Archive for July, 2015

Be carefull what you wish for

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

John 6:1-15, Ephesians 3:14-21

StMarksA man was walking along the beach and he saw a sand covered bottle washed up on the shore. After he wiped of the sand with his handkerchief and polished it for a bit, low and behold a genie popped out and said “I grant you three wishes”. Startled but excited he asked for a bottle of beer that would never run out and “pop” there it was. Thirsty and to test the situation he guzzles down it down and unbelievably, after he’d taken the last drop it fills up again, and while thinking he’s hit the jackpot the genie announces “he still has two wishes left and asks for what does he wish from them” and in excitement he says “I’ll have two more of those bottles please.” That’s probably the kind of mistake I would make.

The scene for today’s Gospel see’s Jesus and His disciples traveling by boat across the Sea of Tiberias to withdraw from the crowds following, that they might rest and have time for prayer. It is said that the distance of travel by sea was only six kilometres and so, those following and seeing the direction of Jesus movements hastily set of on the twelve or so kilometre land journey so that only shortly after Jesus had arrived and taken refuge on a hill overlooking a grassy plain, the crowd had caught up and began to appear in droves.

Significantly it’s the time of the Passover (our Easter) and so the crowd reported as 5,000 men, meaning more likely 20,000 men, women and children has swelled to such great numbers with not the least being from those pilgrims on their journey from all over Israel to Jerusalem. Many of same people that would greet Jesus on His arrival at that Passover in Jerusalem with Palm leaves and their coats on the road before Him and shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord-the King of Israel.” And many of the same people that but a short time later would deny Him, ridicule Him and even cheer for His executioners as they marched Him to the cross.

Yet with all this to take place, at the sight of the crowd Jesus ‘sympathy was kindled. They were hungry and they were tired, and they must be fed. Quite a predicament given that to feed such a gathering would have cost six months of the average wage, never mind that the two neighbouring towns of 3,000 residents could not have supplied such a mass of food even if they wanted too. So without Woolworths, Coles and Aldi’s approval still before Local government we have quite a predicament.

Enter the apostle Andrew who after putting the hat around returns to Jesus with a boy with the princely sum of five barley loaves and two little fish. Which in itself is ironic being that it would seem highly unlikely that those on pilgrimage would set of without any supplies and ironic that the one to come clean is this boy whose picnic lunch was that of barley loaves-the bread that was the cheapest of all bread and held in contempt by the middle to upper class plus a couple of sardine like pickled fish, and as we know the rest is history to where everyone ate their fill with still twelve baskets overflowing at the end.

In the Epistle Paul prays for us that: “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it” and in the feeding of those people that day we get a glimpse of the power and love of Christ which this side of heaven is hard to understand in its many aspects.

An amazing story of what can be, what is, and what will be that awakens and shakes the realities around us like that of the tale of an old German schoolmaster who, when he entered his class in the morning, used to remove his cap and bow ceremoniously to them. One asked him why he did this. His answer was ”You never know what one of these students may someday become”, and he was right-because one of those students was named Martin Luther.

Martin Luther who just may have had some Aussie heritage as seen in his conversations and attacks from the devil who after being told that he was basically a short of knowledge want to be as well as a sinner of many proportions would reply: “Well while that may be, I am a baptised and forgiven one.”   Basically, “She’ll be right mate, Jesus has got my back covered.”

A great truth that allows us to be both amongst the crowd being fed, and amongst those helping feed.

The sinner in self and yet the saint in Christ. The served and the servant. The afflicted and yet the quenched.

Earlier in the service we heard from the book of Luke, that: I tell you that there will be rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. We are that sinner and like those in the crowd on the banks of the Tiberias Sea saw and received a miracle, I stand today here before the recipients of not one incident but of the whole of the miracles and passion of Christ.  I stand here before the greatness of Christ as displayed in you that has brought the angels and all the company of heaven to sing and rejoice.

Unbelievable and startling statements if not backed up by scripture in which they are. Amazing statements of the truth of how we sit before God the Father through Christ which can only be fathomed in faith. The same faith that saw Mother Theresa respond to a media question of her time in the Indian slums “that she has never seen God among such a situation, but I know he’s here.”

Her faith in the truth amongst what may appear. Her faith in the truth that Christ is with her both in the confines of here place of worship and in her place of work.

A little boy who gave up all his food, five loaves of bread and two small fish that Christ perform His miracle. A nun who gave up her life that she be that miracle to those still with empty stomachs, and Jesus Christ who gave His life that you be among those who have come out of the great tribulation and washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. To receive the Lord’s shelter before his throne. To never again hunger or thirst. To not experience scorching heat nor the need to shed a tear and the Lamb at the centre of the throne, your shepherd who has lead you to His springs of living water.

There among those who have come out of the great tribulation. Standing before Christ: A nun and those that Christ touched through her. A little boy with not bread or fish but surrounded by those who Christ filled with them.  To be alongside our mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. To be there amongst a great crowd of some you served, yet knew not. To be before the throne of God with our Great Shepherd Jesus Christ and know that when we bought failure, he bought success. To know that in all ways and things that Christ worked to guide us to that moment and hear for ourselves those angels once again sing and rejoice for our Saviour Jesus Christ who gave His life, that we have life-both eternally on that day, and life lived today eternally grateful that come what may-nothing shall ever separate us from the love of Christ. Amen.

Sheep without a Shepherd

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Mark 6:34a

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

StMarksIn all seriousness that could be the whole of our message today because those words “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” sum up and entail the whole truth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Not looking from afar, but coming down from paradise unspoilt, restraining himself that He walk this earth to feel hunger, hurt, earthly judgement, and fear- as seen when in the Garden of Gethsemane before His walk to the cross ask His Father “if there is another way”, yet only to know and feel what must have been a heartbreaking and loneliness greater than any before or after has felt when, on the cross, judged for our sins and in His death throws cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His cry given further poignancy in Psalm 22 with the verse
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”

Could there have been another way? Probably, but not probable when we consider the Love and compassion of our Triune God. Of God The Father, Of Jesus Christ His Son and of The Holy Spirit. The love as seen in Jesus when on His travels he could not help but cure those hurting who came before Him. The love as seen in Jesus who in seeing the pain of those suffering the loss of a loved one, wept alongside them as Lazarus lay lifeless.

Jesus on His walk felt our joys, and felt our pain because of the compassion of God the Father who said no, there is no other way than for me to send My Son Jesus to not just understand our plight and feel sorry for the broken, but for My Son to sit in the muck and the mud and have our pain as His own.

The compassion we heard of again today to “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

The same compassion for us now in the reality of God-with-us in Christ Jesus.  The Shepherd-King Jesus, here, His real presence – with us and ruling in our lives.
That is the Shepherd-King.  Yet it is an unusual biblical concept and in a sense it is a paradox because we associate the shepherd with a certain simplicity, humility, gentleness, nurturing nature – and the king with power and authority.  And, the truth is, whenever we think ‘king’ we first go to power and authority, though we learned well in David, that God chose the simple, humble, gentle, nurturing shepherd to be king. And yes, we might say, but he defeated Goliath! And so object – only to be corrected that actually David, himself, confidently strode out not to defeat Goliath, but to serve God by trusting that God will be God amongst it all.

It is a paradox.
The paradox of the Shepherd-King doesn’t get simpler when we think of the kingdom.  Or does it?
In today’s Gospel – and in this 6th chapter of Mark – Jesus has basically been pushed out of his home town, Nazareth,  but he stays – teaching and caring for people, he sends out his followers to do the same thing, he receives the horrific news that his cousin John has been killed, he is hounded by crowds of people in trouble and each time he tries to get away for a bit someone else needs him, he rescues his disciples from a storm to get to the other side of the lake and there he is immediately surrounded by more who are suffering – the ‘King’ is rejected, threatened, hounded – yet the Shepherd remains and, in the middle of all that:  “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” or, as stated in the actual Gospel reading, “When Jesus … saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

He had compassion on them.

The paradox of the Shepherd King that sees Him do the unthinkable and let people like us, the one’s He came to save from hurt and judgement then take that same message to the “crowds” He sends before us. The people searching for meaning and those knowing but still hurting.

