Your kingdom come?

The Text: Matthew 13:31–33, 44–52

Christians around the world love to pray the Lord’s Prayer both personally and with other Christians. Can you imagine how many times the Lord’s Prayer is being shared around the world on this day alone? This prayer is being prayed millions of times.

Amongst other petitions, the Lord’s Prayer includes the petition “your Kingdom come.”

We say this often, but what exactly do we mean by “Your kingdom come?” It is God’s Kingdom we want to see come.

Luther says: in his explanation: “God comes to rule as king even if we do not ask for this to happen. But in this prayer we are asking: “Father come and rule over us”.

Luther goes on to pose a question: “How does God’s kingdom come?” Luther answers his own question by saying: “God our Father comes to rule over us by giving us the Holy Spirit, so that by God’s goodness to us we believe his holy word and live as his people on earth now and in heaven forever.”

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus helps us grow in our understanding of God’s kingdom—God’s eternal reign of love.

In Matthew’s gospel, God’s rule is called the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.  And each of today’s parables give us another glimpse of what his kingdom is like. What we discover in these parables is that God’s kingship changes everything about our world, our values and our priorities. These parables may look simple on the surface, but when understood in their original context they are full of surprise!

In order to fully understand today’s parables, we need to recognise just how controversial they were when Jesus first shared them. It is then that they will bring new vision to our world, our values and our priorities. Let’s start with the parable of the mustard seed—v31-32.

On first glance this is a charming story about how God might make use of things beyond our common expectation. The mustard seed, a tiny seed becomes a home for birds to nest in. We might quickly conclude that God can use even the smallest of faith to grow something great—even abundant, enough to bless others.

The Mustard Seed parable might be easily reduced to the saying: “From little things big things grow.” But there is much more in this parable: You see, the mustard plant is closer to being a weed than it is to being a precious valued plant. When we think of mustard we often think of the yellow squeeze bottles of mustard sauce that we might add to hamburgers and hot dogs. That might make the mustard plant sound palatable.

But in reality the mustard plant grows like a weed—more like soursobs or thistles or dandelions.

Once one mustard seed gets a corner in your field—watch out—it will take over!  Maybe the strangest part of this parable is that the mustard seed will never grow into a big strong tree like a cedar tree. Yet, Jesus chooses to use it as a picture of God’s kingdom.

The Mustard seed has a natural ability to reproduce and spread far and wide—it is hardy.

If we look back over the history of the world over the past 2000 years we can see how the rule of God in Christianity has spread like a mustard seed weed around the world! It has transformed the world bringing God’s love to life for many and it continues to do so in a humble earthy way.

Let’s move onto the next parable—he parable of the yeast in verse 33.  Again, this parable would have immediately grabbed the attention of those who first heard it.

Why? Because of the yeast. Elsewhere in scripture yeast is used to represent the world and is almost always used as a negative symbol of corruption. Here yeast is presented as something good!

And the amount of bread being made by the woman would have also surprised the hearer. Usually they would make just enough for themselves, but here the woman is making enough bread to feed more than 100 people at once!  We could simply conclude that this parable shows how a little can make a lot. But deeper, it also indicates that God’s rule may take hold in hidden and unexpected ways and bring about change in ways that are beyond our imagination.

Our text then jumps to verses 44-46 and shares two more parables. One about the treasure found in the field and the other about a precious pearl.  In these parables we could focus on how the labourer cunningly went and sold all he had just to buy the field where the treasure was hidden. But maybe more importantly we can focus on how the treasure in the field changed his life! God’s rule in our life transforms our life for the better!

There is also another way we could read these two parables: In the parable about the pearl and the treasure, we easily focus on how the person sold everything in order to obtain the one prized thing… But what is this treasure? And who is this person who gives up all so that the treasure can be his?

What if we were to understand God as the person making the discovery and we are the treasure he wants to have as his own?

Think of who Jesus is. We confess Jesus to be God’s one and only Son.

God gave up his one and only Son to suffer and die as the payment for sin so that we could be his prized treasure forever!   This might be how we could understand our baptism. In our Baptism God has come and found us and valued us so highly that he paid the price so that we could be his forever!  

You are God’s great treasure and by the Grace of God alone all who are baptised live with the promise that they belong to God forever. We are part of God’s eternal family.

How exciting! What a joy that God now says to us: ‘you are my treasure’.

Together as we encourage one another, we can help each other grow to know that we are loved by God and that we are part of God’s eternal family. For Jesus has paid the price to claim us as his!

In our fellowship we can lead one another to know that – there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. We can give thanks for the ministries of the church here on earth that help to nurture our identity as people who are precious to God and belong to God’s kingdom.

Our regional and church wide Children youth and family ministry teams do so much to help our young people grow in their identity as children who are loved and treasured by God. The many Christian Life week camps that are held in many places each year bring this blessing to many.  At these camps our youth are encouraged and mentored by Christian young adults to see themselves as loved by God.

God’s kingdom has come to us in the mystery of baptism and his word. God brings us community and connection, life and light. And he continues to transform our world in unexpected ways!

May the Spirit that God gives you lead you to believe his word and live as his people on earth now and in heaven forever. Amen

How does your garden grow?

The Texts: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and Romans 8:12-25

 Gardening gives many people much enjoyment. Many people find enjoyment in watching their garden grow. Gardens thrive with rain. Some plants require lots of care. But if there is one type of plant that thrives without much care, it’s the weeds that we don’t plant. They come up on their own in the garden.

Weeds are a real nuisance! A conscientious gardener may want to pull them out. In some parts of the country Soursobs are the classic winter weed. We think we have got rid of them. But each plant that we pull leaves behind lots of little bulbils that grow underground. And the following year there are many more soursobs thicker than ever.

The garden experts will say, ‘don’t pull them out – be patient, wait till they flower and then spray them. That is the only way to kill all the soursob bulbils.’

Weeds frustrate the gardeners and the farmers alike.

In today’s gospel Jesus shares a story about the weeds that grow up amongst the wheat.

At the end of the story the farmer says to his workers: ‘Let both the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds and burn them and to put the wheat in the barn.’

Later Jesus explained that the field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.”

“Just as the weeds are separated out and burned, so it will be at the end of the world. I, the Son of Man, will send my angels, and they will remove from my Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil, and they will throw them into the furnace and burn them. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the godly will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom.”

The farming strategy that Jesus shares in his story is very different to ours. We want to pull out the weeds as soon as we identify them. But he doesn’t do that. 

His reasoning is that to pull out the weeds will hurt the wheat.

OK—this might not make sense from a gardening or farming perspective. But when we consider Jesus’ parable as an analogy of life it may start to make sense. The lives of all people are filled with sin and evil. We are all part of the problem. Our selfish desires lead us to sin and we do evil.  We see this in the ways we are always busy and never stop. We see this in the ways we mistreat each other and always want more for ourselves.

And so at the harvest time – at the end of the earth, I wonder what will the angels find?

Will there be any wheat or will they only find weeds?

Our second reading has something to say to Christians about their sinful nature: Paul says: “So, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you keep on following it, you will perish.”

If we were to use the language of Jesus’ story we might say: “If you keep on following the desires of your sinful nature, you will be found in the end to be one of the weeds that will be separated out and burned.” I don’t like this prognosis.

So, how can I stop following the urges of my sinful nature?  There must be a way to change direction. There must be a way to change what it is that controls us. There must be a way to no longer follow the sinful natural desires that will lead us to perish.

In our second reading, the Apostle Paul gives us the answer:

In Verse 13 he says: But if through the power of the Holy Spirit you turn from your sinful nature and its evil deeds, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

Remember, it is the Holy Spirit who leads us to believe and helps us to live as God’s children. We cannot claim to believe or live as God’s children on our own strength or ability. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms our lives. It is the Holy Spirit that enables you to turn from sin and your evil deeds.

And if we are going to experience the transforming work of the Spirit we need to be exposed to the means through which the Holy Spirit continues to work.

When Luther explained the work of the Holy Spirit in his explanation to the Apostles’ Creed he made it so clear when he said: “The Holy Spirit has called me to Jesus by the good news about him.” In other words: The Holy Spirit is at work through the good news about Jesus! And where do we find the good news about Jesus?  It is in the Bible – in the word of God.

God’s Spirit is at work wherever God’s word is read, taught or preached or enacted. Transformation does not and cannot happen in our lives without God’s Spirit at work through the Good News of Jesus.

Whenever we celebrate a baptism, we often explain this saying:  “The word of God teaches that we are born sinful and unclean, but God washes us clean in the waters of baptism, and we are born again as his children. Through baptism our heavenly Father forgives us our sins and unites us with our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we share in his death and resurrection. And the Holy Spirit renews us and gives us eternal life.”

Every time we gather here and begin our worship in the Name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit, we are remembering whose we are because of our baptism.

We have been born again as children of God. This can be our new starting point that guides us in all we do. 

Our second reading gives more advice to those who have been born again as Children of God:  “So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family—calling him “Father, dear Father. For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children.

And how does the Holy Spirit speak deep into our hearts?  It is through the Good news about Jesus that the Spirit speaks deep into our hearts.  The Holy Spirit helps us to believe what the Good news speaks of. And today the Good News speaks of the great inheritance that God’s children will receive.

In the explanation Jesus gives to his story today he says that at the end of time: The godly will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. What an amazing picture of promise! In our second reading Paul says in verse 17: And since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too.

But Paul adds one extra thought to this: “But if we are to share Christ’s glory, we must also share Christ’s suffering.”  This final word – ‘suffering’ takes us back to the soursobs and weeds in the garden. A gardener will not successfully and permanently remove the soursobs in their garden until the right time. And after that right time, the other plants will be seen clearly in all their glory – never again to be covered in soursobs.

Likewise, there will come a time when, sin, death and the devil are removed and destroyed forever. At that time those who are led by God’s Spirit will shine in God’s kingdom and share in Christ’s glory. But in the meantime we will share in Christ’s suffering. Until the day of glory, we live in a broken world as saints and as sinners at the same time.

Time and time again, we may follow our natural desires and we may fall into sin and may even become proud of our sin and the wrong we have done. But whenever we place the mirror of God’s word before us, whenever we engage with God’s word, it reveals our sin for what it is – it reveals our sickness.  The Holy Spirit helps us to identify our sin and to confess our sin to God our Father through Christ our Lord. But maybe even more incredible, the Holy Spirit turns our eyes to Jesus and reminds us that he has already dealt with our sin and that Jesus’ Father has claimed you as his children forever!   

Empowered by his Spirit we now have a new starting point to live as his beloved children. And knowing just how much we are loved we can call out to God our father for whatever we need.

Empowered by his Spirit we can honour our heavenly Father by worshipping Jesus as our saviour and redeemer and by seeking after his will as we wait to share in Christ’s eternal Glory.

Remember also how our second reading ends: “But if we are to share Christ’s glory, we must also share Christ’s suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later…..And we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, we groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us.

As you wait for that day, may God’s Spirit continue to work in your life as you daily engage with his word. May you daily turn away from your sinful ways, remembering that you are already his beloved child.

In this way you will be able to deal with the sufferings of life with patience and confidence, knowing that God will one day share his glory with all of his children in his kingdom.

And may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus to life eternal. Amen

The Parable of the Sower

The Text: Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

When it comes to parables like the Parable of the Sower, there are some things that are a bit surprising, especially for any gardeners or farmers amongst us. For how many of you would be as reckless with your precious seed as this unnamed sower. Did you notice? He doesn’t seem to care much where it lands. He doesn’t drop a seed here and a seed there into carefully cultivated holes, but instead he scatters his seed to fall wherever it may – on the road, in the rocky ground, amongst the weeds, in good soil.

The Sower, of course, is God, and the seed is his word, by which God’s Spirit comes and takes root in human hearts. And God doesn’t let his word fall only on those who are prepared to hear it. He scatters the seed of his word to fall wherever it may – on the devout, the sinner, the religious, the sceptic – people like you and me gathered here this morning.

The point of this apparently reckless sowing is that, with God, there always is more than enough seed to go around. There is enough forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ death for everyone. There is enough Bread of Life come down from heaven to feed the whole world, with baskets of leftovers. There is no need for God to be careful about where he sows the seed of his word and who receives it – he sends it out with this promise: “[That] as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Is. 55:10-11).

Sadly, the church today seems to be more interested in spiritual agronomy than in seed-sowing. We are told that what we need for the church to grow these days is to conduct soil studies to tell us the needs and wants of people and where God’s word is most likely to take hold. Contrast that with the picture of the Sower who sows his seed with reckless abandon, broadcasting the death and resurrection of Jesus to the wind, letting it fall wherever it lands.

The Sower sows his seed, and some of it falls on the path. Here the gospel is heard with a hardened heart; a heart that says, “I have no need for this word, for this Jesus, for this forgiveness”. This is an unbelieving hearing. The words are heard, but they ping off stubborn hearts like seeds bouncing off cement.

Now this sclerosis of the heart to the word of God is at work in each of us. This is the effect of what Paul calls our sinful flesh – our inborn pride and stubbornness, our efforts to justify ourselves by putting others down; our selfishness and spiritual laziness. Which is why we get bored with church and find it hard to read our Bibles. It’s also why we want novelty in our worship services rather than the steady reliable liturgy week after week. The angels don’t mind singing the same hymns day and night before the throne of God; but we need options and alternatives, lest the word of God go in one ear and out the other.

The seed that falls on the hardened path is eaten up by the birds (that is, the devil). God forces no one to listen to the gospel, and so he permits the devil to come and snatch it away from those who don’t want it. Luther once remarked that the gospel is like a little local rain shower that is in one place today and moves on somewhere else tomorrow. That’s the way it has gone down through history.

Consider the Middle East, for example, at one time the cradle of Christianity. Now the gospel is barely heard there today (except in a few persecuted pockets). Or consider Europe (and especially Germany), the land where the Reformation took hold with such power over 450 years ago. Look at how little Christ is heard in those great churches today, and how few come to hear it.

And think of our own land, Australia. For all the churches, for all the revivals, for all the religious talk out there, there is less of the gospel heard today in Australia than at any other time in our history. Oh, there are still plenty of churches to go to on Sunday morning, with services designed and scheduled for everyone’s convenience, but unless they go with an open heart to the hearing of the gospel, the precious seed will get pecked away before it has time to take root.

The Sower sows his seed and some of it falls on rocky soil. This is the shallow soil of emotionalism and superficial joy. This is religion based on wants and feelings rather than facts and faith. It is a kind of “lite” Christianity; all of the bubbles but none of the substance; spiritual milk rather than meat. This is the religion of faith without repentance. Everything happens immediately in shallow soil – the seed sprouts immediately and just as immediately it grows. But without root, without depth of soil, the tender shoots are vulnerable. They cannot survive the heat of the noon day sun, but quickly dry up when the cross of suffering comes.

Christianity “lite” doesn’t like to hear about suffering or pain. It doesn’t want to be disturbed by the idea that the good news of the gospel also involves some bad news for our sinful flesh. But the irony is that the churches throughout the world (and throughout history) that grow the most are those that are most persecuted. For only if the gospel is worth dying for, is it worth living for.

The Sower sows his seed, and some of it lands among the thorns, that choke out the young seedlings. This is a conflicted hearing. The gospel is preached and heard, but it is just one voice among many others clamouring for our attention. There are two types of thorn bushes mentioned: 1) the anxieties and cares of the world, and 2) the deceitfulness of riches. The first is the worries that come when a person doesn’t trust God to provide. Anxiety is the prayer that is prayed to the false gods of our own making when they aren’t coming through for us, choking out our prayers to our heavenly Father, who is our only help in times of trouble.

Growing along with anxiety is the thorn bush of greed; the endless pursuit of riches; the desire for more, better, faster, bigger, brighter. St. Paul says that many have wandered from the faith and pierced their hearts on the sharp thorns of greed. Greed consumes our time and energy and resources and attention, until we are no longer able to hear God’s word, to pray, to praise, even to come to the church.

You and I are that field into which the heavenly Sower sows his seed. Our hearts are that soil that he would make into good soil. But no soil (as far as I am aware) is self-tilling, and no human heart is self-softening. For the word to be planted and grow into a good crop, our hearts must first be prepared to receive it.

God does this through the difficulties and disappointments, the disasters and diseases, we face throughout our lives. He does it to clear away the stones of our pride, envy, anger, greed, sloth, lust and gluttony; to break up our hardened hearts and to uproot every weed that threatens the fruitful growth of his word. In this way, he teaches us to trust him, to receive everything as a gift from his gracious hand, to recognise his presence and his working, even in the most painful things. And then he sows his seed and waits to reap an abundant crop – a hundred, sixty, thirty-fold.

So when it feels to you sometimes as if God is ploughing you under, let the Parable of the Sower be a reminder that what he is doing is sowing Christ into your hearts. Expect a harvest from the seed that is sown. For the word of God will not return to him empty. He has bought you with a great price and given you his Spirit as a guarantee of good things to come. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then be assured that he will also give life to your mortal bodies – like seed sprouting in good soil – through his Spirit who dwells in you. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Rest and recuperation

The Text: Matthew 11:28-30


Jesus said: Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Something strange has happened in the way we live our lives.

Once upon a time most people spent most of their lives doing things that were physical—working the land with hand tools; running the household with great effort; making things with hard physical labour.

We can think of God’s word to Adam after he was thrown out of the Garden of Eden: Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. By the sweat of the brow you will eat food, until you return to the ground.

People would work hard all day, and by the end of the day they were exhausted. People would work hard all their lives, and by the time they were old, their bodies were worn out.

Then people started to get cleverer. People invented all sorts of machines that took over many of the hard tasks – machines for the household, and for working the land, and for manufacturing things in the factories.

I think that most of you would agree that our lives today are much easier than the lives of previous generations. Much of the burden of hard physical labour has been lifted off our shoulders.

But then something strange happened. We have realised that we need physical activity. We need physical exercise to keep us healthy. We need to do things that make us tired.

So what did we do? We invented some more machines, machines that we use to exercise, and we put them in gymnasiums, and sometimes in our own homes, and we use them, not to take away the physical efforts of life, but to give us the sort of physical effort that will help us to stay healthy.

Our text today talks about hard work, about the burdens of life, that leave us exhausted, worn out. It talks about relief from your burdens, and rest, and refreshment, and recuperation.

But then it also talks about a new burden, a new exercise that you need for the good of your health.

Jesus says: Come to me all you who are weary and weighed down with heavy burdens. Jesus promises: Come to me, and I will give you rest, and refreshment. But then he challenges us: And now pick up my yoke, and learn from me. Learn how to live a life that is healthy and strong.

What are the burdens that weigh people down? What makes you tired?

Do you get tired physically? For all the labour-saving devices that we have, life can still be physically demanding. At the end of the day we may feel tired and worn out.

Our bodies have their limits, and when we have been doing physical work, we reach the point where our bodies tell us. If we are ill, if we are carrying injuries, then we become even more aware of our physical limits. We feel tired. We need rest.

As you grow old, you become more and more aware of the loss of physical strength. You cannot do the same tasks you used to do. You appreciate rest and quietness more and more.

But there are other kinds of burdens and other kinds of weariness.

Today, when we spend less time and effort on physical work, our levels of mental stress have grown at least as much. As life has become more and more complicated, our emotional stress keeps going higher. We talk about the pressures of life. There are pressures all around us—we are expected to succeed, to be able to manage new tasks, new technology, and we often get to the point when we cry out: I can’t cope with it all. Give me a break.

We have financial pressures—all the things that we want to get, the security we hope for. We struggle to make ends meet.

We have relationship pressures. We want to love and be loved. So often our relationships become difficult and we carry disappointments and regrets.

There are pressures within us. We want to be successful. We want to be able to manage. We want to be independent. But again and again we are reminded of our own limitations. We feel that we have failed.

But the greatest pressure, and our greatest failures, are spiritual.

If we are honest, we know that we are not the people that we would like to be. We do not live the life that we know that we should live.

I know that I am not the person that God wants me to be, and expects me to be, and commands me to be. I know I should obey my God, and I should live according to the life that God has set up for me. But I don’t. I fail. I disobey God, and I break God’s commands. The greatest burden we carry is our moral failure.

We try to get around it and think that as long as we do our best, that should be OK. But it does not work. We carry a great and terrible burden of guilt. We have sinned against our God.

If we think back to Paul’s words in Romans 7, it is one of the most honest cases of facing the guilt within our human hearts: I am a prisoner to the law of sin which is at work in my body. What a wretched man I am! We can hear his frustration, his anger, almost despair. If we are honest, we know that we all share in the same sort of struggle.

I once shared this passage with a person who was struggling with addictions—gambling addiction, alcohol and drug addiction, sexual addiction. This person wanted to break free, but the reality is that an addiction keeps grabbing you and dragging you back.

So you have the burden of terrible frustration and guilt. You want to do what is right and healthy, but the urges to do something to satisfy your desires is so great that it keeps dragging you back.

Sin is an addiction. We don’t want to sin – but we do. Those desires to do something, even if we know that it is hurtful—they keep grabbing us and dragging us down.

That is what Paul is speaking about, and we feel it too: I don’t understand what I am doing, and why I keep on doing it. I don’t do what I want to do, but I do what I hate. I know that God’s law is good, and I want to do what is right. But sin is living in me, and I keep on giving way to sin. I have the desire to do what is right, but I do not have the strength to carry it out. ….I don’t do the good I want to do, but I do the evil I don’t want to do.

We hear his great frustration, and we share that frustration. Who will rescue me from this body of death?

But Paul also has an answer. Paul knows where to go for relief, for release, for rest. Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

That is also the answer that Jesus himself has given. That is the invitation that Christ gives to us: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened. Come to me and I will give you rest.

One of the great gifts of God is rest. Rest is peace, relief, refreshment. When we have rest, our bodies, and our minds, and our spirits, have the opportunity to recover, to gather strength again.

When we are tired, we just want to stop, to put our feet up, to crawl into bed, to go to sleep. When we are rested, we are ready to start again. Our energy and our strength have returned.

We have been made in a way so that while we rest we are made strong. Our bodies and our minds are refreshed and rejuvenated. If we are sick, often a good rest is the best medicine, so that your bodies can heal themselves, and overcome fevers and infections.

There is a beautiful psalm verse: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for God grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:2)

Jesus Christ offers rest. But now it is rest that brings health and recovery from our spiritual weariness, from our burdens of sin and guilt. Jesus Christ offers to take our burden. Jesus Christ has taken the burden of our sin and guilt all the way to the Cross. He has carried that burden and he has paid for that guilt with his own life. So Jesus says to us that we do not have to try to prove your own goodness—not to God, nor to ourselves, nor to anyone else. Jesus takes away that pressure.

And Jesus tells us that as we come to him in repentance, he forgives us. He takes away our sin. He sets us free from the burden of guilt, and that terrible frustration when we can never avoid following our human sinful desires.

Jesus gives us that deep rest and peace, for we know that our sins are forgiven. With that rest we are refreshed, rejuvenated, recuperated. We are ready to live again, with the strength and energy that comes from God’s Spirit.

But just when we think that all of our problems have been solved, Jesus comes back and says: But now I have something for you to carry. Take my yoke on upon you. A yoke is the big heavy beam of wood that was placed over the shoulders of a team of oxen, so that they could pull heavy loads. Jesus is putting a load on us.

Is it easy to be a Christian, to follow Jesus, to live for Christ? No, because Jesus also has very high expectations on us. Jesus calls on us to be totally dedicated to our God, to serve God with our bodies, minds and spirits. That is demanding, and it can mean a huge effort, a deep sacrifice.

Has Jesus lifted off one burden, and replaced it with another? Yes—and no! Jesus takes away the real burdens that wear us out and threaten to destroy us. But remember how we spoke about another sort of effort, about work, about exercise, which is part of healthy living that creates a healthy tiredness.

That is the sort of task and challenge that Jesus gives us. Jesus says: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

If you look at a yoke, you will see that it is not meant to be carried alone—it is always carried by a pair of oxen. Jesus tells you, I am giving you a burden, but I am not expecting to carry it by yourself. I am not plonking it on top of you to weigh you down and oppress you and destroy you.

No, I am gentle and humble in heart. I am giving you something that is going to help you and build you up.

Jesus says that he is carrying that burden with us. Learn from me. When you share the tasks and challenges of Christian life, you are sharing in the life of Jesus Christ. You are sharing the life that comes from God. That is a privilege, not a burden. And it is a challenge that makes you stronger, that builds up your faith. The more you respond, the more you grow, and you appreciate more and more what God is doing through you and what God is doing in you.

With Jesus Christ, this yoke is easy, this burden is not too heavy. As you commit to God’s tasks, yes, you do get tired. You know that you have been putting your body and mind and soul into it. But it is a healthy tiredness. It is the tiredness that brings refreshment and new life.

Until you finally have finished all of your tasks. Then you have a new rest and an eternal peace. Then you are living in the peace of your heavenly Father. For Christ has given you the rest for your souls. Amen.

Welcoming God

‘Welcoming God’


 “Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me.” (v. 40 NLT)

It’s always good to feel welcome when we go somewhere new. For example, if we are visiting a church we’ve never been to for the first time, it can be very awkward to know where to go, what we need, when to sit or stand in the service, or where the toilets are. If we are visiting people in their homes, we can be very thankful that we have the right address to begin with, but also that the people we are visiting are warm in their welcome to us. It’s a real blessing to be invited into people’s homes, to spend time with them over a tea or coffee (or maybe something a little bit stronger), and to talk with them about life and the journey of faith that we’re all on.

In the same way, it is important for us to be a welcoming congregation. Through the way we welcome people, people who connect with us for the first time can feel at ease when they meet us, they can find a sense of belonging with us, and they can feel comfortable and valued while they are among us.

Our gospel reading for today, Matthew 10:40-42, comes at the end of Jesus’ instructions to his Twelve Disciples before he sent them out on their first missionary journey. Jesus warned them that not everyone would welcome them and receive the message they brought (vv13b,14). However, Jesus also said that those households which did receive them would also receive the peace of God (v13a). Then, at the end of his instructions, Jesus went even further by saying that those who welcomed his disciples also welcomed him, and by receiving him, they even welcomed the presence of God among them.

Stop and think about that for a moment…

On the one hand, these were Jesus’ specific instructions to a certain group of people at a particular time and place. However, as followers of Jesus whom he continues to send out into our time and place, we can also hear Jesus saying that when people welcome us, they welcome him and the presence of God with us.

One reason why this is really important is because often people ask where God is in the world. When people are hurting, confused, struggling or broken by life’s circumstances, God can often seem to be absent and uncaring. Jesus is saying here that God is present in the struggles, pain, uncertainty and joys of life through his people. As we live in the good news of God’s present and coming Kingdom, and as we participate with God in his mission to bring his peace into the world, God is present in the living, breathing body of his Son in the world. God makes himself known and extends his healing, life, cleansing and liberating presence in the lives of the people around us through our words and actions by the power of his Holy Spirit.

How do our words and actions reflect the grace and love of Jesus and our heavenly Father to others? As people welcome us into their homes and lives, is the presence of our forgiving and peace-giving God made real in their lives through us?

As Jesus’ disciples, he calls us to grow in the peace God gives us through faith in his grace so that we can be bringing his peace, hope and love to everyone that we meet. The goal of living and growing as Jesus’ disciples is just as much about making the Kingdom of God real in our world by extending God’s gracious and life-giving presence to everyone who welcomes us as it is about getting into heaven when we die. We can make the coming Kingdom of God real in our homes, our work places, our schools or anywhere we are welcomed and received by other people. The promise of Jesus is that they welcome him as they welcome us, and by welcoming him they also receive the presence of God who is the source of all life. This is the God who forgives sinners, who shows grace to those who need it the most but deserve it the least, who brings the light of new life out of the darkness of death, who serves his followers by washing their feet, and who gives us his all in his self-sacrificing love of the cross.

As we begin a new week, who will welcome you into their homes, their workplaces, or their lives this week? How can you be the peace-filled and grace-giving presence of God in the joys and challenges, struggles and problems they are facing? Ask the Holy Spirit of God to keep you close to Jesus through faith so that, as people welcome you this week, they may also welcome Jesus in you, and they may find peace in the presence of our gracious and loving God in you.

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