God and the letter “r”


We all know what a pirate’s favourite letter of the alphabet is.  What is it? Rrrr?
And what were those three important subjects we had at school that set us up for the rest of our lives, all starting with the sound of ‘r’ – reading, writing and ’rithmetic?

Today we have two of Jesus’ parables in the Gospel reading – I’m going to focus mostly on the shepherd who goes searching for the one lost sheep. Just as you have heard many sermons on this parable, so also I have preached many times on these verses, but this time as I read these verses again (including the parables of the lost coin and the lost son) one sentence stood out because it’s repeated in each parable, “Rejoice with me, let’s celebrate, let’s have a party because what was lost has been found”.

“Rejoice” – the call is made to celebrate, to be happy.  It’s a celebration of the lost being found.  It’s a celebration of the success of the shepherd returning the lost to safety.  “Rejoice” starts with the letter “r” so in my own strange way I got to thinking and I came to realise that this is a parable about the letter “r” – words that start with “r”.  Apart from “rejoice”, you’re right if you say that there aren’t any words, in the parable that start with the letter “r” but they are implied. So let’s check it out.

A flock of 100 sheep would have been quite a large number of sheep for a shepherd of those times.  Mostly shepherds cared for 20-30 sheep and if one went missing that was a big deal.  So with a flock of a hundred it would be easy to reason, “Why bother with one stupid, sheep who didn’t have the brains to stick with the shepherd”.

The shepherd always led the flock to fresh green grass, quiet running water, protected them from danger with his rod and staff, gave them shelter at night and setup camp at the entrance so that no wild animal could get in.
With the new lambs soon to be born, that dopy sheep wouldn’t be missed.

But the shepherd’s reaction is so unexpected (and so we note the words that start with “r”).
There is no reckoning – “It’s not worth my time going after that one lost sheep.  I’ll bring her back today and tomorrow she’ll do the same thing.”
There is no ranting and rebuking – “Stupid bloomin’ sheep lost again.  She’s done it before and now she’s done it again!”
There is no ruthless rejection.  “I’ve got them all here safely except one useless ditsy sheep.  Well, she can stay lost!”

In fact, the rugged and tough shepherd who has to deal with difficult and unresponsive sheep all day reacts in a completely different way. And that leads me to my first word positive word starting with “r” that describes the shepherd.

He is responsive.  When he sees that one is missing, one is hurting or in pain, he doesn’t ignore those whom he loves, he is understanding, compassionate, sympathetic.  He knows what it’s like to be alone and scared and so he responds without hesitation.

Like the shepherd in the parable, the Lord our God is our shepherd and we lack nothing because he is (this our next “r” word) relational. He has a bond with us not only because he created us and he is our Father, but especially because he established a special covenant and promise with us through the blood of his Son, Jesus.  Not only that he has filled our lives with his own Spirit.

This relationship became ours personally through the water of baptism, and then every week through the sacrament of Holy Communion when that special relationship with our shepherd God is refreshed and renewed and reinforced ready for the challenges that we are facing. He knows when we are scared out of our wits, when we’re afraid of the future, when events in the present don’t make any sense, when we’re anxious and everything is getting us down.

There is nothing that can tear us away from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  We have a Shepherd who loves us dearly and when we are lost and floundering in a sea of trouble, he is there with his outstretched arm to hold us and embrace us and walk with us to safety, even through the dark valley of death.

Some more words starting with “r”.  It’s clear from parable that the shepherd is restless. He is not going to sit back and do nothing.  He is restless because he is concerned and anxious.  Like a parent waiting for a teenage child to come home from a night out.  He can’t settle until he can embrace his lost sheep again. That lost sheep is special and precious.  Every sheep in his flock are his sheep and he will not let one of them fall by the wayside.

So he sets out to rescue his sheep.
He is reckless in his rescue mission and by that I mean he is prepared to go to any length, nothing is too hard, to make sure his sheep is returned to safety.
He is ready to risk his own life to restore his sheep into the safety of his own arms and the rest of the flock. He even risks the other 99 sheep leaving them in the wilderness.
He is resolute and relentless – stubborn, unyielding, passionate, focussed – he has only one goal – save the sheep.
How relieved he felt when he was finally reunited with his lost and scared sheep. He put her on his shoulders and restored her to the safety of the rest of the flock.

This parable of the lost sheep is really the parable about our rescuing shepherd, Jesus.  Every word that has said started with “r” can be said about Jesus.  Let me run through them.
Jesus is responsive to our needs and understands us perfectly even when we don’t understand ourselves.
Jesus is relational.  He is our brother, our saviour, our friend, our God.  He loves us with a love that goes beyond our human understanding. When we feel the least worthy of his love and even unaware of his love, his love holds on to us as his dear brothers and sisters. He won’t give up on us.
Jesus risked everything, even giving up his own life to save the lost sheep of humanity. He endured the worst because of his love for each of us.
His love was ruthless to the point of facing the anger of his countrymen and even a cross.
Jesus is restless and sees the need for so many people to be rescued.

You see it’s all these “r” words, that led Jesus to tell the parable of the lost sheep in the first place.  A whole lot of Pharisees and teachers of the law loudly criticised Jesus and questioned why he associated with – and even ate with – the scum of society, the worthless people of the community – tax collectors and every notorious sinner in town.  These people weren’t worth wasting valuable time on.  If he truly was from God, he should be hanging out with people who were worthy of his attention, not these no hopers.

Jesus tells the parable to remind us that God throughout the Bible is the rescuer of the lost.  From the first chapters of the Bible, God is the rescuer of the lost Adam and Eve.
When the people of Israel lost their way and bowed down to a golden calf, the forefathers of those criticising Jesus, God didn’t give up on Israel, even though they rejected him and worshipped an idol.
Neither did he give up the people in Jesus’ time.  Even though they rejected Jesus, he was still resolutely determined to relentlessly complete his risky rescue plan of reconciliation and reunite his people with their Creator.

Jesus urges us to have this same godly restlessness and to be rescuers and reconcilers and responsive to the needs of the people of our community and world. Whether it’s speaking his word of comfort to a person feeling the weight of trouble and pain, or meeting the physical needs of people, as through Bayside Community Care, this is not a time for sitting back, but a time to be restlessdoing the work that Jesus has given us to do as his disciples.

To be shepherds will also mean being reckless, resolute, relentless and risk takers as we step out of our comfort zone to be the effective shepherds to the lost. When it comes to rescuing someone who is lost in the bush, or in the outback, there is urgency to the task. Delaying the rescue can have disastrous results.  Every person matters.  Everyone is loved by God and needs rescuing regardless of what we think of the person.

Even we, the people in this church, can so easily become lost, side-tracked like a ditsy sheep, lose our focus, consider less important things as more important, consider our needs as more important than anyone else’s.

There are times when our love is not reckless – we are too choosy with whom we are going to share our love.  We get hang ups about the colour of people, their background, their looks, their habits, the way they spend their money, the way they dress, whether they smoke or drink.

There are times when our love isn’t relentless – we give up loving people.  We write them off as hopeless cases.  We become hardened to their needs and just give up.

We need rescuing and restoring, so we come here to hear his Word and receive his Body and Blood and be reunited in love and forgiveness with our Saviour and with one another.

Needless to say this text also provides us with a challenge as members of the church who have experienced this grace of God, namely, to be equally gracious toward others.  We may falter, make excuses, find it hard going, let other things come between us and our commitment to Jesus and our service to others.  But the readings today tell us that no matter how far we stray, God still loves us and all heaven rejoices when we are found and brought back through repentance.

And so that bring me back to first “r” I mentioned – “rejoice”. All the “r” words that I have used today sum up the marvellous grace of God.  His love for us burns so brightly and strongly and it’s this love that influences and affects our lives as we seek out his lost sheep – the lost church member, the lost child or teenager, the lost homeless or hungry person – when one of these lost ones are safe in his love, heaven goes wild. Finding and restoring the lost gives God great joy.  He invites us to share that same joy and rejoice that the lost has been found.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

 Going with faith

Text: Hebrews 11:8-9a
It was faith that made Abraham obey when God called him to go out to a country which God had promised to give him. He left his own country without knowing where he was going.  By faith he lived as a foreigner in the country that God had promised him.

Who likes surprises?
There are good surprises and there are bad surprises.
A good surprise might be a bigger tax refund cheque than you expected;
an unexpected visit from someone special;
a surprise party to celebrate your birthday.

The following conversation between two young children was overheard in the playground:
“Close your eyes and open your mouth.  Guess what this is?” as the little girl popped something into the mouth of the little boy.
“Is it jelly bean?  Red I think,” came the answer after the first taste.
“Nooo.” was the reply from the little girl, “Try again”.
After the second taste, “Is it a chewy bear?”
“Nope.  I’ll give you a clue.  It isn’t something people eat.”

Yes, surprises can be unpleasant.  You’ve had them in your personal lives and no doubt you are thinking about recent unpleasant surprises in your congregation and school communities.  These are the kind of surprises that no one wants.  But they come anyway.

In today’s readings we have heard a lot about Abraham.  Now there’s a man who had to cope with surprises –  most of his surprises were very unsettling. They included having a child when he and Sarah were very old and then being told to sacrifice that child.  Today I want to focus on his first surprise.  Out of the blue God said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to a land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1).

Now Abraham was a very successful man.  He lived in a very rich, sophisticated and civilised part of the world.  He was very wealthy with a great amount of pasture land, sheep, cattle, camels, goats – you name it and many servants.  God was asking him to leave this beautiful land behind and go to a foreign country, live in tents, become a nomad, and head off on a journey that will take him only God knows how long and to a place a place that only God knows.

Abraham could have easily said, “No way, God. You want me to leave all this and go across the desert to some unknown foreign land for an indefinite time.  It’s clear you have some kind of grand plan but give me a hand here, God.  Can’t you give me some kind of reasonable explanation why you want to turn my life upside down?”

But we don’t hear of any kind of conversation like this between Abraham and God. We are simply told, “He left his own country without knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8).

Why was Abraham able to simply take off to an unknown place?
Why didn’t he stay in Haran where life was so good?
Simply put – faith – faith that led to Abraham to trust God and so confidently do as God had said.
We are told, “It was faith that made Abraham obey God”.
“By faith he lived as a foreigner” in that strange land, always on the move.
Today we heard God say to Abraham, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward.” Then we are told, “Abram put his trust in the Lord”.

When our life takes all kinds of unexpected twists and turns, it is this same kind of faith that enables us to view everything differently.  We can be in strange and uncertain circumstances but still be full of hope, confident and strong in the face of everything that’s happening. The apostle Paul expressed this kind of faith when he said that he can face all kinds of trouble through the strength that Christ gives him (Phil 4:13).

What do we mean by faith?

Faith is trusting in the promises of God.  Faith is trusting a promise made by God no matter how weird it might be (like a couple of geriatrics, as Abraham and Sarah were, becoming parents for the first time). Faith believes that a promise is a promise.
When God promised Abraham, “Do not be afraid, I will protect you” (Gen 15:1), he trusted God to keep his word.
When God promised that he would give Abraham and his descendants a new home, Abraham trusted him, even though he never saw this happen in his lifetime.
Faith trusts that Word from God that says, “I will not forget you.  I have written your name on the palm of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16)
Faith simply takes God at his word even when we can’t see around the next corner of our life’s journey and we don’t know where we are heading.
Faith believes the promise that we are his dear children and that he will always be watching over us as we travel the ups and downs of life’s journey.
Faith in our loving heavenly Father leads us to obedience even though we can’t see where God will lead us.  We are told, “It was faith that made Abraham obey when God called him to go out to a country which God had promised to give him.”

One day, Zac and his father were climbing on some rocks that lined the seashore.  Suddenly Zac’s father hears a voice from the top of a big rock, “Hey Dad! Catch me!”  Zac had jumped and then yelled and was sailing through the air straight at his father.  They both fell to the ground.

When Zac’s father realised what had happened he gasped, “Zac!  Can you give me one good reason why you did that?”

He responded with remarkable calmness and simplicity, “Sure, because you’re my Dad.”

Isn’t that a story about the faith of a Christian?  Whatever life might throw at us and whenever the sharp bends and unexpected corners catch us unprepared, we can throw ourselves into the loving arms of our heavenly Father with complete confidence knowing that he will always be there to catch us. Just as Zac trusted the love of his father, we too can trust the love of our God.

That’s all very good you might be saying, as I have, “But I’m no Abraham”.  Maybe these words sound familiar to you, “But God, this is all so unfair. I know you’re there and that you love me but at this moment this does nothing to take away the pain and the hurt and the grief. I’m sorry, God, but it seems you’ve left me in the lurch to deal with all this by myself.  I can’t help myself when I say, ‘You aren’t being very fair’.”

We aren’t told if Abraham had any struggle with God’s command to relocate but we do know of another man who lost everything and struggled to understand God.  That man was Job.  He came to the conclusion that it’s not God who is unfair.  Life is unfair!  It’s the world we live in that is unfair.
It is sin that causes trouble and crime in our community, on our roads and wars among nations.
It is the frailty of our bodies that brings sickness and pain and disease and the need for hospitals, surgery and medicines.
It is death that causes us anguish and grief and heart ache as we are faced with the loss of loved ones from this life.
It’s the economic events in this community that has caused the grief and heartache in this church and school.
It’s life that is unfair.

We may not understand the trouble that is happening in our lives and we may be overwhelmed with doubt that everything that is happening is so unfair and that God isn’t playing by the rules of what we think is fair, but the last word in all of this is the Bible’s call to see beyond all that is happening and see in faith the love of our God and his call to eternal life where all the unfairness of this life will come to an end.  “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see”, we read in Hebrews.  This is what Job meant when he said, “The Lord gave and now he has taken away.  May his name be praised!”  In other words, “I have been subject to some extremely unfair treatment in this life and even though I don’t understand why, in faith I can look beyond all that (right now and in the life to come) and see God’s loving face”.  Job trusted God regardless of his present circumstances.

This kind of confidence and praising of God in the face of all kinds of tragic circumstances is not unusual.  Some people may think it strange to be able to praise God in the face of trouble, but it does happen.  Even when the journey ahead is unclear and seems to be full of trouble, in faith you are able
to trust God as your loving heavenly Father; he made you and he knows you personally and intimately.  He knows what you are going through at any time.
Faith leads you to believe that God really loves you as shown in his Son, Jesus, and that this love is as strong for you as ever;
Faith enables you to be confident that even in the most confusing and troubling times and things don’t make any sense, you are held in the hand of God who loves you so deeply. 

The Bible never belittles human disappointment or the agony and trouble that we have in this life but it does add one key word – temporary.  What we feel now, we will not always feel.  Trusting God we are given the ability and strength to rise above the troubles and anxieties and leave all our worries in the hands of our Saviour.

In Jesus, we see the perfect example of what it means to have faith. He faithfully carried out his work in an unfair world, opening the path for each of us to have eternal life.  When we are weighed down with worry and our sinfulness and we feel like giving up and feel as though he has let go of us, in truth he has his arms firmly wrapped around us.  “I am your good shepherd.  I know you. I love you. I will not let you go. Together we will walk into the future”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

What a Waste!

Text: Matthew 13:1-9
Jesus said, “Once there was a man who went out to sow grain. As he scattered the seed in the field, some of it fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some of it fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. The seeds soon sprouted, because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it burned the young plants; and because the roots had not grown deep enough, the plants soon dried up. Some of the seed fell among thorn bushes, which grew up and choked the plants. But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants bore grain: some had one hundred grains, others sixty, and others thirty.” And Jesus concluded, “Listen, then, if you have ears!”

These days we are very waste conscious. We have recycling bins where we can place our old magazines and newspapers. We are encouraged to recycle our tins, bottles, and plastic containers. We have water restrictions to conserve this precious commodity. We are a society that has become extremely conscious about conserving and recycling as much as we can. For those with children parents seem to be always turning off lights to conserve energy and keep down the power bill.

When you look at the Bible you find that there is quite a bit of waste. At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel the birth of Jesus is recorded. We read how cruel King Herod massacred hundreds of innocent Jewish baby boys. What a waste of human life! Could this waste have been prevented maybe if less had been made of Jesus as the new born king and consequently King Herod would not have felt so threatened?

Or what about the woman who poured a jar of very expensive perfume on Jesus’ head? The disciples who saw this became angry and asked, “Why all this waste? This perfume could have been sold for a large amount and the money given to the poor” (Matt 26:8,9).
What about Jesus’ story about the woman who wasted so much time as she searched high and low for just a couple of coins or the one about the father who wasted money, clothes and an extravagant party on a rebellious son who had wasted all his money and came home a smelly beggar.
There is the story about the Samaritan who wasted time and money on a Jew lying in a ditch on the side of the road – someone he didn’t even know let alone someone he knew didn’t like him.

I wonder how many people actually saw and heard Jesus preaching and teaching and yet how many people believed in him and followed him. You might say that a lot of Jesus’ words and efforts were “wasted”. Much of what he said fell on deaf ears. Many of his miracles were greeted with unbelieving hearts. And in spite of all of his love, his words, and his deeds the vast majority called for his death, “crucify him, crucify him” they called. And what could be more “wasteful” than the death of a kind, caring, loving and, above all, innocent young man like Jesus. He gave up his life for the sake of his enemies! What a waste!

And then we come to this parable of Jesus today. A lot is made of the fact that there was a lot of waste –
some seed fell on the path where birds came a picked it up,
some fell on rocky ground where it grew but because of the shallow roots of the new plants, they soon withered and dried up in the heat of the sun,
some fell among weeds and thornbushes where the young plants were choked.
What a waste of good seed!

Jesus took his story right out of the everyday world of the farmer in Palestine two thousand years ago. That there was a harvest at all is a miracle considering that a large proportion of the seed the farmer sowed went to waste.  But in spite of the farmers wastefulness some of the seed fell on the good soil, and wonder of wonders, took root, grew, and produced a harvest 30, 60, 100 times over.

What if the farmer decided not to sow his seed because he knew that much of his seed would go to waste?
What if the farmer decided not to plant because he guessed that there might be a hailstorm that year, or a drought, or severe frost?
The farmer is a risk-taker. Every time he puts seed in the ground he is taking a gamble. (I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Legalise gambling – why should farmers have all the fun.”) But the farmer has reasonable expectations that nature is on his side. The sower works according to his hope for a harvest.
He doesn’t make the crops grow.
He isn’t responsible for photosynthesis.
He doesn’t cause the heads of grain to form on each plant.
But he sows with the expectation that there will be a harvest – in fact, he sows with the hope that there will be a bumper harvest this year.  He knows that no sowing means no harvest and so no food for his family.

The parable ends in joy, a celebration of a great harvest. There is waste, yes, there is wasted effort, wasted seed, and disappointment. The sowing has not been efficient but the story ends with astounding success and a remarkable harvest.

Jesus was very realistic. He knew that there would be a lot of waste when it comes to the gospel and the life of the Christian. Of thousands of words that are read and spoken in a church service how many are heard, taken in and applied to our relationship with Christ and our life in the church. We are distracted; our minds are cluttered with many concerns and cares. God speaks, we don’t hear what he says. What a waste!

Often waste gives us an excuse not to do anything.
Why put a lot of effort into writing a sermon when only a small proportion of it will actually be heard and taken to heart?
Why help those who come to the church looking for food and money – it all seems such a waste?
Why keep on trying to tell family members and friends about the love of Jesus – when it all seems such a waste of time and effort? The failure to bring results can give us a very good reason not to do anything.

It really would be quite depressing for a farmer to realise that so much of his hard work will come to nothing.
Some seed grows but withers and dies because it can’t sink roots down into the hard ground.
Some seed is eaten by birds, some choked by thorns and weeds. Jesus explains that some people hear God’s Word but their lives are filled with so much trouble, worry, anxiety over money, jobs, possessions and family that what God has to say to them is soon overwhelmed by all of this. If we read the parable up to this point and no further we could quite rightly that say that this is just too wasteful.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us at that point. In spite of the waste, he promises a harvest. Our work, his Word, the church’s witness are not in vain. There is waste, there is defeat, but there is also the promise of a great harvest.

All God asks of us is that we continue to speak God’s Word at the time and the place where it can take root in the hearts and lives of people. Following Christ, and sowing the seed of his Word, is like planting a garden. We place the seeds in the ground with the conviction that there is a power for growth within them that we ourselves can in no way provide. We may plant them too deep or not deep enough. Lack of rain may cause the ground to grow hard, rocks may prevent some seeds from taking root, weeds may choke others out, but one day a tiny green sprout pushes up through the dark earth, and our heart jumps for joy!

Christ calls each of us as his disciples to simply sow the seed, and to do it out of love and gladness for the grace we have received. He calls us as his disciples to speak the Word that tells of God’s love, to serve our neighbour in need, to labour with patience, to do our best to help those in need, to do whatever we can with the abilities we have been given. And when we have done our part, he promises that our labour will never be in vain. There will be results! Some seed will fall into good soil and produce fruit. We don’t have to worry about the size of the harvest, or how long it will take to grow, or even if we live to see it. We can leave the results to God.

A group of people worked hard to convince their congregation to begin a school as a witness to the community and to share the love of Christ in the every day happenings of a school. There was constant resistance from the members and when the matter was finally put to the vote, the proposed project was soundly defeated. After the meeting one person was heard to say with some bitterness, “It’s a waste of time trying to get this congregation to do anything, to get moving and take some risks.” She left the congregation for another church.

Three years later at a workshop for school committees much to her surprise she met a group of people from her former congregation. When she inquired why they were at this workshop they replied, “Our congregation has just decided to go ahead with the school project. We are members of the Establishment Committee.

There seemed to be so much wasted time, energy and enthusiasm when this project was first proposed. Sometimes it takes a while for seed to germinate and as we wait it’s not hard to become frustrated and despondent. We need to realise that we don’t have any control over precisely when the seed will grow.

We know of missionaries who worked hard sowing the seed of God’s Word and for a long time there wasn’t any harvest.  It took many years before they could see some results.

There is a great deal of waste, frustration and defeat in the Kingdom of God.
We become discouraged because we don’t see the results of God’s Word at work immediately in the lives of people.
We admit that there are times when God’s Word could have been a powerful influence in a person’s life but we failed to recognise what that Word could do, and so failed to act.
We admit we have focused on what we have to do get God’s Word to grow in the lives of others and not relied more on God and his love and left the results to God.
We, here at St Paul’s, are in the business of sowing seed. We sow a lot of seed through our congregation, our school and aged care village and also further afield in far away places. We throw out a lot of seed speaking God’s Word of love and care to one and all. We might easily say we are wasting a lot of seed; wasting a lot of time and money and seeing only a small return.

It’s easy to forget that by the persistent grace of God there is a harvest. We may not see it right now, but at some time down the track with further watering and care, there will be a harvest. We remind ourselves that there is no limit to the God’s commitment to us and the work his Spirit does in growing and nurturing our faith. We thank God that his Word declares to us the joyous news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ for our failure to be extravagant sowers of God’s Word, and for the multitude of excuses we come up with for not fulfilling our calling as disciples.

May the Holy Spirit make us more concerned about being faithful sowers, sharing God’s Word of love and forgiveness and being caring cultivators nurturing those who are still growing in their faith, always praying that both we and they may be there when the harvest is gathered in.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

More than good intentions

Back in the dim dark past during my secondary schooling the only team sport for boys was football – Aussie rules to be precise. I enjoyed watching football but couldn’t play myself. I did give it a go but replacing my glasses was getting too expensive. Reluctantly the headmaster allowed us to form a basketball team. One of the guys knew something about basketball but the rest of us didn’t have a clue. We went to the local basketball stadium to watch a game and get a bit of an idea how it was played. We didn’t have a coach at the beginning, however, one the boys had played before and became our coach (sort of).

We didn’t have proper goals to practice goal shooting, we knew barely anything about the rules and techniques of the game, but the team was all fired up, and with new uniforms were ready to whip all opposition.

Our first game was against one of the oldest and biggest schools in Adelaide, Pulteney Grammar. The score was easy to remember – Pulteney Grammar 66, Immanuel College 6. We had loads of enthusiasm and good intentions, but that wasn’t enough to score goals. When the sports results were read out after Monday morning chapel you could see the headmaster cringe when he heard the basketball scores.

Can this be said about the way we live our Christian lives?
We have loads of good intentions, excellent plans and even enthusiasm
but somehow never get around to carrying out those good intentions?

As we read our Bibles and hear God speaking to us at worship we learn what God’s love has done for us through Jesus.
We hear how Jesus has made us his new people through the forgiveness of our sin and how we have been adopted as his own dear children and made members of his family.
The Bible tells us that faith in Jesus is a very practical thing and should affect our everyday lives. Listen to Paul, “You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. … Forgive one another …. To all these qualities add love … Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. … Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:12-15).

Paul is describing a new lifestyle. He is telling us that Christ in our lives makes a big difference to everything we say and do, to the attitudes and values that we have. Christ in our lives gives us a whole new perspective on how we can serve others and work together with our fellow members in the church.

But still in spite of all of this, I know I have to confess, and I suppose I’m not alone in this, that too often there is a gap between what we know we ought to do, and what we actually do as followers of Jesus.

Perhaps most of us live our Christianity like poor old Grandma Schultz hanging out the washing. She goes to the laundry to fetch the pegs, notices a mouse, and runs inside to find a trap. She sees a grimy spot on the kitchen floor, rummages through the cupboard for a cleaning rag, and comes across an old letter from cousin Hilda who lives in the Barossa Valley. She reads it and finds a recipe for streusel kuchen. She goes to the kitchen and seeing the jam boiling over on the stove, opens the window and sees Grandpa in the garden. She remembers that she needs some tomatoes for lunch …… somehow the washing just never seems to get hung out! Grandma Schultz had good intentions but she was a busy person but never got around to doing anything properly. She was always sidetracked by something that seemed to be more urgent.

Likewise, when we hear the Scriptures and are encouraged to let our light shine and make a difference in the lives of the people around us we happily say “Amen” and resolve to let our faith really shine.
There are things we want to change in our lives – get rid of some old habits and attitudes.
We want to be more considerate, and helpful and co-operative, to be more open, to be less critical, to be more tolerant of others with different opinions, to be more patient.
We want to let our Christian faith show by being more understanding toward our husband or wife, being around more for our kids.
We really want to try our hardest to get on with that person who really gets under our skin.
We want to worship more regularly, pray more often, be more helpful, and contribute to the congregation more regularly.

Maybe after hearing a sermon or attending a Bible study we make ourselves a promise that from now on things are going to be different. But too often all of our good intentions remain just good intentions. Somehow it’s all much harder than we thought and it’s much easier to fall back into our old pattern of doing things.

The Apostle Paul struggled with this, “I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it” (Rom 7.18). Paul here says that he knows what he should do; he knows what God wants him to do; he knows that he has been brought close to God and made holy through Christ’s suffering and death but he keeps on doing what he knows he is not supposed to be doing. I think we can all relate to that.

In the gospel reading today we hear Jesus say to us, “Come to me”. What could be clearer that that – straight from the mouth of Jesus himself. When life is getting too much to handle and you feel the weight of trouble, sickness, and worry falling heavily on your shoulders, Jesus says, “Come to me”.

It’s like he wants to give us a good shake and bring us to our sense as he says “Come to me” because he knows that we are not able to keep our heads above water in our sea of trouble. He reminds us that we don’t have to carry all this alone. He is there to help us. “Trust me, rely on me, believe me when I say to you, ‘Come to me’”. But do we take this invitation seriously? Most times that invitation becomes real only after we have sunk into depression and made ourselves sick with worry.

God tells us through the scriptures to let love rule our lives. “Put on love” we are told, and yes, that’s a good idea we say. But no sooner have we stated our intention to do just this than some low flying temptation comes our way and we end up doing exactly the opposite.

We are a lot like Grandma Schultz, dithering here and there, with every good intention but never getting around to doing what we had originally intended. Sin is very real in our lives. We are tempted to make our religion something separate from our everyday world, and we leave our faith in Christ at home when we go to work, or we forget we are members of God’s family when we are out on the sport’s field or having a great time with mates and friends. We know what we ought to do and we might have every good intention, but the circumstances influence us to do otherwise.

Have I told you about the bloke nicknamed “gunner”? I was intrigued by his nickname and thought he must have got the name “gunner” because he had been in the military. Anyway, one day I asked one of his mates why this bloke had the nickname “gunner”. He laughed as he explained, “Don’t get me wrong now, Gunner’s a great bloke, but as long as I’ve known him he’s always gonna do this and gonna do that, but never gets around to it”.

The apostle Paul is admitting that he is a good candidate for the nickname “gonna”. In fact, we are all “gonnas”. We can know all about Jesus and what our faith means for our everyday life and one day we’re “gonna” get around to making a few changes in our lives.
One day we’re gonna get around to caring for the needy neighbour.
One day we’re gonna do something about spending more time with the family.
One day we’re gonna do more for the church, be more regular in our church attendance.
But the truth of the matter is that somehow we never get around to it. We have every good intention, but we never do anything about it. To put it bluntly, our faith is good in theory but putting it into practice is quite another thing. It seems we can never change!

Paul expresses his frustration when he says, “I don’t do the good I want to do; instead I do the evil that I don’t want to do. … What an unhappy man I am”. But he doesn’t remain locked in this feeling of helplessness. He thanks God for Jesus who is able to forgive even someone who knows what he ought to do, has every good intention, but doesn’t follow this through. Jesus is good news for everyone. He died because of our distractions. He died a bloody, brutal death to free us from the curse of our sin. He died for saying that one day we’re gonna get around to being a better follower of Jesus. We have a new hope. We don’t need to be afraid of every inadequacy, every doubt, every threat of failure. We are forgiven.

