Take up your cross & follow me.

The Text: Matthew 10:24-39

 A minister in the US, who served a very wealthy congregation, was once invited by one of his parishioners to spend a week on their yacht in the Bahamas. They just gave him the keys. His response when asked if that was hard to take was “Well, someone has to minister to the souls of the wealthy, and you can’t do that if you don’t accept their invitations!” Hmm? Not exactly, “Take up your cross and follow me!” (Matthew 16:24b) is it?

In the Gospel for today, Jesus appoints twelve of His disciples to take His mission and message to God’s people, Israel. So, what does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean to follow Christ? Are there perks? What are the benefits?

Some church leaders today teach that people who believe in, and follow Jesus should expect to be healthy, wealthy and – above all – happy. They say that if you believe strongly enough you can have that yacht in the Bahamas, you can bypass sickness and disease, you can have a happy, fulfilling life, and you can have that perfect marriage with perfect children. It has been said that you can have all these things because of your obedience. There is a whole industry out there of Christian ‘self-help’ books and products promising success in almost everything, if you will follow Jesus (and, of course, buy the books, CD’s, DVD’s and online courses).

This “happy, fulfilling life” is not the message of today’s Gospel lesson and neither is it the message of Jesus in the Scriptures. Jesus does indeed bring true happiness (what the Bible calls ‘joy’) to His followers. We can take our trials and troubles to God and He does hear and answer us.   We pray for our children when they are sick or in trouble and we turn to God when there is more fortnight left at the end of our pay than there is pay left at the end of the fortnight. Christianity is not an invitation to doom and gloom because Jesus says, …whoever loses is life for My sake will find it.  In Christ, we find life revealed to us by God’s Holy Spirit.

People who study things like church growth tell us that the church today faces a ‘consumerist’ culture, which (we’re told) must shape our outreach with the Gospel or we miss the boat. People are looking for services from the church, rather than a community to serve. Given a choice between wearing a gold cross or bearing a wooden cross – most people these days will take the gold!

Today’s Gospel challenges our perceptions and perspectives. What does it mean to follow Christ? And more than that – what does it take to serve Christ (to be a disciple)? Perhaps the best way to look at this is to ask the question, “What are our expectations in being followers of Christ?” What is it that we want from Him, and from His church? In spite of anything we might have heard to the contrary, Christianity is a religion where God does all the giving and we do all the hearing, believing and responding with acts of love and kindness which are only possible because of God’s grace and blessing.

When Jesus sends out His chosen Twelve, He tells them, and us, in very clear terms what to expect. Expect persecution and expect conflict – even within our own family. Expect to make a “no holds barred” commitment. However – in the end, also expect to receive the true meaning of life and living. There are three themes in Jesus’ words to us today: Persecution, Presence, and Promise.

  1. Persecution

When Jesus sent His chosen twelve out, He made it clear to them that they would receive the same treatment He received. They would face rejection, hostility and harassment. This may seem almost ‘other worldly’ to many of us. Some of us may not take much heat for our faith. But there are those like Michael Job, a twenty one year old college student, who was killed in India by fanatical Hindus in 1999 for his and his father’s faith. His father, Dr Job, was a well-known evangelist and Christian worker.

The fanatics did not like Dr. Job or his Christian message, so they killed his son. Dr. Job was devastated­, but not broken. He responded to the hatred by starting an orphanage unlike any other in India. This orphanage is only for girls (strange enough in a culture that doesn’t value girls); but even more unusual,­ is that this orphanage is only for girls of persecuted and martyred Christians. Today the Michael Job Centre for Orphan Girls is an invaluable refuge for hundreds of girls of persecuted families from all over the Indian sub-continent. Each child who comes to the centre is a vision of hope for the future – a hope that is born out of the sorrow of the cross and strengthened by the love of God.

You and I may not face that kind of danger for our faith and trust in Christ, yet there may be times when our Christian values challenge the values of the world around us. Remember that a strong commitment to Jesus Christ will bring a crunch somewhere, sometime, to all of us. And when that happens – how will we respond?

  1. Presence

The second theme of today’s Gospel is presence. Two things help when Christians face a world which is hostile to Jesus and our commitment to Him: God knows and God cares! In other words, God is present with us in every circumstance of life. It is God’s presence which gives us strength and courage to openly affirm “Jesus is Lord” and our deepest values, our commitment to our Lord! God gives us His Holy Spirit, who helps us in our weakness, to say with St Paul, Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10).

Jesus did warn that if we deny Him before others (either in word or deed) He would deny us before God. Thus we are to stand firm, all the more, because we have the knowledge of God’s care in the midst of our trials. And if our strength fades or our commitment wavers, we are blessed with the knowledge that the One who bought our souls with His life will heal our failures through His love (as He did with Peter when he denied Jesus prior to Jesus’ death).

  1. Promise

The third, and most important, theme of today’s Gospel is promise. One of the amazing and wonderful things about our faith is that in the midst of the most difficult test of all – when the worst which can happen to us has happened or is happening to us – the promises of God come through to bring, hope, joy and new life!

Jesus said, “…whoever loses his life for My sake will find it”. Here Jesus takes the values and presuppositions of this world and turns them upside down and inside out. The way up with God is down. The first will be last and the last, first. The world says that the one who has lots of servants is great, while Jesus says that the one who serves a lot is truly great. The world says that the one who saves and invests a lot in the markets of this world will be secure, while Jesus says the one who gives up the treasures of this world will have the ultimate security – namely “treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:20 ESV) An old seminary professor used to quip that the holy ministry may not pay very much but the retirement benefits are out of this world.

Whether we like it or not, our Christian faith is based on the way of the Cross. In Jesus’ cross, death has been defeated and the way is opened to life and immortality. Now it is our turn. Jesus invites all of us to take up our cross and follow Him. In other words, take the crosses off our churches, our altars and from around our necks, and take them out into the world and through our love and service, put them into the hearts of people as Jesus has done for us.

For the cross is not merely a symbol, but a way of life, the way of authentic love, the way of God. It is not merely an ornament, but our hope, our only hope (and indeed, everyone’s only hope) for true health, wealth, and happiness. In the name of Jesus.


Life for a Christian is a journey

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God, we ask that your presence and strength be felt in the lives of all who are worshipping here this morning.  May we show your compassion and kindness to the world around us, as You invite us to continue our journey to eternity, as You lead us to keep our destiny in view, and as You call us to invite others to join us in the journey.  May your love be a constant source of guidance and comfort.  Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen. 

Some time ago I attended a ‘Get Real’ conference held in Sydney, where I was confronted with a new definition of mission.  Well, at least a definition I had not considered before.   As Christians we have a common destiny – a common destination.

Eternity with our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Where our names are recorded in the book of life.  And right beside each of our names, I visualise a gold star, with faith written in the heart of it.  A golden star placed there beside our name when we were baptised. 

Life for a Christian is a journey together with others, keeping the destination in view.    In all that we do, we keep heading toward this common destination.   Mission is simply inviting others to join the journey.   Mission is simple, when we have our destination clearly in view, and we have the support of others who are with us on the journey.  Mission becomes impossible drudgery when we feel alone, and our vision becomes confused by all that happens around us in this broken world.

Today’s Gospel is a vivid portrayal of the essential pattern of God’s relationship to people.  First we are loved.  Through God’s love, we are gifted and blessed.  Then we are invited to respond to that love.  To enter into that loving relationship where even more blessings are promised.   And finally, we are called to offer that love to others.  By showing our love for others, we show to them that God loves each of us and want’s to bless our lives.

God entered humanity in Christ Jesus – and he died for us upon the cross so that we might be set right with Him.   Jesus invites us to follow in his path, assisted by his presence – so that we might indeed be made whole – and others with us. And we respond by placing our trust in him.

Gift, blessing, call, response.   It is circular, and it is constant, but notice the order of things.  Freely says Jesus you have received.  Freely give.

Gift, blessing, call, response.

We are loved – first and foremost we are loved

There is nothing that we have to do to earn it.

There are no conditions made before God promises to make us his children.  Before God blesses us with the presence of his Holy Spirit to encourage and uplift our spirits with his word and his sacrament.

Only after we have received his love is there any hint of a demand .  We are invited after the love is shown – to love in return, to love and be loved.  Obedience is our joyful response to God’s gracious gift of his love.

When Jesus journeyed through his life in humanity, ‘he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ as Matthew records.  No one can say that God does not know what we go through in our journey through this life.  And ‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness’.

Jesus blessed many with a gift of healing, of learning, of wholeness.  The only response to such a blessing is to trust in the giver of the gift.  God the Son, Jesus Christ.

Only after blessing those who followed with the gift of wholeness, did  Jesus call a few to action.  His disciples.  “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

We are often called to pray for special things.  We are given a strong intuition to pray, and we are given a desire to take these things to God in prayer.  But we are also prepared to respond to God’s answer in prayer.  Given the will to join in, to participate in the solution, and sometimes to lead.  God gives us this gift by his Holy Spirit.  He blesses us with the ability to respond, and then He calls us to put our response into action.

When Jesus asked the Disciples to pray, He already knew what the response to this prayer would be.  He had been preparing the disciples to respond to God’s answer to the call for workers in the harvest.

He taught them first, He showed them his own example, He gave them the will to respond, and He empowered them with spiritual authority.  Jesus gave them some final instructions, and sent them on  their way.  Fully prepared to respond to God’s call.

Gift, blessing, call, response.  As Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give”.

This call to the Disciples was both a call to action and a prophecy.  A prophecy relating to every Christian, of every time and place.  A call to pray for God to send workers into the harvest.  A call to be ready to be sent as workers into the harvest. 

A call to keep our destination firmly in our mind, to journey together through life, and to invite others to join us in the journey. 

We are called to be disciples.  And disciples have met opposition while responding to the call to mission in every age.  Some with open hostility, some with subtle condemnation, and still others with indifference.  But the good news of Jesus Christ has not been silenced in 2000 years, and will be heard above the commotion around us in our broken world. 

As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: 

‘we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’

Gift, blessing, call, response.   As we consider these, may the grace and peace of our Triune God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.   AMEN.

Jesus sends out the twelve

The Text: Matthew 9:9-13


No one likes to be an outsider.  To be excluded.  To be told you dont belong.” To have the door shut in your face or simply to be shunned, left alone, isolated.  Have you ever been on the outside?  Perhaps wanting to enter but being afraid you wouldn’t be accepted so you didn’t even try? Do you realise that there are people who are honestly afraid to walk into a church on a Sunday morning? They are afraid of being recognized as outsiders,” as people who dont belong in a place like this.  Unreligious people.”

I recall one man saying to me, the church roof would cave in if I showed up here on a Sunday morning”.  He was joking, but completely serious.  He was convinced he didn’t belong in religious circles.  There’s a famous picture of two cowboys on horseback peering through the window of a crowded church.  Inside the people are singing a hymn. One of the men on the outside is singing too, while the other is leaning forward, listening attentively.

I wonder – what keeps them on the outside?  Why dont they get off their horses and join the people inside the church?  Perhaps they aren’t dressed properly, or they havent had a bath in a while.  More likely they aren’t comfortable in the polite society of the church and are much more comfortable worshipping on horseback. They are outsiders.

Matthew the tax-collector was an outsider to his own people.  We tend not to love the tax collectors of our day, but its nothing like it was in Matthews day.  Tax collectors were considered traitors of Israel, lackies of the Roman government, opportunist crooks and scoundrels of the worst sort.  The Roman system of taxation was ingenious.   A tax collector like Matthew would pay a fee to the government in exchange for a license to open a tax office, permitting him to collect all the taxes he could.  Needless to say, tax collectors were unwelcome in polite society, much less in religious circles.

It comes as a bit of a surprise that Jesus should walk up to Matthew at his tax collectors office and say to him what He said to the fishermen: “Follow me.”  Discipling words.  Words that invite Matthew to join Jesus’ rank of followers; words that empower him to arise, leave his tax office, and follow Jesus.  An outsider, a tax collector, had just become, by the undeserved kindness of God, an insider, one of Jesus inner circle, the chosen, apostolic Twelve.  Im sure that raised a rabbinic eyebrow or two, dont you think?

What on earth was Jesus doing, calling a tax-collector to be one of HIs closest disciples?  Is this any way to start a messianic movement?  You could understand the four fishermen – strong, hard-working.  You could even understand Simon the Zealot – he hated the Roman government and was itching for revolt.  But a tax collector?  You’ve got to be kidding!

To make matters even more outrageous, Matthew invites Jesus over to his house for a little party to celebrate his new calling and his group of new friends.  The Pharisees looked in on all this with disapproval.  They were predisposed to disapproval when it came to Jesus, looking for some way to discredit him.  Dinner was an open affair; people on the street could peer in and see the kind of company you kept.  They asked Jesusdisciples, Why does your teacher eat with this rabble – tax collector and sinners?”  They wouldn’t go near such people. No respectable rabbi would. Why was Jesus hanging out with the losers when He should have been keeping company with the winners?

Jesus heard their question and turned the tables on them.  It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  When youre well, or at least you think you are well, you have no need or interest in a doctor.  But if you suspect something is wrong, if the symptoms are lining up poorly, grab the phone and call for an appointment.  You want to see the doctor right away.

Imagine a doctor who didn’t want to be around sick people, who comes into the waiting room and looks at all those runny noses and itchy eyes and hears all the coughing and sneezing and covers his mouth and nose and runs out of the room as fast as he can.  Not much of a doctor is he?  Nor would Jesus be much of a Saviour if He didn’t care for the company of sinners.

That was Jesus’ mission, his purpose for coming into the world, to seek and to save the lost, to become lost” in our death in order that we might be found in Him. He came in solidarity with sinners, baptized with sinners in Johns baptism of repentance, crucified as a sinner, bearing the guilt of the world on His own shoulders. He became our sin; He embodied our sin in His body. Jesus became the outsider, forsaken, alone, isolated so that in Him we might become insiders,” the children of God, disciples, baptized into his death and life.

Think again about that picture of the cowboys on horseback.  Now think about the Pharisees looking in on Matthews party with Jesus and all of his tax collector friends.  Theres an irony here – the insiders are outside, and the outsiders are inside.  The Pharisees, who imagined themselves to be Gods insiders by virtue of their commandment keeping, are sitting on the outside looking in on a party of tax collectors and sinners surrounding Jesus, the friend of sinners. Wheres the church?  Outside with the Pharisees or inside with Jesus?

And yet, the gracious light of that party with Jesus shines out even to the Pharisee. There is mercy even for the religious. Jesus gives them a little take home assignment – Go and learn what this means (quoting from Hosea) – I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Go to Hosea and learn what that passage means. Hosea, the prophet who taught that those who were not my people” would be called the people of God. The outsider would become the insider by grace through faith, just as Abraham became an insider by Gods grace and calling through faith which God credited to Abraham as righteousness.

Go and learn what it means – I desire mercy, not sacrifice; the knowledge of God and not burnt offerings. Not religious rituals, thats not the way to the heart of God. I came not to call the righteous but sinners.” That’s the company that Jesus keeps at his table.  Sinners who are justified for his sake, by his blood. Make no mistake, the Pharisees are welcome at Jesusparty. But they are welcome as sinners, not as the righteous ones they thought they were.

The sin of the church people, the people in the pews singing the hymns, is that we have turned this banquet of sinners into a country club of the religious elite.  We have all too often by our words, our actions, our attitudes looked down on the sinners of our day, those people who just dont seem to get it, and we forget that we are, in ourselves, no better, no more righteous” no less sinful, than those outside these walls.  There are people who are listening in to the church, like those two men on horseback, straining to hear that this good news applies to them too, that they are accepted by God in Jesus.

None of us deserves to be here. We dont deserve to be baptized, to hear the Word, to receive the Body and Blood. We havent earned our way here by our right choices and decisions. We are here because of Gods undeserved kindness in Jesus, the same grace that called Abraham to be the father of nations, that calls a tax collector to be a disciple, that breaks bread with the sinner, that declares the outsider to be the insider.

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  Welcome.

In the name of Jesus,


In the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit


Text: Matthew 28:16-20

It’s common for us to begin our worship services in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit. When we do that, we’re dealing with the overflowing love, life and faithfulness of God. This familiar Trinitarian opening to our public worship echoes the name that was spoken together with our name when we were baptised. Following the words of Jesus, which we heard in today’s gospel lesson, we baptise people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit.

Whenever we join together for public worship, we are gathered as the people of the Triune God, people linked by God to the gracious will and works of God. This is a profound reality.

We’re people who belong to the Triune God as the result of God’s wonderful choice. That’s who we are. We remember who we are when we say our morning and evening prayers, making the sign of the cross and saying ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit’. We remember who we are when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. We remember who we are when we praise God through the words of the Apostles’ Creed, or the Nicene Creed.

These regular reminders of who we are and whose we are very helpful for us. That’s because there’s a lot going on in and around us that works to contradict the truth of our identity. The current circumstances of our lives might challenge our relationship as God’s children. The truth is that God has lovingly and graciously claimed us and made us part of the body of Christ through baptism into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit.

That joyful state of affairs provides us with a good way of approaching the subject of the Trinity. We can tell our story.

Today, Trinity Sunday, is not really a day to get all caught up in fanciful explanations and half-baked philosophy about God. We will never come up with words that can explain the Trinity. We don’t really have the words, or the experience, or the ideas to talk about the Triune God in an abstract way. That would be something like an earthbound creature like an ant trying to explain and describe the flight of a magpie. We won’t try to do any explaining.

Does that mean that we have nothing to say about the Trinity then? On the contrary, we have a great deal to say. What we have to say is not philosophical explanations, but rather we simply retell the story of God’s boundless love.

We can retell the story of God’s boundless love, which has always nourished and cared for us and has also sought us out and claimed us. Since we’re baptised people of God, we’re part of the story and have the story to tell.

We can tell the story of God’s boundless, overflowing love. That’s what the Trinity is about. We can tell the story of God’s faithfulness and patience. We can tell of God’s reluctance to punish and overwhelming desire to forgive and save people, who are hell-bent on their own destruction. We can tell about Jesus, our Saviour. This is all part of our story, and we can tell our story, which is in reality talking about and praising the Trinity.

Telling the story of God’s love is fantastic. The story of God’s love is so fantastic that it’s most of the reason why the author of this sermon became a pastor. He writes:

“You might know that I was fortunate enough to grow up in a very good home. All my life I’ve had the joyful blessing of loving parents. During my childhood, we said grace before each meal and said a prayer of thanks afterwards as well. We had regular devotions. We joined with our local congregation for worship each Sunday. You could note that I had a very good grounding in the faith. I knew the Small Catechism by heart. I must have known a lot of the story.

Yet, in an odd way, I hadn’t really heard the story. There was some kind of gap, and I thought being a Christian was mostly about obeying the commandments, doing the right thing, and being quick in my heart to judge people who weren’t. As I recall, my thinking was roughly along the lines that God forgave my sins so that I could continue trying to keep the commandments. The focus was largely on myself and my efforts.

Now, I’m sure that the gospel was being preached to me repeatedly. I’m sure that I was told the story of God’s boundless love many, many times.

However, it’s funny how long it can be before it takes hold, before we dare to trust it. It’s so easy for people to slip back into trusting self. That’s why the church’s main agenda item is to tell the story. We teach that what makes church ‘church’ is the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It’s about telling the story of God’s boundless love and allowing it to do its work in people.

One day the penny dropped for me. The holy Spirit had clearly been working long and hard. By the grace of God I realised that the story of God’s boundless love is my story. I think it was a retelling of, and some teaching around, the parable we usually call the prodigal son, when that happened.

It was as though I heard something fresh and new. I realised my story is not about me being good enough or faithful enough for God, but rather it’s about God, who is unswervingly faithful, gracious and merciful to me. Now that’s something that’s really worth talking about. That’s when being a Pastor made any sense at all. In truth, I have no desire to be a moral policeman, and my heart for people is still very much a work in progress, but the story of God’s unfailing love is so worth telling.”

We all have stories that tell God’s story. The holy Spirit is at work in us so we can tell it in our own way. We will always be talking about the Trinity although we may seldom, if ever, use that word. I suspect we never need to use the word ‘Trinity’ when we’re telling the story of God’s saving love. That’s because we’ll be talking about Jesus.

We can tell people that we’re baptised, that we’re rebellious sinners, whom Jesus has saved and redeemed and made his very own at the cost of his life. We can tell people that God loved us, and the world, so much that he sent his only Son to save us. Jesus died for me, and for you, to set us free so that we can live with him forever.

We really have stories to tell. We can tell people about how close and personal God is. Jesus is with us always and we’re especially aware of his good and gracious presence when he makes himself known in word and sacrament. The holy Spirit prays with us and for us, so that we can pray as if we’re conversing with a dear parent. We can tell of the hope and joy that we have, which is the work of the holy Spirit in us.

When Jesus sent the disciples to make disciples, he sent them with God’s story and their own. Even though some doubted they were sent to make disciples by baptising in God’s name and teaching. That was able to work, the church was able continue through history, because God is here. Jesus is graciously and mercifully present with his church, always ready to forgive and restore according to his promise.

We’re not alone when we live our lives and tell our story. We have each other and we have God. In holy baptism God has brought us together so that we all live, and have our identity, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit. We tell the stories of dearly loved children of God. We have much to tell about the Father, Son and holy Spirit who embraces people with such wondrous, faithful and boundless love.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.