Archive for May, 2015

Till death us do part

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Romans 8:12-17

StMarksAfter the wedding, an invited guest after being asked how it went replied: “Oh they’re very much both in love, he with himself and she with herself.”

Hardly the recipe for a long life together when the “for better or worse, for richer or poorer” are realised as not some silly words put together to get a laugh from the crowd, but prophetic words of how relationships continue to remain strong when the rose tinted glasses are taken off.

The saying to “Burn one’s boats” alludes to certain famous incidents where a commander, having landed in a hostile country, ordered his men to destroy their ships, so that they would have to conquer the country or be killed.

No retreat and no surrender and in 1st Corinthians we are told to “Be on guard, stand firm in the faith: be courageous, be strong.”

Burn our boats and stand firm in the battles knowing that come what may be it for better or worse, that our relationship with our Lord will hold together strong and intact.

In the last verse of our Romans reading today Paul talks of suffering and ironically, we may just be at the pointy end of the wedge where we are heading into a time where the rules of society  stand in clear contradiction to that of the Word of God. A time where standing firm would be seen and felt in a tangible manner. A time where fence sitting is not a quantifiable response to the world or our Lord. A time to take a side and stand firm come what may.

Serious stuff that unless grounded on an absolute truth would see us drifting in oceans of despair like that of a refugee still hoping to find dry land.

The Word of God is that absolute truth and in his Word, though we may occasion to feel still at sea, God the Father gives us the solid ground that we can stand firm in our lives with Him of not that of a refugee looking for a home, but that of his child already home.

The Word of God like Jesus parables can cause wonder, debate and different perspectives while in our growth in Christ and that’s O.K. as it’s all in the growing of ourselves in His Kingdom.

In some of the things of God it is good that we ponder on them through our experiences and see them gradually unravel in a time that befits our situation.

Today’s message is not one for another time yet to come, it is for those times that have and will come.

The message not to the refugee that he seeks, but to his child he has found.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God. For you not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, by whom we cry “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs-heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

These spirit filled Words of God through Paul were given very clearly in the context of the day to those present they stand firm for what may await them because in the Roman world, adoption like now was taken very seriously. When you are adopted into a family you truly become part of that family and this was true of the Roman emperors who frequently chose their successors not from the child born to them, but from the children whom they had adopted. The adoption into the family so real that an emperor could even pass the inheritance on to somebody who was adopted over the child of his own loins and similar, should it be a slave-that slave would no longer live under the bondage of his former master but as a free person able to serve not in fear, but in love. Living no longer as a slave but in being son or daughter.

Paul’s words and imagery were not imagined but from God himself. God’s words to us that don’t say “I will think of you as though you were my sons and daughters”, but his Words stressing that in Christ, “You are my sons and daughters in the fullest sense of the word.”

The first funeral I conducted was my Fathers and too this day I’m not sure how I got through it. But the fact is I did and so now when conducting similar work in God’s name and feeling vulnerable I think back to that time because though I don’t understand how, I do know it happened-it’s a fact that cannot be changed. A fact that I can draw on when situations of the like present themselves.

You too would have experienced times of past that once the dust settled you came to clearly see Jesus in it with you. Times that give you courage in the face of times of adversity since and to come.

That’s the faith that sees the words of Romans 5: 4 come alive for us  that that we trust “tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and (a)hope (that) does not disappoint.”

A faith as 1st Peter tells of as tested by fire.

But what if the fires so hot its smoke clouds our vision and confuses us like that of the ambulance officer who when tending to a man hit by a car and asking him if he was comfortable, heard him reply “Yes I make quite a good living.”

Life can be confusing and we may wonder what’s next, but let us never wonder of God because God does not lie.

God who promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars, and though later when Abraham and Sarah were aged, it came to be through the birth of Isaac. God’s promise to Abraham of a homeland as resulting after his descendants release from Egypt, following Moses through the desert for forty years and eventually led home at God’s command by Joshua.

God does not lie as seen when the Jews were gathered together once again as a nation after World War 11.

God does not lie and so matter the circumstance, the spiritual attack or the physical attack: stand firm and rejoice that in Christ you are forgiven and saved, and rejoice that in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, we know the truth of God the Father, our Father whose will cannot be changed nor contested by our opponents, but his Will and Testament written in the blood of his Son that declares his gift of eternal to all his sons and daughters. His unperishable gift to you and me that allows us to not be guided by earthly currents or the cry of societies whims, but to stand firm in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ who will not disappoint. Amen.

Where is the Holy Spirit today?

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

John 15:26,27; 16:4b-15

StMarksDuring a conversation, a parishioner was stunned that I was a Pastor yet could not speak in tongues. I agreed, not with the speaking in tongues bit, but with the being a Pastor bit.

Similar, over the years people have asked why it is that the Holy Spirit seems so absent from the Lutheran Church, or more so from a particular congregation in which the questioner has been worshipping, and if we dig a bit into that question, we’ll usually discover that this dissatisfaction with their own congregation has arisen because of a visit to another church’s worship service where it seems clear that the Holy Spirit is really active.

A statement said something like this, “I found that service like a spiritual electric storm: people speaking in tongues and falling over, people laughing, dancing and singing. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. I was freaked out and literally unable to speak for about an hour afterwards. If that was real spirit-filled worship, then it seemed to me that the church I’d grown up in doesn’t have the Holy Spirit”.

An experience that starts them to question whether they are Christian at all; whether the Holy Spirit was actually working in them or the church they belonged to because if the Holy Spirit really is at work in their life then shouldn’t they feel, experience or see more signs that the Holy Spirit is central to their life as a Christian and to those in the church?

It’s a feeling I know all too well, not the feeling of being second rate because I don’t have such outwardly spirit filled surreal “abilities”, but simply because I still often feel like a prick and having been baptised, how can that be? Baptised mind you not as an infant, but as a 29 year old. Baptised old enough to know, feel and see the before and after of the effects of Baptism and while I can’t remember a lot of my feelings before that day, I must have been one sorry son of a mother if this is the glorious result. Hardly an advertisement for Baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

So what of me, you and our Church-are we full of the Spirit or just kidding ourselves.

To answer questions like this, one of the best places to go to find out more about the Holy Spirit from Jesus himself is in John chapters 14-16 on which does today’s gospel reading come, and so disregarding our own highly acclaimed or lowly disposition of ourselves, let’s hear the truth of the situation from the man himself, Jesus the Son of God who has brought you forgiveness and salvation, who in this Verse and those chapters of scripture teach us that the Holy Spirit’s role and work is not to get us to focus on the Spirit and dazzle us with all kinds of experiences that cause us make these the-be-all and end-all of our Christian faith, but tells us that the task of the Holy Spirit is to draw us to Jesus;
to make Jesus the centre and focus of our lives;
to teach us about Jesus;
and to lead us again and again to Jesus after we have been led astray by the world, or Satan or our own sinful nature. Summarised when Jesus says “the Spirit will “tell you all about me”, “he will give me glory” and “he will reveal to you whatever he receives from me”.

So why at times do I feel such a prick? Why? Because the focus is all wrong. The same misdirected focus that can lead the other way to where one thinks they are some type of law unto themselves immortal super being.

Two different outcomes from the same inwardly focussed photo shopped lives.

A Facebook type of life where I can make myself be whatever I want and Photoshop my life where I’m taller, thinner and have 5,000 friends that are so interested in me that I need to tell them that I just went to the toilet.

A life as stated by a mid-twenties university lecturer who said that in our world of self-focus, it does not allow for the realities of failing or dancing to another’s tune, but only to the tune of self and so hence, given that reality is what we make it, there can be no place for a higher force to answer to or be guided by.

A photo shopped life that made one of my group ask a simple yet complex question.

So what happens when reality hits and it all falls to pieces?

A one worded answer: Suicide.

That’s easy to say from the outside and I know that is far too simple an explanation. Yet it does get to the heart of the Holy Spirit who brings the focus to the help and the truth that is Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit that leads us to focus not on self, but to believe and have faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit that in opposition to our own assessment of self, brings the grace and love of Jesus and reminds and comforts us with the certain knowledge that even when it seems God is far away, or that people don’t care, or that life is throwing at us every hurt and grief that it possibly can, the Holy Spirit points us to the love of our God as shown to us through Jesus death and resurrection.
He assures us that Jesus’ love for us is right there with us in the most severe situations.
He reminds us of the promises that the Scriptures tells us over and over again that the love that God has for us can never be quenched.
He strengthens us and helps us to be confident and strong by pointing us to the cross and reminding us that with Jesus’ we can endure any circumstance and trouble.