In Christ there is a new beginning. There is a change. In Christ we can break out of the old mould where we replace God’s will simply with good intentions that never amount to anything. With Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit our faith becomes more than something theoretical. It becomes an integral part of our lives. The living Christ becomes a powerful force in changing our attitudes towards other people and how we see our role in the life of the church. The living Christ fills every part of our lives and when burdens and troubles preoccupy our minds and lives, our theology tells us that we have a God who loves and cares for us. This is not just an interesting theological fact; it is the living truth for our lives.

Luther talks about faith in this way:
Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good…. Without any coercion a person is willing and desirous to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything for the love of God and to his glory….
Faith is not simply knowing about Jesus and saying that one day we’re gonna be more active in our Christianity. Our faith is very practical everyday thing.
You learn to be caring and concerned about people.
You serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion.
You are patient in times of trouble, praying at all times.
You do everything possible to live in peace with everyone.
You are willing to do whatever you can to support the mission of God’s church.
You gladly do these things and more because your faith in Jesus has become a busy active, living thing, giving an effective living witness to the world.

No doubt there will be times when all these become good intentions that are never fulfilled and we express our disappointment as Paul did. “I know what I ought to do, but I don’t do it”. We join Paul in expressing our thanks to God for the forgiveness we have through our Lord Jesus Christ. He forgives and renews us and sends us out from here today to live our faith as we go about our daily tasks.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

“The Lord provides”

Text: Genesis 22:1,2,7,8,14
God called to Abraham, “Abraham!” And Abraham answered, “Yes, here I am!”  “Take your son,” God said, “your only son, Isaac, whom you love so much, and go to the land of Moriah. There on a mountain that I will show you, offer him as a sacrifice to me.”  As they walked along together, Isaac spoke up, “Father!” He answered, “Yes, my son?”  Isaac asked, “I see that you have the coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide one.” And the two of them walked on together.
Abraham named the place “The Lord Provides.” And even people today say, “On the Lord’s mountain he provides.”

People have problems with God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his only son and the willingness of Abraham to carry it out.
Scholars have debated this story;
Bible study groups have puzzled over it;
some have dismissed it as a fictional story that foreshadows the heavenly Father’s sacrifice of his own Son;
some have placed the story in the too hard basket refusing to believe that God would ask anyone to do such a thing.
Others have marvelled at Abraham’s trust in God.

Our feelings complicate things. We are horrified as Abraham sets on his trek – Isaac beside him, wood on Isaac’s back, the pot of hot coals, and a knife in his belt, and Isaac’s innocent question about the whereabouts of the sacrifice.
We hold our breath as Abraham ties up his son, places him on the wood on the altar and raises a knife to kill Isaac – or would it be better to say Abraham is about to “murder a child”.
Then there is our sense of relief when, at the last moment, God intervenes and stops Abraham from completing what appears to be a senseless slaughter of his only son.

Questions rage in our minds.
What kind of God would ask a father to sacrifice his son?
What kind of father was Abraham who was happy to comply?
Should he really be held up as a model of faith for us all?
This can hardly be held up as an example of child protection. If Abraham tried this kind of stunt today he would quickly find himself labelled a monster and locked up for a very long time.

Let’s take a closer look at this story. Firstly we need to note how much Abraham loved his son Isaac! That boy was a true miracle baby. It was physically impossible for a couple nudging 100 years old to bear a child. Sarah even laughed when she was told she would become a mother. Two old gray haired people becoming parents – that sounded just too ridiculous, too impossible. But with God, nothing is impossible. Isaac was born – truly a gift of God’s grace.

God had told Abraham that this boy, resting in his arms, meant that God was keeping his promise that a great nation would come from his descendants and that through this child would come great blessings for all nations. We get some idea of how special Isaac was to Abraham when the writer of this Genesis story very carefully retells God’s words emphasising that Isaac was the delight of this old man. God called Isaac, “your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love.”

But then came the blow! One night God came to Abraham with an important request. “Take your son, your only son Isaac whom you love. Go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” I can’t begin to imagine what emotions must have surged through Abraham’s heart.

I don’t know how you would respond to a command like this, but I know I wouldn’t have reacted as Abraham did. My reaction would be more like, “Are you kidding, God! I’ve waited 100 years for this boy! There’s no way I’m going to do this!”

But that’s not how Abraham responded. Incredibly we are told he got up the next morning and saddled his donkey. He chopped the wood, got the pot of hot coals ready, took two servants and his son, and set out for the place where God had told him to go. Could we say at this point that he loved his son, but he loved his heavenly Father more?

After a three-day journey they arrived at Mount Moriah. Abraham told his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there and worship, and then we will come back to you.”

Did you catch what Abraham said? “The boy and I will go over there and worship, and then we will come back to you. He fully intended to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, but he had that remarkable faith that believed that somehow, and he didn’t know how this would happen, both of them would return. As Abraham and Isaac are walking, Isaac notices something is missing. They have the fire and the wood but where is the sacrifice. Notice what Abraham says. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

And that’s exactly what happened. God did provide. As he raised his knife to kill Isaac the angel of the Lord spoke to Abraham.
“Don’t hurt the boy or do anything to him. Now that I know that you have obedient reverence for God, because you have not kept back your only son from him.” Abraham sees a ram and offered it as a burnt offering instead of his son. He names the place
 “The Lord Provides.”

“The Lord provides.” This is a common theme in the Bible. Throughout the pages of Scripture, God is portrayed as the One who sees and cares for all of our needs.
We hear about how the very hairs on our head are numbered.
We hear of his concern and notices when one insignificant sparrow falls to the ground.
We hear about Daniel who is delivered from the mouths of lions.
Gideon and the remnant of his army are rescued from their enemies.
The Israelites are saved from the Egyptians when a path is made through the sea. And so we could go and on. The Bible is a book about how God loves and provides for his people.

From time to time we hear how someone has questioned God and why he hasn’t done something when things aren’t going the way they believe they ought and they face extreme difficulties and challenges. The pain, confusion, upset, depression, bewilderment lead many to ask, “Where are you God when I need you the most”. The absence of God and his seeming failure to provide for their needs has been a constant cry throughout the ages. Just take a look at the book of Psalms, and you will hear the same questions being asked.

Is God personally involved with our lives?
We know God is love but why don’t we see more evidence of this in our lives and in our world?
We’ve asked God for his help and apparently he hasn’t heard us. The same old problems just keep on plaguing us.
God is all knowing and must know what our needs are but why won’t he actually do something to meet our needs?

We may debate and argue till the cows come home about the God who gives Abraham a son and a promise about grandchildren and great grandchildren, and then asks that he kill his only son and burn him on a sacrificial altar.
We could go on for hours about how a loving God would never ask Abraham to give up Isaac – even as a test.
We can discuss the reason God had to test Abraham in such a cruel and heartless way.
But the fundamental fact remains – Abraham trusted God and believed that he would provide and he did. The Lord provided. I can hear Abraham say to Isaac when he saw the ram caught in the bush, “See that Isaac! I told you the Lord would provide a lamb for the burnt offering.”

God will provide. So often we act and speak as if we had to provide. We talk as if everything depended on us. We feel that we need to have everything under control, every angle covered. Be hardheaded. Take no risks. The Lord helps those who help themselves, and so forth. If we wait for i-s to be dotted and the t-s crossed before we did anything then we wouldn’t get around to doing too much at all.

When God told Noah to build a boat – not just any boat but one of massive proportions – do we hear of Noah wanting to know all the whys and wherefores before he started building? This was a huge undertaking no doubt costly in terms of the money required to buy materials, tradesmen to build such a boat, his reputation, not to mention that according to the weather forecast there was no rain in sight. We are simply told that Noah did as God had said.

Obedience and trust in God go hand in hand. You see, sometimes we just have to say, “I don’t really know how this is going to turn out, but I believe that God knows what he is doing and I trust his love for me.”
We can be scared stiff by the personal problems that we are facing, our financial struggles.
We can be worried about the decline in the number of people attending worship worldwide.
We don’t know why there is such a lack of commitment by so many people to God, his Church, and what God wants to do through his church for the people of this community.
We can be overwhelmed by the myriad of challenges the Lord places before us because we don’t have resources to do what God is asking.
Our heads can swim at all the possibilities that God has placed before this congregation that we wonder if we will ever be able to rise to the occasion and faithfully carry out God’s plans.

God will provide. Are we ready to say that, in full trust? God may not meet all of our requests right now. He may not give us the people we need to carry out certain plans right now. A certain kind of ministry may have to be left unfulfilled until God supplies us with the right people to be able to move forward. But God will provide. He will provide a way for his plans to be carried out. There is little point in God giving us so many opportunities to minister to others and leaving us high and dry to work it all out by ourselves.  By the way, this isn’t an invitation to laziness or doing nothing saying, “Let’s not do anything until the Lord provides.” Rather an invitation to trust and be open to the way God provides especially through us.

The God whom we serve is faithful and true. This Old Testament event reminds us of our heavenly Father who was prepared to sacrifice his only Son. God did not spare his own Son. Since God went to this extreme for us, doesn’t it follow that it is not beyond God’s will and power to do extreme things through us and for us?

The real test of love is in the sacrifice that love is willing to make. God’s love went to the limit. He might have argued “Why should I? They aren’t worth it.” He might have reasoned, “Why bother? They will reject it anyway.”

Like Abraham, he took his Son – his only Son whom he loved more dearly than Abraham could ever love Isaac – and put him on the wooden altar shaped into a cross. His love for us compelled him to give the best he had. Love made a Father sacrifice his Son. Don’t be surprised if love, especially love for God, will cause you to do extreme things, to make sacrifices that you would not have otherwise made.

What we need to see clearly is that God is working out his purpose in our lives. What is important is his plan for us. The good news is not that we have a wonderful plan for our lives and our church and God will help us to accomplish it; but that God has a wonderful plan for our lives and our church and yes he will provide a way for us to accomplish it. He knows what we need, where we need it, and when we need it. “The Lord provides.”

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy