Archive for March, 2018

Palm Sunday

Saturday, March 24th, 2018


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

Philippians 2:5-11

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your eyes, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

We are coming to the end of this Lenten season, this season of repentance and dedication to God, preparing for the great celebration of Christ’s glorious death and resurrection, our salvation.

Today, just a week before the Great Thanksgiving, it is Palm Sunday. When we remember the triumphant entry. Jesus riding into Jerusalem as its true King and Messiah. Now I’m not sure how many of you have seen Disney’s Aladdin, but Jesus’s procession was not something so grand. He came not on an elephant, not even on a strong, regal horse, but a colt, the foal of a donkey. He came to bring peace, not violence; He came humbly into Jerusalem.

He knew what was coming, He knew what these people would do, these who were rejoicing and proclaiming Him the prophesied Son of David, saviour of Israel. Hosanna, in the Highest! God save us! Later that week they would call for Barabbas to be saved instead and demand with the Pharisees Christ’s crucifixion. It appears they would’ve preferred a warrior king, rather than the servant king God gave them. Jesus did not become this warrior to overthrow the Romans for the Jews, instead He humbly accepted the work God had prepared for Him, even to His death on the cross.

It’s clear to everyone who hears the story, Jesus was a humble man. He even says He doesn’t want to die, then ‘not my will but yours be done’ (Luke 22:42). And last week we heard Jesus say, ‘Father glorify your name!’ (John 12:28). We see that He gives all glory to God the Father, not taking any for Himself. Jesus was humble, disciplined and obedient, even going into death by crucifixion willingly. Can you imagine doing that?

Can you imagine, giving up your desires and pursuing a far greater goal, which will bring you only suffering in this life? Can you imagine obeying so much that you do not run when faced with death? There are many places in this world, where people are faced regularly with death. Do they give up their home and leave? Do they reject their responsibility to their family to save themself? Do they renounce their faith and obedience to God to save their life here on this earth?

Paul here is calling the Philippians to repentance, to turn toward God alone, to have the same mindset as Christ, who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. God is calling you to this life of humility, to follow Jesus as our great example in this life. He lived in our world, He was tempted just as we are, yet did not sin. That is obedience, and humility to the end.

And this in particular to your interactions with each other, ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.’ (verse 5). Now from what I have seen humility may be one of the strengths of this congregation, to be able to listen well to each other, to include each other, to treat each other as more important than ourselves; to not be too proud to speak, and to not be scared of correcting for the benefit of the other. We can read and think on all Christ’s interactions with people, He sought to heal, to comfort, to correct and to train all for the benefit of those He met, and also for us. Christ’s humility is not timid or quiet, it is not fear or cowardice, but rather it serves those around Him. He obeyed God for your benefit. He humbled Himself by obeying His Father’s commands, His Word, and not obeying Jesus’ own desires. Again, He didn’t seek after fleeting pleasures, but rather sought after the lasting pleasure of everlasting life for all. He was humble because He did His Father’s will, not His own, though He was tempted.

We fail in living this humble life time and again, we fail to obey Our Heavenly Father’s will and instead follow our own evil desires. That is our sin, that is what kills us, what brings us death. However, Jesus lived a life without sin, He completely obeyed God the Father and always did what is right. He tells us through Paul that ‘Christ did not please Himself’ but pleased others for their good, to build them up (Romans 15:2-3). That it was for our sake that He became poor, that by His poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). That just as through one man’s sin condemnation was brought to all in Adam, through one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19).

Jesus lived the perfect life of humility and obedience, that every one of you is called to. He lived not for Himself, but for you and to bring salvation to all. Not only did He live, but also died as The unblemished lamb for you and as we are joined with His life, death and resurrection by the Holy Spirit through baptism and Holy Communion, all our wickedness is given to Jesus and His righteousness is graciously given to us. Jesus Christ, our humble and obedient King has saved us. Hosanna in the Highest!

The grace of God which passes all our human understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith. Amen.
Joseph Graham


True beauty

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

Text: Mark 11:1-11
Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you. As soon as you get there, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here (verses 1,2).

A well-known beauty product company asked the people in a large city to send pictures along with brief letters about the most beautiful women they knew. Within a few weeks thousands of letters were delivered to the company.

One letter in particular caught the attention of the company president. The letter was written by a young boy who was obviously from a broken home, living in a run-down neighbourhood. With spelling corrections, an excerpt from his letter read: “A beautiful woman lives down the street from me. I visit her every day. She makes me feel like the most important kid in the world. We play checkers and she listens to my problems. She understands me, and when I leave she yells out the door that she’s proud of me.”

The boy ended his letter saying, “This picture shows you that she is the most beautiful woman. I hope I have a wife as pretty as her.”

Intrigued by the letter, the company president took out of the envelope a picture of the woman the boy had described – a smiling, toothless woman, well-advanced in years, sitting in a wheelchair. Sparse gray hair was pulled back in a bun, and wrinkles that formed deep furrows on her face.

This wasn’t the kind of woman the president of the beauty product company was looking for. The boy could see in this aging woman a beauty that others couldn’t see. The boy could look passed what could be seen on the outside and see what this person was really like on the inside. It took the disciples a long time to see beyond the man Jesus and see his real beauty and what his life was all about.

I wonder if Jesus ever got frustrated with his disciples as a bunch of dunderheads because they just didn’t catch on to what was the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ life. They saw him healing the sick, curing lepers, raising the dead. They heard him talk about the Kingdom of God, God’s love, discipleship and that he would suffer, die and three days rise again. But they just didn’t get it. They saw and heard only what they wanted to see and hear, and couldn’t see who he really was.

They saw his miracles and heard him talk about God’s kingdom and were expecting him to enter Jerusalem and establish his rule and take the city back for God. In fact, just before the events of Palm Sunday James and John came to Jesus and asked him for the top jobs when Jesus established his rule. They wanted positions of honour, to be royal advisers to King Jesus, to exercise power and authority in this new kingdom. Jesus calls the disciples together and says, “If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people” (Mark 10:43-45).

It’s interesting to note that the first half of what the Gospel writer, Mark, has to say about Palm Sunday focuses on getting ready for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus sends off two disciples to find transportation for this significant event. Jesus tells them where to find a donkey, what they should do and what they should say if anyone objects to them borrowing the animal for a while.

I don’t know which of the disciples were given this task but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was James and John – the ones who had just asked Jesus for the most important positions when he becomes king. Looking for a donkey would be a kind of practical demonstration of what he had just said about greatness and servanthood. “If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest”.

Can you imagine them wandering the suburbs of Jerusalem looking for a stupid donkey they could rent – how mundane, non-spectacular, even trivial? Just when Jesus is about to go head to head with the principalities and powers, striding into the capital city, the moment when they are about to share in Jesus’ glory, they are sent to wheel and deal with some donkey trader in some horrible stable and then trudge the streets with a donkey in tow.

And you know how donkeys can be. How embarrassing and humiliating if the donkey refuses to co-operate and they are forced to push and pull to everyone’s amusement.

When the Gospel of John tells this story, John tells it differently. Jesus comes into town on foot. There is no mention of the advance work of the disciples. Rather we hear that when the crowds started hailing Jesus as king, waving palm branches, and shouting political slogans about a new ruler for Israel, Jesus grabbed a donkey that happened to be there as a kind of visual message that he is not the kind of king they are expecting. A king doesn’t bounce into town on the back of a donkey.

But in Mark’s Gospel, finding a donkey and arranging transportation is something delegated to the disciples. For the gospel writer this is an important part of the Palm Sunday story. Without their obedience and their servant-like attitude; without their going off and roaming the streets to make this last minute arrangement, there would have been no triumphal entry into Jerusalem as we have come to know it.

I wonder if Mark is trying to tell us something here. As I said earlier, Mark often paints a very unflattering picture of the disciples – a bunch of dunderheads always misunderstanding and confused about Jesus and who he really was. In the end, when the going gets tough, and it’s time to show what they are made of, they run away and hide. They are nowhere to be seen at the crucifixion. Even at the resurrection they are portrayed as full of fear and apprehension.

Mark’s readers would have known all this so why does Mark give so much detail about the lead up to the Palm Sunday procession.

