Rarefied air

Jeremiah 33: 14-18, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

StMarksThis Friday just gone, Australian Cricket has done another world first. A day/night test match with a pink ball. And this Friday just gone was also a year to the day that Australian cricketer Philip Hughes was lost to this world from a cricket ball to the back of his head.

Friday three days ago was an emotional day for those test cricketers on Adelaide oval. The dawn of a new era, and the memory of one past in the shape of a man that had seemingly touched them all. A man, a test cricketer who the current caption at the time Ricky Ponting remarks to fondly of when he was batting alongside this young Phillip Hughes in only his second test and having seen the “new guy” getting a truly hostile welcome from the mighty South African fast bowlers-and being the caption and in trying to support him through this testing time and asking him how’s he going, was proud to be told by this young man short in stature but who played tall while under fire with smile beaming “that this is test cricket, this is what’s it all about, this is what I’ve been waiting for and I love it.”

Rarefied air like that of 747 aeroplane pilot fighting in a crippled plane with hundreds of souls on board. Rarefied air like soldiers in war and those fighting our dry and dusty lands bushfires who do “their job” for other’s lives by putting their own at risk, and rarefied air  like that of a lady who recently on her death bed whispered the last words that her Pastor would hear from her: “see you on the other side.”

The rarefied air of today’s scripture pointing to a time like no other: “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now and never to be equaled again.

A time that will see “..On earth distress of nations in perplexity and bewilderment…people fainting fearfully at what is happening….the powers of heaven shaken” and the powers of darkness stalking the earth to wreak havoc on the horrors of our inhumanity, our wars, crimes against our brothers and sisters and the never ending desire to rebuild our towers of Babylon and exalt ourselves as God.

A time Matthew 24 tells us that “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ! Â’ or, ‘There he is! Â’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.”

A time of when the powers of darkness will play their last card as spoken by the prophet Daniel who warns that “when you shall see the abomination of desolation, standing where it ought not, (let him that reads understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains.

A time where Christians find themselves standing on the brink of desolation when everything goes wrong and all their foundations crumble. When every light goes out and all their cute clichés of piety have exploded and they find themselves sitting in the dark. A time I fear that I separate from my family and not run to the mountains, but have the courage to stay and attest to the true one and only saviour Jesus Christ.

Pray such testing times like that of Abraham with his Son Isaac on the alter, or that of Christians huddling before a lion set to devour them, not be the times that wait us.

The time when the world will ask with scorn of “Where is your God now and who is this Son of man of that you talk?” A question both then and now of things seemingly out of control that would deceive even the elect if had we not have been guided by Christ to the truth of his life.  The truth that our human minds cannot fully grasp but know in faith.

The truth that He is the Son of God. That Jesus Christ, no less than the Son of God who took on our flesh and bones and blood and nerves.  The Son of God who He himself has been through His tribulation and suffered in the dark in the Garden of Gethsemane with his own bloody sweat on his forehead as the rancid vapor of the guilt of the entire world burned upon His Holy soul.

The Son of God who journey to Jerusalem to be delivered to the hands of men who on the cross with His mission near completion cries to His Father “why have you forsaken me” when the sins of the world, the sins of those past, the sins of us and those of the future which like a searing sword tore through the flesh and heart of the one man who was without sin. The one man without sin, yet the one man forsaken for that moment by God the Father to accomplish our redemption, atoned for all our guilt, purchased our forgiveness, crushed the juggernaut of death and brought life and immortality to light.

Jesus Christ the Son of Man who walked through His tribulation so great that only the Son of God could have achieved it. And Jesus Christ the Son of Man with a love so great that only He, the Son of God could suffer it again through the lives of the very ones He came.

Our Tribulation in which He walks in front, alongside and behind that we fall not to the snares of the evil one, but be guided from fear to faith for when the time will be, and in fact already is: when everyone will speak against the faith and when all the evidence will screams at us, “So where is your God now?”

Christ with us for the time that will, and in fact is already is: when fear will grip those of the earth by their throats to choke off all these “myths” about a God who steers the course of history to its goal.