I was working with a young girl with quite severe physical impairment and in discussing I remember her saying that “everyone’s got something it’s just that mines on show for all to see.”

She was right and my mind goes back to our visit to Sydney last week and seeing a homeless beggar on every street. Seemingly nothing in life but the shirt on their back and a few coins put in a hat by passer-by’s. Yet the compassion that saw the first we come across and after a young boy put his last forty dollars in his hat was asked by the recipient, by the one in need if he was sure he could afford to be so generous.

It was a wonderful exchange to see. But an exchange that only lead to hurt fifty metres later when there was another, then another, and then another that saw my heart bleed in the hurt that that boy felt in not having anything left to give.

The poor and homeless are like that girl said, there struggling for all to see and yet not alone in their struggles as seen in the lives of the rich and powerful who though they may wine and dine without need, still search like those words of Neil Diamond in his song I am, I said  where he sings

“L.A.’s fine, the sun shines most the time

And the feeling is “lay back”
Palm trees grow and rents are low
But you know I keep thinkin’ about
Making my way back

Well I’m New York City born and raised
But nowadays,
I’m lost between two shores
L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home
New York’s home,
But it ain’t mine no more

I am”… I cried “I am”… said I
And I am lost and I can’t
Even say why
Leavin’ me lonely still”

Hurt in this world is not just for one type but cover all collars, creeds and levels of society. It’s not picky and while we should help those in need we know from our own experiences that it’s all patches and fingers in a leaking damn unless the hope leads to Christ.

The hope that leads to Christ to know enjoyment amongst our troubles, and the hope in Christ that leads to simply being able to put one foot in front of the other when all seems lost: like that of the gentleman who approaching for food and while eating said I’ve tried all my life to beat alcohol but I can no longer and have given up the fight and now only ask that Jesus forgive me.

The hope that saw a legendry missionary return and upon being asked of his success remarked “yes many have been saved, but who will save me?”

Real life people who regardless of position and outward appearance need to hear like we do over and over again that: God so loved the world, that God so loves you, that He gave His one and only Son to die.

And so, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the Word of the Lord to you, because the King is on his throne, and the Shepherd has his arms wrapped around you.  You can go out today and rest in that; you can go and base your whole life on that, on that foundation.  The fact that you can do that is because of the will of God and the act of God.  You are the Shepherd’s loved sheep; you are the King’s loved subject… so that, as Luther put it, “I can belong to him, and he can rule over me as my king.  I can live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever, just as he was raised to life, and lives and rules forever.”  This is the complete story when it comes to God’s kingdom:  he establishes his gracious rule; we live in that grace.
Interestingly, I read that The kingdom of the Shepherd-King is not, as has crept into the language of the church with great popularity something that we help to build.  You will hear the phrase ‘build God’s kingdom’ quite a bit and the intention is good, but there is also the danger that it starts to shape our thinking about the nature of God’s kingdom because in itself it is not a biblical concept because though the New Testament is full of references to God’s kingdom, there is never anything remotely like a suggestion that you and I have anything to do with building that kingdom, or establishing that kingdom, or preserving that kingdom, or protecting that kingdom.

We ‘inherit’ it – as a gift; we ‘receive’ it – as a gift; we are ‘brought into’ it – as the work of God; we ‘enter’ it through the gift of baptism; we ‘serve’ when we are already in it, because we’ve been brought into it; we ‘see’ it because we are in it.  But nowhere does the New Testament suggest we build it, grow it, maintain it or prosper it.
God’s kingdom comes, God’s will is done because God is God.  The creator made us and claims us and rules over us; in the gracious life, death and resurrection of Jesus. A claim, A kingdom, A reality that is reiterated and emphasized! And a truth that lets us pray, that this might also be done among us – that the reality might also be evident in our lives, seen by us, recognized by us and lived by us.

Nearing the end of our seminary a Pastor and qualified lecturer in the field of the subject being, that being essentially three months of group and individual psyche type tests. Well two months he said “well you’re done and though I’ve cannot fully understand you or you seem to cope, it does seem you do, so we can either finish up today or do whatever you want.” I replied “that we might as well still meet because I enjoyed his company and so we talked about sport, the world and such stuff. But then one day after remarking that he had been in the church and its work all his life, asked me of what it’s like in “the real world?”

I replied that I’ve had just as much help in times of need from those outside the church as those within and I gave him a scenario that I had been part of.

There was this man who slept out the front of the seminary at night times and I made it my quest to befriend him, bring him a coffee and a snack and eventfully talk about our Lord and eventually I did get the courage up to give him a bible. To which he responded “well I might just throw it in the bin”. To which I responded “well at least use it as a pillow.” Low and behold next day he told me two things, the first that he was baptised and the second, that the bible I gave him had some long words to which then lead me to discover that the bible I had grabbed off the pile was an old King James version.

Anyway, not long after a very good friend was visiting me and staying the night. Well not to be distracted I asked to be excused so that I could visit the bench fellow. “To which he said “no worries, I’ll come with you”.

I used to stay for about ten minutes. But not this night as from the start to finish did my friend show nothing of being intimidated or uncomfortable, but instead talked of farming, of cattle and sheep due to the bench man’s previous occupation of a butcher and all manner of stuff over the next hour or so.

And so there we are, the other two talking as if they had known each other for years, and me enjoying it but also sought of wanting to move on and get back to our own party so to speak.

And with this in mind I realized about the nature of how the kingdom comes and how the kingdom is in the world around us – not as something we have to define and put in place, but as something that exists because of what the Creator and Saviour has declared and shown as Shepherd-King, then this immediately places us not outside, apart from, separated from people all around us in our community, but in their midst – we live in the middle of God’s kingdom of grace established in his world, by his love for the world.

God’s kingdom said of so well in this story we read in bible study at Gil.

A man was visiting a very poor area in a foreign country when he saw a little girl playing in the rubbish. She had no shoes and her face was fifthly. Someone commented, “How is it possible for her mother to let her live that way? It is deplorable. The leader of the group, who came from the neighbourhood, said, “That little girl is dearly loved by her mother, but her mother has no knowledge of or love for soap. You have knowledge of and love of soap, but no love for the little girl. Until love for soap and love for the little girl come together in the same person, she is likely to stay as she is.”

Yes, many have been saved, but who will save me.

There is only one and that is Jesus Christ. Jesus who sees the drug addict feeding his habit through lies, stealing and deception but remembers the little boy he once was.

Jesus who sees the heart of a rich man return to the lonely confines of his searching and lonely heart.

Jesus who sees what has driven a man to live on a park bench and understand. And Jesus who saw the honest heart of my friend Steve, here today with us as he was with that man on that bench.

And Jesus Christ your Savior, who asks that you here today-regardless of creed, colour, race or societies standards, asks, begs and pleads that you here today understand as best you can that while He sees and knows our sins and shortfalls, He chooses to see the heart of the Father that sent Him, that the Father see the heart of Jesus, that though breaking in compassion for those of us and others hurting in our world, will never break under any circumstances His oath, His promise and His reason for “being”, that all, that you-be we of seemingly great faith or seemingly little, that before Him all faith in Christ is equal as are all that come to be fed on the shores of His Kingdom and enter into the waters of His grace.

And so “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”

His grace that we can also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

His grace that has set you free even though the shadows still follow.

His grace that sets you free to serve in His Kingdom even though we may not be able to serve ourselves.

His grace that asks “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

His grace that brought a man to write and know that because

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
he had already come;
’Twas grace hath brought him safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

His grace brought to you, that you too know in full certainty, that the same grace that has carried you through many dangers, toils and snares, is the same grace that will take you home

And His grace, that He ask we take to those before us, that they too He may lead home.
And yes, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen.

So what’s your congregation like

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

Pentecost 6

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

 

 

StMarks‘So, what’s your congregation like?’ That’s a question occasionally asked of pastors by other pastors, or by friends who don’t know the place well. Naturally, one would want to paint our congregation in the best possible light and focus on its strengths. But, having read today’s epistle reading, one could also say that our congregation is full of weakness. We’re not just talking about sin here (although we are sinners) – but weakness.

