At the movies

Ephesians 6:10-20

StMarksThe movie “Fury” is set in April, 1945 and portrays the Allies making their final push into the European Theatre of war through the lens of a group of six men in a Sherman army tank led by Brad Pitt who behind enemy lines are outnumbered, out gunned and with inferior tank technology to that of the opposition are thrust against overwhelming odds into battle to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

It’s one of those movies where at the conclusion you know you’ve just watched a very, very good piece of cinema while also feeling that you wished you hadn’t. At times it’s a hard film to watch as you see through the horror of war of what from each side of the conflict of what humanity can inflict on the other.

It’s a Hollywood movie and while it does portraying Hitler and his secret service the SS as the despised villains, it is also fair in its assessment of both the allied soldiers and the German soldiers with it showing both as simply being thrust into a war that neither wanted nor had a part in playing other than that of being present in such a time. Nevertheless the battles are seen through the eyes of this group of Americans united to live and die as one from within the confines of a coffin in the guise of an army tank and while the group are shown as one in the fear and hatred of that which is war, they are also shown as detached in the matter of faith and nearing the end and entering an unwinnable battle their leader resorts to a scripture passage that it would seem has enabled him to get to this point and to the point he must go as to both himself and those with him he recites from the book of Isaiah “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me” to only be followed up later when in situation of hopelessness and awaiting certain imminent death brings hope through the words of 1 John: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. …..(for)……The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Misused scripture? I guess some may so, But scripture if it was I who through whatever measure it be, be it from my own failures or those of another see me in an alike situation I would certainly not see as misplaced but understand with faith and throwing myself at the feet of Christ in mercy see not guilt and damnation but forgiveness and new life with Christ in heaven where the hurt, the shame, the pain and the fear of a life-that was has been erased like that of a white board and seen or known no longer.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. Words from 1st John that misplaced or not was those said to me on what was to become the “eve” of their suicide.

Scripture not heard from the safety of theological discussion, but scripture known from the melees of life like that of psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Words of our Lord understood at hospital bedsides and then read at funerals for those still living that they too can remain upright and fight the good fight of life through the Saviour Jesus Christ.

Words of the Lord not to mislead and scare, but His Words to guide and reassure. His Words of guidance and reassurance of what is when all seems otherwise that we not get led astray seeking truth where non is to be found, but stand firm clothed in the full armour of God that we not be moved by sleight of hand nor earthly circumstance, but stand firm in the power of Christ clothed in His garments.

The armour of God that Paul clothed himself with in times of imprisonment and persecution that he not be moved by the devil and his schemes nor in his false doctrine. But Paul in the world but not of the world who relates the two opposing sides as seen through his jailors and encourages the early Christians to not falter from what may seem but stand firm in what is known. To not see the belt of a Roman soldier designed to hold loose clothing and move quickly in battle as they do, but be clothed in God’s belt of truth that alone can counter the world’s lies. To not place a breastplate of steel to protect the chest and its vital organs in battle but rather shield ourselves in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. To not cloth ourselves with a Roman soldiers boots studded with nails to stand firm in battle, but stand firm in the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ that sees us need not dip our shield in water prior to the onslaught of flaming arrows, but be shielded by faith in the waters of baptism and see no need for adorning a bronze Helmut nor carrying a sword for close combat, but rather be filled with the Holy Spirit to know of our sure salvation in Christ.

The current Pope on the sixth of June this year, Pope Francis remarked that with the reality of so many armed conflicts affecting our world, “they are kind of Third World War being fought piecemeal” (in fragments).”

Whether that be the case in title or not, be it WW1, WW2 or WW3 all are in reality different battles and outpourings in the one War that is between good the good of God the Father and his adversary of evil.

Battles nonetheless in our fallen world both real and tangible just as they are real and spiritual. Spiritual warfare in our church’s, homes and workplaces of where one desires in Christ we see others through love and the other that we lower our eyes from the cross and bicker, argue and demand.

Battles seen through flesh and blood where we desire God be on our side, yet battles of the Spirit that we need be on his side like that of a young shepherd boy named David who understood this as he single-handedly opposed Goliath in the name of the Lord for when the Philistine Goliath said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field.” David responded with, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD.

David won that seemingly unwinnable battle not because of a slingshot but because he was clothed in the armour of God. God’s armour for us in our world. His armour seen in the truth of Christ righteousness that you are clothed. His armour given to you through the Holy Spirit that in faith you know His Gospel and of your most certain salvation that you have received in forgiveness through Jesus Christ your Lord and Saviour.