  • Is Mark reminding us that Jesus had called a group of ordinary folk to follow him, to work with him and for him? Humanly speaking they might not have been the sharpest pencils in the box, they had a lot to learn, could it be that Mark is telling us that in spite of their ordinariness and slowness to grasp what was happening, he could see beyond all that and recognise the potential in them as future servants of God’s Kingdom?
  • Is Mark reminding us that even though they didn’t comprehend who Jesus really was or understand what was about to happen, they were still prepared to respond with obedience to Jesus’ command to find a donkey; that a person can be obedient even if they don’t understand every detail?
  • Is the gospel writer trying to tell us that somehow discipleship and servanthood are interwoven; that discipleship isn’t about popularity and power but about doing the seemingly trivial and mundane?
  • Is Jesus telling us through this event something about himself – that he could have grabbed honour and glory but instead chose the road of becoming a servant for all people and allowing himself to be tortured and killed and then rise again for the sake of others?
  • Is Mark trying to tell us that in spite of the failings of the disciples Jesus was still prepared to trust them, empower them and place great responsibility on them for the coming of God’s reign in the hearts and lives of all people?
  • Is the gospel writer telling us that sometimes discipleship involves preaching, teaching, witnessing, healing and casting out demons from troubled people but discipleship also involves the mundane and ordinary – taking a pie to someone who is having a rough trot, being the one who says, “I’m praying for you”, offering words of assurance and deeds of help to those who need it – even those people we don’t particularly like or aren’t close to?

We can say a firm ‘yes’ to each of these questions. The lead up to the Palm Sunday procession tells us a lot about what being a disciple is all about. Jesus is highlighting that discipleship and service go hand in hand.

Jesus is a true servant and is obedient to the Father. For Jesus, the way is low – there is humiliation. He gave up his glory – he came from the highest place and went to the lowest place. He came from heaven and in the course of his work endured what no person ought to endure all for the sake of what others have done wrong. “He came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people” (Mark 10:45).

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. The events of Palm Sunday make a nice story about Jesus being hailed as a king and palm branches being waved as the people shouted ‘Hosanna’. But Palm Sunday loses all of its meaning if it is disconnected from what happens on Good Friday and Easter morning.

If the gospel writers had stopped their record of Jesus’ life with Palm Sunday then we would have a completely different idea of who Jesus is and what he achieved. Palm Sunday is not only about giving glory and honour to Jesus as king; it is about a servant travelling down the road of humiliation and undeserved suffering, the road of torture, pain and dying.

Jesus on the cross is not a pretty sight – the wounds, the bleeding, the crown of thorns, the nails, the extreme agony. We turn our eyes away from the suffering and the shame because it is a terrible sight. We turn our eyes away because it is our sin that put him there.

And yet in spite of the horror, what greater gift could he give to all humanity?
What better example could he give to the disciples who would follow?
Serving others will often involve humility and service to even those whom we think deserve it the least – exactly what Jesus has done for us.

The little boy in my opening story could see the true beauty of the old woman. He didn’t see her missing teeth or her wrinkles; he only saw her love for him and everything that she so gladly did for him. As we travel with Jesus to the cross again this week and then rejoice together in his resurrection from dead, may we again see the true beauty of Jesus – his love, his obedience and commitment, his willingness to die even for sinners, his victory over sin, death and Satan.

So join the Palm Sunday procession – come and walk with Jesus this Holy Week, through the tears and suffering, to the light of resurrection morning!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Jesus knows what makes us tick

Saturday, March 17th, 2018
Text: Hebrews 5:7
In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death.

Getting inside of someone else’s mind is a really difficult thing.  What makes people think and act the way they do isn’t easy.  As you listen to the news have you ever thought to yourself or even said out loud, “What on earth was that person thinking?  “What was going through his head to make him do this?”

We hear of a gunman entering a school and randomly shoot a teacher and students.
We hear of someone brutally harming a child.
Each time we shake our heads because we can’t fathom what has happened in that person’s life or what is going on in their minds to bring them to that point.

A pastor was called in to support a young mother and her two children who were shocked and traumatised by the unexpected death of their husband and father.  After what seemed like a normal lunch with the family, he went out to the shed and ended his life.

The police, family, friends and neighbours all asked the same question, “Why did he do it?  What was going on in his head?  He had a lovely wife and great kids – what led him to take such an extreme action?”  Everyone was trying to get inside his mind but in the end everyone had to admit that they would never know.  As much as we would have liked to get an insight into what this father was really thinking it was now impossible.

We might ask – how much does Jesus understand what is happening in our lives?  Our fast-paced world is so different from the dusty roads Jesus walked in first-century Palestine.
Does he understand our needs and sufferings?
Can he empathise with our worries, especially those worries that upset us and stress us?
Does he really know what is going on inside of our minds and what is really distressing us?
To be specific since Jesus experienced none of these while here on earth –
does he know what it’s like to lie in a hospital bed;
does he know what it’s like being 70 or 80 and all that goes with an aging body;
does he know about the stress that’s involved as we go through the various stages of life – getting married, raising children, dealing with teenagers, changing jobs, planning for retirement and then choosing the right moment to go into an aged care facility?

Does Jesus know and even care about these things which, in the big picture of the universe, are quite trivial but to us they are what make up our lives?

We acknowledge that Jesus is God;
that he was there at the creation of the world and
that he now rules with all power and authority.  As Paul wrote, Christ rules above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next” (Eph 2:21-22).  Jesus is so totally different to us – his ways, his wisdom, his knowledge, his decision are way beyond our comprehension.  Theologians have called God The Totally Other.  If the glorified Jesus is The Totally Other how well can he appreciate the things that are happening in our lives right now?  Has he ever had a sick day?  Has he ever had to grapple with depression, terminal illness, or to live in a dysfunctional family?

We know that Jesus was the one perfect person to walk this earth but that leads us to ask, “Was his personality, his character, his ability to cope and endure, his patience, his understanding and compassion so perfect from the moment he was born that it made it impossible for him to understand what it’s like not to be perfect?”  Therein lies the question that is almost as old as Christianity itself – Was Jesus really human or was he God in human disguise – in other words, he didn’t really become one of us?

The answer we give is crucial.  Among the things Christians believe is that through the birth, life and death of Christ, God became a part of what it means to be human.  He didn’t stand aloof from our pain and trouble.  He came right into the middle of all that causes suffering, sadness, depression, sin, rebellion and death. That’s what Christmas is all about – God leaving heaven and enduring all that is involved in becoming a human on this planet including birth in a time when infants dying at birth or soon after was quite common.

Because of Jesus, God can identify with us. He actually cares for us as one who personally knows us from the inside out and the outside in.  He knows what is really happening inside of us and the causes of the trauma and drama in our lives better than we know ourselves.  He knows all this because he has lived here amongst it all and experienced it all himself.

We say that through Jesus God knows what it is like to be hungry or to have plenty, to toil and sweat.
God knows the frustration of learning discipline and skills which do not come naturally.
God comprehends what it is like to sleep peacefully or toss sleeplessly, to relax and enjoy a joke.
Jesus may not have been an old man and experienced the aches and pains that old age bring but he certainly knew pain when every muscle, sinew, tendon and gaping wound made him cry out in agony.

Through Jesus God personally knows the sneakiness of some temptations and the full-on audacity of others.  From Christ God appreciates what it’s like to be warmed by a smile or snubbed by indifference.

God understands what it’s like to enjoy a new friendship and treasure an old one, to feel affirmed and to feel betrayed, to suffer for the truth, to be misunderstood, to make enemies, to suffer emotional and physical agony, and to feel forsaken. Yes, forsaken; forsaken by everyone. At the cross Jesus knows what it’s like to feel forsaken, even by God.

Some people say that if Jesus is not divine, then Christianity is a hoax. That is a part of the truth.  I would say that if Jesus were not fully divine and fully human then Christianity is a hoax.

When the writer of Hebrews says, “In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God” he is reflecting on Jesus agony in the Garden of Gethsemane where he felt fear, dread, terror, and anxiety just as any of us would in the same circumstances.  He prayed and begged God to save him but still he had to suffer.  The letter to the Hebrews presents Jesus as the truly obedient son.  Obedience led to suffering and even though he feared death as much as anyone else, he trusted God perfectly.  Through his obedience he gained forgiveness for all those who buckle under the weight of suffering and depression; for all those who doubt God’s love for them when life becomes more than can be endured.

It’s natural for us to shy away from suffering. Not surprisingly, we dislike hard discipline and pain. We would like a trouble free, painless existence. Yet we need to face the unpalatable truth that we often learn more through suffering than we often do through comfortable times.

The very successful movie and TV star Michael J Fox was interviewed on TV was time ago.  At the age of 29 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and was on a quest to find a cure.
The interviewer asked Fox after a clip from his time travel movie, “If you could go back in time, really, you wouldn’t change the fact that you’ve got Parkinson’s, would you?”
Fox replied, “No, I wouldn’t.  I absolutely wouldn’t. This path that I’m on …. it’s like I gave up my job to do my life’s work”.

