Archive for October, 2019

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

2 Timothy 2:8
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.

Remember, I know it’s harder for some of us, or at least some have a better excuse. But here today God is calling you to remember the Good News we cling to, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And unfortunately sometimes we forget. We forget in our lives what the core of our Christian faith is, we get side tracked, we forget we’re in this together and we forget why this message is so important for us in our lives. So what is the core of Christianity? Is it love? Maybe a different way of life? Or a decision I made? An assurance I will be safe and prosper in this life? A friendship group? A list of teachings you must know? Or perhaps something else?

Here the Holy Spirit summarises the gospel in the words, Jesus Christ risen from the dead, from the seed of David. We need to remember what this means; the name Jesus means God saves, Christ or messiah means anointed like the kings and priests of old, He is the true and everlasting King of kings and High Priest, He died but overcame death rising up to everlasting life, and He is the one promised throughout the Old Testament, the Son of David to come. The Word of God is not bound, but there is a lot to it. And it is true, but why do you care if it brings you, like Paul, suffering in this life, ridicule, anxiety, shame? What does this truth mean for you and me?

If we die with, we will live with; if we endure, we will reign with. Are you ‘dead’ to this world, rejecting all evil, corruption and deception, just as Jesus did? Do you endure, keeping the righteous way under the burden of all the temptations to be proud, angry, to go the easy way, the wide road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13)? Or do you miss the mark, do you sin? Last week we heard that suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life, that we pray for God’s mercy and help, meditate on His word, then suffer trials where we see our need to turn to God and His Gospel again. Paul writes here that He is suffering because He proclaims the Good News, but all that was for those called out, Christians, that we hit the mark of salvation in Christ Jesus with glory eternal! Through our suffering to turn and look to Jesus for our salvation. This is the core of Christianity salvation in Jesus, if there is ever a time when I or any pastor does not point you to look to Jesus for salvation let me know I’m a false teacher, antichrist, breaking the second commandment, abusing God’s good name and spitting on the Good News given to us. Paul wrote this letter to encourage Timothy to stand firm with the Holy Spirit and God’s clear word against leaders who were twisting the gospel and teaching something new.

They were denying the truth of Jesus’ word and as Christ Himself said, whoever denies me before men, I will deny before our Heavenly Father (Matthew 10:33). This is not something trivial, this is true peace, joy and love, and ultimately life eternal in Christ. We spend hours and years dedicated to learning and remembering any number of things, peoples names, how to fix cars, how to provide for our families, to support each other and any number of good God given gifts; but if we remember all these and neglect our Gospel (1 Corinthians 13:1-3), forgetting what His death means for you … well, we know what happened to the Israelites of old. How could we be so faithless?

If we deny Him, He will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. God always speaks the truth, Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life, His promises are always sure. Even when you fail constantly, rejecting His promises and commands, our Father still loves you, Jesus still mediates for you, the Holy Spirit still encourages, and we will still try to encourage you to remind you of the salvation you have in Christ, given by God in your baptism, renewed for you again and again by the Spirit in Holy Communion. So you remind the rest of us through the witness of your life, acting and speaking in the presence of God; to do everything for the Glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31); to confess the truth of your sin, as we have already today; and to strive daily to lead the holy life of Christ. He has promised you in His life death and resurrection, you have life everlasting with Him, forgiveness of all your sin, renewal, restoration and reconciliation with God Almighty and all His chosen children, the church throughout time and place. God has saved you!

Remember, remind and react to this wonderful news! Don’t just sit on it, letting it gather dust until next Sunday, but endeavour to show yourself to God as His worker without shame. Yes we fail but then listen to His call of repentance and, when you confess the truth of your sin, His declaration, you are forgiven, righteous and reconciled to your Father in Christ Jesus, you can stand before Him, dead to shame and evil in Jesus Christ, in whom you now live. This is His assurance in Holy Baptism. So now do His work in your life without shame, hold to the simple truth, the gospel we are all a part of, ‘Jesus saves you from sin, death and the devil’. You have been given a new life in Christ, a promise that you will reign with Him, so explore and find out what this means in your life, but always remember and hold on to the Word of Truth, the core of our Gospel, ‘Jesus Christ saves you’.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.

Graham Joseph

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Monday, October 7th, 2019

Text: Luke 17:5,6

The apostles said to the Lord, “Make our faith greater.” The Lord answered, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’. 

Faith the size of a mustard seed

A small congregation built a new church on a piece of land left to them by a church member.

Ten days before the new church was to open, but their world came crashing down when the local building inspector arrived and informed the Pastor that unless they double the number of parking spaces, they would not be able to use the new church.

Unfortunately, the new building had used every square centimetre except for a rather steep hill behind the church.

In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move that rocky hill. Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain moving faith.”

They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved before the scheduled opening dedication service.

At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final “Amen”. “We’ll open our new church next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe he will be faithful this time too.”

The next morning as the Pastor was working in his study there came a loud knock at his door and a rough looking construction foreman entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from a Construction Company.

We’re building a huge shopping mall. We need some fill – in fact, heaps of fill. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that rocky hill behind the church?

We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge. We need to do this now to allow it to settle properly.” Well, the little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned (Source unknown).

Wow. When you first hear this story it’s easy to say that this is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, ‘If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’.

In other words, through faith we can move mountains.

But is that right?

Is that a correct conclusion?

Was it their ‘mountain moving faith’ or the length of time they spent in prayer that in the end gave them what they were seeking?

Were those 24 people super heroes of faith and so moved the mountain?

The disciples were facing their own mountains that needed moving.

In the previous verses Jesus had been talking about the effect that sin has on our lives.

Firstly, Jesus warns that anyone who causes another person to sin would be better off if a huge rock were tied around his neck and thrown overboard somewhere in the deepest part of sea.

The disciples were worried about this and quite rightly.

Who hasn’t caused someone to sin?

Who hasn’t said and done things that have caused others to be hurt, fell alienated, angry, hateful, and unforgiving?

If that weren’t enough Jesus goes on to say more. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

If he sins against you seven times in one day, and each time he comes to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

It’s a difficult thing to talk to someone – rebuke someone – whose lifestyle does not reflect their position as a child of God. Jesus goes on to say even more.

When a person says he/she is sorry, Jesus says there is to be no limit to the number of times we are to forgive that person.

Very possibly he could be asking for forgiveness for the same or a similar sin over and over and over again.

Jesus says in no uncertain terms, ‘You must forgive him’.

That kind of forgiveness goes right against our human nature.

That person who keeps on offending us doesn’t deserve forgiveness and yet Jesus pronounces some dire consequences on those who can’t overcome their need for revenge and be forgiving.

The disciples had a problem – you might say they had their own mountain that needed moving.

They recognised their own sinfulness and their failure to live up to their calling as people who belong to God and disciples who claim to follow their master and do his will.

So, they come to Jesus with all this on their minds and say, “Make our faith greater!

Give us a greater amount of faith so that we will be able to do the things that you have asked of us”.

They felt that an increase in their faith would enable them to move the mountain of sin that was getting in the way of their faithful discipleship.

And what does Jesus do – how does he answer their prayer?

Does he lay his hands upon them and pray and give them more faith?

Does he snap his fingers and grant them a double dose of his Spirit and faith?

Does he give them ‘mountain moving faith’ so that they could remove all obstacles that got in their way?

No, he doesn’t – instead he says to them, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you”.

The point Jesus is making is that they have already been given faith.

Even a tiny faith the size of a mustard seed is enough as far as God is concerned.

The size of faith doesn’t matter because God is the one doing the moving.

If it is my faith that moved the mountain, then the bigger the mountain the more faith I would need to move it.

The bigger the obstacle the more strength I’d need to climb it.

The more serious the illness a faith even greater would be required to overcome it.

The more serious the sin the more faith I would need in order to have it forgiven.

That kind of thinking kind of makes sense, but that’s not how faith works. In fact, faith doesn’t do the work at all. And thank God for that.

God is the one doing the work through faith. Think of faith as the key that opens the door to God acting in our lives.

If I have a bigger key ring than you do, does it matter?

The size of a key ring doesn’t matter – key rings don’t open doors but it’s that little key on the ring that opens doors.

Even a little faith opens the door for God to move the mountains and trees and even our hearts.

So, what Jesus is saying to his disciples, who asked for their faith to be increased, is that even if they have the smallest amount of faith, they can do great things.

Even the smallest faith can grasp what God has and is doing in our lives;

even the smallest faith is able to recognise the ways that God is able to make changes in lives and in our world through us.

We have all met people who have lived through very difficult times, and no doubt many of us have thought about the great faith they must have had to come out of their troubles as well as they have.

We may even have said to them – with respect and admiration, ‘I don’t think I could have faced what you have faced. I admire your great faith.’

In response to this I have heard people say, ‘My faith is no greater than anyone else’s. I just didn’t know what faith I had until I needed it. God helped me, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it.’

Jesus didn’t need to increase the size of the faith of the disciples. They already had faith.

He assures them of that and states that, even though their faith may be small, God can accomplish great things through them.

And we know that he did. They went on to share the Good News about Jesus even in the face of some strong opposition, being brought before rulers and judges, being imprisoned and killed.

Didn’t Paul say when he was recalling some of the difficulties he had to face as an apostle, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

He doesn’t talk about how great his faith in God was, but rather he talks about what his faith was focussed on.

There are times when our confident, perhaps even over confident faith, is brought crashing down because of what is happening in our lives.

There are times when our faith seems so trivial and weak in the face of gigantic threats to our health, our family, our self-worth.

But no matter what size and strength we consider our faith to be at any given moment, faith as small as a mustard seed (and that’s pretty small) is able to uproot a mulberry tree (which has an extensive root system, and plant (not dump) it into the sea and still expect it to bear mulberries.

Years ago, I was asked by the parents of a child who was severely intellectually disabled whether their child would have enough faith and understanding to come to Holy Communion.

My answer: ‘I wasn’t particularly concerned about understanding. Their child may never be able to express what she believed in words.

But as far as God is concerned a faith the size of a mustard seed is all that is needed for him to be able to do great things in their child’s life.’

What a joy it was for all those at church, especially the parents, to see the outstretched hands of this child, waiting for them to be filled with the love of God through the body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament.

Praise God that in spite of our sins he has given us faith – even faith as small as a mustard seed.

And God working through the faith he has given us will defeat the devil’s temptations to sin, he will help us overcome the obstacles we face when forgiveness is required.

God working in us through faith can move mountains and trees and even our own hearts for his glory. Faith is powerful, because the Christ in whom faith believes is powerful.

Faith, even one that is described as being the size of a mustard seed, relies on Jesus, his love and strength. This kind of faith enables us to rise above the most threatening circumstances.

To repeat Paul’s words, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).

Let’s not twist all this around in order to convince ourselves that now we don’t need to take faith and prayer and the study of God’s Word seriously.

But realize that you already possess more than enough of what’s needed to change your life, your heart, your family, your community, even your world.

In summary, today we are being asked not how much faith do we have but rather what are we doing with the faith that God has already given us?

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

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy