Archive for March, 2017

In order to bring glory to God

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Text: John 11:1-6

A man named Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, became sick. Bethany was the town where Mary and her sister Martha lived.  (This Mary was the one who poured the perfume on the Lord’s feet and wiped them with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.)  The sisters sent Jesus a message: “Lord, your dear friend is sick.” When Jesus heard it, he said, “The final result of this sickness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the Son of God will receive glory.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he received the news that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days.

Ten year old Tim and a group of his friends were constantly harassed by other kids at their school. They were bullied, stood over for money, and because they were the smallest boys in the class they were powerless to do anything about it. One day after another incident, they talked about how they could put a stop to all this. Some of the boys were all for ganging up on the bullies, ambushing them, even getting some of the bigger kids to join them. Tim wasn’t convinced that an all-out war on the bullies was the best way to go. Someone was going to get hurt – most likely they would come off second best. They sat in silence for a while. Tim quietly said, “Instead of using the same tactics as the bullies, why don’t we do just the opposite. Let’s get everyone to be kind to one another – not just us but everyone in the whole school”. His friends thought he was crazy.

To cut a long story short the group decided to give it a go. The idea caught on and soon the whole school was making an extra special effort to show kindness and do good things for one another. Teachers were impressed at how well everyone was getting on. Those who had been harassing the younger kids didn’t know how to handle all this kindness and gave up. Tim was hailed a hero by parents, staff and students. As he was riding home alone one afternoon, a kid from another school jumped out in front of him brandishing a metal bar. He wanted Tim’s bike. Tim died on the footpath from a fatal blow to his head.

The change that happened at Tim’s school was amazing. This only made the event that ended Tim’s life even more heart wrenching. A young person who had his life in front of him, someone whose plan changed a community and yet his life was tragically cut short. That just doesn’t seem fair. In fact, it’s not fair at all.

Where was God when this happened?
Why did he let this to happen?
Who knows what great things Tim might have accomplished in the future with his innovative way of tackling hostile situations? He might have become a world leader and used his ideas to stop conflict between warring nations. But now we will never know. We want to understand but we can’t help but ask “Why?”

The Gospel today also has this theme. When we hear the news that a close friend is seriously ill it’s normal to rush and be with the family. Not Jesus! Jesus knew that Lazarus had died. As we know by the time Jesus got there Lazarus has already been dead for 4 days. Jews believed that the spirit only left the body after 3 days. That meant that Lazarus was as dead as dead can be. Jesus had even missed the funeral. Lazarus was already in a tomb.

All of this must have seemed so unfair.  Jesus healed many other people.  Why couldn’t he come to see Lazarus?  Restore him to health?  Where is Jesus?  Why is he taking so long to get here?

Jesus explains, “This has happened in order to bring glory to God”. This is a troubling saying from the mouth of Jesus. It might easily be interpreted as meaning that God has deliberately made life hard for Mary & Martha & Lazarus so that he can get all the glory.

Let’s clarify what Jesus means. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying here is in the words ‘so that’ and ‘in order that’. Jesus is saying this happened and this will be the outcome.
Lazarus dies – God doesn’t take his life, but the outcome will be that God’s glory will be shown. And that’s precisely what happens when Jesus raises dead Lazarus. We are told immediately following the raising of Lazarus that “many people believed in him”, and then a few verses later it is reported that “from that day on the Jewish authorities made plans to kill Jesus”. This miracle at the grave of Lazarus brought the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday even closer.

When Jesus spoke of his own suffering and death he referred to the horrors of what was about to happen as his time of great glory. Out on Calvary’s Hill there was nothing glorious about the humiliation and suffering involved in a crucifixion. There was nothing glorious about hanging naked from a cross while bystanders jeered as his life slowly drained from the body. These are shameful events but forever people will give glory to God for all that he suffered.

Have you ever thought of the hard times in your life in this way? They happen so that God may be glorified.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that God deliberately chooses you. Bad things do happen.

It’s not that God doesn’t care or isn’t concerned about us. In fact, in the story about the raising of Lazarus we see just how much Jesus cares. It is reported that Jesus’ wept as he stood at the grave of Lazarus.
He felt the pain of Mary and Martha.
He felt the anguish that death brings.
He felt the pain for those who refused to believe.
Today he weeps for those caught up in war and famine.
He weeps for children lying in hospital with serious medical problems.
He weeps for those who feel unwanted, unloved and useless.
He weeps with each of us and feels the pain and anguish that we feel. But in all of this he also sees these as opportunities to bring about something good. God can use the bad to bring about something good in our lives and in the lives of others.
When trouble comes our way miracles do happen.
What we had thought were irreconcilable differences with another person are suddenly resolved.                                                                    There are times when the healing that takes place in our bodies leaves doctors dumbfounded . The grief that Mary and Martha felt was very real but so was their joy as they saw Lazarus walk out of the tomb.

It’s easy to give God the glory when he heals us in a miraculous way. It’s easier to convince people of God’s healing power when your experience is evidence of this. We like happy endings.

But every story doesn’t end with a miracle. You pray, you ask for a miracle, you commit things to God but it seems like he’s not listening.

The fact is that God is good, not because everything in life is smooth sailing. He’s good because he comes with us into the valleys of despair, he climbs the difficult and slippery slopes with us, he feels the highs and lows that we feel, and when we feel as if we can’t go any further he carries us. Hurt and pain will always be close by during our life on this earth but we can be certain that he doesn’t leave us to endure these alone. He promises that you won’t be tested beyond what you can endure and he will bring you through it.

We live in a world of sin. Bad things happen. We do not know why. Be assured that God has a plan. Look at the cross and see again God’s unshakeable love for you. Be assured that when you are the weakest, God’s power in your life is the strongest. Amen

Father, we give You thanks for Your goodness and you assurance that you are with us. We praise You for the Scriptures.

We pray that the Spirit will help us be strong and that your glory be seen when the Spirit helps us through the hard times ahead.

O God, open our eyes that we might marvel.

 Open our eyes and our hearts that we might fully know what has been done for us.

Open our eyes and our hearts that we might see Your Son…incarnate, crucified, risen.

Father, all this in Christ’s holy name we pray.

Amen

Written by Pastor Vince Gerhardy edited for Dubbo Lutheran Church

Living in the Light

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

What words do you associate with darkness?Fear? Night? Terror? Danger? Blindness? Directionless? Hopeless?

What words would you associate with light?

Day? Truth? Hope? Safety? Sight? Comfort?

So, if you had a choice between living in the light or living in the darkness, which one would you choose?

Yet, what if I told you many choose the darkness over light because they’re afraid of the light?

It works this way…let’s say one of your children stole something – either from a friend, from you, or from a shop. They don’t want you to know, so they hide their stolen treasure. They want you left in the dark about their crime. Strangely, the only way to enjoy this forbidden treasure is to keep it hidden, and so they don’t really enjoy it anyway.

Or, a husband looks at pornography over the internet. While his wife may enjoy some of the extra attention he gives her through guilt or wanting to live out his sexual fantasies, for the sake of his marriage, he keeps his addiction a secret. The light of truth would destroy the trust in their marriage, so he keeps her, and his secret, in the dark.

Or, a friend has done something wrong. You don’t approve of their action and want to tell them, but you still value your friendship and you’re afraid if you approach them about it, you’ll lose your friendship. So you turn a blind eye to what they’ve done, hoping by not mentioning it you’re keeping it in the dark and it’ll go away all by itself.

Sometimes we use darkness to hide ourselves or the things we do. Sometimes we try to keep ourselves in the dark by refusing to face the truth. Sometimes we use darkness to protect our friends and loved ones from being hurt. So, for some strange reason, even though the light seems so much more appealing, too often the darkness becomes our friend, our comfort, our security, or even our saviour.

But darkness is the playground of the devil. He hates the light, so he uses the darkness to his advantage. He uses the darkness of unexposed sin, guilt and anger to gain a foothold in our lives. He also uses the darkness of our own insecurities and fears. He doesn’t so much bring his own darkness, but delights in using our own darkness against us. It’s like he stands in a pile of our own dark filth and flings it back in our face.

“Don’t say anything about what you’ve done – they won’t like you anymore. If you tell anyone about that, you’ll be sorry! You think you’re a Christian? Just look at what you say and do – if you were a real Christian, you wouldn’t do that! And what about those things you do when you think no-one’s looking? Yeah, and don’t forget your thoughts. You can act like a good person most of the time, but your thoughts betray your true sinful and detestable nature. You don’t want to repent or change your life, after all, just think of all the pleasures you’ll miss out on. Just keep everything hidden and no-one will get hurt…much.”

Or he uses our fears and insecurities: “You’re not attractive enough. You’re not very clever. You’re fat. You’re lazy. You’re weak. You’re not a nice person. You’re old. You’re insignificant. Nobody loves you. Nobody wants you. Nobody cares about you.” And so on.

Yet, if we bring the things of darkness, such as our sin, guilt, shame, and fears into the light, the devil can no longer use them against us. The power of forgiveness is always stronger than the deceptions of the devil, the world, and our sinful self. The light is always more powerful than the darkness. You know when you turn a light on, the darkness goes away. You can’t turn the darkness on hoping the light will go away!

As sin and guilt is exposed to the light of confession and absolution, it’s gone and dealt with. As your fears and shame is replaced by the undeserving love of Jesus, you live in peace. The darkness no longer clings to you. The devil can’t use what you’re not already carrying around on your heart. His weapons are your own doubts and fears, not his own. The more sin you expose to the light of the gospel, the less the devil has to use. This is why he doesn’t want you to live in the light. He wants you to live in the darkness so the darkness of sin and guilt and shame and fear will keep you trapped and crippled.

St Paul reminds you that you were once darkness, that is, you were once bearers of darkness, victims of darkness, and even instruments of darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Why should you choose to carry around the darkness of sin, guilt and fear, when you’re to now live in the light of Christ? Thinking of our definitions of darkness and light, you chose light as your preference. Living in the light and living in the darkness are incompatible. How can you live in the light of God’s grace, mercy and love, and yet still want to cover things up?