And so where is the Holy Spirit working; what is the sign of his presence and his power? Certainly it is not in experiences and large crowds, healings and supernatural gifts – good and God-given as they are. Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit is wherever he – Jesus Christ – is proclaimed and confessed.

So where is the Holy Spirit working; what is the sign of his presence and his power? He is wherever Christ is being spoken about, wherever the words of Jesus are read and spoken. He is there in all his fullness wherever people worship and pray in the name of Jesus. When you believe and trust in Jesus you have that faith through the Holy Spirit’s work in you and the Holy Spirit filling you that you need not wonder of the Holy Spirit, but understand as Martin Luther who so eloquently stated that if you“ Believe, you’ve got it”

The grace of God the Father given to us in Jesus and brought to us through the Holy Spirit that lets us understand that it does not matter what else we feel, experience or don’t experience. It doesn’t matter whether we are stressed, depressed, average or exhilarated with joy and enthusiasm, but that in all are we covered by the righteousness of our Lord Jesus who says to you-in me regardless of how you see yourself, my Father sees you as his beloved and forgiven child. Saved from ourselves by being saved in Christ is our deal, and in knowing that we need not look in the mirror and see the reflection of what we know or think we know of ourselves, but lift our vision and see a man hanging from a cross look you in the eyes and not ask why did I come for such a person as you, but declare it is for such a person as you that I did come.

The Lord who came for you that He bless you and keep you. That He make His face shine on you and be gracious to you and that He look upon you with His favour and + give you the peace of God which passes all human understanding. Amen.

Back in the old days

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

John 17:6-9, 1 John 5:9-13

StMarksOn school holidays back in the day, the T.V. used to play Abbott and Costello movies. Abbott was the straight man and Costello
the funny one.  They were great and while most episodes are only a vague memory these days, one I remember one clearly (reasonably).

They are both on foot in a sand dune swept desert.  They are worn and thirsty and on their last legs and in the sweltering heat they keep seeing these mirages of water in the distance that they trek towards but never arrive at and so are ready to pack it in. But then Abbott sees one more in the distance and follows it and low and behold it is an oasis like you see in the Middle East. Eventually Costello catches up and sees Abbott on his back in the water, refreshed and gargling out water like a fountain surrounded by palm trees in a picture straight from like in a children’s pictorial bible. Abbott is in paradise found and loving it but when Costello arrives he says stop hurting yourself you’re only imagining it and so while Abbott splashes around, Costello just sits alongside on a rock waiting for his friend to come to his senses.

It’s very funny and I assume not meant as a comment on society, yet in pondering this week’s message it did make me reflect of the Christian life. Still looking for paradise or having found it, still confused and trying to work it all. Sought of like being told how to ride a bike but having no idea what a bike actually looks like and sometimes while living in the kingdom of God it does feel like we’re stuck in the desert thirsty and beaten.

A feeling not just reserved for us of when we read of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil for forty days. Not a feeling, but a reality that Jesus suffered and the blessed reality for us that He wasn’t beaten. Sustained by prayer and the Word of His Father Jesus persevered and won a battle we could not and in today’s Gospel we see Him again drawing strength from the Father through prayer and Word, only this time His prayer is for us as we hear Him praying for the disciples. The twelve closet and most beloved friends of Jesus that He prays to the Father for. His “prayer that God the Father not take them out of the world but that he protect them from the evil one.” (As)” For they are not of the world, even as I am not of it. (So) sanctify them by the truth; your Word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

A few years ago I was asked to visit a lady on her death bed. She had been severely ill and bed bound for a significant time and while hard to understand, I understood. She told me that as an early teenager that she had died on the operating table and visited heaven. Then surrounded by weeping family and soon to be shocked family and most certainly doctor, awoke back in earth. This side of heaven I cannot make sense of those things and she must have known of what people’s reactions would have been because apart from those present around that operating table and her later born son, she mentioned that I was the only one she had told. I don’t understand such stuff but I did see the outcome of hers as here on her deathbed in pain, not only was she prepared to leave this earth, she anticipated with great joy to feel and reside in that place that she experienced all those years ago and so at her request, we prayed that the Lord’s will be that she depart this world and so it was, and at her funeral and hearing in the eulogy of some of the hard times she experienced yet with a seemingly joyous and free spirited heart, it did seem that those desert moments seen through of what she knew were not dry and barren but covered in carpets of wild flowers brought to life from the winter rains.