Every day it seems our world is changing. Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and countries allegiances change with the stroke of a pen. What was once a sin is now a “sin to oppose” and the right of life is becoming the right to extinguish it because of our right to live how we deem fit, and how our world will be tomorrow or the next we do not know nor can we control. Our world that is crying out for leadership yet our world that seeks it in the towers of Babylon.

Our world in such times that we are so blessed live in and see and be the people of God provided with and clothed in his invincible spiritual armour to live every aspect of our lives serving in God’s divine purpose to gather all things under the headship of Jesus Christ.

In the movie “Fury” that I mentioned earlier, the soldiers though portrayed suffering in severe trials, in their belief of being sent to free the world from Adolf Hitler would often remark “It’s the best job they have ever had.”

Today, in our world what a great time to be a Christian and serve our Savior through those he brings before us that they may be open to the Holy Spirit and see not human war and suffering but the spiritual peace and joy that is found in Jesus Christ, that as they lay to awake before the Savior, they too know for themselves that you know for yourselves. That yes, though you may walk through the darkest valley or atop highest mountain splendor, you did not fear in the valley nor gloat on the mountain, for as in both was Christ that was present and it was Christ that prevailed, so to in Christ did you travel not in the shame of sin- but in the boldness of His grace knowing that in either life or in death through this fallen yet redeemed sinner has His love been known, and His love been magnified. Amen.

All in the mind

John 6:51-58

StMarksThere have been studies done about visualising situations such as in a college where the basketball team was split in two for a week. All the players went about training as usual but half, unbeknown to the others also were told to visualise themselves in the upcoming game. To see in their minds them defending the actual players they would stand and to “see themselves” throwing goals and collecting rebounds and come game day, the results clearly showed that the players who had seen the game in their head all week seemed clearly more prepared and in tune when the game was underway in both carrying out what they had imagined but also in adapting to unforeseen situations as they occurred.

Today we will receive Holy Communion. To share a meal together to which Charles Wesley remarked:  “The Lord’s Supper is the richest legacy which Christ has left for His followers.”

The Sacrament of the Altar that not only points to the cross of Christ as our enduring and unsurpassed source of salvation and as our storehouse of grace. But the Sacrament of the Alter of where our Saviour brings his cross to our altar so that we can receive HIs benefits in a tangible, visible way in the here and now.

Today, in the Body and blood of our Savior Jesus, not only is He present, not only do we receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, but today as we receive our Saviors body and blood we kneel or stand before Him in the blessings of his first coming, as to we most assuredly stand before Him celebrating being renewed to live today and celebrating eternal life as we anticipate the joy of his second coming.

In Holy Communion we do not see Jesus as a distant leader or director, but receive and know Him as our ever-present help in times of trouble and if we could actually see what in faith we try and comprehend I don’t think our views on troubles and hardships would ever be the same.

To visualise what’s going on in trust and belief and in wisdom as that of a child.

Because Jesus says we are to have childlike faith, and I think we know where he’s coming from. When we were children, Jesus was so uncomplicated. He said I love you, bring you forgiveness and you’ll go to heaven. Jesus said it, so it was so; it was just in there inside us and onto doing kid’s stuff we would go.

Then for want of a better word we grow up. Learn to think logically and question things, question perceived truths. Get beaten around the head with life’s responsibilities, struggles and hardships. Given the gift of greater intelligence, to be able to think deeply of how things work, or how they should work and yet with all this knowledge, power and experiences-Jesus says we are to have child-like faith.

When young, if told that’s a chair, well it’s a chair-now I might first consider that it actually may be a stool.

Two weeks ago we heard the Jews ask Jesus: What is it that we must do, to do the work of God? And Jesus replies to believe in the one He has sent. Is that it, or did he mean something else.

And in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, they will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”.

You can see where this is heading. No wonder the Jews had trouble understanding and believing what Jesus said. The stuff Jesus said, the gospel is foreign to how we are cast. Logically, these statements of Jesus are illogical. A pastor told me that when in your Parish; don’t get down on yourself with all the empty seats-because it’s a miracle that any one believes at all.

And through logic, or how we think it should work, he’s right, and right there we see that what Jesus said has to be case, everyone that does believe, has childlike faith, because otherwise you could not believe.

Trust, belief and wisdom. To trust and believe in what Jesus says, and the wisdom to do so, even though from within us it would seem the opposite. When as a child, Jesus says-so no questions needed. As an adult-Jesus says-and we question how that possibly could be-but believe anyway. That’s childlike faith-to override what we would think with what we are told by Jesus.

I was baptized as an adult-did I feel any different afterwards-I don’t think so. Baptizing our infants, do we literally see a hallo form-I haven’t yet. Studying at the sem. and being ordained, do I feel like some kind of saint-not likely-I think I did more so before I went in. And that is the Gospel.

It would be nice to self-reference our spirituality, of what’s going on in our hearts-of feeling our growth within ourselves. Indeed it would be very nice, but not so comforting the next day when we see our heart just as black again as the day before. And that is the Gospel. It is not how we feel-it’s what Christ promises and what he does.

In Holy Communion-Jesus says I give you my body and blood-for eternal life, yes, but also to work inside you-We believe that, even though in our inner selves we find it hard to see much progress, if any.

That is the Gospel. It is not from us, it’s from outside. The Word of God, Baptism and Holy Communion-Our Lord and Savior brings them to us, just like God sent His Son to us. He didn’t just flick a magic switch to fix up our mess-he sent His Son down to us-to grow in us from outside in-transforming us.

In Christ, we are transformed into the holy and righteous. Do you feel very holy and righteous? Maybe not, and if not, welcome to being normal. But in faith, though our hearts and minds may be at times like black coal-that when all the logic and facts of our sinful selves are stacked against, when we know that we are beyond help within ourselves, that in ourselves we are lost-yet cling to Christ, not just as our only hope of acceptance by the Father, but take it as a fact that we are accepted by the Father-that’s faith, faith in the truth. Thank God for the trust and belief he has worked in us, and the wisdom he has brought to us of childlike saving faith. Amen.

Imitating Christ

Imitating the Character of Jesus

Ephesians 4:25–5:2

          LieschkeMark2009gz  It doesn’t really matter where you go or what you do week in and week out, you can be sure that someone will want to give you their opinion about what’s going on.

I don’t think we could go through a week without someone telling us what they think about politics, the economy, the footy, the weather, fashion, the best wine to drink, why Toyota’s are the best car to drive – etc.

            We can find these people wherever we happen to be.  We can hear people’s opinions at home, in the classroom or playground, at work, at a BBQ, watching sport.  They’re around everywhere.

We also find these people in churches.  That’s quite natural.  We’re all human.  We have opinions.  We like to comment on lots of things – like the length of sermons, the choice of songs or hymns, the volume of the music.

Or maybe some really important things like whether we have a clear vision of where God is leading us, whether we need to do more things to connect with people in the community, or whether or not we’re as welcoming as we could be to visitors to worship.

We all have opinions and that’s fine – but when it comes to commitment, when it comes to actually doing something to make a positive difference, well, we can often shy away.

We can be more than happy to make comments, but not always be active in doing something to make ideas into realities.  Or as someone said once: We can be ‘rocking chair Christians’, plenty of motion but little real progress.

It doesn’t matter how great an idea we have, it doesn’t matter what our opinions may be – if that’s all that we offer, if that’s all we contribute to the life of the church, to the body of Christ, then we’re not going to be moving forward.  We’re might be rocking and rolling – but not really going anywhere.

We’re all called into the ministry of Christ.  And that means we’re called to action – not just give our opinions.  We’re challenged to get down to the nitty gritty of what our faith in Jesus Christ all about.

Our theology, our understanding, our belief in Jesus is not just some kind of intellectual exercise that we are involved in; it’s something that we live out and share and celebrate.

            A church couple with a young family was once asked to host a distinguished theologian for the evening.  The husband told his wife in great detail about the visitor’s university degrees, his teaching responsibilities, the books he’d written, and the important church committees he’d chaired.

His wife was somewhat overawed at all this, but in the end all she had to say was: “I’m not very interested in all that stuff.  What I want to know is: how does he treat his wife and kids?”

            Now that’s getting down to the nitty gritty.  Her question was a valid one.  Does this man who writes, talks and lectures about God, does he practice what he preaches?  Was he a person who just shared his ideas and opinions or was he serious about imitating Jesus Christ?

When Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, he began his letter by highlighting what God had done for his people in and through Jesus.  His opening chapters are like a magnificent hymn of praise!  Paul writes like someone on “cloud nine.”

He hardly stops to breathe as he spells out the wonder of what Jesus has done, not just for the Ephesians, but for the world and the whole universe.  The sentences roll on as if he had no idea about punctuation.  Paul celebrates what Jesus has done to bring peace and harmony into a sin-sick and depraved world.

But then suddenly in the second half of his letter, the mood changes.  The sentences become shorter.  His theme deals with the nitty gritty of Christian behaviour.  After soaring through the universe he comes back to earth, back to our every day lives, our homes, our relationships, our work, our struggles.

            It’s not that Paul utters a big sigh, shakes his head, puts the theology aside, and says: “Okay, that’s enough of the theory, now let’s get real.”

            No.  What he writes about in the second part of his letter, flows directly from what he’s said about how Jesus Christ has claimed us as his own, filled us with his Spirit, and equipped us to live as his people.  We’ve been transformed by Christ; we’ve been changed and renewed, so that we can be practically living out who we are.

Or in other words – once Jesus Christ lives within us, we are called and challenged and enabled to be active in the nitty gritty of Christian service.  We’re called, and equipped, to imitate the character of Jesus.

And this means doing some basic, simple, down to earth things like not lying, watching our moods, stopping from stealing, no swearing, cutting out spiteful words and actions and all malicious gossip.

Or, as Paul also puts it, from a positive perspective, we’re called to speak the truth, deal with our anger, be involved in useful activities, speak only what is good and helpful in a situation, be generous to each other, kind-hearted and forgiving.

I don’t think that Paul could have got more nitty gritty than this?  He said that when God’s people in Ephesus or Rome or Corinth, or Sydney or Dubbo or Gilgandra – when they’re around, you can be sure that God expects them to imitate his Son.  And that this means much more than offering opinions or making comments.  It means getting involved and backing up words with Christ-centred actions.

According to Paul, the grand vision of Christ reconciling everything, and drawing all together in beautiful harmony before God, comes down to some basic issues.

Even the little things that we do and say are significant and should represent what we believe.  It’s not enough to just share our opinions.  Our calling is to be imitators of Christ in actions as well as words.

But imitating the character of Jesus is not something we do on our own.  Imitating the character of Jesus is something we do in relationship with Jesus and others.  We don’t imitate Jesus in isolation.  The character of Jesus is lived out in community; and what we do or don’t do has an effect on the people around us in God’s church.

Because we’re part of a Christ’s body, a community of faith – when we lie to others, or get angry with them or say things that are negative about them – it has a consequence on the whole body, and to Christ himself, because he lives in others as well as us.

Paul writes about this kind of behaviour as conduct that “grieves the Holy Spirit of God.”  We grieve the Holy Spirit when we ignore Jesus who lives in us and through us.  We grieve the Holy Spirit when we give Satan a chance to influence us to be content with divisive relationships and gossip and bitterness.

            But as we’re open to Jesus’ influence and acknowledge the presence of his people around us, not only for us to serve, but to be there for our comfort, support and encouragement (and yes, it’s flawed and imperfect – but it still comes from people who have the Spirit of God in them); when we’re open to that, then what happens is that we grow to become more and more the community that God wants us to be.

Because of Jesus influence and the support of his people, we can continually work towards our speech and actions building others up, rather than tearing them down.  And when that happens we’re enabled to be a far greater positive influence in our ministry of love and service to those who don’t yet know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

We’re on a journey with Christ; a journey that’s got real purpose and direction, a journey on which we’re challenged and encouraged to do some specific things.

You are on a journey.  Pastor Steve, you are on a journey as you continue your ministry in this parish, as you work at building relationships with people and as you serve in a this community.

And you, the members of St Mark’s/John’s – you are on a journey as you serve and witness and love and give of yourselves to each other and to this community.

St Paul tells of the special and unique relationship you have with God through Jesus so that you can do this.  You are part of God’s plan to bring his love and forgiveness to a world, to individuals around you, who are in need of experiencing it.

            People of the world are not holding their breath for you to share your opinions with them.  But they are desperately in need of more people who are active, imitating Christ, and sharing his love and forgiveness.

            And because of Christ you can do this.  It’s not beyond you.  It’s always something that you’re growing to be able to do better.  And even though it can be a long slow process without always having many visible results, you can rejoice in it because Jesus comes to you again today to draw you closer to him.

With that assurance and commitment from him, you can imitate him more faithfully.  Amen.

Mark Lieschke.

“G’day Tony


Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6: 24-35

StMarksI remember a few USA elections ago watching on T.V. a reporter talking of the voting sentiment as they filmed in the Republican heartland and it seemed that at least every second house had a sign out the front supporting George Bush.

It was so different to what we experience in Australia to where if our Prime Minister visited Dubbo he might just as likely get a “G’day Tony, how’s things” or even a  “I know the face but can’t seem to place it.” I think that’s great but last Sunday after taking my mum to Canberra to catch a bus home to South Australia we visited Parliament house. It was the first time I had been to see it since I was sixteen and even though no parliament was sitting that day and it was very quiet, it gave me an appreciation of how big a deal and special is the stuff that goes on in that building and felt a sense of its reverence not unlike the first time I visited an empty MCG in Melbourne. An awareness hard to explain as not so much from their dynamic structures, but just a strange and moving feeling that I don’t think I will ever forget. A sentiment I’ve heard people say for themselves upon visiting the vastness of the Grand Canyon or the majesty of one of the great cathedrals of Europe.

The same feeling I had when after a lifetime in the wilderness I was invited and attended against my wishes a small church in a small country town to where upon sitting down my tear ducts opened without control as I knew in every fibre of my body that I was finally home and I wonder just how many times in the back roads of our country in our small houses of worship has someone stumbled through those doors not looking to find home, only to find that home has found them.

To come together as one not in a structure of bricks and mortar, but in a place to receive the gifts of God. To receive His body and blood in Holy Communion, to be reminded of His forgiveness and love that He showers upon those who do His works. To come together as one in the body of Christ be it here in Dubbo/Gilgandra or in St. Pauls Cathedral in London or Rome, be we in suit and tie or tracksuit and sneakers and bow before our Saviour, do His works and receive His gifts. His works not of great missionary work or great acts of hospitality and charity that we receive Him. But the work as told to us in today’s Gospel by Christ himself who when asked of “what must we do to be doing the works of God answers “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom he has sent.”

The work of God that is no work other than receive Him as our Lord and Saviour. No work other than receive His forgiveness and no work other than as one in Christ go as free people. Free that in love we can with each other and all those God places before us not need to hide and protect ourselves through pride, arrogance or intolerance, but free to be modest, soft hearted, accepting and understanding.

Shock rock musician Alice Cooper, son of a pastor, grandson of a pastor, and nephew of a pastor, born again Christian and once described as the “most evil rock singer in the world” remarked that prior to his abstinence of alcohol some 24 years ago he was drinking upwards of a bottle of spirits a day not out of habit, but as medicine to survive to get to the next day. An illness he remarked of which he was not cured, but healed.

A healing like I have experienced in a remote country town where the sentiment between black and white was frosty both ways. Emotions that often led to confrontation that being so long in place wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow from either side, never mind the thought of any need to change the mechanics of such a situation. Ingeniously or naively in such a climate, a person had the idea to start and Australian rules football team to compete in the neighbouring league some 400 or 500 Kilometres away and what once started as one team of two teams was transformed through training, playing alongside each other and from sitting with each other for a minimum of eight hours every Saturday on the bus together saw not only the reported town crime statistics drop by half. But black and white not sharing altercations at the pub, but sharing drinks and stories. See not abuse in the street, but a hand waving in acknowledgement and see not denial or rebuttal of the other identity but a proudness to introduce them as friends.

A situation of mistrust, suspicion and outpouring of anger that was not cured by either sides demand for change, but a situation cured by understanding and friendship that then saw no need for the other to change.

As one in Christ, we too are freed from such side shows as one upmanship and bringing others down that we may rise. Free from those outpouring of emotions that we clothe ourselves in to bring safety such as rage, greed, pride, and envy, but free to be who we are. As one in Christ that freedom is not so much “this is who I am, accept it or get stuffed.” But rather a “that is who you are and I accept you because I don’t give a stuff.”

The law of God is good as it contains the chaos in our world and shows us our sin. But the law of God does not cure our sins just as we cannot cure each other of those that the Lord places before us. The law does not cure, but accuses. The gospel of our Lord and saviour answered those accusations with His death on the cross and healed our mortal wounds with those pierced through His perishable and earthly body.

His wounds still on display in His resurrected body that he brought before those who denied Him and allowed His fearful apostles to see and Thomas to touch, not that He bring judgment upon them from what they had done, but that He bring healing upon them through what He had done that they be released and unbridled from their ghosts. To not be cured of what they were, but be healed because of who they were. The same people as before, the same background as before, the same past deeds as before and still the same loved ones of Christ as before. And yet never as before when standing in that small room did they see, know and understand the truth of the freedom of being as one in the love Jesus Christ their Saviour.

In Christ we have been set free to know that never shall we need hide from self, others or God again: and set free that all others shall never need hide themselves from us in fear of ridicule or judgement, but like we know the truth of a Saviour in whose stead we stand before God the Father, not as that of rotting flesh and blood clothed in garments of sin, but stand as one without blemish clothed in the righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ: their Saviour, our Saviour OUR SAVIOUR. Amen.