While we ponder that, let’s look again at the reading, because that addresses the issue of weakness.

First some background: Paul loved the Christians at Corinth, but at the same time their congregation caused him no end of grief. Some dynamic and charismatic leaders had taken over, and were now undermining Paul, and his ministry, and his message as well. These ‘super apostles’ as Paul sarcastically refers to them, were claiming that he didn’t really qualify as a real apostle. He lacked, they said, the proper credentials. He lacked physical presence and appearance. He wasn’t a good public speaker. He was indecisive they said. He didn’t demonstrate any special charismatic gifts,

nor did he have any great spiritual experiences to talk of. And what’s more, all his hardships and difficulties just went to show that he didn’t really have it all together.

So if he was really a spirit filled apostle, would he be hampered by all these weaknesses?

Now the funny thing was that Paul could have easily refuted all these claims. He could easily claim special spiritual experiences and we think of his conversion on the road to Damascus. In fact, in this passage he does (very hesitantly) share some kind of spiritual experience he had – being caught up into the third heaven, or paradise as he calls it, where he saw things he just couldn’t put into words.

He could have, if he wanted to, boasted quite freely about his qualifications and successes. But he didn’t. Instead, Paul made up his mind that he would only boast about his weaknesses. The very things that his opponents used to insult him, Paul boasted about. ‘You think I’m weak, do you?’ asked Paul. ‘Well, you’re absolutely right. I’m really weak. And I’m proud of it too’. Why did he say that? Because he had learnt the paradox that when we are weak then Christ is strong.

Our weaknesses allow the power of Christ in shine in our lives all the more. Paul himself had learnt this from bitter experience. After his special visions and revelations, he says that ‘a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me, to keep me from being too elated’. Some kind of suffering, some kind of weakness, was given to Paul to keep him humble. People have puzzled over what this thorn actually was – was it bad eyesight, or epilepsy, or some inner turmoil?

We don’t know. But we do know that it really troubled Paul, because three times, over three successive periods, he pleaded with the Lord to take this ‘thorn’ away from him. But each time the answer came back: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. The Lord was saying: ‘Paul, my grace is all you need. I can work despite your weakness, and you need to know that. In fact, I will work through your weakness. Paul, your weakness will bring glory to my name’. Here we have the motto of the Christian life: God’s power made perfect through weakness.

Think of the cross: Jesus hanging and dying in utter disgrace and helplessness.

Weakness?  But this was God’s great act of power.

Through that seeming weakness of the cross, Satan was defeated, and so lost his grip on our lives.

So think of how God passes his forgiveness to us: more weakness. Simple words of absolution read out of a book – nothing fancy or impressive and then some very bland tasting wafers and wine. It would seem rather unimpressive compared to some great spiritual experience. But that’s how God works. But now let’s get back to our original question. How is our congregation weak, or full of weakness?

Think of all those things which from a worldly point of view make us appear weak. Some might say that we are too small or too elderly or old fashioned. To many, that is a sign of weakness (although we know it can also be a great strength). Perhaps we are not the same as each other and so compatible with each other in regards to personal interests, or levels of education, or musical tastes? Perhaps we don’t have the latest technology? Perhaps we are not all as happy and enthusiastic and dynamic as we should be? Perhaps other places are more exciting to be than church? Perhaps we feel embarrassed about inviting friends to church – that they wouldn’t fit into the Lutheran culture? To many people, things like these make a congregation weak. But friends in Christ – this weakness (if it is weakness) is our glory! Because it is a continual reminder that we do not save ourselves. Our weakness is a testimony to the grace of Christ among us. Our weakness fixes our eyes on Jesus who is powerfully at work among us. Our weakness puts our faith in the right place – not in ourselves, but in our loving Lord. So we remember that when we see the human weakness in our congregation or in the wider church. We also remember our own personal weakness. AND THEN We remember that when the load of sin weighs heavily in our hearts We hear again of how Paul actually boasted in his weakness, And know that then God is glorified as we remember always those comforting words from our Lord to Paul And to us: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. Amen.