A case of Déjà vu

Exodus 17:1-7, Matthew 21:23-32,

Philippians v2:1-13

Déjà vu is a term to describe the phenomenon of having a strong sensation that an event or experience that you are in now is the same as one you’re had in the past. Sought of like a “groundhog day” but focusing on a particular incident and the other day I suffered from a serious case of it.

I knew I had been there before because I could feel it during and most definitely after. A case of Déjà vu that I did not need to see a Physiatrist about but rather just turn to the Book of Romans Chapter 7, verse 15 and hear the apostle Paul tell me that he too suffered the same when he writes that: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I don’t want to do, I do.”

For us it’s actually more groundhog day than Déjà vu because it’s not a sensation, it’s a reality that all who walk this earth carrying sin on their back will know all too well. Yet maybe for God the Father who chooses to forgive and remember the sins no longer of those in Jesus Christ it is a little “Déjà vu-ish” as described by a theologian who once mused of God’s reaction to our continued waywardness with his  “royal shrug of shoulders and thoughts of here we go again”. 

His royal shrug of the shoulders as He sees His children that he has released from captivity in Egypt mumbling and grumbling as we heard in our reading from Exodus about the lack of water. (And) it’s not lost on me that prior when faced with the chasing Egyptians in hot pursuit the problem was not of not enough water, but too much water. Yet amongst all this God provides by firstly separating the Red sea to bring dry ground, and now here, to let water flow on the now unwanted dry ground from a rock.

God’s royal shrug of the shoulders when future patriarch by birthright Jacob seemingly only had to cross the road to become Israel but went off distracted in all manner of ways.

The royal shrug of the shoulders that maybe the Son of King David speaks of in Ecclesiastes chapter one. King David’s son Solomon who when asked by God the Father in a dream of “what shall I give thee” responded with “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” Solomon here was asking for wisdom which ironically is very wise for a boy King recorded in Jewish tradition to be of the age of 12 years old or so who went on to write that:

A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.

All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

“All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”

People here “under the sun” are always looking and listening, attempting to be satisfied, but always want more and we never seem to find what other generations missed. This is no isolated case of Déjà vu, it’s a Déjà vu epidemic that’s being going since the first sunset over the Garden of Eden with an apple tree carrying less fruit than meant to be. A Déjà vu epidemic that will continue until The Son of the Father comes again in the clouds to usher in the dawn of the new heaven and the new earth.

So what to do as we await that great day never mind what to do with all these “I do not do what I want to do, but do what I don’t want to do’s”.  Maybe we could just be like Kenny from the same titled movie where as a divorced man and being asked by a worried soon to be newlywed responded with (just go with it) and remember it’s just an “I do day.” Sought of like this sinner up the front today giving this message to the good people listening struggling with sin.

Justified in faith in Christ alone and in trust in forgiveness in Christ alone have we not received the saving cloak of His righteousness both today and all our days that follow. You better believe it. No, you have to believe it because there is no other way.

So what to do now with all these do’s? I could say just go with it but that makes about as much sense to me as when I hear the pop/rock “supergroup The Police sing their famous lyrics of “…all I want to say to you (is) De do do do, de da da da.

Ironically that is a serious song about being confused in life. Problem is, I’m not confused because I know the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ our Saviour who  did not confuse things and kept it very simple for simpletons like me by telling us in John 5: 24 that: “ Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

It’s not that I’m confused, it’s just that I’ve had a guts full of being like the son in today’s  parable who responds  “Yes Sir, I will go” as you’re asked,  only to then not turn up because I had received a better offer.

Déjà vu yet again as I see myself in the garden eating the forbidden fruit. Déjà vu as I see myself released by God from my captivity and yet still wondering in the wilderness as God persists to prune away at my long held paths to anything but Him and Déjà vu as I see myself as Jacob only needing to “cross the road” to his destiny and yet travel the highways and byways to all manner of trouble and strife.

In my second sermon to you two years and seven months ago I mentioned that near my ordination a Pastors wife who knew me as a teenager remarked that “you will be a good pastor because you know what sin is”. So good a pastor it would seem that at the end of the service two years and seven months ago that was so riddled with my clumsy mistakes that one of our dear sisters in Christ graciously thanked me for personally uplifting her by way of seeing that “that even the Pastor” can make such a muck of things.

Even though I would have preferred those listening to be uplifted by means other than my unintentional self-ridicule I was comforted that at least someone got something from of it. Knowing that the Lord can work in mysterious ways maybe it was a sign to continue to conduct our services in such a manner. Although some may say it was a sign that has eventuated it has not been my intention and that’s my point.

A fumbling blithering mess or not, you are stuck with me just as God the Father is stuck with me because of my belief in His Son as my Savior. For me that is a good place to be stuck because in you I see myself and in myself I see you. Not my particular sins in you for I’m sure you have enough of your own. But in you and you in me though other paths beckon, we have left the wilderness and crossed the road and found our destiny that is into the waiting arms of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

You and I, though daily we alternate like that of the two son’s in the vineyard who promise to go but don’t, and who won’t go but does, because of Christ are still welcomed home and clothed in his  best robe by God the Father. The robe of Christ’s righteousness that he adorns to his prodigal sons and daughters, his robe that both cloaks our dark sins of the past yet still allowing the intense light of Christ to enter.

Paul the man who said “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I don’t want to do I do” also states that: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Truth is amongst all our thorns of our own cause or not, the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us in both matters of salvation and in our worldly matters here and now, and in knowing of his unending and undeserved grace up and against our flaws and guilt we fall in weakness at his feet, not to lie on our bed of nails, but to be lifted up in the strength of His pierced hands and hear Him ask us, implore us to: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” To ask that we cast all our anxiety of world and sin on Him and not be burdened with these yokes of slavery no more and make a new start.

In 1968 Civil rights activist Martin Luther King speaking on societies injustices and before those seeking equality gave his great “mountain top” where he said “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

Though I haven’t been to the mountain top and I haven’t seen the Promised Land, I do know it’s God’s will that we be there and most certainly in Jesus Christ so will it be.

But I have been to the depths and gullies of following my own will and quite frankly I’ve had a guts full of its empty promises and unfulfilling and accusing ways. A place had it not been from the actions of The Father, The son and the Holy Spirit would I have remained.

Here today, should you believe in Christ as your Saviour and yet carry the pain of having fallen short, I urge you leave knowing that those issues have been taken care off and are no more. You have been set free from the past to the dawn of your new life. A life that may not be easier, but a life where the load is carried by Christ.

The saying life sucks is wrong, it’s just that my way sucked and if you can relate to this in parts of your life, I urge you to leave in repentance. To join me not in just the repentance and asking for forgiveness of past sins and actions, but the repentance of turning from self to God and letting His will be your will and gain freedom with yourself as you come to  know the freedom that is in Christ.  Amen.

Nothing to fear,but fear itself

“Nothing to fear, but fear itself”

Philippians 1:21-30, Matthew 20:1-16

In my previous job, I was transferred from a town with a population not unlike what’s here in Dubbo, to another town of similar population in another part of our great country and upon hearing of this, a person I knew said: “you poor thing, you’re moving from heaven to hell”.

That person had never lived in either, but on the face of it-it was probably a fair comment. Both were essentially isolated from cities but that was where the similarities ended. The first was beautiful with green and lush parks and a very stable community. The second in context was barren with a transient society and which back then held the dubious honours of being based on per capita, the second highest worldly rankings in both stabbings and alcohol consumption.

I really enjoyed the second town. Instead of feeling invisible and like an outsider, I felt accepted not because I was a local or neither that I was some fresh blood, I just seemed to be accepted because I was there.

Far from heaven to hell, I was released from the confirmation that I was less than those around me, to the realisation that even though that maybe the case, these people didn’t seem to mind.

It seems a harsh judgement but that’s how I recall it. Until I remember at the first location I was single and so shy that I would cross the road if I saw some girls coming in case they might acknowledge me (to which in my later years I realised was a fear of an occurrence that would have been rare at best), and at the second location I was married and so no longer moving every two or so years feeling alone and cautious.

One thing I learnt from my earlier nomadic years is that you cannot “judge the book by the cover” as whether it be a location or community, it’s the people in it that make all the difference.  Similar I learnt that though that be the case, when we open the book-even though the pages may read differently; when the surfaced is scratched the same story reads the same throughout with the same fears and needs of both rich and poor, the resolute and the wavering and the inviting and the not so.

At his inauguration as the 32nd president of the United States of America in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt faced with a struggling economy and an unemployment rate of 25% gave his famous “that the only thing we have to fear is, fear itself” speech.  A speech in which he went onto say:

“A host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly.”

That was 1933 and here now in 2014 in the face of present day wars and rumors of wars, changing climate patterns, social and moral decline and disharmony and economic downfalls we might say that the only thing to fear is to not be awake enough to be fearful.

A doctor once said to his patient that my job is to get you to the grave in the best possible physical condition possible and when we look at what both Paul tells us we could say the same of the church in regards to life on earth as we all await our appointed physical re-union with Christ in eternity.

My earlier fears I carried as a shy nomadic single person seemed to have dissolved with my meeting and marrying my life partner and though I jest that has brought about a somewhat different form of fear, as we have heard from Paul in his letter to the Philippians, in the face of adversity there is strength to be gained from likeminded people because though Paul endures both the threats and realities of both imprisonment death, and while in the face of this he clearly sees departing this world and being with Christ as “better by far”, he sees that his presence of earth is important to the progress and joy of those he serves and so concludes through necessity to prefer to remain and do the practical work of an apostle on earth rather than enter the bliss of heaven.

Matthew 6:34 instructs: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself as each day has enough trouble of its own” and in Paul we see that instruction coming to life as he puts his desires towards his brothers and sisters in Christ up and against fears of where his journey seems to be leading to in earthly terms.

Courage under fire that I hope we need not physically have to endure as for now our courage resources are best focussed not on the problems and seemingly growing symptoms  of a sinful world, but focussed on the answer that is Jesus Christ the Saviour.

Courage not focussed on how we will deal with what awaits us in our tomorrows, but courage based on what Christ has already given us in our yesterday’s when he was pierced on the cross to bring us forgiveness amongst our sin and eternal safety among the earthly chaos.

The irony though abounds that fear of chaos in the Western world with its self-serving belief structures that does not currently seem to be advancing the numbers in the faith as it does to parts of our world where poverty, hunger, persecution are a reality.

Two seemingly different worlds at different spectrums and realities that the assembly of those of faith in Jesus Christ talk into.  The realities forewarned of by the apostle Peter when tells us to: “Be alert and of sober mind. (For the) enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

The assembly of those in faith, the church, which meets people and situations where they are at and has the courage to talk into them the truth and hunger of the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit to save and give heavenly security as seen in Jesus Christ, up and against the hunger of the roaring lion who deceives with earthly fears and lies.

In 2nd Timothy, Paul has now got to the end of his line in Rome to where he was to be a martyr for Christ and concludes his work was done, and his warfare accomplished and both encourages us in our lives as with acknowledging his own. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Not the good fight, race and faith of which he can boast, but that of which he boasts in Christ.

I have kept the faith; not so much the grace of faith, that was kept by Christ, the object, author, and finisher of it, and through his effectual grace and powerful intercession; but rather the profession of faith, which he had held fast without wavering and the doctrine and truth of faith, which was committed to his trust, which he had kept pure and incorrupt against all opposition.

He had kept his faith and been faithful in his trust in Jesus as a good steward of the mysteries of God; not concealing and keeping back anything that was profitable, but declaring the whole counsel of God; and now what remained for him was the crown of righteousness; and this he says for the comfort and encouragement and imitation of Timothy, others and us here today.

We, you and I are part of the Church, the body of Christ on earth. We are the ones who present Christ’s love before others with real tears, real joy, real service and real sacrifice.

A reporter watching Mother Teresa bind the wounds of a leper said “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world!” To which she replied, “Neither would I”.

What a privilege we have been given in Jesus Christ. We, you and me have received faith, forgiveness and eternal life in Christ despite ourselves, and because of that alone, together as one we go forward with courage to not conceal and keep back these truths of Christ, but go forward with those truths with the honour of serving Him in a time that needs Him most. Amen.

“The bark is worse than the bite”

“The bark is worse than the bite”

Romans 12:1-12,
Matthew 18:21-35

Two and a half years ago we travelled to just out of Echuca to pick up a pup for Josh who he named Kobe (after Kobe Bryant).  After getting home within weeks he had contracted the deadly Parvo virus, a kind of Ebola for dogs which unattended means certain death and attended means possible life. Essentially they cannot eat or drink even though they want to and eventually die from dehydration. After three days in the animal hospital on a drip and I picture reading the paper, watching T.V. (and fifteen hundred dollars later), he was released fit and healthy with the same playful, loving and non-grudge holding personality traits as he had before his illness. Except for one thing. He, as it seemed that from maybe his illness symptom of not being able to eat food, till this day is very over protective when eating. To the point that when I get to close to his food bowl I normally receive a gruff response. To which my reply is always: Isn’t that wonderful. I work to buy your food. I drive to get your food. I heat your meat and mix it with your dry food-just how you like it, deliver it to the said dog bowl and this is the thanks I get.

Our reading from Romans talks of not judging others for things in worship and by extension life for what is important to them and how they see things. And as always, before I talk to you, the scriptures have always there work in me and accordingly, the other morning I found myself waking to the revelation that I am no different to Koby in that apart from the presence of fleas (in that I flea Koby but not myself), I too am provided everything not from my own abilities but by and from the love and mercy from God, and yet often my response does not seem to be over appreciating or trusting.

Currently I don’t bark and as yet haven’t had the Parvo virus and I assume you to be the same. But ironically most of us do have similar symptoms to where past “stuff” has shaped us to be who we are and how we respond to things and situations in our lives.

Reponses that born through earthly experiences may or may not be advantageous to others around us.

So God instructs us further in the Gospel where he shows us, that as we have received his forgiveness and been freed from his judgement, so are we to be to others.

So how does that look?

Does this mean dragging ourselves around in seeming misery to show our poor sinful state or always jumping for joy in the wonderment of life?

It’s not really that easy and ssometimes the confusion of life, death and everything in between causes us to think like Robbie Williams when he sings:

I sit and talk to God
And he just laughs at my pledge
(so) Come on hold my hand
I wanna contact the living
Not sure I understand
This role I’ve been given.

Talking to God is good, but more so is listening. So we listen: Romans Chapter 14, verse 7 and on:

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the living and the dead. (So) why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister.

If we die we die to the Lord and if you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and your Savior-your sins are forgiven and you are saved to be raised to eternal life.

There is a great bedtime prayer we teach our children, and for me, still the form in which I rest as I slip into unconsciousness:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take.

(Do you know that beautiful prayer of trust and faith?)

But if we live, we live to the Lord now, so you might like to add:

“If I should wake before I die,

I pray Thee, Lord, to show me why.”

In God we trust and through us we pray his will be done to the living as it has been done in the sure hope of our dying to awake in his heavenly presence.

You are the Fathers creation and He, The Son and the Holy Spirit have made you the special person that you are today, that in you giving a smile, lifting up the weak or called to speak before thousands you can attest that though our road has been long and arduous, or short and sweet-our roads have been blessed for we now know the truth:

That we can be strong and of a good courage and fear not, for the Lord our God, it is he who goes with you and he will never fail nor forsake you. For your faith does not stand in the wisdom of men or women, but in the power of God. For it is by grace you have saved through faith not of yourselves but from his gift. The gift he gives willing that not any should perish but come to repentance and receive eternal life.

You have received the gift of faith, forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ alone and yet that be the case, daily we repent and turn back to God the Father, and in turning to God we see ourselves clothed in Christ, and in Christ we see him clothed in those that come before us-not to hear judgment, lies or ridicule-but to hear the truth, and that is the truth of Jesus Christ our Savior. The truth, the life and the only way.  Amen.

Have your heart strings tuned

Romans 13:8-14


“Love your neighbour – have your piano tuned”was the sign on the side of a piano tuner’s van. We appreciate having good neighbours and having good people to work with. When we have to work alongside people who try our patience every day, life can become a misery. It’s not always easy responding with kindness to such people. We fear they will take advantage of our continual kindness.

One of the great evidences that there is something radically wrong with the human heart is our inability to love those around us as we know we ought. There’s a growing gap between our society’s scientific advancement and our world’s moral decline. All around us we see people who need to be loved more than they are. The massive social gap in our society can only be spanned by a love that puts the interests of others before self-interest.

It’s easy to think and talk about love in a sentimental fashion to avoid the challenge to act in a caring and considerate way to those with whom we live and work each day. We may make excuses for our failure to love someone, but such excuses frequently result in a guilty conscience. We try to justify our lack of love for someone by saying “I’ve got nothing in common with that person.” Yet we know that’s not a valid excuse as we read of the Good Samaritan who cared for a man with whom he had least in common. Love is like that!

He helped where there was no obligation to assist. Instead of asking if he had a good neighbour, he sought to be the good neighbour to someone in need of his assistance.

Love is a risky business. But it is better to have loved and lost than to have never cared at all.

It is better that we suffer from a broken heart than from lovelessness. But sometimes we try to avoid love’s adventure by wrapping ourselves in life’s luxuries and keeping ourselves busy with hobbies and pass-times so we don’t see the lonely visitor or newcomer in need of our warm welcome and listening ear. It can be hard to speak with visitors or newcomers in our midst. It can seem hard to be friendly to others and to be more hospitable to newcomers.

But why?

Love enriches our lives like limiting our love impoverishes us.  We don’t find ourselves or our true identity by looking after ourselves, but in acts of love towards others. In the early Church we read that a person noted that “These Christians love each other even before they are acquainted.” I think he thought that was humorous. But what an insightful compliment that was! What matters isn’t whether a church is big or little, weak or strong, but whether it is loving or not.

But how?

The how is the Father, The Son and through the Holy Spirit because we aren’t left to love difficult people on our own, with our own resources. God’s love enables usbefore it obligates us. “We love because He loved us first.”Long before we were aware of it, God loved each of us with an everlasting love. God doesn’t love us because we’re so lovable.

God loves the unlovable beyond all reason or calculation. “In this is love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to pay the price for our sins (1 John 4:10).”

His love is creative. It brings love to life in us.  The one who is loved, learns to love.

“Dear friends, since God loved us so much, we ought to love each other.”Through the Holy Spirit, God has poured His love into our hearts, so that it may overflow into the lives of those nearest to us each day. The better we know God, the easier we will find it to love others better. The more we hear, read and study God’s love letter – the Bible – the more we will experience the wonderful, overpowering love of God. “I will always love you”,God says to us in Jeremiah (31:3).

What greater love can we experience than to be loved by the Creator of the whole universe? What the Bible says to us about the God of love cannot help but enrich our lives.  We listen to God’s Word so that our love for each other may be renewed.

The better we know our Bible, the better we know what love requires of us.

The Ten Commandments, St. Paul says to us, spell out the kind of actions performed by love. In his poem in praise of love (1 Corinthians 13), St. Paul said that there are things love cannot do: “love does not insist on its own way … love is not jealous, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable or resentful.”Love rules all these out. Love is not a case of “anything goes”. The Ten Commandments were given to those people God had saved from slavery in Egypt. They are still guidelines for us today. Through these guidelines, God seeks to protect family life, marriages, property and reputation from harm and danger. When we love others, we’re not to compare our love with the love of those around us.

The only standard with which we’re to measure ourselves is the love of Christ. Christ our Lord says, “A new commandment I give to you that you love each other as I have loved you.”Miracles happen where we expect more of myself than I do of others and funnily enough,  more blessings come from giving than from receiving love. All true love is never fully returned but this lack of return doesn’t dampen love’s giving. Because love constantly delights in doing more than its share. True love is free of all calculation and refuses to attach any conditions to its giving.

A farmer was missing some of his best cows. He thought they were stolen by his next door neighbour. He knocked on the neighbour’s door and demanded “Where are my cattle?” “I didn’t steal them”, his neighbour replied. An argument followed, resulting in the threat “and if you ever come back on my property, I’ll kill you.” The farmer attended a meeting where he was challenged to love his enemy. He drove to the neighbour’s house in fear and trembling. “I have come to ask you to forgive me,” the church-going farmer said. The neighbour replied “You accused me of stealing your cattle. I didn’t steal them, but they did break through the fence and come onto my property and if you hadn’t accused me of stealing, I would have told you.”

Instead of hastily criticising, judging or accusing someone of something, love first of all prays for that person, And Jesus then enables us to see that person in a new light, through His loving eyes. “We who are strong ought to bear the failings of the weak, and not please ourselves. We should try to please them instead of ourselves for their good, to build them up. Christ did not live to please Himself (Romans 15:1-2).”Marked by a spirit of understanding, love makes allowances for others and is full of respect for the least of our Lord’s sisters and brothers. So friends, let our faith be active in love as per 1 John 3:18:

“Let us love not just with our words and when we speak, but also with our actions and our deeds.”  Amen.