The time that will be, and in fact already is where the elect will not fall to such traps. The time now where those of the faith-you and I when asked by our own fears and when asked by the world of “where is your God know” can respond not with what may appear but which what is.

To know in faith and in the rock solid truth of scripture that the Son of man has never lost control and never will. That God is today right where He was when Jesus took his cross, right where He was when his apostles went to death for him and right where he was when the martyrs joined their voices in a hymn of praise before the Emperor and the bloodthirsty jeering crowds as the lions roared. And right where He is now, right by your side here today, just as where He will be when you are welcomed to your heavenly home. 

A professional Golfer after practicing hour upon hour was asked if all that training can improve his already near perfect game. A question to which he replied: “I don’t train to get better, but train that when I approach the ball lying in the woods that I know without question that I will make the shot.”

The end times started when Christ won our battle on the cross and the end times will finish when all will see Him coming again in the clouds and like that golfer we need not consume ourselves with distractions other than what is at hand, for we have been brought to the faith in the truth. We the elect have not been deceived by the turbulence of a world in rough times but remain in His green pastures.  His green pastures that see us not in fear or a world desolate to us in the faith. But His green pastures known to us that see this as a time like no other. A time to not doubt but to lift our eyes and see Christ.  A time not to give in and let the world go its merry way to self-destruction while we idle away time. A time not to be give up and cry I’m beaten and surrender to the world with all its passions and distractions. 

No, this is our time. A time that gives us reason to not give up, but to give out. To give out with all we are and all we have of what the grace of God has made of us and given us-to speak the joy we know in Him who is the Lord of all, to call those the Lord places before us that they not fear of what may will be, or is already hear, but be called to the faith of Jesus Christ that trusted His life to that of The Father, that they may have faith in Him.

When each of us came to faith we are told the angels and heavens erupted in joyous song. A moment that for each of us did our Savior on the cross know,” that’s what’s it’s all about” and while we may not have to face devouring lions, bushfires,  the gun of an enemy or the ferocity of a 150 kilometer an hour  leather missile in the guise of a cricket ball-in Christ we do know what it’s all about and with Christ by our side we see those people and situations He places before us, and in knowing what awaits us in our heavenly home, know that the person or the moment we are given before us, that we after a life of being pruned, brought to faith and given the knowledge of salvation and peace-know that it could be the moment that may been waiting for us all our lives that will see the heavens again erupt for that one person’s eyes being  opened and given faith in our, and their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  

You have been blessed, and these are blessed times for blessed are you who come in the name of the Lord. Pray it be so for all.  Amen.    

Not all Beer and Skittles

John 18:36

StMarksIn my previous employment, coming towards to year 2,000 when there was a fear that the computers would simply crash due to how they were set up years before with the maximum year of 1999 installed, my employer must have spent tens of millions in updating all things P.C. to be year Y2K compliant.

In all seriousness that with the fear and hype going on at the time, to ensure all would be O.K. at the conclusion of that New Year’s celebrations: midnight 31’st December 1999 it was responsible management.

Yet as we know it all went off without a hitch and with the “wisdom” of hindsight I did amuse myself when one of the tech. guys speaking to us in middle management about all they’ve done also ridiculed the companies and countries that had not spent those millions and had the action plan that if anything did go wrong-they would just turn back the clocks.

It really did after the fact seem amazing to me that with all the technology we have that it couldn’t have been tested to be virtually 100% sure that the old systems were O.K. and gave me that same sense of irony as to when computers were first making their way in society we were being told that when we are all on board with such a great tool that the outcome will see us with so much extra leisure time on our hands that we won’t know what to do with it all. .

The promise of a life of all “beer and skittles” that not only never seemed to eventuate, but in many cases-in some sections, mostly-resulted in people having longer working days with less leisure time.

Do not get me wrong, I mostly like what technology has provided and since the dawn of time our world has been living in a world of advancement. Faster and more efficient methods of travel. Thankfully greater medicines and people of expertise that extend our lives. Mobile phones and social media that allow us to share our love with those we love no matter the location. Air conditioners in the heat, heaters in the cold and mechanisms to keep us safe from those with mechanisms to hurt us.

Yet somehow, in this we put pressure on ourselves in order to look and feel up to date and see our free time slaughtered on the altar of self-betterment and consumerism.

The need to be on a constant life of personal advancement of self and riches.  From good, to better, to best though falsely tricks us into thinking we are better educated, better skilled, and better moral people than ever before.  But are we?  Are you a better person than your parents, or their parents, or there parent’s parents?

Are we better than the people of past centuries, and if so what does that say about God?  Who after he had created humans, ‘…saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’?  Are we now, by our own effort, better people than God could ever make us?

In today’s Gospel we see the same scenario going on were Jesus is where He is, standing before Pilate because the Pharisees and the teachers of the law felt he got in their way of moral improvement as seem through their statements “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus responds “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” …” In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  Jesus agrees that he is a king, but his kingdom is not outwardly recognizable.  It is not of this world.  It is not a kingdom defined by social, ethical or material advancement.  Jesus’ kingdom is about loss and not gain; about his disciples dying to self and taking up their cross.  Jesus is a king who came to suffer for those suffering and for those wanting forgiveness and for those “that knew not what they do.”

Should we strive in our lives to live better lives, to increase our skills of trade and communication? I certainly think so. But I know so-that Jesus did not go to the cross, suffered whippings, beatings and ultimately a humiliating death by crucifixion, just so we can be better people outwardly.

The good news of God’s kingdom is far more radical and life changing than just self-betterment or material improvement.  The kingdom of Jesus is a gift of restoration with him and renewal on the inside. Through the means of grace, baptism and Holy Communion, the gift of God’s kingdom are given, forgiveness, victory over sin, death and the devil.  No advancement, just total renewal.   The sacrifice and hard work of having to move from good to best, has already been offered by Jesus on the altar of the cross.  It was there that the best man payed the debt of the worst. It was there, hidden in suffering and selflessness, that Jesus’ opened a new way to God; where by his blood we are made the best we could ever be; inwardly, as written in Hebrews ‘our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience.’ There was not and is not any visible advancement in the kingdom of God.  It is a “back to front” kingdom to which St Paul says ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’

We live in two kingdoms and there are a number of differences between the two. Between Jesus’ Kingdom and earthly ones.

The earthly kingdoms are sometimes built on force, with armies and killing.

In contrast, the kingship of Jesus never ends. Even when this earth is gone, and all the wars and killing of human beings has ended, the Kingdom of Jesus continues. When the last weapons of mass destruction have exploded and the earth has disappeared, the Kingdom of Jesus will continue. The Kingdom of Jesus is one where God wins the hearts and minds of people with his love. God’s love means God is the one who is killed. God is offered up as the sacrifice to destroy evil.

Actor Denzel Washington when addressing college graduates in May this year and after being asked for his advice replied with this:

“I’m going to keep it short,” “Number one: Put God first,” he said.  “Put God first in everything you do.” “Everything you think you see in me, everything I’ve accomplished, everything you think I have – and I have a few things,” said Washington. “Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.”

Back tracking a little: In leading up to those remarks, the star of such films as Malcolm X, Training Day, Glory, The Book of Eli, and The Equalizer, said, “When I was young and started really making it as an actor, I came and talked to my mother and said, ‘Mom, did you think this was going to happen? I’d be so big and I’ll be able to take care of everybody and I can do this and I can do that.’”

“She said, ‘Boy, stop it right there, stop it right there, stop it right there!” he continued.  “She said, ‘If you only knew how many people been praying for you.’ How many prayer groups she put together, how many prayer talks she gave, how many times she splashed me with holy water to save my sorry behind.” 

“She said, ‘Oh, you did it all by yourself,'” (well) “‘I’ll tell you what you can do by yourself: Go outside and get a mop and bucket and clean these windows – you can do that by yourself, superstar.’”

“So, I’m saying that: because I want to congratulate all the parents and friends and family and aunties and uncles and grandmother and grandfathers, all the people that helped you get to where you are today,” Washington told the graduates.  “I’m going to tell you about three stories. I’m going to keep it short. I remember my graduation speaker, got up there

and went on forever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

(But) “I’m going to keep it short,” he said, and then made his point about God and putting Him first in our lives.  “Number one: Put God first. Put God first in everything you do. Everything you think you see in me.  Everything I’ve accomplished, everything thing you think I have – and I have a few things. Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.”

Jesus said ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

And yet, Jesus invites not orders.  He encourages not demands.  He is the one who gives us worth, and so yes: become what you want. But be who you are and put Christ first just as He has put you first always remembering and relying of His love for you that allowed Him to say: to promise: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Amen

Live – Evil

Mark 12: 1-8

StMarksThe book of Isaiah tells us: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Yesterday, seemingly almost like Déjà vu these days, I awoke to the news of another hostage situation-this time in Paris.

The saying is “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.” That may be the case for the French Resistance in World War 11 and even the Roman hating Barabbas who at the crowd’s insistence was released by Pilot in the place of Jesus.

Purposely targeting unsuspecting civilians going about their business is not collateral damage. It is out and out evil.

Barabbas instead of Jesus, evil instead of live-the same letters but spelt back to front.

Surveying our times we see natural disasters, war, famine, persecution, moral and social decline seemingly unchecked, gaining speed and it would seem all heading in the one direction. Clearly we are at living in the end times that Jesus has spoken of in today’s Gospel.

Just as the apostles were in their times. The beginning of the end started at the end of the beginning-the time that the promised messiah, Jesus Christ the Son of God came to earth and defeated sin and death on the cross.

Life is fleeting and as our time here passes here we do know we have another life to come and so we live now with our eyes on both. An eye to the consummation of the promise, that our last day will become our first in God’s Kingdom where there will be no death, trials, tribulations or separation from those we miss.

And an eye to God’s kingdom now, living in it and participating in its growth. To live amongst our world’s fears and distractions and amongst its joy and beauty. To live knowing the truth of how we stand before God. That whether we meet God the Father through his Son coming from the clouds, or meet God the Father in death, meet him here today in worship or meet him in the person we meet up the road, that in Christ we stand before him with our names written in the book of life. To live as Martin Luther responded “I live everyday like it’s my last, yet still planting a tree”.

Things happen in our lives that hurt. Our own stuff and seeing others with theirs. There is much joy in our world but just as much of the other. But with that one eye to the promise we have been given in Christ, our road here and now is full of promise and beauty.

The hard stuff will come along but we can face and endure it in Christ, knowing that it will pass.

I read of a man that was led to Christianity, to our Lord’s kingdom through his medical studies where he continually saw how Christians reacted to impending death. We may not be as close to the end as those who witnessed to him. But we all one way or another in our remaining time, be it one day or one hundred years are all in the same hospital bed as those that he saw. That we travel these days of confusion, danger and fear in hope and faith is a question or a thing to ponder for those still searching. Our faith is our witness.

In our times it takes great courage to be in the world but not of it. To live in the face of death in hope. To live and work with our colleagues and friends and treat Christian and non-Christian alike. To give ourselves, to love and support those who may ridicule us because of our faith and beliefs the same as we do for those that thank God for our faith.

“Keep fighting the good fight”.

And sometimes that’s exactly how it seems and though it sometimes feels like a fight that we don’t seem to be winning and may not be particularly good at is not the point. The point is Jesus Christ our Saviour.

“Keep fighting the good fight”. Jesus fought our battle on the cross and The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit have fought and worked tirelessly throughout our lives that we see and accept that truth. To rest in that truth.

In our lives we go out daily into the mission field to fight the good fight. Not against our fellow citizens but against the lies that have led them astray. To not stand in front or behind our earthly brothers and sisters, but stand alongside them in front of the cross, that they too may see, hear and understand the truth of our Savior.

We go out knowing who we are: Forgiven sinners in Christ with our names written in the book of life. Not maybe, but certainly.

And in that, we go out in the certainty that through those even as such as us, that God will be God and though turmoil stands at the door, we stand in the peace that is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has shown us the way home, is with us on our journey that come what may,  should it be flood or drought, bushfire or rain, we keep our eyes on Christ that we persevere and not be troubled by the times, but know that the time is now. To stand up and be counted and renounce evil that others may live. To stand up and point to the one that is life, and gives life-Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dependant on whom?

Mark 12:38-44. Dependant on whom? By Roger Atze
Here in this reading God gives us a very important teaching as we go forward in life. There is a very important lesson in the comparison between those rich church leaders and the poor widow that we need to remember as we live out our lives every day. The Christian life today, as it has been throughout the centuries, is strewn with well-respected, pious, good-living people, who are even active in their church, but whom here, Jesus warns us to watch out for: and whom will be punished most severely. Then he highlights the attitude of the poor widow, as that which we are to have as we go about life in our world and if we are to receive God’s blessing.

Now we are on a journey that will be a constant struggle for us if we take our Christian faith seriously.

We have a society around us, and a human nature, that seeks to focus on self and what we do, and there is an attitude of self-dependence and self-promotion that is seen by the world as vitally important. Yet, here in this reading, along with many others, God warns that this attitude leads to disaster.
Think of this poor widow, she had nothing; well a few cents in terms of today’s finances, and that was all. It is quite likely that she was one of those widows that Jesus mentions here who had her house taken away from her by the wealthy leaders. She had nothing. She was old; a widow, no money; and no welfare system, and by worldly standards, no hope. She had no way to get on in life, from a human perspective; and yet the implications here are that she is blessed: that she is the one who God favours. Because she does not seek to stand in God’s presence, on her goodness, but is entirely dependent on him. The question that arises for us then is,

Does God let her down?

Let us remember today’s Old Testament lesson, of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. God was true to his word there, and I am sure that he was also to the widow in the temple. Even if the very worst possible happened to her after she left that temple; we know that she was blest, because she trusted that her life was in God’s hands and that he would take her to heaven.

So we can see that it is not wealth and status that makes us right and acceptable to God. It is not a matter of how good or bad that we are. Nor how high up in the church we might be, or how good our feelings or even knowledge may be. It is clearly a matter of on whom we are focussed and dependant: On God, or on ourselves and what the world promises us. Are we going to trust in our money, good status, feelings, numbers and the like or are we prepared to look to God alone for our help and salvation.

Now how do we go about this? How can we see to it that we keep our focus on Jesus and not get side-tracked and led into disaster?

First and foremost, we need to remember that we are sinful and that anything short of perfection is just not good enough. We constantly need to hear God’s word of law so that we can see that we have fallen short, and need help from outside of ourselves. To do that we need to attend worship regularly, because the world out there will try to shift the focus; blame someone else; and try to say that it is not so bad; you are doing a good job and you are moving up the ladder. But God and his word tells us that we don’t measure up: we are just not good enough and never will be.

Knowing then, that we are sinful, we constantly need to be reminded:

Firstly, despite our sinfulness we have been baptised into God’s family and so he is happy to be with us.

Secondly, if we confess our sins’ God forgives us all our sins;

Thirdly, we need to be constantly reminded that Jesus Christ is our only assurance of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation; and in Holy Communion, we hear ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’. There we have the news that enables us to go forward with confidence to look to God; to depend on him; to listen to him; and to survive in a world full of temptation and evil.

Lastly we need to be reminded that the ‘The Lord blesses us and keep us, the Lord makes his face shine on us and is gracious to us. The Lord looks with favour on us and gives us peace’.

With all of that, then we can depend fully on our God. So let us go from here today watchful, but confident. Looking first and foremost to our God, and seeking to rely on him, throughout our lives.

In our giving and our living, we will be like the widow in our reading, knowing that we are fully dependant on our God for our life and our salvation. Through our life and our life together, may all glory then go to our great God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: To him alone be all praise and glory, now and always.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.