In our own Christian walk with Jesus, we can’t live in the light and darkness at the same time. Once we’ve tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord, once we’ve received the grace of God, once we’ve had our joy and peace restored through forgiveness, once our burdens of guilt and shame have been taken off our backs and washed away by the blood of Jesus, why would we want to keep anything hidden any longer? Why would we find greater comfort by living in darkness, when we know the peace and joy and hope we receive by exposing our sin and guilt to the light of God? Why would we want to continue carrying a burden when we know Jesus wants to take it from us?

You may have heard the general forgiveness of sins every Sunday of your life, but still struggle with specific things you’ve done in the past, things you’re not proud of. Private confession to a pastor may be what you need. Hearing those personal words of forgiveness for sins that have bothered you for a long time can bring peace and lightness to your heart again.

As mentioned before, the purpose of the Church is to forgive sins. Therefore, we’re to live in the light of Christ by exposing and forgiving sins.

We’re to expose our own sins and receive forgiveness, but this may also mean gently exposing other people’s darkness. This isn’t easy; at least, the gentle part isn’t easy. While we’re usually pretty good at letting everyone else know they’ve done the wrong thing, we’re not so good in doing it gently so they will admit their sin. Then, if they were to admit their sin, we’re usually slow at pronouncing forgiveness.

If you were to point out someone else’s sin or guilt, it shouldn’t be in order to punish them or put them down. If you were to expose someone’s darkness, it should be because you want to bring them into the light. You expose their sin in order to forgive them. So, if you expose their sin in order to make them suffer, you’re only doing the work of the devil. But, if you expose sins in order to forgive them and restore them to peace and hope and joy and life, then you’re doing the work of God.

You can’t clean up your own act. You can’t get rid of your own shadows, or your own darkness. Therefore, rather than being afraid of revealing your darkness and exposing what you want to cover up, you should welcome God’s pure light so that your shadows are taken away.

You shouldn’t be scared to expose what you want to hide because Jesus knows it already. Jesus knows you’ve done wrong, but instead of staying away from you, he came close to you in order to take away all your darkness.

Jesus came to uncover what you want to cover up. He doesn’t do this in order to embarrass you or punish you. He comes with his light and truth to take away your darkness of sin and guilt and fear and shame. He comes to take away your sins and give you his peace, his forgiveness and his light. Don’t hide your darkness, but offer it to Jesus. He’ll take it away.

Then as your darkness is taken away, you go out into the world as a changed person. You’re no longer burdened by your darkness. You no longer need to cover things up. You no longer do the things that belong to this darkened world.

Now of course, this means your light will stand out. You’ll be noticed. You’ll live differently to those around you. But you’d rather live as a child of the light than die in a world of darkness, wouldn’t you?

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in the light of Christ Jesus. Amen.

He’s the real thing.

Friday, March 17th, 2017

Jesus Christ: he’s the real thing. John 4:5-42 The older I get, the more nostalgic I become. If I hear a song from the 70’s or the 80’s, I’m taking right back to the context in which I used to listen to that music. Recently I went to ACMI, (the Australian Centre for the Moving Image) in Federation Square. It was part of my resolution to do all the things I had never done in Melbourne. I absolutely loved it, and could have spent all day watching excerpts from the TV shows that I watched as a child. And with the shows went the ads. And there’s one company that I think does it better than most-Coca Cola. This company has been masterful in the way that it has marketing Coke. The formula incorporates young, vibrant people, indulging in exciting activities, complete with Coke in hand. There’s no doubt. The hype that surrounds Coca-Cola makes the drink out to be something that has the power to change lives. And the promise is that if you drink Coke then you’ll have a rich and wonderful experience of life with gorgeous, popular people right at the centre of the crowd. There’s a quasi-religious dimension to it.

It’s possible to substitute the word ‘God’ for ‘Coke’ in some of the slogans, and come up with an entirely legitimate statement. “Things go better with God.” “God adds life.” And my favourite one, which I used to have as a sticker inside my childhood Bible: “Jesus Christ; he’s the real thing.” Coke promises big things, but delivers little. It does quench thirst, but only to a point. And sadly, I’ve never found the consumption of CocaCola adding to the quality of my lifestyle, or acting as the elixir of youth. But Jesus is a different matter altogether. He truly is the real thing. The living water, in fact, as the woman at the well discovered to her amazement that hot afternoon. She was there for one thing only; to draw some refreshing water from the deep, cool well. And ostensibly, that’s why Jesus was there too. He had been walking all day in the heat, and simply needed a drink.

This story begins at the physical level. Both Jesus and the woman need water because of their biology. But Jesus takes this starting point and takes this woman down the path to a full revelation of his identity as the Messiah. In the process, he gently uncovers her ignorance and her needs. But first of all, we should be amazed that the conversation ever took place. Jesus was breaking convention on two points. There was great racial hatred between Jews and Samaritans. Most Jews travelling between Judea and Galilee would bypass Samaria completely, even though it was the most direct route. But Jesus, as always, took the road less travelled.

Secondly, speaking with a woman who was not an immediate relative just did not happen. It’s in response to the woman querying him about this that Jesus moves the conversation from the physical to the spiritual. “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” Living water. It sounds appealing. But to start with, Jesus has no bucket. Is Jesus claiming some source of water better than this well dug by Jacob himself? Jesus elaborates. “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I will give will never thirst ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” Now that sounds better. No more trips in the heat of the day to replenish the supply of water.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman are simply talking past one another. She’s stuck on the physical level. Jesus wants to lead her deeper. Jesus asks her to call her husband. And with that question, he breaks her life wide open. Her answer that she has no husband is greeted by Jesus with the remarkable revelation about her personal life. It’s a trail of emotional pain, and her current living arrangements transgress God’s law. It’s a life in need of God’s healing touch. That’s exactly why she’s here, in the middle of the day. Her shame keeps away from those who judge her for what she’s done. Better to avoid them altogether.

So this woman knows that Jesus is a prophet. Yet she’s not certain what Jesus wants to do with this information. Is he too going to shame her? Perhaps it’s best to shift this conversation away from the personal. Jesus, what do you say about the controversy between Jews and Samaritans about the proper place of worship.

But Jesus doesn’t want to play religious games. His concern is for this woman’s heart. In this encounter, he has been moving her through a process of spiritual discovery. The place of worship is immaterial. It’s what’s in the heart that matters. “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” With majestic simplicity, Jesus short circuits the discussion. He simply announces, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” “I am the one who offers you living water. I am the one who connects you to the realm of the spiritual, to the life of God. I am the one that can satisfy your thirst for something substantial, meaningful, foundational, in your life.”

We all thirst. We’re desperate for acceptance from others. We want to feel that our lives are meaningful. We look for many ways to satisfy this thirst. From the woman at the well’s history, we might conclude that she tried to find meaning and security in her relationships with men. People thirst for all sorts of things that they think might provide them with meaning; a healthy bank balance, house, possessions, career, a degree at the right university. Pick your security blanket. But deep down we also know that “moth and rust destroy, and… thieves break in and steal.” And what then?

The mythology of the CocaCola ads themselves point to our desperate thirst, which cannot be quenched by any physical or human source. Our ultimate problem is spiritual. We need something to believe in that will go the distance. Jesus says to us, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

Jesus says to us: “Unless you are trying to get your spiritual thirst quenched through me and not through these other things, unless you see that the solution must come inside rather than just pass by outside, that [whatever] else you worship will abandon you in the end.” The early church saw in this story a reference to the blessings poured out in baptism. This story was painted on the walls of the catacombs, a place symbolizing death, yet the place where new life in Jesus was proclaimed. So Jesus can say “The water I give…will become…a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” This is the same Jesus who on the cross cried out in agony, “I thirst,” and who suffered the loss of his relationship with his Father so that he could endure God’s judgement on a broken and disobedient creation. There was no relief for his thirst, only the agony of separation from the true source of life, his Father. Now, through his cross and resurrection, Jesus has come to us and filled us with the life of God through the Holy Spirit.

This is the Spirit of God, as Jesus explains it: “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” This is the well that will never run dry, from which we can draw hope no matter how hot it gets, no matter how shameful our past, or how broken our present, when life doesn’t play out for us like a happy, smiling Coca-cola ad. The woman at the well suddenly leaves Jesus. Her water jar is left standing there. The thing she came for is not important any more. She needs to tell others what she’s just experienced. “The spring of water gushing up to eternal life” is overflowing, and is now quenching the thirst of her friends and neighbours.

She is the first missionary in John’s gospel. So much so that the people of that place request Jesus to stay a few days. They too, want to drink from the living water. How and where is God calling you to share this same living water? Let God continually refresh you with living water, the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. Drink deeply of him, as you are doing today in worship, through his word and holy meal, and in your own prayer and Scripture reading time. Don’t go looking for other things to provide meaning and significance, from Coca-Cola upwards. You have all you need in Christ to live an abundant life, overflowing in praise to God. And see how that praise impacts those around you, all the thirsty people. Remember those Coke slogans. Placing God as the subject God makes much more sense. “Life goes better with God.” “God adds life.” And my favourite one. “Jesus Christ; he’s the real thing.” Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Pastor AndrewBrook

There are some very confusing things.

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Jesus answered (Nicodemus), “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.” 

Born from above.

There are some very confusing things in our world. For example, Why is it that people say they “slept like a baby” when a baby wakes up every three or four hours?

If olive oil is made from olives, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from?

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog’s face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride; he sticks his head out the window and enjoys the breeze?

Nicodemus was a man looking for answers. He was a good man. He was a Pharisee and Pharisees were very enthusiastic about being good. Nicodemus was a very religious man and spent a great deal of time trying to do the right thing.

Nicodemus was not only a good man but was also a confused man. He was confused about Jesus, who he was, how he could do miracles and why people like John the Baptist called him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

So one night Nicodemus went to visit Jesus.

Why did he go to see Jesus at night? Did he go at night because he couldn’t sleep? Was he afraid that his fellow Pharisees would not think highly of him for meeting with such a troublemaker as Jesus of Nazareth?

To be honest, we don’t know why he went at night?

Maybe there is some symbolism in the fact that he came in the dark. We could say that here is man who is caught up in the darkness and he comes to the one who is light in the darkness of this world. John the Baptist said this of Jesus just a couple of chapters before, “This was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on all people” (John 1:9) The darkness of night might be seen as a symbol of the darkness that was in the heart of Nicodemus.

Nicodemus is fascinated in Jesus and begins his conversation with Jesus in this way, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God” and we know that “no one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.” You might not think much of us Pharisees but we aren’t stupid. “We know…” There is a smugness here. He and his Pharisee colleagues know all there is to know about God and how to live a godly life.

They go to Bible study every day and worship every week.

They fast, they give more than a tenth of their income to the church, they spend hour after hour in prayer.

Before Nicodemus is able to say anything else, Jesus says, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”

No mention of being good or religious. No one gets into the Kingdom of God by being a “good person”! Nicodemus had devoted his life to being good, committed to being faithful to God, devout in his worship and prayer. The Pharisees had something like 10,633 rules they had to keep to live a truly godly life. No doubt Nicodemus was a good Pharisee and a good man but Jesus blows a hole in this idea of goodness. No amount of goodness is good enough to establish a relationship with God or to get us into the kingdom of heaven!

Let’s look at it this way. Eight year old Peter went to Dreamworld with his two older brothers and mum and dad. He wanted to be able to ride all the rides that his older brothers could ride. But there’s only one problem: he’s too short. He is about 5 cm too short, only a mere 5 cm. At the entrance to the rides there is a sign with a line drawn across at a certain height from the ground indicating that only those so high or above could get on the ride.

Now Peter was tall for an 8-year-old, but he was still 5 cm too short to ride those rides. And no matter how he strained and tried to “act taller” he just couldn’t measure up!

He tried begging the ride operator. But he would not let Peter get on to that ride.

The operator didn’t say, “Well, because you are taller than 95% of all the other 8 year olds in your class at school, you can ride”.

He didn’t say, “You are almost tall enough, I’ll let you on to the ride.” The plain and simple truth is that if you don’t measure up, you don’t get on to the ride.

No matter how hard we stretch and act “good”, our goodness is never good enough to get into the Kingdom of God. That’s quite a blow. Like Nicodemus we’re good people!

We think of ourselves as upright, moral, decent kind of people.

We worship on Sundays, we pray, we give generously to the offering, we support the church’s programs.

We aren’t unfaithful to our spouse.

We treat our kids well.

We pay our taxes.

We don’t lie… very often.

We don’t steal from our employers… much.

We try to be kind, gentle and caring people … most of the time.

We try not to hurt people … as best as we can.

And all of that may be true – up to a point. But no matter how much we strain and try to “act taller” we just can’t measure up!  When measured against God’s absolute perfect standard, not one of us measures up. We all fall short. And not just by a few centimetres, we fall short by miles and miles. And deep down we all know it. Paul gives this diagnosis of our human condition from God’s perspective: “There is no one who is righteous. … No one does what is right, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Like the operator of the rides, there can be no compromising of the rules. No one can get to heaven by being good because no one can ever be good enough! You are going to have to go about it another way! And there is another way!

Jesus says that it’s not a matter of being “good”, it’s a matter of “being born anew”, or perhaps better “being born from above” (both meanings are possible). Jesus said that means “being born of water and the Spirit.” Just as Nicodemus contributed nothing to his own birth into the world, likewise he contributes nothing to his birth into the Kingdom of God. Life is a pure gift in each case! But the new birth into the kingdom of God is a gift by God’s power.

In other words, Jesus is saying, “You can’t do it, Nicodemus, but God can! He can transform you from the inside out and make you good enough!”

It’s as though you are lying on a hospital bed in the final stages of a terminal disease and Jesus walks into the room.

You look at him and say, “Jesus, am I good enough to make it out of here?”

And Jesus says, “No, you’re not good enough! But I will do something for you. I will take out of your body the disease that is killing you, and I will put it into my own body. I will make the swap at no cost to you but at great cost to me. The result will be: I will die… you will live!”

What a gift! Jesus, God of the universe, says to us, “I will give you my goodness as a gift and take your badness into myself. I’ll take your sin and in its place I’ll give you my righteousness. I’ll die on the cross and you will live forever.” Out of love for us, God gave us his Son. He is God’s gift to each of us. Forgiveness and eternal life are ours through his Son’s death and resurrection.

When a person is baptised we hear what is about to happen through those drops of water, and the Spirit working through that water, “God washes us clean in the waters of baptism, and we are born again as his children. Through baptism our heavenly forgives us our sins and unites us with our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we share in his resurrection” (From the baptismal service of the LCA).

Or to use the words of Jesus, we have been “born again through the water and the Spirit”, “born from above” and made holy, fresh and clean.

Forgiveness for all sin, promised a place in heaven, made members of his church, given a fresh start.

He has promised to be our refuge and strength, our comforter and helper, our friend and saviour even when we are led astray into a far country fall into all kinds of evil and trouble, even when we feel as if life has taken us down a rough road, the covenant that God established with us at baptism assures us that Jesus’ love and forgiveness is certain and sure. We have been new and holy with another person’s holiness.

Born again – born from above – new life in Christ – a new relationship with God and the people in our lives.  We have been given a new life; making this new life a reality in our everyday interaction with other people is the challenge that is ahead of us. The New Testament often says, “You have been made new through Christ so then every day you must put off the old self and put on the new life in Christ”. This newness that you have received from God should impact on everything we do and say

the way we love and serve others,                                                                                                                                     the way we put God and his will first in our lives.

This is not just about being religious – this is about a new life that arises out of our relationship with God – this is about reconciliation, in fact, daily reconciliation with God as we repent of the wrong we have done and ask God to forgive us, and then strive to live as God’s holy people who with the help of the Holy Spirit, want to be the light of Christ in the lives of the people around them..

Nicodemus was confused and asked, “How can this be?” Simply, this is God at his most mysterious and amazing best. This is grace! This is God’s gift to you through Jesus. Celebrate it and live it!

May the love and peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Vince Gerhardy

“The serpent deceived me”

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11   5th MARCH 2017 DUBBO

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

Today God has adopted two new children, Annabelle and Harry. As parents James and Katrina, Rhys and Elisha you have the responsibility to teach your children, so that they grow up knowing that through Jesus they have eternal life. As parents there will be many, many times that they will bring you great joy, children are very good at saying the most wonderful things. Due to their innocence they can come up with real gems which will bring laughter into your home and memories that you will remember all your life.

 There is a story of a little girl who was sent to her room for misbehaving. Sometime later her mother happened to pass by her door and heard her praying. “God, I am stuck up here because of YOU. Last night I prayed for you to help me be a good girl. Well, you didn’t, so it’s your fault!”

 Sounds a bit like the conversation between God and Adam and Eve in the Garden. God asks what’s going on, Adam responds by admitting that he ate the forbidden fruit, but then he blames God (“It was the woman who gave it to me,  YOU PUT HER HERE …”)

 Is SHE responsible?  apparently not! For she says; “The SERPENT DECEIVED ME, and I ate.” Poor Eve – she was only a victim. She could not be held responsible for eating the fruit. Neither could Adam. “The Devil made me do it!”

 But scripture is very plain – “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” there is none righteous, no not one.” In fact, there has been only one totally innocent victim in human history…         that is Jesus. Yes, he had opportunity to sin. And if he had succumbed, he would have had wonderful excuses – no one could blame him.
The Gospel message from Matthew which I read today has three strong temptations presented. Satin speaks to Jesus. Jesus,  you are incredibly powerful; use that power to meet your own needs. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of anyone else.

 On top of that, if word gets around that you turn stones into bread, think how many folks would follow you. Everyone can use a little extra bread. Who could have blamed Jesus for doing something like that?

 The second temptation was equally enticing. Let folks know beyond the shadow of a doubt that YOU ARE THE MESSIAH, the Chosen One of God. What a spectacular stunt to leap from the Pinnacle of the Temple, drop the 450 feet straight down into the Kidron Valley, and land unharmed. God’s angels will protect you. People will SURELY listen to your message when they hear what you have done. Would anyone legitimately reproach Jesus for deciding to take that course?

 The third temptation was enormous – unchallenged political power to right all the wrongs…all the kingdoms of the world. How incredibly simple,

Jesus: you can ORDER folks to listen. You can ORDER justice and an end to all oppression. What a wonderful opportunity!
All it will take is a tiny compromise, an ever-so-slight division in your loyalties. You do not have to stop worshipping the God of heaven, just spread that worship around a bit. Jesus, this is the offer you cannot refuse.  Who could have blamed him for accepting?
Its interesting how Jesus avoided giving in. After each of the temptations was offered, he quoted scripture. Perhaps that should not be surprising. After all, spiritual maturity only comes when we have a deep relationship with the God of the universe whom we meet and learn from in the pages of the Bible.

Since the beginning of time our first instinct has been to blame others for our own failures. Instead of accepting responsibility, we claim we are victims of cruel and callous forces. It would serve us right if God simply turned away and allowed us to stew in our own sins. But that is not the God of love we meet in scripture.

 Do you remember what Adam and Eve did after their trip to the tree? In coming to the sudden realisation that they were naked, they made themselves fig-leaf loin cloths.

 Well, as the old movie says, “Stupid is as stupid does,” and this was a stupid move. Have you ever felt a fig leaf? It is NOT “the comfort of cotton.” In fact, IF IT comes in regular contact with sensitive skin, it is REAL  ITCHY.

  Back there in the Garden, God saw what was happening and, in a gesture of divine grace, said, “Here. Let me give you something that will work better… animal skins.” AARh-h-h. What a relief. We face temptation all the time. Temptation hangs in our environment like flu virus, always threatening to break down our resistance. We are tempted to break our diets, flirt with somebody at work, cheat on our taxes, gossip about a friend, lie our way out of trouble … you name it.

We are always being tempted to do what we know we shouldn’t do. We don’t need any instruction about temptation. Temptation we know about.
But, do we really? Do we really know what temptation is? Today’s lesson from the Gospel of Matthew is a story about the nature of human temptation — Jesus’ temptation and ours — and it throws a surprising light on what temptation really is. What does it mean, really, to be tempted?

 In ordinary terms, we think of temptation as the urge to do something we really would like to do but know we shouldn’t do — one more cigarette, one more fling, one more drink, one more juicy rumor. But the deepest temptation is not the urge to misbehave, to do what we know we shouldn’t do, but rather the enticement to compromise our baptismal identity, to be who we are not called to be.

 That’s the message in this story of Jesus’ temptation. The devil is not tempting Jesus to misbehave. He is not tempting Jesus to steal a wallet, or cheat on his taxes, or pick a fight with his neighbor. It’s deeper than that. The devil is tempting Jesus to ignore his baptism, to deny who he is, to forget that he is the child of his Father in heaven.

 It is significant that Jesus comes to the temptation immediately from his baptism, when the skies opened and a voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son, the one with whom I am well pleased.”

 That’s who he is. “You are my beloved Son. You are the heir to the identity and mission of my people. You are my prophet, my priest, my anointed, my suffering servant. You are the one I am sending down the long and painful road to Jerusalem.

 You are the one I am calling to drink the bitter cup of sacrifice. You are the one I am delivering into the hands of those who will kill you. You are the one I am sending to bear the cross for the salvation of all people.

You are the one to whom I am entrusting the promise of redemption. You are the one. You are my beloved Son, and I am well-pleased with you.”

 It is, then, when Jesus’ vocation and identity are most clear that he comes to the season of his tempting. It is precisely Jesus’ identity that the devil seeks to destroy. That, after all, is what temptation is all about.

 Notice how the tempter begins, “If you are the Son of God …” He could have attacked directly: “You are not the Son of God,” but he was too crafty for that. Much better to generate self-doubt — “If you are the Son of God” — since self-doubt is the cancer that eats away at identity.

 The devil picks away,  at Jesus’ son-ship, at his baptismal identity. The three temptations — to turn stones into bread, to throw himself down from the top of the temple and to worship the tempter — are not enticements to do bad things; they are, at root, invitations to be somebody else, to live some life other than that of the beloved son of God.

 Everything about the early chapters of Matthew — from the genealogy that opens the Gospel to the account of Jesus’ baptism — makes it plain that Jesus had been given a narrative to follow, a storied identity, the narrative of God’s salvation.

 The devil wants him to change the script, to trade God’s story for some other story. Notice that Jesus combats the devil’s attack not with theological innovation, skillful counter-arguments, but by citing the story, quoting each time scriptures from Deuteronomy that he was taught as a child.

 In other words, Jesus resists the devil’s tempting by quoting the Holy Scripture. He will not change the script; he will not live a narrative other than the one he has been given; he remembers his baptism, and he knows who he is. Because we belong to Jesus Christ, we, too, have been given a part in the story, a role to play in this holy drama of redemption.

 We have been called, called in our baptism to be God’s beloved children.

 In a world where THE STRONGER RULE, we have been named ambassadors of reconciliation. It is our baptismal identity to be those who sow love; where there is hatred,    hope where there is despair,                 faith where there is doubt.

 Because we are called, we are also tempted, tempted to change the script, tempted to live out a DIFFERENT LIFE, tempted to be someone other than who we are called to be. To yield to temptation is far more serious than to commit some transgression;

To yield to temptation is to say, “I am not a child of God, and I will not take my part in God’s drama of redemption.”

 Jesus was cast into the lead role in the drama of God’s redemption, and the devil tempted him to change the script, improvise on the character, deny who he was called to be. But Jesus knew who he was and he trusted his Father and he never wavered.

 Like Jesus, WE WHO are part of the church have been baptized, and the words have been said about us, “You are a son of God … you are a daughter of God.” We, too, have been given our parts to play in the drama of God’s redemption.

 “Seek first the kingdom of God, pray without ceasing,  repay no one evil for evil, feed my lambs,  bear one another’s burdens, be kind to one another, forgive one another  love your enemies,  be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

 Even now the tempter whispers in your ear, change the script, make up your own lines.

 Everything is at stake, and the one who has poured his life into preparing us is watching. Jesus loves us and will help us in serving HIM by serving others. Jesus is always near to help and guide us, LET US ALWAYS REMAIN IN HIS LOVE.                Amen.

 And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.     Amen.

 

The best pretenders!

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we don’t pretend or ‘show-off’ our faith for our own glory, but instead seek to do our acts of righteousness for your glory, for the sake of the treasure given to us through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We humans are so mixed up and so often get things the wrong way round!

Take for example, our fixation on awards.

One of the most popular and most watched award programs in the world would have to be the Oscars. You know, the Academy Awards for the best film, best actor, and so on. Just try to imagine how much money is spent to hold the event, how much is spent on the spectacular looking clothes all the artists wear, and how much is spent publicizing the event on TV and in magazines. The amount of money would have to be significant to say the least! The size of the audience watching the Oscars, either live, or delayed, or viewing summaries shown in news broadcasts, would be huge.

But, get this…the biggest award show on the earth gives away awards to…the best pretenders!

Have you ever realized this? The awards for best actors in most of these award shows go to those who are best at pretending to be someone else! Just think how many people become famous, or make incredible fortunes by pretending or making out they’re someone else.

Of course, not all people are paid to pretend, but they do seek something for their efforts. We have all, at some stage, put on a show for others in order to get what we want. For instance, have you ever seen children put on those ‘crocodile tears’ in order to get something, and then, once they got what they wanted, they quickly reverted back to ‘normal’? Or, have you seen children ‘show-off’ to get attention?

We adults are much more subtle of course. We’ve learned the art of pretending or ‘showing-off’ over the years and some of us are very good at manipulating people in order to get what we want, be that attention, praise, sympathy, or recognition.

We may even ‘pretend’ with our faith. Our ‘pretending’ or ‘showing-off’ gets even easier in church, because Jesus even tells us how we should act. For instance, in tonight’s reading, Jesus tells us to give to the poor, to pray, and to fast. We can pretend to do that. We can even try to impress each other by showing how generous we are with our giving, how many meetings of church committees we attend, how many times we pray, or what food and drink we are fasting from or how good we are at church cleaning duties and so on.

We might even show-off our faith or spirituality by showing people how long our prayers can be, how committed we are to the Lord by urging others to match our efforts, or how much we’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of Christ and his church. We even compare ourselves to others, criticising them when we don’t think they’re as good a Christian as we are, criticising them when they’re not good enough at ‘pretending’. For this reason Martin Luther insisted our righteousness is more dangerous than our sin because our ‘righteousness’ serves the most self-centred of all human desires – the desire for self-glorification.

You may not think you’re pretending. You may think you’re doing these things because of your genuine faith in Jesus. Yet, as Holden Caulfield, a character in the book ‘Catcher in the Rye’, written by J D Salinger, said: “If you do something good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. And then you’re not as good anymore.”

Also, unfortunately, sooner or later we stop pretending and people see us live differently at church compared to our public life during the week. They wonder which one is the “real” us and which is our fake life of pretending or showing off? They even call us names for our pretending, for the way we live a lie, or for the way we show off our faith by making people think we’re better than others. They call us hypocrites.

Jesus tells us how to act but he also tells us to do all these things in secret. How can we gain attention, praise, sympathy or recognition, when we have to do all these things in secret? How are we supposed to win awards if no one sees us? How are we to get the attention we’re craving if no one knows what we’re doing? How are we supposed to show-off or gain glory for ourselves if there’s no one about?

God’s not into pretending or lies: he sees right through our clever charades, our acting and pretending, and he sees the frightened sinful people behind the masks we put on to hide our true selves. He’s the one who sees everything we do, even when we do it in secret.

We don’t need to show off, or do a great song and dance act, or put on crocodile tears, or make huge shows of sacrificing time, talents, or money in order to be noticed by God. God sees us and knows us more intimately and more truthfully than we know ourselves. We don’t have to compete for his attention, because we already have it. Jesus wants to liberate us from the burden and never-ending task of trying to impress anyone- whether it be impressing ourselves, impressing others, or impressing God.

When we silly humans do things in order to impress God, he doesn’t see them. It’s as if our ‘showing off’ blinds him. But, when we do things in private, where no-one else can even see what we’re doing, God sees clearly.

If all our pretending and showing off is for a reward here on earth, then that’s all we’re going to get, and the rewards will remain on earth. The bank account of human admiration we build up for ourselves on earth can’t be transferred to heaven.

But instead, in this season of Lent, our Lord encourages each one of us to take up private acts of faith. For our secret or private faith practices of being charitable, praying and fasting, seen only by God, will be rewarded in heaven. The reward isn’t salvation or righteousness, because these have already been given to us as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. The reward referred to is recognition for our faithful service in heaven.

An example of this might be God boasting to the heavenly council of Job’s faithfulness, proudly pointing to him and how trustworthy he is. In this sense, the reward is a bit like a parent who is proud of their child and boasts to their friends and relatives. Even though we simply act how God expects us, the reward could simply be God saying to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

We don’t have to impress God. We already have his attention. Nothing we do could make him love us more or less, yet he does reward his faithful servants in heaven. The reward isn’t silver or gold or an Oscar, but it might simply be God’s approval and pride in you, his precious child.

We don’t need to show off our faith in order to be noticed and awarded by others, but we do need to practice our faith – in private. God sees what you do and his lasting reward is waiting for you.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.