled countries-and in deed our forbearers in this country could only have dreamed off.

In the realm of goods and services even the underprivileged of us are privileged to those of the same in another time or place. Through hard work and a bit of luck we can offer ourselves many of the comforts of life. If only through the same measured thinking we could offer ourselves the comfort of mercy.

Mercy is a rarely heard cry these days and the words from a minister still ring in my ears when after visiting a father suffering in grief from the suicide of his son offered him the “comfort” that his son through his actions had unfortunately cut himself off from the chance of salvation and eternal life.

In our world of cause and effect the cries are not of mercy but of justice, demands for equality and calls for vindication and indeed the opponents of capital punishment rarely base their arguments based on mercy but rather that death for death does not stop those involved in such heinous crimes.

Today, outside church walls rarely is the cry for mercy heard like it was in ancient times when the masses were desperately dependent of the mercy of the few. The times of prophets, patriarchs and apostles was harsh and cruel and human lives were often worth far less than the whims and impulses of the ruling class. Slaves and captives from military conquests; the crippled and handicapped whose hopes for cure or assistance were usually shattered; or the few elderly who survived past the early death of those days all knew the tender thread by which they existed day to day, to which of much was at the mercy of those at the top.

So, when the scriptures use the concept of mercy to describe God-our merciful Father in heaven and to describe the plight and plea for humanity-the “Lord have mercy on us” they do so in a world which understood much better than we of what mercy was about.

Yet while known in those times, mercy was still a rare treat because of the sheer dimensions of the need and like today when we see those dying on distant shores and become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, so too the privileged of times past with the means to dispense mercy often tended to look the other way.

In today’s readings we begin to understand the mercy for which those of humble means cried out for and to again appreciate God’s mercy toward us and his mercy in a merciless society and world, and understand it in our own plight and in our own pleas.

His mercy toward us that is necessary because of our plight because whether we acknowledge it or not, the natural human tendency is of a pride which both severs human relationships and gets in between us and God.

A problem that Israel suffered when the people of God began to think that they has such an inside track with him that they, the creatures, could dominate the Creator with carefully crafted religious routines to displace simple faith, mercy and loving service by that of mercy in the system itself, and sadly that describes much of the history of the Christian church where God’s people have continued to wrestle with attempts either individually or shared to take the centre stage away from God.

Paul will have none of it and with a sweeping stroke of his pen puts to flight such religious pride with his letter to the Romans and reminds them that no matter how saintly or prestigious a person is or may think they are: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

It is the plight common to us all and only when that condition of need is grasped and understood is a person in a position to appreciate and, by faith, to appropriate mercy because, like it is one thing to know you have a disease, it is another thing to seek help and accept the cure when offered. So too does mercy lie dormant and infective if it is neither wanted nor treasured and so God’s people, when knowing their need, have echoed throughout history the cry of the palmist’s plea, of: “Lord have mercy upon me, according to thy loving kindness.”

Mercy, not justice is the answer to our plight as seen through the wisdom of a photographer who after one of the subjects of his work stormed in and abused him saying “these photo’s don’t do me justice,” quietly replied, “Lady, you don’t need justice, what you need is mercy.”

We can be grateful that God did not deal with us directly in justice but with the intervening love of His Son Jesus Christ who took our place that He, and not we, become the object of the Father’s absolutely fair and impartial judgement upon sin.

In ancient times, those in need would line the streets and as their earthly King passed he would hear their cries of Lord have mercy. A cry for help and a statement to affirm that he, if anyone could dispense the mercy for which they asked. A plea the King often neglected as he passed by.

The same plea asked by those who met our heavenly King who did not come to pass by, but to take with.

The plea raised by ten lepers “who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said ‘Jesus, master, have mercy on us.’”  And in today’s Gospel, the Canaanite women, reduced to despair over her daughter’s illness, cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”

Blessed are we to see and know of the fulfilment of God’s irrevocable saving plan. His plan as sang of by Zechariah the father of John the Baptist that “Blessed by the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…to perform the mercy promised to our fathers.” And Mary, the girl of tender youth who was informed by the angel that she would be the mother of Christ, replied: “And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.”

Paul, who had come out of a system of legalism as a Pharisee, came to appreciate what that mercy meant and wrote to the Ephesians: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ because by grace you have been saved.” And Peter, the shamed denier who knew the need for mercy, wrote:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. “

Robin Williams, my three friends, soldiers suffering on a battlefield, the seriously medically afflicted and those fleeing the hurt through the lonely road of addiction, and indeed those amongst us and of us who have not heard an answer to our own cries for peace in this world, we are not to judge in neither earthly struggles  or earthly death. But hear their cries for mercy and not answer in the darkness of the human spirit of which they know all too well, but answer in the Spirit of Christ and bring to sight His mercy before them, that though it  may not be felt by them in this life, it will be known by them in in the next. Amen

“Blood moons & solar eclipses”

“Blood moons and solar eclipses”

Mathew 14:22-33

I remember in 1980 watching a news reporter broadcasting live from the eruption of Mount St. Helens in the United States. It was midday and yet it was pitch dark because of the ash and he went on to say that “the locals here are saying this is the end of the world. And if I didn’t know any better, I would agree with them.”

Is it just me, or right now does it seem that the dangers in the world have seemingly escalated “overnight.”

God’s “time peace” Israel is front page news. The creation of a Muslim state in Iraq. Vladimir Putin, The Ebola virus threat and now even in Australia it would seem the government wants to go “big brother” and monitor all we do through our P.C.s.

Right now it would seem that God’s got his hands full keeping a lid on all this stuff and so we’ll just have to leave it with him.

So what of us-where do we stand amongst all this? Put our head in the sand like an Ostrich, go to the pub have a couple of beers and make out everything’s all good or like the family on T.V. the other night, start preparing, or “prepping”  as they say and start stocking, fuel, food and Ammo for the crunch time.

Ironically, both of these “strategies” can seem quite alluring and especially if you combine the substance of the first with the ideals of the second.

With our modern technology the world has become a very small space and it would seem that the caves spoke of in prophecy where we are urged to go and hide in may not cut it any longer.

So what to do?

The saying about “not worrying about things we have no control over” ring true as does Luther when he urges us to “pray and let God worry” because when it comes down to it, apart from prayer what can we offer towards rectifying those situations on foreign shores many miles away.

And so we pray and we pray some more for those beyond the realm of our help and leave our prayers with God as we go about fulfilling his call to us here in our small patch where we do have the ability to make a difference and see Christ in our lives and understand what it all means like Peter came to learn in his moment on the seas of the sea of Galilee as recorded in today’s Gospel lesson.

It’s a lesson and miracle story we know so well. The story of Peter who while he kept his eyes on Jesus was all fine, but when he notices the peril around him his eyes divert and he starts to sink but is saved when the outstretched of Jesus pulls him from the stormy sea. That lesson in itself is enough for us today to know and if that’s the total of what we take away with us for this week then praise be to God.

Does this mean that on Monday my bank loans will have mysteriously disappeared?-no.
Does this mean that tomorrow morning we’ll see Jew and Arab in the Middle East settling their differences for peace?-not likely.

Jesus reached out and saved Peter amongst the storm but the storm didn’t abate. The waves didn’t stop simply because Jesus was there, they stopped only when Jesus put Peter back in the boat, and that boat for us is the Church.

We are in peri less times and things are happening that we have no control and so for them we pray and leave the outcome to God. Seemingly end times events we have no control just like we have no control over earning our way to heaven and in both we trust in our Lord and saviour to hold firm to us as He has promised from today’s reading in Romans where He assures us that “Everyone who calls upon the Lord will be saved”.

World events are God’s care so we will not worry. If you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and you desire forgiveness in His name-you are saved and will live with Him in heaven for eternity: so to worry about that is nothing short of a waste of time.

I repeat:  If you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and you desire forgiveness in His name-you are saved.

The end times started when Christ defeated the devil on the cross and indeed the apostles believed that He would return for the final time in their lives. He didn’t and who knows where history stands today in that facet. We don’t know and because we don’t: Our call is to work towards what we have some control over in these forecast end times and go back to the future and stand up against the prophesied apostasy within the Christian Church.

The Church is the life boat. The place of safety with Christ at its head and in times of trouble it is the only true place and that is why we must be vigilant against the powers of darkness to weaken the safe haven it is.

Since the garden humans have been tempted to think there’s other ways of doing things than simply taking God at face value and the same temptation is continually put before the Churches. Temptations everywhere-that’s life as to when we fall to it and throw ourselves before God and receive mercy in Christ.

Apostasy is to fall away from the truth and to fall to temptation and receive forgiveness in Christ is not apostasy-quite the opposite.

Apostasy is the Church falling away from the truth as prophesied and that is where we come in and stand firm for those around us who are teetering on the edge of the oblivion with practices that offer not comfort in salvation in Christ alone but in all manner of side shows and unnecessary distractions.

We are not perfect and nor is our Church when seem through a group of fallen people coming together in a building of bricks and mortar.

Yet Christ’s Church is prefect because it is His Church.

Pray we know which is which and preserve the truth of God for the sake of those still fighting against the undertow for the lives of many may depend on it. Amen.

Jesus makes much of our little

Jesus makes much of our little

Gopel: Matthew 14:13-21

Some 500 years ago in Germany, an 11 year old boy was having organ lessons from his music teacher. One of the things you have to learn how to do when you are playing the organ, especially for church, is improvise – that is take a well known hymn tune and, on the spot, embellish it, fancy it up, work it up into a new piece of music. But this 11 year old boy was finding it hard. “This is hopeless,” he said. “I’ll never be any good at this. I just have not got it in me. I can’t make up music. I just can’t do it.”

His name was Johann Sebastian Bach.

Perhaps not all that many of you are Bach fans, but I guarantee you, almost every one of you would know one of Bach’s tunes, which have been played and recorded and pinched by pop musicians for the last 200 years. Today he is considered one of the great composers. His music has something spiritual about his music, some would say a heavenly, quality to it. This is not surprising since almost all Bach’s music was written for church services. Bach knew that his music was not his own to profit from, but was indeed given to him by God himself, as an instrument of praise. He felt so strongly about this that he made it a custom to write on the bottom of every score from his hand three letters: SDG, standing for Soli Deo Gloria, or in English: “To God alone be glory.”

And so those words he at the age of 11 were in one way quite true weren’t they – “I just have not got it in me. I can’t do it.” No, but God could, through him. God it was who gave Bach his extraordinary gifts. To him be the glory.

How often doesn’t God take what we have – what’s small and unimpressive and imperfect – and perform miracles with it in order to nourish others.

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus does just this.
In our church today he is doing just this.
In your life he is doing just this.

Let’s look at Matthew 14 – especially verses 15-19:

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. (NRSV)

These verses are often missed when people read this story, and not many people get the point that Jesus makes here.

First of all, contrary to popular belief, Jesus does not feed the crowd. He tells the disciples to feed the crowd. “What?” they say. “Jesus, what do you mean? We can’t do that. We do not have enough. All we have between us is five loaves and two fish.”

Nowhere near enough –  And what does Jesus reply? “Bring them here to me.” I will take what you have, meagre and inadequate and tiny as it is, and make it a feast, a banquet to feed the hungry. To God alone be the glory.

What little have you got to offer the world or to offer God? What little do we have in our church to offer? Humanly speaking, you and I have very little to offer, far too little to make any difference anyway. Our faith is imperfect. Our leadership skills are imperfect. Our ability to see others’ needs is often poor. Our compassion is not what it could be.

And just look at our hungry world! Look at the people in our own community who are desperate and lost. Look at the generations of kids in our community who do not know Jesus Christ and have not heard the Gospel!

These needs are huge! We can’t cope with all this. We don’t have enough – enough time, enough courage, enough money, enough energy, enough love. “It’s no good!” We say, like Bach, “It’s just not in us. We can’t do it.”

But Jesus has always specialised in doing miracles with our “not enough”. Just as he did with the disciples, he tells us today, “Go and feed them. You do it.” and when we protest that we can’t because we have so little, he says to us, “Bring it here to me.” And in his hands it is multiplied. It is made something much greater and much more beautiful and much more effective.

If we will only give our little to Jesus instead of giving up, he will take what we bring and make something from it to feed and nourish the hungry people around us – people who are hungry not just for food, but friendship, compassion, understanding, care and love.

And so we bring our little offerings: Our skills; our money; our love; our work; our food; our homes; our hospitality; our ears; our hearts.

Never underestimate what you can do in the church or in the community, when it is offered to Jesus. It might be small but God can do miracles and he will do miracles in the lives of other people, if you are prepared to hand over your little to his grace.

God does not ask us to be miracle workers. He only asks us to be obedient. So do not under rate the packet of cereal you put in the breakfast basket, or the vegetables you gave the busy mother next door, or the half hour you spent talking to the visitor over morning tea here at church, or the devotion you gave at that committee meeting, or that Sunday School lesson, or that meal where you hosted others and shared with them, or any other small thing you do for others in Christ’s name. And do not draw back from offering your little because you feel it is not enough or not good enough. Jesus says “Bring them here to me.”

Luther once said: “In his hands these things are mighty and holy works that set the angels singing and bring glory to Almighty God.”

Jesus can change five loaves and two fish into a feast. What we give and do can, and often does, have results and consequences far beyond what we imagine, because God has worked it into a miracle of his love.

To Him alone be the glory. Amen

Stephen Pietsch