Most of us won’t have an experience like that lady but undoubtedly to an extent we will have our desert moments like our Lord and saviour.

Matthew 4:1-11

4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Our desert or wilderness moments may not be as clear or understandable as that placed before Jesus, yet they will be there cloaked in some form or another and as with Jesus, the answer to our accuser and ourselves cannot be of what may seem but of the truth as told to us in the Holy Word of God.

During the week I watched a movie about General Patton. The American general feared by the Germans in world war 11 and the General who was instrumental in regaining Europe and the General who in the movie was described by his enemy as “a man who prays on his knees but stands swearing like a trouper.”

Unfortunately that description is sometimes a little close to home but it does make a statement that we can learn from amidst our own warfare of will. A statement that wether in seeming defeat or at a loss to situation or thought, we too pray on our knees not to rise feebly, but rise to standing assured not in ourselves but in the Word of God. To still harbour some fears but override them in not logically putting two and two together, but by hearing the Word of God as seen in His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ and placed into our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther after once doubting the authenticity and right of the book of revelations in the New Testament would later through hardship and persecution come to say that in those moments it had become like an old friend that travelled with him, assuring and comforting him of the blessed heavenly oasis that awaits.

We too at the worst of it may know of that feeling, and if not, at the very least it will be our sure Hope of when we face our earthly death.

Scripture tells us “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.  A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.”

Our time is now and after we kneel in prayer we arise in the knowledge of the Word of God that “our, your Sins are forgiven”, and forgiven we hear in the background the promise fulfilled in the book of Revelations of where together as one, we alongside all those of the past, present and future stand together before the throne of God rejoicing with all the heavenly angels and beings of what has come to be.

Our time is now and in the season we reside, in the Word of God we rise to our feet and see not our wilderness of loss, doubt and despair. But rise to our feet and see our world the same yet transformed and see amongst the dry creek beds and sparse deserts His Word come to life. See His Word come to life in our lives and bring water to the creeks and flowers to the desert.

In the Word of God in this world do we rise, and though those of the world may not see our creeks flow or our landscapes bloom, we can for we know that though we have been left in this world, Christ the Son of God prays to His Father on our behalf asking that we be made Holy and sanctified in the truth. A request fulfilled in you as you be in the world, but not of it. Fulfilled in us who though poor in spirit and weak in strength, see the Holiness of Christ and trust in His Words for ourselves. Fulfilled in us who though wether bowed down be it in earthly shame or pride, rise up restored in His forgiveness. And fulfilled in us who see as those of the world, yet understand as those of Christ that yes, though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death , hurt and suffering, we need not fear nor reside in earthly doubt or anxiety, but see Him with us and in prayer alongside the author of Psalm 119 ask for His steadfast love come to you and His salvation according to His promise.

 To hear the words of 1St John for yourselves “that you may know that whoever believes in the name of the Son of God has eternal life.”

And to rise up with the Psalmist and know, that according to thy Word do you have the answer to any that reproach you, for in the Word do you trust. Amen.

A Faith that overcomes

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

            1 John 5:1-6

A Faith that Overcomes

 

StMarksI was working late one evening in the bank completing a long winded, boring and mind numbing meaningless task that someone in management had introduced to be seen to be seen. I knew it, we all knew it, but regardless it had to be done and while doing so a colleague and friend walked past expressing to me that “you must have done something horribly wrong in a previous life.”

There are people in society who will try to give you explanations for the terrible things that happen. For example; one well known identity rationalized that the tragedy of 9/11 happened because of the sinful activity in New York City. He later apologized and said he really didn’t mean to say that. We hear people do this all the time because they have a need to connect the bad things in life with some misbehaviour or sin. Or, we want to believe that the bad things that happen are God’s punishment.

Similar some people of faith want to believe that their faith is like an insurance policy, that because they “believe” nothing bad will happen to them. Or, when something bad happens they say their faith wasn’t strong enough. They play the “if only” game…. “If I had only believed more, if I had only loved more, if I had only followed all the rules.”

Or, some may say, “What good is it to believe or have faith, when bad things still happen?” I imagine it’s a question some have asked amid times of great trials, and there are no simple explanations.

The letter of I John was written to believers who wanted to be connected to God and strengthen their faith. But, they were being misled by false teachers. There was confusion about what it meant to be people of faith and the faith community was struggling to be a cohesive group of people, and similar the way they were treating others was not overly endowed with neighbourly love. Confused and being led astray what they needed was some concrete teaching of Jesus and not that of those who think they can read God’s mind.

So, the writer of I John tells us (4:1) to “test the spirits.” In other words, make sure that the voices we are listening to are sincere. Those who offer simple explanations for the difficulties of life could be misleading you.

Some want you to believe that all you need to do is follow a list of do’s and don’ts. Others suggest that there is some formula you have to abide by that will make you a believer and television preachers tend to fit into one of these categories.

But the writer of 1 John states that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”(4:4) Meaning that to have faith means we don’t always understand. God is much bigger than we are. God’s ways are beyond our ability to understand everything that happens and yes in retrospect we often can see God’s hand in situations, but there are also those things that we will never understand this side of heaven, and to have faith, sometimes we will need to just trust in our Lord even when things make no sense what so ever. Like the man who was walking the streets of Sydney searching for employment. He finally found Girard, a well-known businessman who offered to give the man a job. He said, “See that pile of bricks over there? Cary them to the other end of the yard and pile them by the fence.” By nightfall the man had finished the job. He then asked if there would be work the next day. Girard told him to come back tomorrow and he would give him another job. The man returned the next morning and Girard told him to carry the same pile of bricks he had stacked the day before by the fence to their original spot. He never said a word. He did exactly as he was instructed. It became evident to Girard that he could trust the man and therefore he gave him a full time position.

God wants us to realize that there are things we don’t understand, yet God alone is in charge of the big picture. Faith is trusting in God when we don’t know what the outcome will be.

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, who wrote, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, said that the ways of God cannot always be explained.

The challenge for us is to continue to love God (and others) even when something bad happens to us. That’s faith in action. Faith in Christ grown from seeing what the Son of God, the sinless and perfect one who let himself be led like a lamb to slaughter to cover the sins of those He loved. Those He loved-, the lost and “the found”, the sad and the happy, the high and the low, the hungry and the full, the thirsty and the quenched. The imperfect, and the imperfect. The who of the human race, the whole of us and though we may become confused of events that take place in our lives, He asks us not to be confused of that event that took place on the cross for in His death, and resurrection He asks only that we know and believe that He is the Son of God, the Holy one who has brought us forgiveness and in that belief, then we are forgiven and saved. That is faith, and that is the faith known that allows us to also see past the flaws of others like He has to us.

A lesson I learnt first hand Early one morning I was walking down the street in North Adelaide to withdraw my last $20 from the ATM when near I saw a lady badly shaking and another body lying on the footpath and I immediately thought not today because of being down to my last few dollars. But as I got drew near, she didn’t ask me for money, but quite the opposite, because as I approached and as she was aware of people’s judgements-like mine she leant against the wall so that her arm stopped shaking and after being up close and not looking not from afar: I saw a young lady, well dressed talking to her son dressed in his school uniform, tired and lying on the footpath while they waited for the bus and while I withdrew my money I heard their conversation and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

To hear the love between this mother and her Son. This mother with a handicap talking to her tired son lying on the pavement in his school cloths. No judgement of each other-Just love for each other regardless of appearances to the world and people like me.

That morning I learnt that from afar sometimes things are not as they seem. But importantly, probably more so is that even if they are, should that change the way we love each other and treat each other.

And so I, like you, live a life trying to love one another regardless if friend or foe. And live a life failing to do so as much we would wish. That’s life and whether in times of trial and tribulation or in times of falling short it is all about trust.

The trust that regardless of the hardships we face, to know that Christ is with us.

The trust that regardless of the hardships of others that we fail to help with or mess up, that Christ is still with them.

And the trust that sees us rise another day to love one another: To achieve in it and to fail in it, yet know that in both, that Jesus Christ loves us so much that He died for us. To know in both be it in love’s success or love’s failure that Christ forgives us. That’s faith and that’s the faith that you have.

You have been forgiven in Christ, and in that forgiveness will His love lead you home. And in that love we can lye on the footpath dressed in our good school cloths like that boy. In that love can we still love and cherish others though we have our personal “handicaps”. In that love we rise after we fall, and in that love shall we forever dwell to when we fall in our last moment and rise for the last time and see our blessed Lord and Saviour with angels singing and multitudes cheering halauhah, and maybe even see a little boy in crisp clean garments with his mum. And see his mum holding him close with arms strong in the strength of love. Amen.

I don’t want to go to school!

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

1 John 4:7-21

 

A mother who went to wake up her son:StMarks

Wake up son, it’s time to go to school.’
‘But why mum,’ he replied, ‘I don’t want to go to school.’
To which his mum replied: ‘Give me two reasons why you don’t want to go.’
‘Well, the kids hate me for one, and the teachers hate me too.’ he replied.
‘Oh, that’s no reason not to go to school. Come on now, get ready.’
To which her son replied, ‘Give me two reasons why I should go to school.’
‘Well,’ his mum said ‘for one, you’re 52 years old, and for another, you’re the principal.’
Jesus has told us: “As I have loved you, love one another”

Two men:

The first, born in the great depression, his mother left shortly afterwards and his father remarried and also moved away leaving him to be raised by his grandparents.

He has spent time in jail for a marijuana-possession charge.

A bar brawling heavy whiskey drinking husband of four marriages. A nomad hitchhiking from town to town and occasionally sleeping in a cold ditch.

A man who both once had the audience of the President of the United States of America and the taxation department to the tune of back taxes owed of $32,000,000.

The second, Born in a small town of 400 people who went on to be a central part in issues of his time. In 1985 he was one of three that set up “Farm Aid” to assist and increase awareness of the importance of family farms. He heavily supported fundraising events for those suffering from the September 11 World Trade Centre attacks yet was critical of the retaliationary attack of Iraq, and is a strong supporter of the “green” Bio-fuel like we see in our petrol stations together with being an advocate against animal cruelty.

The man who has said of him of “his deep unshakeable faith” who once released a Gospel album containing favorites like Amazing Grace, Sweet Bye and Bye and the man who in turning 81 last Wednesday stated that he now looks back on his life with a clear appreciation for the blessings he’s received and that song we heard at the opening of the service titled the “Family Bible” were those of his own words and his first hit as a songwriter.

“There’s a family Bible on the table each page is torn and hard to read
But the family Bible on the table will ever be my key to memories
At the end of day when work was over and when the evening meal was done
Dad would read to us from the family Bible
And we’d count our many blessings one by one
I can see us sittin’ round the table when from the family Bible dad would read
I can hear my mother softly singing rock of ages rock of ages cleft for me. Now this old world of ours is full of trouble this old world would also better be
if we’d find more Bibles on the tables and mothers singing rock of ages cleft for me.”

The two people of seemingly different character I have put before you who are the same person-Willie Nelson.

On a study trip at the seminary a doctor who seemed to understand Christianity mentioned that of his Christian patients that visited him with self-worth problems, the common denominator was those who had received from other Christians, and pacifically those in “power” the message that they are not being Christian enough. Not being good enough and that they need to get their act together.

Hearing the law, yet not hearing the Gospel. The law without the Gospel that can only lead one of two ways, either striving for self-rigtheousness through works or as in those who came before him, despair. Fight or flight. Fight to show them you’re good enough, or flight and turn from the church that the accusations at least if not from inside, are quietened from those outside.
The law is good, Jesus told us that but the law without Gospel leads to anger and fear. A situation Martin Luther knew well who after being raised with exceptionally high Christian standards to attain believed that when the bible spoke of God’s righteousness, it referred to God the Father being very judgmental and strict to those humans who did not measure up to God’s perfection. A belief that caused him to be over zealous in performing the acts of penance and devotion in order to please God and yet though he tried so hard, he still knew that he could never attain perfection and so was left in great depression that resulted in him more on more than one occasion stating that he hated God because he was so judgmental towards him.

An early life of shame that led him through others and the guidance of God to find and know the blessed Gospel of his and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

To not like a parrot list of some feel good you’ll be right” aloof “Jesus loves you” comment. But truly understand the saint and sinner in one. A sinner in ourselves with nothing to offer and no right to salvation. Yet in Jesus, though we be earthly sinners, in Christ those shortfalls have not only been covered over for our salvation, but accepted and loved in Christ like a love we cannot grasp that though still falling to our weaknesses, faults and wayward ways, we are right with God, accepted into His Kingdom and given both a life in this world without fear of how we sit before God, as too a life without fear of where we will sit on judgement day.

God loves and accepts us because we accept His Son as our Saviour. That’s it and if we are to “love one another as He has loved us” it can only be borne from knowing that fact.

Not perfect, still stuffing up yet not to hear those who look to judge and ridicule, but look to the truth in the Word of God as the only answer. The truth of God up and against the thoughts and judgments of others and indeed ourselves upon ourselves that again Luther came to know all too well who gives us some good advice:

To “provide yourselves with armour from scripture concerning justification, which takes place through faith. Collect I say, a number of Scripture passages that ascribe righteousness to God. Then if you put your reliance of these passages, you will be able to stand even after a fall, as for example, after acts of fornication, murder and other sins.”

Work/ life balance. Yes it has a place but the both are the same people that carry both good and not so good traits. Likewise with husband and father and wife and mother. Christian in the world, yet not of it. Christian at church and Christian at the pub. Does not Christ see all and yet still accept both the Mother and the wife, the Father and the husband, the Christian at work or at home, the Christian in church or at the pub.

Willie, me and you. Saint and sinner. Jesus Christ Son of God and Lord and Saviour, unlike those who look, judge and give opinion from afar see’s the whole package and yet does deride or ridicule, but rejoices with His Father that against the flow of this world you still believe in His Words.

His words that tell us not that when a sinner sins no more, but that when a sinner comes to belief that the whole of the heavens erupt in Joyous song.

“Love one another as I have loved you.” An impossible task for us unless we see first ourselves and then Christ. And impossible for us to others unless see Christ first and then the person.

What a glorious day it will be when division, fear and judgment will be no longer. That day is not today, and so today we resist the urge to drop our eyes from the Cross, but fight the good fight to not focus on what may seem, but that which is. To that which is too see Jesus Christ the Son of God, die on a cross and be raised up and urge us not to judge the stick in the others eye when ours has a log. Urges us not to fear for ourselves or weaken the faith of others with misplaced messages of what it is to be of Christ.

But to see as vividly and real as the apostles saw Jesus come to them, see Him come to us and say peace be with you, do not fear for in me your sins are forgiven and so love each other as I have loved you.

But how. We are now complex people in a complex world where it not just “give me my daily bread” but give me a good car, house, job, superannuation fund and some time in between working for them to actually enjoy them. All good things and nothing wrong with them but sometimes we are the ones that bring in the complexity.

So “love each other as I have loved you.” But how. The guilt I carry, my inhibitions, my lack of confidence and my desire to be something, to prove myself.

How do I bear my cross, those crosses in our complex society that asks so much.

Yes, we all have crosses to bear just as do non-Christians do and as did Jesus Christ beyond what we can comprehend.

Yes Jesus loved and served and serves us. He healed the sick, turned water into wine to save the bride and groom embarrassment and raised Lazuras from the dead. Big ticket items but what of us, how can we top that. We can’t because we’re not Jesus and though our love and service for others will always be a little tainted, we can still follow in Christ’s steps. His steps where he did not have to prove anything to himself because He knew who He was: The Son of God and knew He would be raised from the dead.

He was free to serve because He knew who He was and He knew how it ended.

Love one another as I have loved you. This is not the chains of religion, but the freedom of Christ because we too know who we are, and that is forgiven sinners in Christ-He’s told us that. And in that comes the freedom to live a life free of proving oneself.

Free in Christ is to be free of seeing things not as a chore but as a life expereince. A gift.

Knowing who we are and where we end. Forgiven in Christ with eternal life waiting turns things around.

To give up smoking and in withdrawal feel the pain and strain of it and rejoice because of the awakened senses and know you’re really alive. To go to shops for groceries and not wonder if we have time, but see the wonderment of the things around us. To admire the genious of a motor car and be amazed that we can drink a glass of wine in Australia that was grown in France. To take a step back and see all this coming together and see the love of Christ in it, and see the love of Christ in those put before us who serve Him and us in their occupations and lives. And see we are not just a part of those serving in His kingdom here to get by. But can serve and live in every moment and every situation and who can love others as Christ loves us, because having being freed from ourselves, we have become free to do so, and that is a blessing to us, as much as it is to others. Praise be to Christ. Amen.