That’s an amazing statement when you think about it.  There is an element of sacrifice about it and there is also the idea that suffering, used creatively, can enhance the beauty of a human life.  You may know of times in your life when some kind of trial or suffering has led you to grow in your understanding of God or developed your own perseverance, or strengthened your faith and trust, or increased your awareness of the suffering of others.  The path that Jesus was on included obedience and suffering and his life’s work brought about a cure for another sickness – the sickness of sin.

Even though Jesus never sinned he knows the shame and guilt that sin brings into our lives.  He was nailed to a cross but it was more than nails that held him there.  If it was just the nails then he could have used his almighty power and come down and healed himself and cursed his enemies.  Nails went through his flesh but it was our sin and shame and guilt that pinned him to the cross.  As he hung there he felt our shame and died for our sin.  He must have been overwhelmed with sadness at how much evil humanity had done and it was all now bearing down on him.  As the Scripture says, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities”.

When we look in the scriptures we see Jesus in two different ways.  In every way Jesus is one of us. He is as human as you and I.  He is born and dies.  He knows in a very real way what it means to suffer pain, and have needs, to feel vulnerable and helpless.  The man Jesus died the undignified death on a cross as a sinner giving his life to save all people.

The scriptures also show us that Jesus is God.  He created the world and us and as our Creator knows his creation.  He knows us more intimately than we can ever imagine.  He knew us before we were born – even before we were aware of ourselves.  He rose from dead and rules in heaven; he is our eternal high priest in heaven who presents our needs and prayers for us at the Father’s throne in a compassionate and understanding way (Hebrews 4:14-16).

At the beginning I talked about getting into the mind of someone else and understanding where that person is coming from and what makes him/her act in certain ways.  What makes us tick might be a bit of mystery to other people but it is no mystery to Jesus.  Approach God boldly and confidently, knowing with every human need that you suffer, Jesus is the High Priest who hears, knows and understands how you feel.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Look up and live

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

John 3:14-21


Psalm 121 begins, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”  How often in life do you find yourself in the depths of despair or frustration only to feel a call within yourself to lift up your eyes and search for help?  Our emphasis today is on lifting up and looking up, what does it mean for us, how does it take place and what are the benefits.

Moses and the Israelites were taking the long way round to get to the Promised Land, they were bickering and moaning to Moses and against God for taking them away from a life that even though it was unpleasant and hard work, provided them with food and water and a place to rest.  They felt that they would probably die in the wilderness and the food they were getting was as bland as I’ve been eating lately!  So they were grumbling big time.

So what did God do to fix it?  He didn’t remove them from the wilderness, he sent venomous snakes among them and many of the Israelites died!  Here is the wrath of God pure and simple, but when Moses prayed to God on behalf of the people God said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and lie.”  God provided the antidote and when the people were bitten they looked up and lived.

We could be a little perplexed by this scenario, we heard last week “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” And here is God telling Moses to make a snake from bronze and place it on a pole and get the people to look at it!  The thing to realise in this case is that God commanded Moses to make it, and also in the original commandments they were told “You shall not bow down to them or worship them”, they weren’t bowing down and worshipping, they were looking up and being healed and in doing so they were reminded of how God provides for their healing and his power over all things.

Another important point is that God didn’t stop the snakes from biting after Moses prayed, he still allowed the snakes to bite the Israelites, but then provided them with the antidote in the snake lifted up for them to see.  God does provide the healing that is needed to bring them from death to life.

Our gospel reading makes the connection for us between the snake being lifted up in the wilderness for the Israelites and the son of man being lifted up.  We know in retrospect that Jesus was lifted up on the cross at Calvary, he was hung there for all to see, even if it was only for a short time, he was hung up there.  So what is the connection between a slithering and silent killer like a snake and the son of man who came to give his life for our sake?  You know the answer to that as well as I do…when the Israelites looked to the snake they were healed, saved from certain death.

Jesus was hung on the cross to save us from our certain death.  The healing that takes place through him on the cross takes us from death to new life in him.  Our second reading today describes this healing beautifully for us.  “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live…like the rest we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us , God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”

Just like the Israelites who were bitten by the snakes, we were bitten by sin, through the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve.  We are surrounded daily by the slithering silent evil that longs to tempt us away from our focus on Christ and the cross on which he died to bring us healing from that sin.

Each and every one of us struggles with sin on a daily basis, there are events and challenges in the lives of all of us that threaten to swamp us, they feel like quicksand dragging us down feet first, like weeds wrapping around us and trying to trip us, like nets binding us hand and foot.  But even someone who is desperately trying to cling onto life can look up and live.

The Israelites looked to the bronze snake on the pole and they lived.  We have Christ on the cross to look to and to remind us that in fact we are already healed, and even better than that, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

This takes us beyond the cross, we need not only look at the cross, but through the cross, as we see in the screen behind the altar at Croydon, to the wrappings of the empty tomb which represent the resurrection of Christ, in victory over death and then to his ascension into heaven where he does indeed sit at the right hand of the father.  From there he prays for us, just like Moses prayed to God the Father on behalf of the Israelites, Jesus is sitting in his place in heaven bringing our needs before God too.

None of this is our doing, as we heard in the opening, from Psalm 121, “our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”  And then in our second reading another way of saying it, “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

God gave us his son, to be lifted up on the cross, just like Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so that when sin bites us and threatens to bring about our spiritual death, we too have somewhere to look for help, we lift our eyes to the cross, but then through the cross to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, all the while knowing in our heart of hearts that it is by grace that we have been saved, this isn’t something for the future, we have been saved.   Look up and live, lift your eyes to the Son of Man who was lifted up for our sake, so that we might be saved.


How is your worship?

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018
Text: John 2:15,16
So Jesus made a whip from cords and drove all the animals out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle; he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and scattered their coins; and he ordered those who sold the pigeons, “Take them out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

What is it that really burns you up?  What really stirs you up and gets you angry? Some people say that all anger is sinful.  It’s true a lot of anger may lead to saying and doing things that are harmful, there is also good anger.  Good anger comes as an expression of love and concern.

Today we hear of Jesus being angry.  The anger that Jesus felt that day grew out of his love for his Father and love for the people he saw in the temple and concern for what their worship had come to mean.  It is because of the intensity of his passion that we see Jesus so stirred up.

Jesus has just performed his first miracle at the wedding at Cana where he turned water into wine.  In fact John doesn’t call it a miracle; he calls Jesus’ miracles ‘signs’.
They are signs that God is doing something new; a new age is dawning on this world.
They are signs that the Messiah has come and that God is about to reveal his glory and do some powerful things as he demonstrates his love.
They are signs that a new order has come to replace the old.
They signs that things will never be the same again.

Jesus’ first interaction with the public in John’s Gospel takes place in the temple.  He causes a furore and people question his messianic authority and ask for a sign.  The sign Jesus gives is a prediction of his own suffering, death and resurrection.

Can you visualise the scene?  Jesus has entered the temple courtyard and it looks like a market place crowded with people selling and buying and money changing hands.  As Jesus watches all this he is outraged.  He makes a whip from some rope and drives out the animals from the courtyard, overturns the tables sending the coins of the money changers spilling on to the ground.  “Get these out of here,” he shouts. “This is place of prayer.  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market! ” 

By the way, we aren’t talking about Jesus driving out a couple of animals from the courtyard.  During the Passover thousands of lambs as well as oxen and pigeons were slaughtered in the temple. So you see the temple courtyard would have resembled a huge animal market.   And as Jesus cleared all of these out, it was the maddest and angriest anyone had ever seen Jesus.

But you see, the problem is not only that Jesus is really mad, but he is in the temple when he gets so angry.  And it’s the time of the Passover – the great celebration of the liberation of Israel from Egyptian slavery.  This is the highest, happiest feast of Israel’s year.

The temple was the place where the nation gathered to be close to God. The temple is that place where they remembered God; they came there to be with God. Everyone is happy to be here at Passover in the temple for this festival occasion.  What a contrast this is to the anger of Jesus, whip in hand, overturning tables and shouting, “Get out of here!”

A while ago we heard the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament reading.  On this occasion Jesus doesn’t get red hot about adultery, he doesn’t get mad because the people in the temple were stealing, he doesn’t get furious because of covetousness or lack of respect for parents.

He attacked their worship. He assaulted their religion.  He isn’t attacking the Pharisees for their legalism, or the scribes for their snobbishness.  He isn’t assaulting unbelievers, he is attacking believers.  Here he barges in and attacks the religious for their religion, for the way they have perverted the worship of God.

John quite deliberately places this story in chapter 2 of his gospel because a new thing is breaking into this world.  The temple with its sacrifices and superficial worship has had its day.  Jesus explains it this way to the Samaritan woman,
“Believe me, the time is coming when you won’t worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem. … The time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-26).

We are in the Lenten season and this is a time of self-examination.  Jesus cleansing of the temple leads us to ask ourselves,
“Does our worship need cleansing and renewing?”
“What does this ‘sign’ say to us about how we worship and our attitude toward worship”.  This is a text that leads the religious to examine their religion.

We are supposed to come here to meet God, to spend time with God and be touched by God and healed by God.
We are supposed to come here to recall the great things God has done in our lives this past week and celebrate with thanksgiving how God has rescued us from slavery to sin and given us a new land, a home in heaven with him forever.
We are supposed to be here to let the God who loves us touch our lives in his Word and the Sacrament, assure us of his love and send us out into the world to make a difference.
We are supposed to come here with our fellow Christians and be strengthened and reassured in their presence that we are loved and supported and comforted.

But what often happens.  We get out of bed, get dressed, sit in our seat, sing the hymns and songs, fight to keep focussed during the sermon, struggle to concentrate when our legs are aching during the prayers, stand for the benediction, have morning tea … and go home.

When Jesus saw what people had done with the worship life in the Temple he was horrified.  It made Jesus mad, just so mad when he saw what had happened to worship in the temple and what terrible attitudes those worshippers had.  When Jesus looks into the temple of our hearts when we worship, is he also horrified about the way we approach worship?

When he looks into our hearts does he see our reluctance to be here, driven here by our consciences, barely participating in the service and glad it is all over when that last “Amen” is said?
Are we so busy that out of the 168 hours in a week we can’t willingly spare just one hour to come into the presence of God with our fellow believers and celebrate God’s love.

When we come here to this church, do we really worship and celebrate God’s goodness in our lives, or do we just go through the motions sitting, standing, singing, saying the words, and perhaps sleeping, if not physically then spiritually?

When we come here to worship are we aware of what we are doing – that we have come here in the presence of the all-powerful and ever-loving God whose name we call on at the beginning of the service?
When we come here to worship do we have a sense of the absolutely amazing grace of God who has made it possible for us sinners to have the privilege to come before him?
At the temple the worshippers lost sight of just this fact and became more engrossed in other things. Recently I read this about worship:
Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it.  It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews for God will one day take offence…”

There is an element of humour in this, but it is also the truth.  Too often we consider worship as just a yawn.  Just as Jesus took great offence about the way the people were worshipping at the temple, likewise he is also offended by the attitude we have to worship.
The Bible says, “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).  We have to admit that “reverence and awe” have been replaced by a yawn.

Isn’t it true that sometimes we lose focus of why we come here?  We lose focus because we are distracted by our feelings about the music, the preacher, the people sitting around us, the person we don’t particularly like sitting a few rows in front of us, you know what I mean.  This is one of Satan’s oldest tricks to get our thoughts and focus away from God and on to things very mundane and extremely distracting.

It happens to me as much as to anyone else – there are times when I don’t like the music, or there’s a distraction, and I admit that sometimes I find certain things that people do in worship off putting but when I’m most annoyed I have to remind myself that we’re all different, we all have different tastes in music, we have different ways of worshipping e.g. some like drama while others like meditation,  but in spite of our differences, in love we join with our fellow brothers and sisters and worship and celebrate our God in the best way we know how.

Remember Paul’s picture of the church as a body.  Every part of the body works together, even in worship.  And besides, God comes to us in his word and Sacraments regardless of what kind of music we have, or what style of liturgy, or what level of understanding we have about what worship is all about.

Jesus cleaned out everything that didn’t belong in the temple.  He cleans out everything that doesn’t belong in our lives including our worship lives here in this church or wherever.

He gave his body and blood for all the insincerity in our worship,
the times we have been driven to worship by conscience but our hearts weren’t in it,
for all the times we have spoken the words and not meant them.
He has given us his body and blood for the times we have sat here and gone home untouched by the Spirit,
for all the times we have given something else a higher priority than coming into the presence of God.

We thank God that he is still cleansing his temple, the temple of our hearts today.  We are made clean by the blood of the Lamb and invited to come and stand in his presence with reverence and awe.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy