Freedom to do whatever.

The Text: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13


Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

You might recognise this type of phrase if you have one of those pedantic parents who like to use every opportunity to educate you on the technicalities of the English language, such as when you asked such a question like: “Can I have a Tim Tam?”

Your mother may have answered: Yes, you can, but you may not.”

When you look at her with frustration she may have then gone on to say something like: “’Can I?’ is a question which asks about ability, where the question ‘May I?’ asks permission. So, yes, you can have a Tim Tam biscuit because you’re quite capable of going and getting it, holding it in your own fingers, and feeding yourself. However, you may not be permitted to have a Tim Tam right now because it’ll spoil your appetite for dinner.”

So yes, there are many things you can do, but that doesn’t mean you should.

St Paul uses a similar argument in regard to our freedom as Christians.

An example Paul cites is one about food offered to idols (which at first glance doesn’t seem like it would apply to us today).

The context for this question is this:

In Corinth there were many temples and shrines to various idols and false gods, which used animal sacrifices as part of their offerings so their idols and gods might favour or bless them. These sacrificial meats would either be a) left at the altar to these false gods, b) eaten by the people who worshipped there for their special celebrations with family and friends, or c) later taken to the marketplace and sold.

The question raised was: are Christians allowed to eat any of these meats, even though they’ve been sacrificed to false gods? And, even if they could normally avoid buying some of these meats, what happens if they’re invited to a friend’s house who are serving up meats originally offered to idols? Do they refuse and risk offending their hosts? Or, do they eat these meats without a care in the world, but risk alienating some of their own fellowship who would be offended by the fact they’re eating these meats?

In response, it’s quite likely some Christians were saying: “But we know those are false gods. We know the idols are just wood or gold or stone. We know there’s just one true God. We know this food isn’t going to get us any closer to Jesus or push us further away. It’s just plain food because those idols don’t really exist anyway. So therefore, why don’t we just go ahead and eat these temple meals!”

On the other hand, some might be also saying: “But we’ve left those types of practices in our past because we now have faith in Jesus as our Lord and God. He’s the only one we should worship. He’s the only one we should call upon to bless our food and families and service. Plus, if we live like everyone else, then how will anyone know we’re Christian? Look, I believe it’s so serious that, if any of you eat these meats, then I’m not sure your faith is genuine anymore and I’m scared you may be in danger of falling away from faith in Jesus and going back to your old ways of idolatry!”

So, what’s Paul’s advice to this divided congregation who couldn’t agree on a solution, especially where there’s no clear instruction from God about what’s commanded or forbidden?

His solution is both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’, but he also explains why, which will also help us when faced with similar dilemmas.

Firstly: “Yes, you can eat this meat, at least in the privacy of your home, since you know the idol is false and misleading, and you don’t at all mean to worship it.”

But later on, in chapter 10 (where he talks about eating this meat in public), he says: “No, you can’t be a part of those temple meals in public, even if it’s just a social gathering. In that public meal at the temple you’re participating with any demons who may be present there. To eat that meal in public would also give the wrong witness to those who are struggling to stay faithful to Jesus.”

But you may wonder, what does it matter if they were to eat these meats privately or publicly?

Well, because it’s not all about you.

The exercising of any rights by individuals in a Christian congregation should always be less important than the common rights of a Christian community and for the sake of its unity, especially if there are some within its midst who are weaker in conscience.

In this case, because it might offend your brothers or sisters in Christ, you can eat these meats (at least in private), but you may not (especially in public) for the sake of their faith.

You see, love (and especially Christian love which always considers everyone else as more important than you) always builds up. Your love for your fellow Christians is always more important than your own individual freedom or rights.

This argument can then be used for almost every other situation in the church.

For example, imagine a congregation which is considering relocating the church’s bible from the altar to the lectern. While many like to have the bible on the altar to show its centrality to our worship, it also makes sense to put it where we’ll actually use it. The bible readings are read from the lectern instead of the altar, so that would be a more practical and liturgical place to put it there.

Let’s say this congregation discusses the pros and cons and puts it to the vote. The result is nearly unanimous that they should move the bible to the lectern. Then one member might stand up and say: “If that bible moves off the altar, I won’t attend worship here!”

Now, no matter what you think of such ultimatums, this congregation, out of love for this one person, might in the end agree they could move the bible, but choose not to. They might exercise both their Christian freedom and their love for their fellow member. They might choose to build up the body of Christ in love instead of dividing it over rights and entitlements and democratic votes.

Of course, this doesn’t always happen.

How many times have families and churches become divided because one person (or a number of people), choose to exercise their own rights or privileges over against their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ? How many times has the unity of the church been held to ransom by an individual or a minority group? How many times have people stopped coming to worship because of what they saw and heard fellow Christians saying or doing what they shouldn’t have?

The basic problem is our selfish desire to serve ourselves, which often puts us on a slippery slope of confrontation and division within communities.

For example:

Let’s say I want something. It may even be a good thing to want or expect. But then I have an unmet expectation because I’m not getting what I want. I still think I’m right (or at least I believe I have a right to my expectation or desire), and so I get frustrated because I’m not getting what I want. Because I’m frustrated, it doesn’t take long before I start demanding to be satisfied. When my demands aren’t met, I’m then likely to judge you’re getting in the way of what I want, and so I’ll punish you!

How quickly we often go from having a desire to becoming judge, jury, and executioner!

But an unintended result of our own desires or demands or expectations is (no matter how noble they are); when weaker Christians see or experience our lack of love for each other, they can quickly despair of their faith and fall through the gaps of a fractured community.

Too many times love and unity have taken a back seat (or been locked away in the boot), when love and unity should have been driving all our thoughts, words, and actions.

So, when St Paul talks about food sacrificed to idols (which at first doesn’t seem to apply to us today), we unintentionally become the self-made idols or gods who expect everyone else to sacrifice themselves to our whims and desires.

We make it sound like they must all bow to our desires. They must pay the price when they don’t do what we want.

The common theme running through most of the New Testament letters (and especially from those written by St Paul), is for Christians to practice love and unity. If anyone is to sacrifice themselves and their own desires or intentions, it is the stronger Christians who will always give up their rights and privileges for the sake of others.

Now, this doesn’t mean we should reduce our teachings or our practices to the lowest common denominator, because there are certain things which are clearly commanded or forbidden by God. We don’t compromise on what God teaches in his word. But it’s often in those matters which are neither commanded nor forbidden that we often make into the most divisive ultimatums and fodder for our fights.

Paul is saying here that Christian love will always seek to build those weaker in conscience. Christian love will always seek to build up the church and sacrifice itself for unity in the body of Christ. Christian love will always concern itself with the conscience of those weaker in conscience. Christian love will always model itself on the person and loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

You see, Jesus didn’t come to demand or punish or condemn; saying that we should be sacrificed for his sake. He was sacrificed for our sake.

He came to satisfy his Father’s demand for someone to pay for all the times we’re selfish. He came to be punished for all the times we try to get our own way (as if we’re the idol or god who should be obeyed). He was the one condemned and sacrificed for self-serving people like you and me.

Thankfully, no matter how much we’ve hurt or offended others because of our own desires or demands, we’re reminded that, where the blood of Cain once cried out for justice, Jesus’ blood instead now cries out for our forgiveness and mercy, and through faith we’re now innocent and washed clean by this undeserving grace and sacrificial love.

Of course, there’ll still be many more questions the church will be faced with. Some of them will threaten to divide us or trouble the consciences of those weaker in conscience. In each case, God’s word (which includes the divinely inspired letters from Paul and other New Testament writers), is our guiding light to decide on all matters of faith, doctrine and life.

But we also learn today that, whenever we come across a question of “Can I?” or “Can we?” in matters which are neither commanded or forbidden, we’re to instead ask: “May we?”

After all, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should, especially if it affects the body of Christ or those weaker in conscience. Amen.

When we consider these questions, we’re to remember the guiding principle of the love of Christ which always seeks to build up the Christian community and preserve it in loving unity. That loving unity is more important than getting our own way, no matter how noble our desires are. Amen.

Good news from God

Mark 1:15

You may have noticed how journalists carefully followed Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince William, when Catherine was pregnant. The journalists analysed every sentence spoken, the slight movement of Catherine’s hand across the ‘baby bump’, and even what the Duchess wore in order to glean a bit more information about the yet-to-be-born royal baby. A magazine journal thought it had a scoop when it published an article saying that twins were about to be added to the royal family. A TV presenter announced that the royal baby would be a princess because the Duchess wore a pink coat. Really! Are we supposed to believe such trashy news?

Today we hear from the gospel writer, Mark. He records the first words from Jesus after his baptism.  Mark says this is “Good News from God”.  We wait with expectation.  What will Jesus say?  Will he say something eloquent, wise, deep and meaningful?  Will everyone gasp and swoon as he speaks this glad announcement from God?  To paraphrase, he says, “The time has come, and the kingdom of God is within reach, so turn your life around and get on board”. Is that all?  I checked Matthew and Luke and they don’t even have this much. Not really a grand entrance.  The heavens didn’t open to reveal the Messiah as prophesied. No “Tada, here I am after centuries of waiting; the messiah you’ve been waiting for”. No three cheers from the crowd. 

In fact, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, but he never stops to define what he means.

So let’s talk about kingdoms in general for a minute. If I asked around the room what images come to mind when one thinks of the word ‘kingdom’, I believe we would get quite a few different responses.  Some might think of the kingdoms of fairy tales, others, the ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ type of kingdoms, and others, like myself, who enjoy medieval history might have a much darker image of kingdoms with heartless kings, greedy nobles, poverty and disease. The word is surrounded with a lot of baggage.

If I had the time I would take you on a study through the Old Testament to understand the rule of God, his kingdom and how the concept of the kingship took on messianic and futuristic qualities.  The kingship of God doesn’t carry with it any of the negative authoritarian, oppressive, implications of Israel’s past kings.  This Old Testament understanding of Kingdom of God included hope, joy, peace, a new beginning, a new king, a new Israel and the great feeling of coming home. 

I’m going to use the word ‘culture’ to explain God’s kingdom.  Now that might seem a strange word to use, but let me explain using the following example. 

There was a couple who had three lovely granddaughters, whose mother was French.  Her parents live in a small, pretty French village in the Loire Valley.  When they visited them, they had to forget about their own culture and the way they did things and totally immerse themselves in everything that is French: speaking only the French language, preparing food the French way, how it is eaten the French way, including how you break, not cut, your baguettes, the way an aperitif is served before dinner, the way you eat your evening meal over several hours with several courses and wine to suit each one, and eating only one type of food at a time – not mixing everything together as is the custom in Australia.

You see, culture is us. Culture is who we are and how we do things, and what we value and stand for.  Culture shapes the way we behave, what we say. It shapes our whole life. 

I think you might understand why I chose the word ‘culture’ to explain the impact of Jesus’ announcement that the Kingdom of God is here.  Jesus is announcing that with the coming of God’s kingdom there is a culture shift. Now is the time to abandon (repent, turn away from) the values of the culture of this world and get on board.  It’s time to immerse yourself in God’s new culture, God’s new way of living, a new way of looking at the past, present and future, God’s new values of hope, love, forgiveness, compassion, boldness, and so on. To be immersed in the culture of God is major change in a person’s life. 

The disciples Jesus called that day along the shore of Lake Galilee heard Jesus say simply, “Come with me”. “Come with me and turn away from the culture, the lifestyle that is focussed on yourselves, your sinfulness.  Come with me and turn away from the culture of this world with all its distractions and self-centredness that drives a wedge between you and God, and get on board God’s culture; God’s new way of living that changes the way you think about the world and others, the way you see nature, the people around you and yourself, the way you interact with the pain and hurt and suffering in the community around you.  Come and get on board with this radical new turnaround”. 

As we heard in the anecdote about getting to know the French culture, it takes a while to be fully immersed in a culture that is a radical shift from what we are accustomed.  That day along the shore of Lake Galilee, the disciples made the first big step getting on board with the new culture of the Kingdom of God.  It took a while for them to fully realise what this meant – it took them the next 3 years and the rest of their lives.  Mark records the beginning of their new journey – “At once they left their nets and went with him” (v18). 

So what has all this to say to us today?  I dare say many of you have you been participants in the church for many years, maybe a lifetime, others a shorter time but no less dedicated.  That doesn’t matter.  It’s easy to take for granted the Kingdom of God and the radical shift this brings into our lives.  It’s easy to miss this culture change, because that part of our inner nature that constantly urges us to become self-focussed, inward looking, putting me-first, stating I-want-my-way, gradually and unnoticeably takes over.  In actual fact, without us even realising it, a coup takes place – a culture other than the Kingdom of God takes over; we adopt ways and values that we realise are all wrong.  We might have been on board once, but somewhere along the way we’ve got off.

Throughout Paul’s letters he urges his readers to follow the way of Jesus not the ways of the world.  You see, as Christians we live in a situation of constant tension between what is God’s way and what is the way of our own desires and the world.  As people who follow Christ, who live in the culture of the Kingdom of God, as those who have been baptised in Christ and put on the nature and characteristics of Jesus – his love and compassion, his gentleness and forgiveness, his patience and self-giving, his focus on the needs of others before his own needs – as we live in this kind of atmosphere and culture this will often bring us into a conflict with ourselves and also with the values and acceptable standards of the people around us, many of whom we know and love dearly.  Being “in Christ” is a tough call.  Getting on board with the culture of the Kingdom of God is a real challenge.

Let’s hear from the apostle Paul.  He says, Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (Rom 12:2) or as he says in Ephesians, “Since you are God’s dear children, you must try to be like him. Your life must be controlled by love, just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us” (Eph. 5:1,2). 

In Philippians he says, “All I want to know is Christ”.  Paul is talking about a Christianity that’s not just in our heads but influences and affects and infects everything in our lives.  Not one corner of our being is to be left untouched by the “new thing” that Jesus brings into our lives.  We are to be totally immersed, soaked, saturated in the culture of the Kingdom of God. Paul often talks about becoming more and more “like Christ”.

Coming up on our calendars is Australia Day – a day when we celebrate the good things about our country, and without a doubt, we have so much to be happy about and to thank God.  There are many good things to celebrate in our Aussie culture.  But let’s not be so patriotic that we don’t see that Australian culture will put us in conflict with the culture of the Kingdom of God.  Being “in Christ”, “bearing the image of Christ”, being “like Christ” is a challenge in our modern world.  It’s easier to blend into our Aussie culture and accept even what we know goes against our calling to be “like Christ”.

We know that the apostle Paul struggled within himself about how well he followed Christ’s way.  He said that he knew what was the right thing to do, but for some reason he kept on doing the wrong thing.  That sounds very familiar doesn’t it?  And like Paul, we know that in the Kingdom of God we find the forgiveness and newness that Christ has won for us.

The world, our nation, needs you and me to be “like Christ”. Which culture do we allow to shape our hearts, minds, attitudes, lifestyles, relationships with people nearby and faraway—and not the least with God himself?  What is it that forms our identity – is it the culture of the world or is it the mind of Christ?  The Kingdom of God, the culture of God, has come to you.  Christ is in you; you are in Christ! Amen. 

Epiphany is about God revealing Jesus


The Text: John 1:43-51


The season of Christmas celebrates the coming of the Son of God in human flesh to save and rescue His people.

The season of Epiphany is about God revealing that this Jesus, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, is the promised Messiah. Jesus in the long promised and much hoped for rescuer from God, and He manifests His divine power in the spoken word, and in signs and wonders.

Epiphany begins with the sign of the star in the sky which guides the Gentile wise-men to Bethlehem, and the rest of Epiphany shows how Jesus was revealed as the Son of God to all who would hear Him.

God must reveal Himself to us or we would not know where or how to find Him. Many people think they can find God through religious experiences, charismatic leaders, and even participating in non-Christian worship practises. But such things don’t lead us to God, they lead us away from Him and place us in spiritual danger.  

God cannot be found by humans. God finds us. He often comes to us through someone who already knows Him. This someone trusts in God. They know His life changing love and they want us to have it too.

This is the pattern we see in the Bible. A Jewish servant girl told Naaman about the prophet of the Lord who could heal him and he was cleansed of his skin disease and given faith (2 Kings 5). Four friends brought their crippled mate on a mattress to Jesus and he was cured and made whole in body and soul (Mark 2:1-12). Philip spoke with the Ethiopian about Jesus and he was baptised (Acts 8:26-39). Believers in Jesus bring those in need of God’s grace to Jesus.

This is what we see happen to Nathanael when Philip asked him to come and see Jesus. Philip knew Jesus. The Lord had said, “Follow Me” and Philip did, and he knew the Lord. He heard and saw that Jesus is the One whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote about. The Spirit filled Word of God revealed to Philip who Jesus was. Everything he heard from Jesus and saw Him do confirmed it. His eyes were opened. His heart was transformed. Philip is so excited that he goes and tells his friend Nathanael that the promised Redeemer has come, and he wants Nathanael to know the Lord too.

Someone did that for you. It was probably your parents or maybe a friend. They pointed you to Jesus saying come and see. Come and see the Saviour who has fulfilled the Law and everything God’s prophets said He would. Come and hear what He has done for you.

Christian parents bring their children to be baptised, and in water and the word a child sees and hears Jesus at work—cleansing, forgiving, creating new life and giving a new identity. Without Baptism’s gifts of rebirth and faith no one could find God. The old nature is too strong for any of us to overcome.

In Baptism you received the most wonderful gift from God. You were found by Him. He gives you His salvation. The joy and comfort you have in knowing Jesus lasts more than that moment. Knowing Jesus means a life time of forgiveness and mercy. Jesus is the One who saves us, and in Him we see God.

The Jesus we don’t really want to look at, is the bloodied body of Christ hanging on the cross. Most Christians prefer baby Jesus in a manger or ‘Jesus my friend’ or glorified Jesus in heaven. And He is those things, but Jesus is no friend, and no Saviour, and has no glory, without the cross and death.  

It is not pleasant to see Jesus suffer God’s judgment for us. To see Him dying. To see on Him all those sins we shrug off or consider a normal part of life. It’s horrifying. But take a look and see.

Because once you do, then you realise the immensity of God’s love for you. Then you realise that Jesus fulfils the Law of God and the words of the prophets, and to do that is no small thing. The Father gave up His Son into death, for you. The Son laid aside His divine powers, to die as an atonement for you. And He wanted to do that, so you can have freedom and life.

And so, Philip goes to his friend Nathanael to tell him that God’s Saviour has come. But Nathanael could not believe it. This Jesus didn’t sound like the Saviour he had been looking for. After all, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip doesn’t try and convince Nathanael of who Jesus is, he simply invites him to, “Come and see.”

But before Nathanael sees Jesus, the Lord sees him. Jesus knows Nathanael. He knows his heart. Jesus knows all our faults and yet in love He still welcomes us.

We heard in Psalm 139 today that God knows us. He knew us before we were born. He knows our words before we speak them. There is no where we can go to hide from Him. This can sound threatening, because God can see our darkest sins and desires. But despite this, He welcomes us that we may be made holy, washed and forgiven.

And so, Jesus sees Nathanael, and Nathanael will speak the Gospel because he saw and heard the grace of God and was changed by it. Like the patriarch Jacob, Nathanael will see heaven open before him, but not in a dream, it will take place when he sees Jesus die on the cross and be resurrected three days later. Jesus comes from heaven to open its doors by shedding His blood, so that sinners like Philip and Nathanael and you and me may believe and enter into paradise.

How often do we desire God like Nathanael did, and yet overlook Him because we can only see our problems and hurt and shame? Turn your eyes from them and look at Jesus on the cross. That’s how He wants you to see Him. Look and see your condemnation and judgment on Him, because if it is on Him, then you are declared righteous. If your sins are laid on Him, then they are not on you—you are free of them. If your death is laid on Jesus, then you will no longer die, but live. If His rising again is for you, then salvation and life everlasting are yours. Heaven’s doors have been opened wide for you to one-day pass through them. In God’s eyes you are already there.

But we are not there yet; living in eternity. We live here and have no end of troubles and pains. The sins of others impact us and we hurt others with our sins. We have fears and worries and sometimes we wonder, “where are you now Jesus. I can see you on the cross, and I’m thankful for that, but what about now; in my pain, carrying my crosses, living life here?”

The Good News is that Jesus is here now, for us. He is here, speaking, washing, feeding, forgiving. He is here strengthening our faith and growing us in hope and trust. This doesn’t mean it is going to be easy. Life is never a breeze, the devil makes sure of that.

But He who has called us is faithful. He has made us a part of His body; He cannot forget us or abandon us. He has overcome the darkness of death and He will lead us through every dark time we face.

This is the Good News of Jesus on the cross. Forgiveness and salvation are ours as a free gift and this has changed us. We are comforted by our crucified Saviour. We have joy that God smiles on us, and this shapes the way we live now, desiring others to come and see Jesus, that they would know Him too. As a child of the heavenly Father we can pray for His Spirit to open their hearts to know Jesus, even as we ask them to come and see.

The invitation to come and see Jesus is for all His disciples, throughout our whole life. There is always something new to discover, or something old to learn again, and the depth of God’s love for us is new for us every day.

And so, we need to come and see Jesus, often, and not dwell on our sins and or focus on our troubles. Come and see and hear the Gospel and be assured that He has opened heaven gates for us. Amen.

God is constantly preparing his heroes


“God is constantly preparing his heroes; and when the opportunity comes, He can fit them into their places in a moment.” (author unknown)

Dear friends, we are among those who have been called to the Epiphany that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour of all, prepared to share our faith. May the grace and peace of our Lord be with you always.  

Epiphany is defined as a moment of sudden and great revelation.  In our Christian journey, our lives are filled with such moments of sudden and great revelation that God is with us, God loves us, and God has an ultimate plan for us.  A plan worked out in the life and salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God.

The Apostle John records the words of John the Baptiser after his epiphany, “There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  Let’s join in a word of prayer: Lord God our loving Father, today, we are together to celebrate the epiphany of both the humanity and the divinity of Your Son, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’  We worship You and we praise you for the gift of salvation received through His human birth, life, death and resurrection.  Guide our time together so that we may hear your call to each of us and follow your plan for our lives. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord,  Amen.

Over Christmas, we followed the human birth of Jesus.  What I hold onto from the Christmas worship is another witness of the Apostle John, “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”(Jn 1:14 NRSV)  

Scripture reveals that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and dedicated in the temple at Jerusalem.  He was taken to Egypt for protection, raised in Nazareth, and at just the right time, arrived at the Jordan river to begin his mission by being baptised. 

Something new happened on the shores of the Jordan River.  God sent John the baptiser out to prepare the way for the Messiah to be revealed.  To baptise with water in recognition of repentance for the cleansing of the soul.   Then along comes the Messiah himself.  But at first John didn’t recognise his cousin as the long-awaited Messiah. 

How true it is that “God is constantly preparing his heroes; and when the opportunity comes, He can fit them into their places in a moment.”     

After the light dawned for John, and before Jesus was baptised, John faced a challenge.  Should he follow God’s plan and baptise Jesus, or kneel himself to be baptised by Jesus. We know the answer of that.  And, of course, after Jesus was baptised, John saw the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus like a dove, and Matthew tells us that John heard the voice of God, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”    As we read today, John proclaimed “I have seen it and I tell you that he is the Son of God.”

Tradition has it that John was an Essene, with traditions that called for daily washing and prayer.  But only for members who accepted the Essene way of life and were accepted into their community.   John’s baptism was new, in that he invited anyone with a repentant heart to receive baptism.  John’s baptism was still Old Testament baptism though, and not the gift of God received in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus allowed himself to be baptized because He wanted to demonstrate to everyone that He was truly human.  God chose to save the human race by becoming human while retaining the exact imprint of God’s divinity.  We see His humanity in a very real way as Jesus was baptized.

The main point of today’s celebration for me is not when and how Jesus was baptized.  The why of his baptism is important for me.  It shows us his humanity. It shows us that Jesus does understand the human predicament of sinner and saint. In Baptism we are made saints, living as children of God.  But at the same time, we are living the sinfulness of this world. We are at the same time,’ both saint and sinner’, as Luther says.  In baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, who remains with us throughout our lives in this broken world, just as Jesus promised.

Christ Jesus fulfilled all the righteousness of God, by entering humanity for our salvation, teaching us about God’s love in words and in miracles, and demonstrating God’s love by dying for us on the cross, being raised to life eternal, and returning to his rightful place at the centre of God’s Kingdom.  

Something new happened in Capernaum as well. Remember, “God is constantly preparing his heroes; and when the opportunity comes, He can fit them into their places in a moment.”

From the reading in Acts, Peter is called to attend the home of a Gentile, Cornelius, to present the Gospel.  Like John the Baptiser in the presence of Jesus the Messiah, Peter was at first reluctant.  Peter had not yet witnessed Christ Jesus to Gentiles.  But God showed Peter his plan for the salvation of all who would believe. 

And so, Peter followed God’s plan and spoke with the passion of John, before he baptised the family of Cornelius.  Just as the Lord had revealed to John, Jesus Christ baptised this new family of believers with the Holy Spirit even before water was poured and words were spoken.  An act of God, demonstrating the authority of the Son of God, and fulfilling the epiphany of faith for both Jew and Gentile. And Peter’s response is recorded in the reading for today: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”

In our lives, we can trust our baptism.  We can trust the authority of Jesus Christ over our lives.  We can trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit who speaks to our spirit the very wisdom of God.  We can trust that God is preparing us to be heroes too.  And when the opportunity comes, He will fit us into our place in his time, whether a moment or a lifetime.  So we shouldn’t worry about when or how this will happen.  Just trust our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Some time ago, I discovered a terrific little metaphor for the event of epiphany that will prepare us to respond to Christ with faith, hope, peace and love.

There was a pastor from a small rural congregation who visited an old farmer from time to time in an attempt to share the gospel with him. Each time the farmer would tell the pastor, “I believe in God. It is impossible not to when you look around at the beauty of this earth and the way in which life is created. It’s just Jesus I don’t understand. Why would a perfect and all-powerful God have to come down as a man, and then die, just to make things right.” The pastor always struggled to come up with an answer that the farmer would find satisfactory.  It’s just a matter of faith.

Then one night, as the farmer was sitting in his living room, he heard a thump on his window. He went to see what it was and outside he saw a group of birds floundering in the snow. They were trying to get into the warmth but they couldn’t figure out how, and so they were dying in the snow.

So the farmer went outside, opened his barn doors, turned on the lights, and tried to herd the birds into the warmth of the barn, because he realized it was their only hope for survival.  But the more he tried to direct them the more they scattered. At that point the farmer thought, if only I could become one of them then I could lead them into the warmth. At that moment, he had an epiphany, and he began to understand faith that we struggle to put into words.  That God did for all of us what he could not do for the birds. Enter our humanity to bring salvation.

 In our Baptism, faith begins as God declares we are his.  Our faith begins a journey for us as we live in Christ and trust him for our salvation. It is a trust that is played out in all the circumstances of our lives, through every new year of our lives. A constant epiphany of “the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”

 We can be joyful that we are Christians.  We are children of God and people of the Saviour who are comforted by the Holy Spirit every day of our journey through the new year ahead.    We can trust that God is preparing us to be heroes too.

May the grace and peace of God, which passes all our human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus.   Amen.